Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hilltop Commission Recommendation Against Bike Lanes on West Broad - Good Decision or Bad?

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.

5 comments:

  1. I ride into downtown using West Broad a couple times a week. Other than the Wilson Road intersection, I seldom have problem with traffic the way it is. I sometimes get hoots and hollers from people on the sidewalk, but that won't stop with bike lanes.

    Give me a nice wide road where I can peacefully coexist with drivers and I am happy.

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  2. Be careful, Jamie, or you'll get a spankin' from the League too. Their position is that properly designed, properly maintained bike lanes are a benefit to all cyclists. (Not that I've even encountered one, but here's hoping.)

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  3. They're entitled to their position, and as long as I don't go around spouting off that I, as an LCI and representative of the league, support yadda yadda yadda, I'm entitled to mine.

    Did the league spank you?

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  4. I had a chance to tour this stretch of Broad today with President of the Highland West Neighbors Association and others and learned a great deal.

    The alternative parking off street that the proponents of the plan claim really doesn't exist. There are serious safety concerns, surface re-pavements (or paving in general) and other issues. All of the lots claimed to be available as an alternative to on street parking are privately owned and the owners are unwilling to assume the liability risk at this time to use them otherwise. One lot was even the site of 2 murders in the last 3-4 years.

    Even if we agreed that lanes are good here, we can't-in good conscious-put our needs ahead of the residents in the neighborhood. There are many considerations (safety and security, infrastructure, business and residential development) that need to happen before bike accommodations are even discussed.

    The residents do see cycling accommodations as a good thing. They want to make something happen in that regards. They are just tired of being given the run around by the city, tired of not be included in the discussions and tired of being treated as the city's dumping ground.

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