urbanism – landscape – ideas – theory – whimsy

A Question of Cycling Space

Cycling lanes and routes don’t always work out the way people hoped they would. And sometimes they’re just completely misguided. The BBC asked people to send in pictures of bizarre bike lanes (see here), and here’s some of the results (props to Tonto for the link).

From the British Midlands, the Warrington Cycle Campaign (who have a great feature of bicycle lane cock-ups called Facility of the Month) has an interesting amateur report on “The Effect of Cycle Lanes on Cyclists’ Road Space” showing how a 1.5m wide cycle lane actually reduces the amount of road-space available to cyclists. Here’s some of the photo comparisons from that report.

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I am interested in the photos of the cars giving lots of clearance to people on roads without bikelanes, and then passing more closely where there are bikelanes.

What do these photos tell us?

They only say that at the time the photos of the roads without bikelanes were taken, the car that happened to be passing the cyclist was doing so in an exaggeratedly safe manner. Perhaps the driver was also a cyclist, or else just extremely courteous. We cannot know that.

We have all had the opposite experience: riding on a road without a bikelane, being passed much too closely, at much to great a speed, by some asshole in a car who is a)drunk b)talking on a cell phone c)homicidal or d)all of the above.

On the other hand, 100 out of 100 cars passing the cyclist in a 1.5 meter wide bikelane, we can be certain, will pass them with a modicum of safety (as determined by the mandated width). Only a psychopathic driver crosses the white stripe of a bikelane into the cyclist’s space under normal circumstances. It is for this reason that bikelanes are very safe for children and other novice riders.

An additional feature of bikelanes that’s ignored by these photos is the margin of safety bikelanes give to pedestrians–whether or not there are bicycles present. Cars that pass pedestrians on the sidewalk where there is a 1.5 meter bikelane are less likely to throw slush or rain onto the pedestrian. Children who sometimes dart or weave near the road while remaining on the sidewalk are less likely to come in conflict with a passing motorist, when there is a bikelane.

I hope you are not, in your presentation of these photos, veering over into an anti-bikelane stance. Many cyclists are not as comfortable as you on the road, and many need encouragement. Something else to consider: road widths, when narrowed by bikelanes, provide many benefits to the adjacent community unrelated to whether there are cyclists around or not.

Hope you can see, for example, how a bikelane on the bridge over the Credit river in Mississauga might have saved the life of that father of two who fell to his death over the too-low guardrail (read about it here: http://www.torontocranks.com/?p=11 )

yore pal,


That may be – however, driver behaviour towards cyclists is variable. My own experience of cycling in England showed me that British drivers are quite courteous towards cyclists (especially “lorry drivers”), often do give you a lot of room whenever they can, and have better control of their vehicles and a better idea of how big they are and how much room they are leaving.

It also showed me that sometimes (as in the pictures posted from the BBC) a bike route is so badly thought out that it is actually more dangerous than riding on the road with cars. That would be my point.

I’ll leave a point-by-point criticism of bike lanes to another post, but I’ll just say here that my daily experience of using the Davenport bike lane in Toronto proves that by your definition there are a lot of psychopathic drivers out there because they frequently disregard the white line of the cycle lane – and by frequently, I mean I see it every day.

If you truly believe that that white line is some day going to keep you safe when the shit hits the fan, I fear for your safety. As I hinted at before, I believe the sense of security that bike lanes can give cyclists can also lead to a dangerous overconfidence and sense of entitlement not supported by real safety.

Studies by the US states of North Carolina, Florida, and Texas all agree that bike lanes cause motorists to pass closer to cyclists than wide-outside lanes, while at the same time causing cyclists to ride closer to the gutter.

Thanks for the photos!

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>