Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bike lanes and priority bike lanes, what's the difference?

In light of the regulatory hurdles to "real" bike lanes in Newton, given the actual amount of on-street parking for long stretches of key roads (Beacon, Comm. Ave., Walnut, Parker, Langley, &c.), and given the necessity to provide more explicit bike accommodation than striped shoulders to attract less experienced cyclists to the streets, there's a strong case to be made for so-called priority bike lanes.

In practical terms, though, one might ask: what's the difference? The difference boils down to whether the outside, left edge of the bike lane is solid or dashed. That's it.

If the outside edge is dashed, a bike lane is not exclusive to bikes. The dashed treatment is seen wherever bike lanes cross intersections or where the bike lane slots between the travel lane and a right-turn lane. The clear intent of the lane, even when dashed is to provide a safe haven for bicyclists. It's just not as rigidly exclusive.

Where parking is currently allowed, but rarely used, the priority bike lane should be superior to the striped shoulder. It should be just as effective at keeping cars in the travel lane and out of the shoulder. It should be more effective at delineating space for bicycles, attracting inexperienced cyclists. And, if anything, it should act as a mild discouragement for the otherwise legal parking.

A net win that can be accomplished without regulatory change.

Is a "real" bike lane preferable? No question. Better to have parking prohibited, even where it's rarely used -- maybe especially where parking is rarely used, since there's little downside. But, the difference isn't worth the fight. Not now, at least. Put in priority bike lanes, which will improve accommodation and spur ridership growth. Revisit the issue when the demand is higher.


Anonymous said...

Intriguing concept! Would require a good amount of public education, especially of self-entitled Newton drivers!!

Anonymous said...

As an avid cyclist who's ridden in Newton and surrounding towns for many years, I'm confused by how a combination of bike lanes and priority bike lanes would work in the real world. Newton drivers appear to be unfamiliar with the concept of a shoulder - let alone a bike lane. I know this from firsthand experience, having once been struck from behind, in Newton, by a car driving on the shoulder of a main road.

With respect to priority bike lanes, it's not clear how they would be safer for cyclists. How would you keep cars out of the lanes enough of the time to create a buffer zone to protect novice riders? And, even if priority bike lanes would be used primarily at intersections, that's where many car/bike accidents occur. Right turning cars often don't see cyclists riding on their right and turn in front of them - causing them to crash. Wouldn't allowing cars into a priority bike lane at this junction increase the danger for cyclists? Or am I missing something?

To create a plan for sharing the road, there would have to be consistency in designating areas for cars, bicycles and parking. And, the rules for each area would have to be clearly delineated, understood universally, and strictly enforced. This would not be simple to achieve, especially since there seems to be a strong anti-bicycle contingent in Newton. In any event, I'd like Newton roads to be more bicycle friendly. Any plan for accomplishing this would be greatly appreciated.