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Bike paths have their own dangers that make them more dangerous than riding in a road travel lane.

99% of my riding is done in MD where we have a law unique among the 50 states that states a biyclist must use a bike lane or shoulder where practicible. Here in Prince George's County there are plenty of bike lanes that have less than a foot of usable width usually due to drain grates. On those roads I typically ride left of the bike lane. I can only think of one road that I use that has both on-street parking and a bike lane (Cherrywood Ln in Greenbelt). This is a fairly wide bike lane that I position myself just to the right of the stripe to maintain a line outside the door zone. The travel lane on this road is fairly wide so most motorists follow my lead to go around me. OTOH some seem to see the white line as an impermeable barrier and will graze the line as though I wasn't there. Were it not for that line I feel I would be SAFER on that road because the lack of a point of reference would cause those drivers to pay more attention to how close they are passing.

Here's a good slideshow (a bit dated) that makes a good case against bike lanes in general and an extremely strong case against poorly designed bike lanes.


In this area, I'd say Arlington County's bike lanes are the best of a (bad) bunch: they're partially, though not entirely, out of the door zone; they are dashed or merge into travel lanes before intersections; and they are reasonably well paved and out of the gutter. I go back and forth about whether the lanes on, say, Wilson and Clarendon Boulevards are an improvement for cyclists.

DC's few lanes, from what I've seen of them, are terrible - I particularly marvel at the insanity of shoehorning lanes onto R St. or whichever street that is north of P near Dupont. The entire lane is in the door zone and it encourages cars to pass cyclists even though there's nowhere near enough space for it to be done safely.

Whether bike lanes are a good idea depends a lot on the implementation. Often, they are used for the wrong reason -- to take a road that is not wide enough for cars and bikes to share safely, and get the bikes out of the way of the cars. That looks like the case here. That doesn't do anything for cyclist safety, it just encourages cyclists to ride in an unsafe manner, too close to the parked cars.

I've ridden around Bethesda a fair bit, and I can say with some certainty that the intent of the city with these bike lanes is not to enhance cyclist safety, as the project coordinator claims, but to enhance motorist convenience. There is no safety issue with cyclists riding in the roadway here. The claim that the proposed design is endorsed by AASHTO is dubious -- AASHTO recommends a total width of 14 feet, the design meets the minimums but not the recommended specs, which is hardly an "endorsement." Since Maryland requires bike lane use if one is present their installation is a dramatic step.

Whether even good bike lanes enhance cyclist safety is a hotly debated topic; there are no reliable figures. The problem from a safety standpoint is that the lion's share of bicycle-car collisions happen at intersections, and bike lanes are problematic at intersections because they put cyclists out of the normal flow of traffic and into places where motorists aren't looking for other vehicles. Bike paths suffer from the same problem where they intersect road, and riding on a bike path is clearly statistically more dangerous than riding on the roadway.

By the way, the link to the City of Chicago web site contains EXTREMELY bad advice -- to "look inside each parked car as you pass" and "watch behind you." No, No, No. Don't ride in the door zone. Period. At cycling speeds, you can't react quickly enough to an opening door, and if a car is alongside there is no where to go. That page is a bureaucratic attempt to justify a poor decision to put in poorly designed bike lanes. It's actually somewhat famous in advocacy circles.

Finally, I don't find the bike lanes in DC so bad. The ones I've used, on 7th street NW and R street, are decently wide and out of the door zone. Of course, there is no enforcement keeping cars from driving or parking in them -- in fact, there isn't even a law prohibiting it.

Bike lanes are better than putting the bike path on the sidewalk, a bad example of which is along Michigan Ave (or thereabouts). There are utility poles in the middle of the three-foot-wide sidewalk, and the path is punctuated by driveways. That's horrible.

The ones I've used, on 7th street NW and R street, are decently wide and out of the door zone. Of course, there is no enforcement keeping cars from driving or parking in them -- in fact, there isn't even a law prohibiting it.

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