Doing Bicycle Lanes Right

I think it is great that a bicycling wave is hitting Los Angeles; after all, our weather is perfect for year-round cycling as a way of commuting. The city has responded by installing miles and miles of bike lanes. However, it is not doing it correctly — bikes and cars must be separated.

It is no secret that our streets are built for maximum speed in getting cars around (notwithstanding the traffic lights, which still are not synced correctly). They are not built for slower moving bicycles. The city recognizes this, so it is painting bike lanes, usually a dedicated lane between the right lane for cars and parked cars.

But this is not good enough. In March a rider was killed on a bike lane on Vine St. when a driver opened her door after parking without looking to make sure the coast was clear. The rider was “doored,” as it is called.

In several locations (I have seen one on 7th St near MacArthur Park), the right lane turns into a “right turn only lane,” so the bicycle lane has to shift and ends up between the left and right lanes. It is only a matter of time before a bicycle rider is squeezed between cars.

No, bicycle lanes must be completely separate. On a recent visit to New York, I saw bicycle lanes done correctly.

bicycle lanes

As you can see, bicycles are separated from cars (parked and moving) by a curb. In some places, bicycles even have their own traffic signals so they can make turns without any interference.

This method is undoubtedly safer, but it requires the removal of traffic lanes. It is doable in New York because most people do not rely on cars to get around. It is more difficult in Los Angeles; any lane removal would have a drastic effect on traffic on that street.

One possible option is the sidewalk. Many streets in Los Angeles have generous sidewalks that are rarely used. It would be simple to gouge out half the sidewalk and install a protected bike lane. Pedestrian traffic would see very little effect.

This of course is not feasible in areas with heavy foot traffic; here, other methods would have to be deployed. But it could work in vast swathes of the city. If we really want to reduce automobile traffic and get more people on bicycles, truly safe bicycle lanes must be constructed.