Last night, the Hilltop Commission, a neighborhood semi-governmental group in Columbus, voted to recommend against installing bike lanes on its section of West Broad as well as removing the parking lane on the south side of the road.
As you probably all know, I'm a vehicular cycling advocate. I agree with the philosophy of the League of American Bicyclists and their bike education credo that:
Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.
I feel that bike lanes are dangerous for a few reasons.
First, drivers don't know how to use them properly - both cyclists and motorists. Cyclists tend to stay in them even when it's not safe, such as when they're approaching an intersection. And right-turning motorists, who should pull into the bike lane after yielding to cyclists already there when they wish to turn, don't do so - and run the heavy risk of hitting cyclists who are not turning (the famed "right hook" collision).
Second, they decrease visibility of cyclists. The safest place for a cyclist is in the middle of a lane, where he can be seen easily by all road operators. Many call this taking or controlling the lane. But by huddling into a bike lane on the right side of the road, they're frequently out of the line of vision for motorists. Any time a motorist can't see you, you're in danger of a collision.
Third, they send the wrong message. The above philosophy states that cyclists fare best when treated as the drivers of vehicles. Though the intention of a bike lane is to try to keep cyclists safer if they want that protection, motorists frequently see the intention of a bike lane as "keeping them darned cyclists out of my way." Though state law stipulates that no community can create a law that forces cyclists off of any road other than an interstate, motorists don't widely know that. And that mindset that cyclists belong off the road is not only incorrect, it's dangerous for obvious reasons.
The opposing view of bike lanes, also known as the facilitators' point of view, is that bike lanes are safer because they take bikes out of the way of cars, and that perception of more safety will increase the number of cyclists on the road. And it's true - study after study shows that cyclists fare better when more cyclists are on the road.
But... let's look at Columbus for a moment. We don't have a lot of bike lanes in Columbus - just a few miles along both Schrock and Morse Roads. Both of them are poorly designed and full of trash. But I don't think there's a regular cyclist in town (nor are there many motorists) who's going to deny that we have more people cycling in this city than ever before. And official statistics show this to be the case as well. Could we have even more if we installed more bike lanes? Possibly. But is it the best idea? I don't think so. It leads to uneducated (and therefore dangerous) cycling.
I'd much rather see the city/state implement more cycling instruction in schools - perhaps starting at the fifth grade level when kids are really starting to feel the urge to get on their bikes. Teach the kids how to operate bicycles properly.
And I'm even more in favor of instituting more motorist education at the drivers' ed level, to inform new drivers how to operate around cyclists and about cyclists' rights. Add to that some mandatory cycling-related questions on the drivers' ed examination and you'll solve a lot of the problems.
People, not speed.