Road Rules Part 1: Bicycle Lanes

Bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist. I was reminded of this on about 3 occasions on my way home from work today. It’s a very short ride – but it’s through the centre of town and it’s not unusual to feel like you’re living on borrowed time. Whenever I have a ride like that I wonder about the road rules, and the enforcement of laws that must govern people parking badly, partially blocking bicycle lanes, and the retrospective manner in which lanes are painted in, after the cars have been fully accommodated.

In their deference, the motor-ist’s attempt at parking is made hard by a narrow parking lane.

Cycle Lanes as an Afterthought
Many of the on-road cycle lanes in Newcastle have been ‘retrofitted’ into the existing road-scape and so have been squeezed between parking spaces and traffic lanes – in the ‘door zone’. This is probably the most dangerous place to be riding, it’s Russian roulette and the stakes are high. In many cases the resulting division of space means that the cycle lane and the parking spaces are now too narrow to meet road standards.

The photo’s used as part of this post are from a short stretch of road near my house that I regularly use on my way to work. It is used by many cyclists wanting a direct route into town. There is a slower meandering off-road path that I now use more regularly for travel, especially with my family, but just for clarity, the issue is definitely not restricted to this area and while there are cycle lanes painted on the road, it is being suggested as a safe place to ride, and essentially ignored by motor-ists to the detriment of cycling safety.

I wonder if this truck driver would let his rig hang this far out into the traffic lane – or if police cars would drive by and let him impede traffic while he gets breakfast.

What is Law?
Newcastle Cycleways, the local peak body for cycling, actually recommends that you don’t ride in cycle lanes and that in fact, you’re only legally obliged to cycle in them when there a specific roads signs instructing you to do so. It would seem that the cycle lanes provide a suggested (albeit dangerous) path that is now accepted (incorrectly) as the legal place to ride. So who would dare to exercise their rights and ride in the traffic lane? Only a few brave souls I would suggest.

Car after Car after Car.

A State of Fear?
So as we have it, Cyclists are intimidated off the roads, into the door zone by painted road lines. If cycle lanes and cycl-ists were respected universally then perhaps the state of play would be acceptably dangerous, but the reality is that lazy and aggressive driving makes any on-road cycling too scary for most sensible people, and especially so in the rain when you can add plain stupid driving into the melee. So where am I going with this? In my opinion, bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist.

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