The study, done by Monash University of cyclists in Victoria, Australia, found that painted bike lanes do not deter car drivers from coming too close to bicycles. And people ride their bikes less when they do not feel safe. The answer is clear: bike lanes must be protected in order to create true safety for bike riders.
Here in Austin, Texas, as in many places around the United States, we’re lucky if we even get those white lines. Which we now know do not work well enough. Nearly getting hit by cars while I was in the bike lane twice in the last two makes this a hot topic for me, one that I’m hot under the collar about. Why? Because I spoke to both drivers, and they’re responses were infuriating. Come on inside this post and I’ll tell you about it.
Study Says: Do More to Protect Cyclists!
The study equipped cyclists down undah with devices that measured how close cars passed them. In “Bike Lanes Need Physical Protection from Car Traffic, Study Shows,” (Ars Tecnica, 5/4/19), the conclusion is well summed up by the main researcher:
We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation. Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes.– Dr. Ben Beck, lead author, Ibid.
Looking at the actual study summary, there are these conclusions:
One in every 17 passing events was a close (<100 cm) passing event. We identified that on-road bicycle lanes and parked cars reduced passing distance. These data can be used to inform the selection and design of cycling-related infrastructure and road use with the aim of improving safety for cyclists.– Accident Analysis and Prevention, 4/10/19 as cited in Science Direct
Under 100 cm is less than 39 inches, or just over the three feet required by city law here. And SUV’s come even closer. Take a moment to consider that. Painted bike lanes have the EXACT OPPOSITE effect from what is intended. To me, that is mind-blowing, and transportation officials and engineers around the world should be taking note and a deep breath before they lift another pencil or restriping machine lever. Outrageous!
Close Call #1: Oh, Thank Heaven I Didn’t Die at the 7-Eleven
I’m waiting at the southbound signal light at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Guadalupe at the edge of the University of Texas campus. Night. Next to me in the bike lane is a guy on an electric bike with huge wheels. The light changes, I let him go first because he’s got a motor and it’s a thin lane on a curve.
As we’re about to pass the driveway to the convenience store, a driver from behind accelerates and makes a quick right in front of us. The guy nearly hits her, and seeing this I have an extra two or three seconds to brake hard and steer into the lot. He takes off, but I don’t. I stop to collect my breath and decide I’m going to talk to the driver.
I am waitiing until she exits the car and tell a guy standing there what happened. He starts filming with his phone, which is apparently what he does a lot. I couldn’t find the video but it would show me calmly telling the driver that she nearly hit us both and asking what could have been done differently. Her answer was very evasive and defensive, “Well, maybe don’t talk and choose a speed.” I said that wasn’t the issue, we had the right of way and what she did was dangerous. Before I could say much more, she stormed into the store and flipped me the middle finger – both of them.
Taken aback, and since the filmer guy didn’t see the near-miss, there wasn’t more I could do. I stood and talked with him a while, waiting to see if she would come back out. She didn’t and cowered inside. Her behavior was that of a guilty person caught in the act of doing something stupid and dangerous, which it was. It was her job to yield the right of way since she was turning. And to speed up and nearly hit two cyclists just so she could get her cigarettes five seconds sooner was completely irresponsible. I took off, looking over my shoulder for a good while.
The point? A painted bike lane wasn’t enough to keep us safe from a bad driver.
Close Call #2: If You Can’t See, Don’t Drive at Night
This was even more a clear cut case of idiotic, bad, irresponsible driving. I’m coming down Cameron Road and am about to cross another parking lot entrance. A woman in a foreign black car is stopped, waiting for traffic to pass before pulling out to turn right. I’m using my very bright light, wearing my yellow high-visibility helmet and a white shirt. With no warning or signal, she just pulled right out in front of me. Again, my distrust of cars and defensive biking plus Sophie’s trusty disc brakes saved me. But I could easily have hit her had I looked away for a moment.
Flabbergasted, I took a moment and collected my wits. She slowed drove the quarter block to a stoplight, which just turned red. I knocked on her window, which remarkably, she rolled down. Here’s how my conversation went with the older woman:
Dude: “Did you not see me right there in front of you? You nearly hit me!”
Her: “No, I did not.”
Dude: “Well, I have a very bright light and yellow helmet, I’m very visible. You were looking right at me!”
Her: “I did not see you.” (She began to roll up her window as the light had changed green.)
Dude: (Angrily and loudly, but still politely, remembering the previous night’s lack of a good resolution.) “Well that’s not right! I had the right of way, and I’m going to have to report you!”
So I did. I called the non-emergency number for the Austin Police Department and filed a report with 3-1-1, the information line on her ass. I’m sure she heard me, too. The man taking the report asked if I would call it reckless driving, and I said I would. We’ll see if anyone calls me about it, takes a report, and investigates. I’d like to at least have it on her license that she did something stupid. There were witnesses, but they are drunks who hang out at the bus stop, so I didn’t bother. It this woman didn’t see me, right in her field of vision, then she needs to get her eyes checked or stop driving at night.
Point 2: The bike lane may have given me a superpower — of invisibility.
I will concede that in both instances, a driveway was involved. You can’t really have a protected bike lane and still allow cars in there. However, a protected bike lane would have worked on instance #2 if it was on the left side, because it was a one way street. In instance #1, having road bumps and bollards, usually plastic, plus signage before and after the driveway, would have alerted the driver to be more cautious and aware of bikes.
But otherwise, here’s what I learned:
- I’m awesome and it’s not my time to die — not today, at least.
- But what if I was some inexperienced college kid?
- Bike (and drive) defensively at all times.
- We must demand PROTECTED bike lanes — paint is NOT enough!
- Confront bad drivers politely but assertively when possible.
- Report infractions with the license plate if you can get it.
- Live to ride another day.
And so endeth today’s rant about shitty car drivers trying to kill me with their two-ton metal death rams. (Fuckers!) How is the bike infrastructure where you are? Any close calls you’d care to share?
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