The public hallmark of the resurgence of the bicycle is the bike lane. We lust for them, we beg for them, we cheer them when they are finally painted along the side of the road.
As much as I love seeing them, I have to admit that my feelings about most bicycle lanes are mixed. While many of the newest lanes in SF are well placed and very much needed to get people on the street on their bicycles, much of what we have is substandard by any measure out there. The above lane is fantastic for showing all road users where they should be to move in certain directions and has made this stretch of bicycle route a whole bunch better to ride on. In spite of this improvement, the lane is still either squeezed to the right of, or smack dab in the middle of, 30 mph traffic. No measure of traffic calming was employed here, no reduction in traffic speed, no physical separation of bicycles and cars (there is a buffer zone on the straightaways, but that can feel a bit flimsy when there is delivery truck straddling it). During rush hour, when this stretch is packed with people in cars who are late-late-late, you have to be pretty centered with a healthy dose of trust in the ability of others to drive in a straight line.
This next picture is of Valencia Street. The three most prominent bicycle routes in San Francisco are The Wiggle, Market Street and Valencia. Of these, Valencia St. has experienced the greatest change recently with huge traffic calming and reduction planning, removal of parking and turning lanes, widening of sidewalks and conversion of unused bus stops into bike corrals. These measures have helped to increase the number of cyclists greatly in the last few months and every time I ride there I see more and more people cruising along to get where they are going. Every inch of bike lane on Valencia Street is planted firmly in the door zone and while it is a showcase of new bicycle infrastructure for SF it is also some of the most popular double parking and cell phone space in the City. Having a large police station and many parking enforcement officers to monitor the meters makes no difference either as no one ever issues any tickets.
This lane is on Cabrillo Street and is one of the oldest lanes in SF. It is a fantastic lane as it is firmly established outside the door zone and is striped on both sides to clearly show this to riders and parkers alike. There are many out there, like myself, who wonder why the new lanes are not planned as well as this. We also wonder what will come of this in the long run.
New riders who do not have a great deal of experience on the road frequently see bicycle lanes as a promise of safety from traffic. They don't have the experience to recognize the door zone or the reflexes to dodge doors while not getting hit by passing traffic. Or better yet, be comfortable enough to be able to recognize the cars with the potential to have a door open into them. New riders think they have to stay in the lane to be safe and then become targets for the dreaded right hook. They frequently do not know how to get out of the lane to either get around right turning vehicles or to merge with traffic to make left turns themselves. Many people feel uncomfortable taking the lane because they feel they are getting in the way (not a problem I have) and will not come out of the bicycle lane even when they recognize it at as substandard.
A lot of energy goes into discussions of how bicyclists should behave. There is a lot of discussion about the need to stop at signs and not ride on sidewalks and be polite... and while I agree that riding predictably and with the needs of others recognized makes for a much more pleasant experience for all, unless we address the true problem, total lack of infrastructure that makes it impossible to ride in something other than survival mode, we will always have unpredictable riders.
Between doors and pedestrians in the bike lane, even pedicabs have to take the lane.
If delivery trucks and people checking their GPS systems insist on doing so in the bike lane then we will have to resign ourselves to cyclists darting into traffic to get around them.
If bike lanes are placed in the door zone then we will have to resign ourselves to more aggressive riders because they can not safely use the space that has been allotted to them. Want to see a really frustrated driver? Then watch them get upset when they get stuck behind a cyclist who has to take the lane instead of using the substandard bike lane that has been given them. Who will get blamed in that situation? It won't be the institutions that put in the badly planned lane, it will be the cyclist who is trying to keep from getting doored.
If the only standard of street planning is moving the most cars as fast as possible then we can not complain when some cyclists behave in what feels like aggressive or erratic manners. The lack of infrastructure is the cause, the cyclists are just the symptom. If you maintain a road system that encourages drivers and cyclists alike to behave like the Running of the Bulls then you can not get angry at the users for doing so. There will be those who take the part of "the bull" and those who take the part of "let me get the hell out of the way".
When bike lanes work, people are happy.If we want to stop the "bad behavior" we need to start building like Portland. If we want new cyclists to join the ranks then the need for articles like this or today's article at Streetsblog need to be eliminated by building better bicycle accommodations.