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Do separate bike paths improve safety?

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:01pm

She came flying up to the intersection; driving way too fast.

I could tell by her speed she wasn't going to stop, even though there was a stop sign. I touched my brakes and moved out to the center of the road near to the yellow line.

I could see there was no traffic coming towards me, and I already knew there was nothing immediately behind me.

Two things told me this: 1.) My ears; I could hear no vehicle behind me, and 2.) The fact that she was not intending to stop. She was looking right past me further down the road.

Had I not moved out to the center I would have run smack in the side of her. She saw me at the last second and slammed on the brakes; a little late because by now she was right out into the lane I had been riding in. She might as well have kept going because by this time I was over the yellow line and in the opposing lane completely out of her way.

Anyway, she stopped and let me pass, and I moved back over to the right. As she passed me slowly, I saw her passenger side window roll down and I was actually expecting an apology. She called out, "Why aren't you on the bike path?" There is a bike path that runs along side this road.

Somewhat taken back I hesitated for a second, then told her. "If I had been on the bike path you would have hit me for sure." I don't know if she even heard me because by now the window was rolling up again and she was speeding away.

I would have liked to explain that she had not intended to stop at road intersection, and was certainly not looking to see if there was anyone on the bike path before she came to the road.

Had I been on the path I could not have stopped in time because she came up so fast, and there was nowhere I could go to avoid hitting her. On the road I was at least able to move to the left and give her room.

I dislike this type of bike path. It gives the city planners the impression that they are doing the right thing to improve safety for cyclists. It gives the inexperienced cyclist the impression that they are safe, but are they?

On the road there is a remote possibility a cyclist will be run down from behind. However statistics show that this is the least likely accident that can happen. An accident is more likely to occur at an intersection; either someone pulling out of the side road, or turning into it, in front of a cyclist, or a vehicle passing the cyclist then side-swiping them as they turn. (The right-hook.)

Although the cyclist on the bike path has zero possibility of being run down from behind, they are at even greater danger at each intersection than if they were on the road, because they are less visible.

In addition, as I have demonstrated on the bike path there is no room for the cyclist to take evasive action. Then you have the added hazard as in this case a driver pulling up to the intersection and the cyclist runs into the side of the vehicle.

If planners are going to install this type of bike path, why not move the stop signs back behind the bike path, so at least in theory a vehicle will stop at the bike path then move slowly forward to the intersection.

The bike path crossing should be clearly marked on the road with lines and possibly the bike symbol. And what is a cyclist to do at every intersection? I'm sure the planners will say he should stop every time, but if bike rider is on the road he has the right of way to ride straight through the same as other vehicles.

Personally, I would rather see bike lanes on the existing highway. Cheaper to install, and certainly easier to keep clean. It gets the bike rider used to riding in traffic, the cyclist is more visible, and it lets the car driver know that cyclists have a right to be there.

I like the idea they have in Denmark where the bike lanes are painted a different color at the intersection.(Picture above right.) Speaking of Denmark, yesterday’s post on Copenhagen Girls on Bikes explains their Green Wave System:

“The 'Green Wave' system coordinates the traffic lights to give cyclists a 'green wave' all the way along the route.

This means that if you ride 20 km per hour (12.5 mph.) you'll hit green lights the whole way.

Some people have bike speedometers - not many - but most can adjust their speed using their experience, without electronic interference, and enjoy an uninterrupted ride to and from work.

Most of the stretches featuring the Green Wave have 15,000 - 30,000 bikes per day.”

Now that’s what I call bicycle friendly.
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