Narrower lane for bikes is a safe option

October 9, 2009
By

As a Boston bike commuter for 35 years, I’m excited by all the current interest in, and promotion of, bike commuting in the city. I also, of course, like bike lanes, at least in theory.

In practice, I have a serious problem with most currently constructed bike lanes, for a reason I’m sure has been often repeated: The lanes almost invariably run in the space immediately next to parked cars and, hence, leave bikers squarely in range for what’s probably the greatest hazard to bikers: dooring. My main concern is that to the unwary biker, the belief that riding in a bike lane gives some measure of security is quite misplaced; riding within the lanes puts the biker directly within range of a suddenly opened car door.

I recognize that many Boston streets just aren’t wide enough to allow space for bike lanes that begin at the point beyond the range of a parked car’s opening door. But the solution of placing the lane within range of that door is, as I’ve noted, a dangerous one.

Here’s a suggestion: On roads wide enough, be sure to place the bike lane properly out of reach of an opening door. On narrower roads, make the “bike lane” much narrower, even just a foot wide, and still mark it a “bike lane,” but make sure its edge that’s closest to the parked cars is beyond the range of an open door. This way, motorists will still notice the presence of a dedicated bike lane, and bikers can ride within the lane and at least be beyond range for exposure to the dooring hazard.

As an urban biker who’s been around the block a few times, I ride pretty much on the left edge of existing bike lanes (having had the pleasure of being doored, and, somehow, not enjoying it all that much), but I fear for those newer bikers who don’t have the benefit of that experience. Unfortunately, it’s going to take many years of consciousness-raising to educate motorists to the point where they really look for oncoming bikers before they open their street-side doors. The narrower lane beyond dooring range could prove to be a worthwhile, safe alternative to what’s out there now.

Michael Felsen
Jamaica Plain

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