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Bikes and parked cars don’t mix

A plan to add bike lanes to streets in San Diego has been shot down by city planners. The reason, the move would mean a loss of 137 parking spaces, and of course this is seen as a detriment to local businesses.

It is an old, old story that is played out in cities all over the US and I am sure, in many other countries too. To ignore the problem is short sighted, because every bicycle on the street means one less car, less congestion and one more parking space available.

I agree that parked cars and bicycle lanes don’t mix, like some in San Francisco, shown in the above picture. This is a death trap, a car door carelessly opened in front of a cyclist, knocks the unfortunate bike rider right under the wheels of a passing vehicle. It happens all the time.

The picture is from an article on the SF.StreetsBlog, where the writer points out that with a bike lane positioned this way, a cyclist has the choice of riding in this lane at the risk of getting doored, or ride out in the main traffic lane and incur some serious road rage, because nothing pisses off a motorist more than seeing a cyclist in “His” lane, when there is a bike lane right next to it.

Even if there is enough room for a four foot door zone between the parked cars and the bike lane, there is still a danger from cars entering or exiting parking spaces. If you place the parked cars next to the motor traffic lane and put the bike lane on the inside next to the side walk, this does not eliminate the danger of car passengers opening doors as cyclists pass. And an even bigger danger presents itself at every intersection as cyclists immerge blindly from behind a row of parked cars.

A sensible solution in this case would be a shared lane (Sharrow.) next to the parked cars. In the above picture I see at least four, maybe five lanes of traffic going in one direction. Would it be a huge inconvenience if one of those lanes were shared with cyclists? If a motorist doesn’t want to share, all he has to do is move over to one of the other lanes.

Bike lanes are a good idea on roads leading into a city center, where automobile speeds are high, and there are no parked cars.

But once you get into a business district where there are parked cars, speed limits need to be lowered and enforced, and cyclists’ sharing the lane is, in my opinion, safer.

In San Diego, city planners speak of adding traffic calming devices instead of bike lane; why not shared lanes.

Encourage more people to ride bikes; add a number of bike riders to the mix with the appropriate signage so it is clear to everyone that cyclists are supposed to be there.

Seasoned cyclists are often quick to point out that they are entitled to share any lane. That may be true, but entitlement doesn’t help much if the person you are sharing with is ignorant of that fact.  It doesn’t hurt to have a few road markings and signs to remind the uneducated.

Education is key, make people realize that every person riding a bike to work is one less car on the road. This means less congestion; everyone can drive slower, and still get where they are going on time. That is a benefit to all road users, not just bike riders.



Reader Comments (11)

A similar outcry came from businesses and motorists in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada recently with the latest bicycle lane on Howe Street--businesses will close, you've taken our parking, etc.

As with the Burrard Bridge lane before it, the sky has not fallen, but every introduction of cycling infrastructure faces the same battle.

However if economist Jeff Rubin's projections are accurate, all this will become academic after oil breaks the $200-a-barrel mark.

There's going to be a lot more room for bike lanes. In fact, maybe bike lanes will be redundant with so few cars on the road?

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRaymond Parker

I live in SF.
I agree, shared lanes are much safer than bike lanes.
I have noticed a new trend in SF, they are removing parking spaces and turning them into bicycle "stables" or parking.
They are also removing entire sections of parking and turning them into bike lanes.
Both are excellent solutions.
Riding next to a parked car, in my opinion, is more dangerous than riding in the lane.
Passengers don't see you when they leave their parked cars.
At least drivers see you from behind.
I try to maintain eye contact with drivers and buses behind me as I merge.
Sometimes, check this out, I slow down and let cars pass. I make hand motions for them to go. I use head motions to get them to move. At intersections, I look at them, then point to the direction I'm travelling.

As I approach intersections with cars approaching that are attempting a turn, thus, cutting in front of me, I look at them, point directly at them and tell them to stop, really loud. Not in an angry voice, but in a firm enough voice to let them know they are in the wrong.

Bus drivers have been really good to me the past years with this method. It turns out, they like bikes. They like bikers that communicate with them.

I have been very vocal about bikes on the street. When people tell me"bikes don't belong in the streets" I say, "hell yeah they dont! They need to put all those frickin bikers in their own lanes and separate them from cars, ITS NOT SAFE!, or better yet, just get rid of all the cars and build more public transportation."

I have hope. I am 100% confident that the world will someday realize what we already know, bikes are fun to ride.
We just have to be patient.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEly Rodriguez

Here is a picture I have that shows a pair of signs I think works well with or instead of sharrows. Here very few motorists or cyclists know what sharrows mean or where to ride when they are in place.

This is a 4 lane road with no shoulders just off a freeway heading to another major intersection. I had much less trouble on this road than on my local road with sharrows placed too far to the right, but correctly placed per the guidelines.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Dave, I wonder if you'd be willing to share your take on this with us:


December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIra

@Ely, it is reassuring to find someone who has found the exact same solutions to cycling dilemmas as myself. I have made friends of drivers by pulling to the right (not stopping or even slowing necessarily) when practicable, motioning the cars past me, and waving as they pass. I realize this doesn't work in all cases, but when the cars bunch up in groups, as they so often do, they pass, and I get the road to myself for a while. The technique of yelling "stop" when one is menaced by careless drivers in an intersection is one I began as a pedestrian, when I was almost hit many times by cars turning left across the crosswalk. These are elegant solutions I believe.
Why can't our rides be a ballet, rather than a battle?

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P


December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarge

The other day I signaled A COP to go ahead, he nodded and did so. Its true, communication is the key. I recently switched from a mountain bike commuter to an old Schwinn twelve speed that I have recently rebuilt and now find myself riding in a much more "vehicular" fashion than before. Less use of convenient sidewalks and curb hopping, empty lot crossing and so on. One common problem is when I am approaching an intersection a driver will courteously wait for me to go by, then realize I'm not going fifty miles an hour, start to pull out, then think twice and stop again to wait. By then neither of us knows what is going to happen next. I've started using hand signals (with a smile) and ALWAYS wave in acknowledgement of any courtesy shown by a driver. And yes, as someone said above, there has emerged a definite touch of ballet to my daily commute.

December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Joe Comstock

Of course, simply eliminating cars altogether would also solve the problem.


December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTJC

Doug, Ely, Tim Joe, Thank you all, so refreshing to read some mature words on the subject for once. I found that yes, letting lines of cars go by pulling over not only "clears the air" but reduces my stress (and CO) levels, which helps me make sane decisions later on in the ride.

There is a screaming fast two laner here where I do what I call "pulse" riding, You keep an eye in your mirror for the pack of buffalo that just got let loose at the traffic light. You pull over well in advance , let them pass, then jump back on and pedal as fast as practicable until the next flotilla approaches. (You have to see this particular road to understand the scene). All this requires s good helmet mirror.

I would advocate holding my palm up instead of pointing when yelling "stop" however, It's a less agressive gesture and is clearer in meaning, I think.

What I do sometimes though at fast two lane intersections is slow down and actually look and welcome a red light. Sometimes that's better than dealing with cars trying to zip past you at high speed in a right turn. When everyone is stopped, you can guage the situation a lot better, who is on the phone, Potential douchebaggery, etc.

I also stop about 20 feet back from the turn. And wave them to make a right like you said. (Many motorists don't bother using turn signals (or headlights) in this town. It's pathetic, worst place I've ever ridden in my life)

I swear by doing this I've reduced my right hook hassles by 99%. The coolest thing is when people start to remember you, and let you go later when you really need it.

We have "sharrows" on some roads here. These are certified "safe routes" on Google Maps and were studied by the town.

Funny thing is, I've even talked to the traffic seargeant, he doesn't even know what a "sharrow" is! He thought the town planners were trying to make the entire lane appear as a bike lane. He's all confused.

The town planning council never bothered to include the cops in the loop, you'd think they'd email them and explain this. (duh).

We had the exact same type of road markers as in Dave's photo. Since they have been installed last year, the paint has worn almost completely away. WTF.

December 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

Yeah, I really long for the time when all drivers acknowledge the fact that bikers have a right to those lanes too! We all have the right to use the road since we equally pay taxes! I hope those city planners will learn how to bike so that they will realise their wrong assumptions. But then again creating more bike parking spaces is a good move.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbeachbody

To implement a bike-friendly policy, the majority of the community (if not the whole) should agree to change their transportation lifestyle. If the people of Amsterdam were able to push it, why can't other cities?

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGuy Chambliss

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