MY VIEW • Separate lanes for bikes? That might resolve some traffic conflicts
BY VERN LUCE
Nov 10, 2011
I read with interest Mia Birk’s exhortation of bicyclists and drivers to obey traffic laws and to ride/drive responsibly on city streets (Lawbreaking cyclists: the answer, Sept. 15).
As a driver who rides a bike and is interested in Portland becoming more bicycle friendly, I have thoughts to add to Ms. Birk’s opinion piece.
Think of how it must look viewing city traffic from above. What would immediately be clear is the difference in the ways motor vehicles and bicycles move or “behave.”In dense traffic, cars start and stop frequently and effortlessly, shifting lanes quickly and smoothly, varying speed constantly. Bicycles wobble at stops as some riders balance to avoid dismounting or power through intersections, sometimes onto sidewalks to cross with pedestrians, then back on to the street to stay ahead of motorized traffic.
Experienced riders move quickly, darting through and around other riders, dodging cars along the way. The inexperienced or less fit ride slowly and upright and sometimes hesitantly. Fitness is a necessity for bicycling.
Many bicyclists will ride within designated bike lanes, some two abreast conversing as they ride, some on or outside of the lines, dodging one another and open car doors. The dynamic, natural movement of cars and bikes differs dramatically. This can’t be explained only by behavior of individual drivers and riders.
It is in the cyclist’s interest to keep moving forward to avoid expending extra energy and remain vertical. Centrifugal force makes turning handlebars on a moving bike wheel relatively difficult, and a high speeds, dangerous – and easier, if less stable, at slow speeds.
The close proximity and mixing of large, powerful cars (trucks?) and bikes on public streets is a dangerous experiment: bikes really can’t do great damage to a car or driver, while bicyclists are always in danger of injury from motor vehicles and other riders.Anyaccident for a rider – simply falling from a bike – can be deadly. And, in traffic, the odds are always in the motorist’s favor.
Placing cars and bikes on the same plane is a mistake. The dynamic of controlling each machine is so very different. Yet, Portland City Council and an aggressive bike lobby have pushed cars, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds and scooters and bicycles more tightly together on many already over-capacity streets as Portland traffic continues to increase. I’ve not mentioned tricycle and recumbent bikes, bikes with trailers, and motorcycles with side cars or trailers adding to the excitement. I’ve seen bicyclists carrying lumber, furniture, rugs, bicycles and other large items through traffic.
When driving across inner-city Portland I must often make quick adjustments for cyclists darting through traffic, in and out of bike lanes. Sometimes I feel my driving is compromised by the particular vigilance I must exercise watching out for bike riders while navigating auto traffic.Some cyclists appear to expect me to take more care on their behalf than they do for themselves. Bicyclists, from my vantage, are no more careless than motorists, but more endangered by anyone’s carelessness on the road.
Many of the transgressions committed by drivers are becoming part of bicycling behavior as well: talking and texting, smoking, eating, carrying pets, conversing with others while riding, among others.
Decline in skilled driving
Laws concerning motor vehicles are uniform and clear in most cases. Equipment is prescribed. All imported vehicles must meet the same stringent standards. All motor vehicles that operate on public streets must be licensed, insured to cover the vehicle, driver and passengers and other drivers, including the uninsured, and passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and property in case of an at fault accident.
Standards for bicycles are so minimal as to be nearly non-existent. No insurance or licensing is required. Almost any lighting meets legal requirements, whether effectively visible or not.
It may be too late to take another look at the ways in which Portland has decided to integrate bicycling onto urban streets. So much money has been spent on design and implementation, so much behavior and so many expectations shaped by the existing direction of the effort to accommodate bike riders. Many consider the Portland solution a success and I would agree in part. My comments may seem defensive and one-sided.
But I am also upset with the behavior of many drivers in Portland and see a general decline in considerate, cooperative and skilled driving. My personal concern is wanting to avoid injuring anyone riding a bike. My larger concern is that we in Portland are participating in an experiment which will result in much unintended harm and, surely, loss of precious life.
Traffic planning in large urban areas must be very complex, especially when including bikes. We need a plan that doesn’t count on people behaving in ways that aren’t natural or easy. Uniform regulations for equipment, licensing and rider behavior are needed to help put bicyclists on an equal footing with motorists. Specific thoroughfares for bicycles could be set aside, perhaps whole lanes or streets.
Barriers to isolate and protect bicyclists can be erected, as is done in some European countries. Considering the existing situation with an eye to improving movement for all vehicles through Portland is in everyone’s interest.
Vern Luce of Northwest Portland is a commercial property owner in North Portland.