bike-lane-symbol-farI have long wondered why so many people ride the wrong way in bike lanes. The common label for these bicyclists is “salmon,” probably from Portland, signifying they are swimming upstream against the current. Good for spawning salmon (and bears), bad for bicyclists. There are some evident reasons for wrong-way riding:

  1. The completely wrong but common misunderstanding that bicyclists should ride facing traffic. The origin of this is the “walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk” rule. It doesn’t apply to bikes, but when teaching bicyclist education to youth, I often hear them mention this as something their parents have taught them. In fact, riding the wrong way is the most common bicyclist-caused source of crashes, though these are usually injury crashes and not fatal crashes.
  2. One way streets make it difficult to get where you are going, so many people ride the wrong way to get where they are going. Understandable, but wrong.

I’ve recently come to realize, however, that the common bike lane design fails to discourage wrong-way riding by not marking the end of the bike lane with a direction. The beginning, departing an intersection, is marked with the bicycle symbol and arrow, but the end, approaching an intersection is not. So a person entering the bike lane does not immediately realize they are going the wrong way. Once they do realize it, I think they often just continue along their way rather than changing course to ride with traffic.

The solution? Mark bike lanes at both the beginning and end. That way a person going the wrong way immediately sees that they are going the wrong way.

What is the downside? There may be some confusion induced between the dashed line message, which is that this is a merge area for the regular lane and the bike lane, and the bike lane symbol, which seems to indicate that the exclusive bike lane continues. I don’t see this as a stopper, but it is an issue to be addressed. It is possible that a different variation of the pavement marking could be used, but another symbol is probably not what is needed.

About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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bikeability

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