Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Default Position and Cultural Impacts

While biking, I often notice small things that are so obviously wrong, and that making them right would either make a big difference for the actual cycling experience, or could communicate a better message to the culture at large. The picture to the right is one such example.

This is Alder St., a bicycle boulevard in Eugene that is one way auto access and two-way bicycle lanes. Currently, the bike lanes are one on each side, but this summer they will be moved to be adjacent on the east side (left in this picture). To prepare for some re-paving of the road in general, there is some utility work going on now that requires some use of the street right of way for equipment and utility access. Totally fine.

Except that the signs in this picture have it completely wrong. In this picture, you'll notice that there are restrictions in the auto lane up ahead and that the bike lane and auto lane essentially have to merge for a very short time to get past the utility work. All fine and good and I am a firm believer that humanity can work this merging out without much problem. But those signs.

In the construction zone, it is the car lane that ends and the bike lane that remains unobstructed. So why is the bike lane closed and why is it that bikes need to merge? It seems to me that the car lane is closed and that cars need to merge into the bike lane.

It's a small thing, but it is part of a larger message. Are bike lanes just nice extras that can be taken away easily when needed? Or are they legit - as legit as any car lane and that closing one is fairly serious and needs to be accommodated properly? Switiching the signs to "cars merge" would help send the message that bikes are legitimate, their lane is legitimate, that they have the right of way, and that a driver in a car must borrow the bike space (merge) when it is safe to do so. It's a small message, but one that communicates equality and legitimacy of bicycle transportation.

And as for the sign - I asked one of the workers at the site who was directing traffic why the signs were not as I thought they should be, and he said, sympathetically, "I don't think they exist".


  1. You're spot on, but it is also a function of space. It's easier to close the bike lane because we "have" to have room for cars.

    We have history against us. In the U.S., it would be unheard of to close auto travel lanes first. We have treated bikes (and peds) so bad for so long that we'll continue to do it without subtle differences in design. I wrote a bit about that when I was in Copenhagen last year. Often, it takes someone directing staff to pay attention to these details.

  2. I noticed the same in Copenhagen last year and it is probably the reason why I noticed it last week in Eugene. It was impressive that bike lanes were always maintained through construction zones - the lane would be moved over (as would the car lane) or if need be the spaces merged, but never did the bike lane end.

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