Category Archives: bike lanes

Bay Area grab-bag pt. 2

Some more pictures from my trip to SF (way back in January, what can I say, I’m a bad blogger).

I can make all the jokes we want about the smug liberalism of the Bay Area, it’s still California, and the excesses of car culture are on full display.

That white SUV is a Mercedes Benz G class, with an after-market conversion for a convertible top. That is, it’s an expensive, ugly SUV, modified to make it even more expensive, less practical, and less safe. I can think of 4 cars I’d rather have that total up to the price of one these. (or about…. I dunno, 20 bikes?) I’ll admit that the sharrows on the street in front of this house help mitigate the ostentatious display of wealth in that driveway.

I took a ride around SF one day and happened upon this scene outside of a private elementary school:

That’s a few dozen cars double parked (with idling engines) waiting to drive the kids home from school. I think it was Gary Kavanaugh (aka @GaryRidesBikes) who first said something like: you know gas is not too expensive when you see people sitting in their cars with the engines idling for 15 minutes. Good thing I was on bike so I could just filter through the cars!

On to more positive things. I attended something called the East Bay Bike Party!

It takes place at night, so it’s difficult to take a picture, but there are well over a hundred cyclists there. They gather at one park, ride through the streets (safely, and largely obeying traffic laws), stop at a second park, have a little party at that park, ride through the streets to a third park, party some more. Many of the cyclists have trailers with sound systems, and there was even one that had a giant suspended disco ball.

You might be thinking, “sounds like critical mass, right?” Wrong! First, I am on the record as being against critical mass, and I stand by that statement. First, this started around 8PM, and the streets were largely empty. All of the rush-hour traffic was done. The cyclists obey the law (for the most part, there’s over a hundred people, and you can’t control everyone). The group splits into multiple groups, stopping at lights and allowing cars to pass and cross.  The group rides through neighborhoods and many people come out onto their porches to watch the cyclists go by (kids especially love it). It was great to see so many people on all sorts of bikes. Like I said, the streets were pretty much empty. For part of the ride, we were on some pretty wide, major streets. And they were empty, just a couple hours after “peak rush hour.” It made me think that we’ve overbuilt our infrastructure – at least our car infrastructure.

Luckily, there’s some good bike infrastructure around. The picture above is from the San Francisco Bay Trail: my friend and I enjoying an afternoon ride.

Cambridge does it wrong

Ahhh, Cantabrigia, a fantastical land full of graduate students, biotech companies, public pedants, and bikes, bikes, bikes! I recently visited the city which is distinguished by classical learning and new institutions to dine in one of its fine establishments, specifically, Rendezvous. It was the best restaurant I’ve ever been to that used to be a Burger King.

But, as usual, I digress. And I’m about to digress some more into a reverie of memory because on this most recent trip, I realized that Cambridge was the first city I’d ever been to that had actual lanes in the road designated for use by bicycles. Picture the year 1999: Dot-com bubbles were frothing away, and Prince was on the radio everywhere you went. For the Fourth of July, I was visiting a friend who lived in Somerville (Cambridge’s slightly shabbier neighbor). We rode our bikes from the Davis Square area down to the Charles River, not far from MIT, in order to watch the fireworks. After the show, we hopped back on our bikes and made our way through the crowd. I’ll have to admit that it was a lot of fun, weaving through the pedestrians on Memorial Drive as a few cyclists would form a mini-peloton, only to scatter around a clot of slow walking families. I’ll also have to admit that we probably looked like a-holes to the people just trying to walk back to their cars. I wasn’t biking particularly fast, but probably fast enough to scare a few people in the dark. What can I say, I was a young man of 25. I’ve learned better since then.

The car traffic near the fireworks was at a standstill, so it was great to be on a bike and completely avoid all of that. Eventually, we made our way up to Mass Ave and headed back to Davis Square. There was some traffic on Mass Ave, but certainly less than at rush hour. As we made our way between Harvard and Porter Squares, I noticed that we kept passing the same cars as they waited at lights. These cars would then pass us between lights and we’d catch up to them again at the next intersection. If I remember correctly, there were bike lanes on Mass Ave at the time (I think they have been replaced with sharrows since then). Back and forth we went with the cars for about a mile.

This was a real “lightbulb” moment for me, seeing that a bike could be just as fast as a car in an urban environment. Coincidentally, I was reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler which spends a lot of time on how placing the automobile at the center of city planning has helped to ruin American cities (etc.) There’s a fair amount of BS in that book (and the author is a real jerk, evidently), but it was eye-opening to someone who grew up in a car-centric suburb and had trouble imagining a different world. Staying in Somerville while reading a book about New Urbanism was certainly the best place to do it since Somerville is a great example of “Old Urbanism,” in that it is densely populated with neighborhoods where people can walk to places of business and transit. I’ll have to say that I was inspired. After my visit to Somerville, I returned to Troy, NY and was determined to ride my bike more. Then I tried to go up that damn hill.

Anyhoo…. back to today…

As inspiring as Cambridge might have been to me back then, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, I was a little disappointed on my most recent visit. Enough with all these words, let’s go to the pixels!

Here we have a nice looking bike lane, keeping our happy Cantabrigian cyclists safe from all the big, bad cars, right? Well… there’s a little problem which can best be seen if we ENHANCE!

Hmm, I can see two cars with their tires on the line of the bike lane. Even if all of the cars were parked closer to the curb, the placement of this bike lane makes it a “door zone lane.”

That is, if one were to ride anywhere in the orange zone, one risks being hit by someone opening their car door before looking to see if a cyclist is coming. Any cyclist can tell you about being doored or near-doored. (“Winning the door prize” is another popular name for it). So far, I’ve only had near-dooring experiences. (My apologies for the haphazard photo edit. Gary Rides Bikes has a much better illustration of door zone lanes in California.)

So, what’s a cyclist to do? I caught it on camera just to show my reader(s):

Okay, this cyclist is kind of just avoiding the pedestrian, so let’s take a look down the street:

A motorist might be thinking, “there’s a bike lane right there and that cyclist is riding in MY lane!” But really, the cyclist is just avoiding a road hazard. It’s an unsafe bike lane. In fact, a cyclist was killed in 2002 a few yards from this spot when she was doored and then run over by a bus. I know that Cambridge was an early adopter when it came to putting in bike lanes and that’s great, but it may be time to revisit some of them and make them more safe. You can’t really make Mass Ave any wider, so the only thing to do would be to remove parking on one side of the street and re-stripe so that the bike lanes are out of the door zone. This would result in the loss of a few dozen parking spaces, but back when I was driving, I was always able to find a parking spot in Central Square within a 5 minute walk of my destination. I think a little bit of inconvenience for the motorists is a fair trade for the safety of everyone.

That, or you could go with sharrows.