30 March 2018

A Move To The Left Too Late?

Most streetside bike lanes I've seen on one-way streets are on the right side of the street and demarcated by painted lines and arrows.

The latter feature makes them only marginally, if at all, safer than the street itself for cyclists.  That is something those of us who cycle on a near-daily basis have long known and some planners are beginning to acknowledge.  On the other hand, the hazards of the other part of the equation--lane placement--haven't been as well-recognized.

The fact that the Spruce Street bike lane runs along the corridor's right side may have cost 24-year-old Emily Fredericks her life.  The pastry chef was pedaling to work in Philadelphia's Center City when a garbage truck moving in the same direction turned right from Spruce to 11th Street.

Ms. Fredericks discovered, the hard way, what makes crossing a busy intersection from a bike lane on the right side of the street so hazardous.  Too often, drivers--who, in the US (as in most of the world) are on the left side of their vehicles--have difficulty seeing cyclists or anyone else to the right of their vehicles.  That is especially true if the vehicle is large, like a garbage truck. 

Now Philadelphia city officials, who say they aren't merely reacting to Ms. Fredericks' death, are looking to "flip" bicycle and parking lanes:  the former would move to the left, and cars would be parked on the right.  According to Sarah Clark Stuart, president of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, such a change would allow drivers to "see the bicyclist better because the blind spot is going to be much narrower."  She also wants to see physical barriers constructed but the city's proposal doesn't call for that.  But, she says, her organization supports it because at least the new lane configuration would provide some safety benefits quickly while allowing additional protections later on.

That does indeed sound like a good idea, at least as far as it goes.  While a cyclist crossing an intersection or making a left turn from a left-hand lane wouldn't be in as much danger as a cyclist making the same moves from a right-hand lane,  painted lines aren't going to protect cyclists (or, for that matter, pedestrians) from a driver that swerves or veers out of the motor lane.  Also, I don't think "flipping" lanes negates the need for cyclists or pedestrians to cross intersections ahead of motorized traffic.  That is really the only way a motorist who is turning in the same direction as the location of the lane will see a cyclist (or pedestrian) who is crossing an intersection.

So, for now, it looks like the City of Brotherly Love is embracing cyclists--with one arm.

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