When is a Bike Lane, not a Bike Lane?

Not

This is not a bike lane

If it looks like a bike lane and feels like a bike lane, is it not a bike lane? It is not a question merely for Magritte.

For those who haven’t seen it, there is a YouTube video that is doing the rounds at the moment of a woman who was ‘doored’ here in Melbourne. In just over 48 hours, the clip has had in excess of 34, 000 views. That’s a lot of people interested in dooring (or they just want to watch someone being knocked from their bike endlessly). A woman is knocked to the ground by a man opening the door of a taxi, to exit the vehicle, into the path of the cyclist. The passenger of the taxi is accompanied by two other men.

The incident has fuelled a great deal of discussion not necessarily due to the accident, but what followed. The cyclist asked for the details of the passengers, claiming that they had doored her and that it is illegal to do this in a bike lane. Whilst dooring is illegal, what the cyclist was riding on  – and here’s the corker – wasn’t a bike path.

What the cyclist was riding in, was a sliver of a lane that had a solid white line running along it, with a width of about 50 cm or so and cyclists use this ‘lane’ (let’s call it what it is – the gutter) to ride on, next to stationary cars waiting for the lights to change. However, legally, a bike lane is only a bike lane if it is at least 1.2m wide in a 40 km/h zone or at least 1.5m wide in a 60 km/h zone and all lanes (regardless of size) must be signposted with ‘Start of Bike Lane’ and ‘End of Bike Lane’. This certainly isn’t the case with the narrow lane that the cyclist was riding on and, like many others who cycle in the city, she was perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it actually was a bike lane. Given that these gutter lanes very often have a stencil of a bike on it, any reasonable person could be forgiven for believing that they actually are lanes for cyclists.

However, the cyclist was right to track them down and get their details because it is a $352 on-the-spot fine for opening a car door in the direct path of a cyclist and at $1408 maximum court penalty. Sadly, the passengers aggravate an already tricky situation by antagonising the woman, with one man saying that “cyclists on the road disgust me”. No apology was offered by any of the taxi passengers.

So, in short, the incident that is captured in a three minute video sparks a great deal of debate. When is a bike lane, actually a bike lane and how can a cyclist, driver and pedestrian know the difference? How do we educate road users to look out for bikes, whether they are on a bike path that adheres to the – very prescriptive – measurements or not? How do we tone down the inflated aggression that cyclists and drivers have to one another? Some argue that the cyclist was actually moving too fast given the restricted space she had. Maybe further education is needed for cyclists themselves?

We can’t all cycle around with cameras on our heads and load up YouTube vids in the hope that something will happen (well, I don’t want it to come to that). But we do need to seriously think about these issues and tackle them. I know that the City of Melbourne is embarking on a shared space campaign called ‘Share our Streets’, and hopefully that will go some way to addressing shared space problems and this is to be commended (as a side note, I actually suggested at a Bike Futures meeting this week that the campaign shouldn’t use the word ‘street’ as there are plenty of places where cyclists share the space with pedestrians and drivers – not just on streets, but I digress).

The bottom line is this: not only infrastructure but education and laws needs to keep up with the popularity of cycling. Another option might be to overthrow the 1.2m and 1.5m rules. Who came up with such arbitrary figures? If they don’t work for the city they are in, let’s try something new. The status quo isn’t working and so let’s change it. Let’s be brave.

No one will die if we try it, but people might die if we don’t.

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