Tag Archives: bike lanes

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.

Spouse reports from the Upper Midwest

While I’m out-of-commission, bike-wise, I’ll be relying on some reports from the field by fellow Car-Free in PVD staff members. Staff Member #1, of course, is Spouse. Spouse recently returned from a visit to Madison, WI and Minneapolis, MN. Minneapolis was named bike-friendly city #1 last year, so I was curious to hear about what she saw on her trip. Unfortunately, Spouse still stubbornly refuses to buy a folding bike, so she didn’t get to experience Minneapolis’es bike-friendliness first hand. Instead, she sent me this picture:

This is from the middle of the University of Minnesota campus where a well-marked (and evidently snow-plowed) bike path runs right through the heart of campus.

Meanwhile, back in Providence, I’ve been reduced to taking pictures of Hope Street’s non-existent, non-cleared bike lanes:

Of course, these are not actually bike lanes, they are parking lanes on a signed bike route (Mark Dietrich at RIBike addressed a similar issue recently). It is now April, weeks since the last snow storm requiring salt & sand, and we still have giant sand piles on all of our streets. Just to mock me, Spouse sent me a picture of a Madison bike lane:

It’s a left-hand side, debris-free, non-sandy bike lane, with no parked cars in sight. Damn, that thing is beautiful. Due to the harsh upper-midwestern winters, I’m sure they sand their streets in Madison, so evidently, the city cares enough about cycling that they actually use street sweepers on the bike lanes. Imagine that. We have a left-hand bike lane in Providence – on Promenade/Providence Place and last time I checked, it was still covered in sand. Some people prefer left-hand bike lanes because they allow motorists to pass cyclists in a way where it is easier to see how much room they are giving the cyclists. Also, cars tend to not park on the left-hand side of the street.

Pictured above is a bike lane on an otherwise one-way street. Spouse titled this image “making salmon safe and legal.”

Bicycle Parking Dignity on State Street in Madison, WI

Madison provides excellent bike parking facilities in the State Street area. There’s also specific moped parking spaces. Spouse described State Street as being the equivalent of Thayer Street in Providence (close to the campus, full of restaurants, shops and bars catering to the university and young-adult population) except that it is completely closed to cars. Meanwhile, Thayer Street has ZERO bike parking but several sections of street reserved for motorcyle parking. I will revisit this topic later in the year when we are in the thick of motorcycle season.

Cyclists in Madison are even allowed to make left turns when cars are banned from doing so. However….

…sometimes, even when there’s special bike infrastructure (such as this bike box), the cyclists still like to bend the rules a little bit.

Any idea on when Providence puts out the street sweepers? I recently saw this on Twitter:

That's Matthew Coolidge of the excellent GCPVD.org blog

Time for Providence to catch up with Warwick. What’s that? There’s no money left? Oh well.