Dropped bike lanes

I believe that bike lanes dropped at intersections are one of the top reasons that some people won’t ride on the streets, and other people do, but cringe at the danger. A bike lane is dropped approaching an intersection almost always in favor of turn lanes for the motor vehicles. The bike lane may be continuous along a corridor or block, but then disappears just when the bicyclist most needs the reassurance of a bike lane, and the motor vehicle drivers need a reminder that bike belong here. Almost all collisions between drivers and bicyclists happen at intersections. They rarely happen along bike lanes. I am aware that many people don’t think that regular Class 2 bike lanes are sufficient for streets with a posted speed limit over 30 mph, that a higher level of protection is needed. I don’t disagree, but bike lanes are mostly what we have now, and will have for quite some while, even if separated bikeways are beginning to be installed. My issue here is whether bike lanes that get dropped at intersections are safe and welcoming for bicyclists.

I’ve picked the intersection of Broadway and Stockton Blvd in southeast Sacramento as an example. It is certainly not the worst intersection, but it shows several of the scenarios for bike lanes.

First, an excerpt from the Sacramento Bicycle Master Plan 2016-2018 map showing existing and proposed bicycle facilities. Broadway has Class 2 bike lanes from 44th Street through 49th Street, including the intersection. Stockton has Class 2 bike lanes south of Broadway, but only proposed Class 2 bike lanes north of Broadway.

Broadway & Stockton Blvd, bicycle facilities from Sacramento Bicycle Master Plan

Second, a Google Maps excerpt of the intersection.

Broadway & Stockton Blvd, Google Maps

Southbound on Stockton Blvd, there is actually a bike lane between the through lane and the right hand turn lane. This is the type of facility that scares many bicyclists, riding between two potentially fast lanes of traffic. If you assume that the turn lane if inevitable, which it is not, then this is the only way to place a bike lane without significant intersection modification. Southbound on Stockton, there is no bike lane before this short bike lane shows up.

Northbound on Stockton, the bike lane is dashed from 6th Avenue to Broadway. The dashing, or skip line, is intended to indicate to both bicyclists and drivers that this is a merge area, with right-turning traffic merging to the right and through traffic merging to the left. Problem is, almost no drivers know what this means and how to act. California Vehicle Code (CVC) requires that a right turn be taken from the rightmost position (CVC 22100: Both the approach for a right-hand turn and a right-hand turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway…). The purpose of this law is in part to ensure that bicyclists and drivers are in line with each other, so that the bicyclist is not right-hooked by the driver. In the turns section of the DMV Driver Handbook, none of the diagrams or text mention bike lanes, so it is not surprising that most people are unaware of the law and do not follow it.

Eastbound on Broadway, there is a bike lane present up to San Diego Way, the preceding street, but is absent in the next block. It is dropped in favor of a dedicated left turn lane and a dedicated right turn lane. Many bicyclists will ride the left edge of the right hand turn lane, and then proceed through the intersection. But most bicyclists will not even ride here because it is uncomfortable and unsafe. The bike lanes on Broadway are largely wasted because of this dropped bike lane. If a person doesn’t feel safe approaching an intersection, they don’t feel safe on their ride.

East of the intersection, the bike lane does not start up again until just past 6th Avenue. What the bicyclist is faced with is no bike lane in an area where two general purpose motor vehicle lanes are merging, which is a situation in which drivers are negotiating with other drivers, not paying any attention to bicyclists. There is a simple solution here, which is to make the right hand lane approaching Stockton be a right-turn only lane, so that the merge happens before the intersection, not after. That also removes the need for the existing right hand turn lane and provide space for a bicycle facility. To the east of the intersection, Broadway would be one lane only, as it becomes just one block later.

Westbound on Broadway, there is a bike lane from the east, but it is dropped 180 feet before the intersection, in favor of a right hand turn lane.

This is a flared intersection, where the roadway cross-section is wider near the intersection than on the approaching streets. The reason for this is to accommodate turning lanes. Stockton southbound has dedicated right turn and left turn lanes. Stockton northbound has a dedicated left turn lane. Broadway eastbound has dedicated right turn and left turn lanes. Broadway westbound has dedicated right turn and left turn lanes. Despite the flare, bicyclists have not been accommodated, only motor vehicle drivers.

Northrop Avenue dropped bike lane, Sacramento County

I believe strongly that bike lanes should not be dropped at intersections. Never. Ever. As I’ve noted before, I’m a vehicular bicyclist who is not significantly affected by these roadway design flaws, but it is not for vehicular bicyclists that roadways should be designed. They need to be usable and comfortable for the widest possible array of bicyclist types (Four Types of Transportation Cyclists).

The perceived need by traffic engineers and drivers for dedicated turn lanes should not trump the actual needs of bicyclists for continuous and safe bicycle facilities.

It is possible to modify or reconstruct intersections so that they accommodate drivers, including turn lanes, and bicyclists, with continuous bike lanes, but that is expensive, and such changes would happen only slowly. What needs to be done NOW is to return a small part of the roadway to bicyclists by ensuring that bike lanes continue up to and through intersections. That means restriping the roadway to reallocate space. Either right turn or left turn dedicated lanes would need to be removed. I’ll leave it to the traffic engineers to decide which maintains the best flow of traffic, but I won’t leave it up to the traffic engineers to decide that it doesn’t need to be done. Though I don’t like, and most bicyclists hate, bike lanes between right turn lanes and through lanes, it is one possible solution for maintaining the right turn lane, but only when right turns are a predominant movement for the entire intersection.

Note: This is not just an issue in Sacramento. It is in the county, and the region, and the state, and everywhere in the US that I have traveled. In Oregon, bike lanes continue to the intersection, but then Oregon has the strange idea and law that bicyclists need to remain in the lane, but drivers can’t enter it. I’m not sure whether this is more safe or less safe, but it is different.

Next post, what this means for Sacramento.

Author: 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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