Recently I moved from Dallas Texas to Mill Valley, California which is just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. While there are many things I love about riding here, there are just as many things I hate, bike lanes being one of them. Many of the bike lanes I’ve experienced here are Door Zone Bike Lanes, DZBLs, consisting of a bike lane installed adjacent to parallel parking. It looks something like this:
In less than four weeks I have been in so many hazardous bike lane situations that I have lost count. They are fraught with danger, these bike lanes. Some are relatively obvious, such as debris the bike lane, parked cars in the bike lane, drivers side doors opening while you pedal along in the bike lane, and cars turning right at intersections without checking for traffic in the bike lane. There are also some less obvious hazards such as getting cut off by a motorist who suddenly sees an open parking space and jacks their car into it without remembering there was a bike lane between him and that parking space. Or getting cut off by a motorist turning right to enter a driveway or parking lot, especially the motorist who has just realized THIS was the parking lot and quickly brakes then turns into the lot.
I find it ironic that for the two years that I lived and rode in Dallas, Texas, with all it’s busy streets and cyclist-hating rednecks, I hardly ever felt like I was in danger of getting hit by a motor vehicle. The streets where I rode in Dallas had no bike lanes, I rode on the road in a lane just as any other vehicle. Yet here I am in Northern California, well known for it’s cycling culture, and I am absolutely convinced that I will be hit by a car here. Pretty much every time I ride my bike here I encounter at least one situation which could have resulted in a collision had I not been riding alert and defensively, aware of potential dangers. Now I suppose you could argue that one ought always to be riding alert and defensively, and you’d be correct. I agree, knowing what potential dangers exist and how to avoid them is a very important element of bicycling safety. However, I think minimizing these dangers by not creating hazardous conditions in the first place is equally important.
California has a mandatory use law that states that if a bike lane is present, cyclists must use it. The law does allow cyclists to leave the bike lane under certain conditions, one of them being to avoid a hazard. Lately I have wondered if I am riding on a street with a bike lane, which I have come to view as hazardous by their very nature, I am legally justified in taking the lane with the rest of traffic since the hazardous condition that exists is the bike lane itself. Personal experience has taught me that I am far safer driving my bicycle as a vehicle on the road with the rest of traffic, than I am riding in any bike lane. Hmmm….now that I think about it, that sounds vaguely familiar…
“Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” – John Forester