Bike lanes, and why cyclists are better off without them

Bike lanes seem to have some plus points – the city is carving a place on the road for bikes, theoretically making cycling in traffic safer, and faster during traffic jams.

However, the reality happens to be the opposite. While bike lanes create the illusion of safety, they tend to produce situations of extreme unsafety in two ways. First, if the bike lane is between a lane of traffic and a lane of parking, then the bike lane is exactly where you should not ride if you don’t want to subject yourself to the possibility of a door prize. The danger of opening car doors is a real one, and made worse by the lack of liability motorists are subject to if they hurt a cyclist by opening a car door without looking. Whereas if a car hits you from behind and you are killed, the motorist can be charged with driving without due care and attention causing death – penalty, up to many years in prison. However, if you are killed by an open door the most the motorist can be charged, in Toronto at least, is 110$ for improperly opening a vehicle door. So, riding in a bike lane next to parking is putting your life in hands of people who stand to lose almost nothing by ending it.

Bike lanes where there is no parking look better – but only at first. The difficulty is they are used for parking. It is not practically possible to enforce no-parking-in-bike-lane laws. And it is pointless to complain at the people doing it – they are simply being rational given the enforcement and their own constraints and interests. The solution is to simply add another lane of traffic instead of a bike lane – many fewer truck drivers are willing to block a lane of traffic than block a bicycle lane. Also, although the enforcement might be similarly inept, the fine is much higher – and if you leave the vehicle it could be towed.

But, how could getting rid of bike lanes possibly be good for cyclists? Because it could be promoted that cyclists should ride in lanes of traffic. City speed limits could be reduced to 40km/h to help cyclists keep up, and the legal right of cyclists to take a lane of traffic (which at this time exists, but is only somewhat known and poorly advertised) could be publicised and stressed.

The alternate solution is to radically seperate cyclists from traffic with physically seperate bike lanes, like in Munich, Montreal, and Amsterdam.

The point is – cycling can be safe and efficient in a city only when the question of whether bikes are the same as cars is answered forcefully in one or the other direction.

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4 thoughts on “Bike lanes, and why cyclists are better off without them

  1. The danger of opening car doors is a real one, and made worse by the lack of liability motorists are subject to if they hurt a cyclist by opening a car door without looking.

    Checking for cyclists before opening your door is sometimes an explicit legal obligation, as under section 208 of the Manitoba’s Highway Traffic Act:

    “No person shall,

    (a) open the door of a motor vehicle upon a highway without first taking due precautions to ensure that his act will not interfere with the movement of, or endanger, any other person or vehicle; or

    (b) leave a door of a motor vehicle upon a highway open on the side of the vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than is necessary to load or unload passengers”

    Section 203 of British Columbia’s Motor Vehicle Act is similar, as is section 165 of Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act.”

    Even when there isn’t a law specifically calling upon drivers to do so, you can still sue a driver who injures you.

  2. I think your point that motorists are do not take cyclists seriously and are not as careful as they should be is a good one. However, more awareness and courteousness is required, rather than greater sanctions. The implication (“So, riding in a bike lane next to parking is putting your life in hands of people who stand to lose almost nothing by ending it.”) that legal sanctions should provide the main motivation for the average person to avoid engaging in potentially life threatening behaviour is absurd.

  3. The fact is, there are thousands of motorists opening their doors every day, and many of them do not look – and even if they do look there is no guarentee they will see. The odds are stacked against cyclists. Better to not ride where you can be hit, or, as I do when I can’t avoid it, ride very slowly (i.e. 15km/h), to reduce stopping distance.

    One major difficulty in Toronto is streetcar tracks, which can make taking the lane dangerous as you don’t want to get your wheel stuck in the tracks.

    You always have the legal right to take the lane if it is unsafe not to. Since riding in bike lanes is unsafe, you have the right to ride in traffic. Motorists sometimes get angry, but they don’t actually run into you.

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