|Knowledge is enabling|
Planning and designing bicycle facilities is serious business. Both safety and mobility must be considered. Get it wrong and someone may die. Yet we know of many people who do such work without understanding the best engineering practices, or even how the basic rules of the road apply to cyclists  . These people fail to support (beyond lip service) teaching people how to use the roads we have. Instead, they insist on building separate facilities that keep cyclists dependant on the facilities and that often put at risk the people they are supposed to protect.
We offer guidelines to avoid these mistakes and instead to empower cyclists to ride almost anywhere in real safety. People taught these best practices will enjoy cycling and want to do it more. This is the most effective way to promote cycling. We have much more information about avoiding serious mistakes in Bicycle Blunders and Smarter Solutions.
In contrast, a large minority of cyclists has learned the best way to ride in traffic, called integrated or vehicular cycling. This involves driving a bicycle as a vehicle according to the standard rules of the road. Many of the vehicular cyclists started out trying to use pedestrian methods but learned through experience that these did not work well.
In contrast, most "bicycle advocates" have never learned the best
methods. They are so frightened by traffic or hate cars so much that they
cannot see the benefit of vehicular cycling. Therefore, they cannot
understand why anyone would choose to ride on the roads and they refuse to
acknowledge the hazards caused by segregated facilities.
|Many "bicycle advocates" are completely blind to one side of the facilities debate.|
Vehicular cyclists who started out with pedestrian methods can understand both sides of the issue. But many "bicycle advocates" are completely blind to one side of the old facilities debate.
Some in the bicycle community recommend an approach based on the "Three E's": Education, Engineering and Enforcement. These can be good if they are applied in a balanced and logical way. Some would also add another E, Encouragement. However, if we teach people to enjoy cycling and treat them fairly they will need little encouragement.
More recently, more "E's" have been proposed. "Evaluation" should mean
honestly considering whether bicycling programs really benefit cyclists.
Many programs introduce hazards that the promoters refuse to acknowledge.
"Equality" (or more accurately, "Equity") is an important principle too often
ignored. Finally, too many bicycle advocates are lacking in "Ethics".
Marked Vehicle Detector
Marked detector but badly placed
Some people want a visible symbol to show that bicycles are welcome. Unfortunately, they often choose either "bike paths" (sidepaths) or striped bike lanes. Both of these introduce significant safety problems and they discourage the best practices of cycling while encouraging mistakes that often cause collisions.
Here's a better way -- without adverse side effects! There are beneficial markings a community can apply: stencils to show cyclists where to put their wheels to trigger vehicle detectors that control traffic lights. The photo at right from NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio is an excellent example.
Note the stencil on the pavement. This is directly over the sensor wire that controls the traffic light for vehicles entering the center. If a cyclist stops his wheels on this mark, the red light will turn green. The marking also benefits motorcycle users.
Marking detectors (if done correctly) has important safety benefits and no dangerous side effects. By marking detectors, officials will be treating cyclists as legitimate users of the roads and encouraging them to follow traffic laws. In contrast, segregation treats cyclists as incompetent children thought not worthy of using more than the edge of the road.
Unfortunately, even a good idea, if done incompetently, can work out badly. In lower photo at right the detector is too close to the curb. This encourages "gutter bunny" cycling, which can lead to right-hook hazards at the intersection. There is another detector under the car stopped at the light. If this detector were marked, it would encourage much better lane position -- right in the middle of the right lane. The sign at right, which directs cyclists to stop on the mark, would be good if the mark were in the right place.
Shared Use Stencil
too close to road edge
The best bicycle facility is simply a correctly designed, properly built and well maintained road. Where traffic volume is high, a wide outside lane can help motorists and cyclists who travel at different speeds in the same lane, minimizing conflicts between different road users. If lanes are not wide enough to share safely, cyclists must be expected to "use the full lane".
Some people propose stripeless bikelanes as a compromise. Instead of a stripe, there is only a stencil, in the form of bike and chevron markings or "bike in a box" plus a direction arrow (sometimes called a "sharrow" for shared lane and arrow) to indicate the direction of travel . The photo at right [from ref. 4] shows a sharrow in Denver. Unfortunately, this is in the door zone, too close to the parked cars.
Here are some guidelines for bike stencil placement: Where parking is permitted, stencils must be at least 13 feet from the curb or five feet from on-street parking (further is better) so they do not encourage cyclists to ride in the door zone. Also, it is a good idea to add hatch marks at the left edge of parking stalls to discourage parking too far from the curb. Better still is using "parking crosses" to mark a door zone buffer. Even where parking is not allowed, the stencils should not be too close to the edge of the road.
The best location for the symbol is the center of the lane, like other pavement symbols such as directional arrows, speeds limits, etc., so they can easily be seen by motorists. The symbol will also last longer if not in the wheel track of traffic. Stencils should not be placed at the approach to intersections, lest they direct cyclists to the wrong spot on the road.
Stripeless bike lanes can have some advantages:
However, stripeless bike lanes may also contribute to problems:
This author concludes that these stencils without the lane stripe are a
considerable improvement over traditional bike lanes. The "best practice"
would simply be to provide adequate space, mark vehicle detectors and provide
appropriate instruction on cycling best practices. Adding the stencils may
be an example of second-best practice.
 All planners and designers of bicycle facilities must be familiar with the books of John Forester: Effective Cycling, MIT Press, 1993 and Bicycle Transportation, MIT Press, 1994. It takes some effort to get past the confrontational attitude of the author, but once you do, you can learn from the master.
 A good concise source of cycling information is Bicycling Street Smarts. This booklet is used as a bicycle driver's manual in several states.
 The Chevron stencils are compared to "sharrows" in the report San Francisco's Shared Lane Pavement Markings: Improving Bicycle Safety Unfortunately, the recomended spot for the markings is too close to parked cars: "The markings were placed so that the centerline is 11 feet from the curb, or about 4 feet from parked cars.". Considering that some car doors open to 4 feet (or slightly greater) and a bicycle half-width is about one foot, (or slightly greater) the 11 foot spacing is not safe. The minimum should be at least 13', not the 11' recommended. The diagram in fig. 3 shows an open car door that protrudes 2'6" into the traffic lane. This writer has measured over two dozen doors and not found one that small. The minimum door "stickout" found was 35". The maximum was 49".
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© Copyright 2004-2017 Fred Oswald and LAB Reform.
May be copied with attribution.
Some materials were reproduced under fair use guidelines or with permission of the original author.
The author is a Professional Engineer in Ohio and a certified Bicycling Safety Instructor.
Minor update Apr. 2017