Bike boxes. They’re a little weird, I think, and it wasn’t until I attended the Bike Futures Conference last year (part of the conference included a bike tour), that I realised what their purpose was.
The theory is that whilst cyclists ride along the road single file, once they get to the lights they miraculously, confidently and – some might say strangely – fan out in front of the cars that are waiting behind them. Then, the lights turn green, and they supposedly shuffle back to their single file state of play as they continue on with their journey.
During the bike tour that I did with the conference, the leader of the tour instructed us to “move into the bike box”. I thought this was weird, for several reasons. Firstly, I never really understood what I was meant to do in that big space with the bike sign on it (like the road had been tattooed just for cyclists), that sat in front of the car whilst I waited for the lights to change. I saw the massive bike emblem, so knew that I was within my rights to sit on my bike there, but just wondered why I would. For starters, it not more comfortable to rest one’s foot on a curb than the ground at a set of lights, given that the curb is higher?
Secondly, I didn’t see the point in moving right into the ‘bike box’ only to move left again into the gutter (and I sincerely mean the gutter – have you ridden a bike down Burwood Road lately?). Meanwhile, whilst motorists wait for the nanosecond for cyclists to move from the bike box to the left of the road, they get pissed off, infuriated, aggressive and again start the mantra of “F***ing cyclists” under their agitated, hot breath. Are bike boxes, then, little more than a tokenistic road affectation that appease Councillors, Mayors and wealthy ratepayers but actually do nothing in real terms for cyclists and motorists (or, in short, those who most need to share the road)?
Lastly, I have to say, there is that weird thing where if you are all bunched up together, there’s an awkward moment whereby you have to sort yourself out into supposed speeds of what your fellow cyclist travels at and therefore the most appropriate order. Wouldn’t it just be easier to give us a dedicated bike lane? Social awkwardness, be damned.
I had ridden a bike most days in the previous 8 years since arriving in Melbourne and yet I had no idea how to conduct myself in a bike box, let alone what it’s purpose was, or that the term ‘bike box’ even existed. That is a problem.
The streetswiki on Bike Boxes is actually really fascinating. It states at one point “[bike boxes are] thought to elevate the “status” of bicyclists relative to motor vehicles”. This may be fine in some parts of the world, but for the most part, in Melbourne’s East at least (where I reside and cycle), a cyclist sitting in front of a car is simply going to piss off the driver, and the cyclists’ status is reduced to little more than the grease on the chain.
Having said that, the page goes on to say “The City of Copenhagen has concluded that bike boxes are most effective when combined with a brightly colored lane continuing straight through the intersection to help alert right-turning motorists to the fact that bicycle riders may be traveling straight through the intersection along their right side [Jan Gehl]”.
Little of this is done on roads near where I live. In fact, my commute involves pretty much no infrastructure for cyclists at all, until I reach the City of Yarra – a Council area on the other side of the river to where I reside.
Sadly, this is not the side of the river where my rates go. And, er, just a reminder, I live in the City of Boroondara. The only Council without a comprehensive, costed, Bicycle Strategy and yet according to Bicycle Victoria’s Super Tuesday Count for Boroondara it’s…well…this is when a picture paints a thousand words: