When cycle lanes are dangerous

The raucous horn sounded half a second before the ute skimmed past me, its side-view mirror just missing my handlebar. The driver’s voice bellowed through the open passenger window: “Get in the f---ing bike lane!”

In truth, I wasn’t in the bike lane, but given the circumstances, that was hardly surprising. The road is a popular bicycle conduit through my suburb – wide, straight and with refuge islands and roundabouts that help to keep the traffic well-behaved.

But as for the “bike lane” – it’s a line of peeling white paint on the road, with an occasional painted stencil of a bicycle to indicate its purported purpose. The strip of paint is about a metre away from the door handle of a parked car – if it's a compact car that has been carefully parked. If the car is a wider beast, such as the Falcon I used to drive, or any of the millions of 4WDs on our roads, the vehicle will all but engulf the so-called “bicycle lane”.

And I wasn't in the lane because I was about to weave around a boat and trailer that were entirely obscuring the way.

Two months ago I wrote of the dangers of cycling in the “door zone”, and many commenters pointed out that much of the so-called cycling infrastructure on our roads is built in that zone.

Many councils love the painted “bicycle lane”. It costs next to nothing, while allowing the council to send out a communique to ratepayers claiming that they have “constructed 30 kilometres of bicycle infrastructure”. Often, the lane is only painted where there’s a bit of spare space, and tends to suddenly veer to the kerb, or disappear, when it all gets too hard.

No one benefits from badly designed lanes – cyclist would be fools to ride in them, but are then seen by motorists to be wantonly ignoring provided infrastructure. Sometimes they abuse you – many more times, they are probably just annoyed by you.

On too many occasions it seems that cycling infrastructure is designed and constructed by people who never ride a bike.

For many years the road past Sydney’s Taronga Zoo had a painted lane that skimmed the number-plates of a long row of cars in the visitors’ parking area. There was only a lane on this side of the road – a steep downhill, where most commuter cyclists heading for the ferry would be going at a speed where a car nudging into the lane, or an excited child stepping into the path, would result in a dreadful accident. But on the other side, where the cyclist would likely be crawling up the road at a third of their descent pace? Nothing.

Of course,  proper, separated cycling lanes are being built in some cities. Even these have suffered teething problems, with detector strips that don’t work, risky transitions on and off pavements, and traffic lights that give cyclists such a low priority that many opt to simply cycle in the street out of frustration - again, annoying motorists (many of whom are likely to vent their frustrations in the comments below).

So what are the solutions?

Firstly, if infrastructure is silly or dangerous, take it up with the relevant authorities. This can be a frustrating task, but things can change – I don't know whether it was due to complaints, but the Taronga Zoo line was sensibly relocated to the uphill side of the road. Bicycle Network Victoria has a "how to" guide, and here's how to do it in NSW.

Secondly, councils need to stop creating nonsense bike lanes. I believe they’d be better off painting large bicycle symbols in the middle of roads that are favoured as cycle conduits. It’s a simple, obvious message – look out for cyclists.

Lastly, if cycling infrastructure is dangerous, don’t use it. If a bicycle lane would be better described as a “car door opening lane”, it’s not where you should be cycling. The law in NSW says a lane should be used "unless it is impracticable" - for example, if there's a boat and trailer in the way.

Do you know of any dangerous cycling infrastructure? How do you deal with it?

Competition: Nobody predicted the finishers in order (too many Evans tragics), so the Tour de France $50 gift voucher goes to "Lacebug".

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