Sacramento has nearly completed a reconstructed bridge over I-5 between 3rd Street and Tower Bridge. This is part of a project to provide access from and to Old Sacramento, but that part is not complete yet. The pavement is fresh, with bright white lines and green carpet bike lanes. But, the bike lane design is a failure. The eastbound bike lane is OK. A little strange because it varies in width, but acceptable. The westbound bike lane, though, is a hazard to bicyclists.
Below is a photo of the first problem, a bike lane to the right of a place where a right turn is permitted. This is at the entrance to the Old Sacramento access.The straight-and-right arrow indicates that the city expects heavy right turning traffic at this location.
While this design is in compliance with the law, using a dashed line to indicate that traffic from the general purpose lane and the bike lane should safely merge, the use of green paint here is the wrong message. Though green paint has no legal meaning, the general meaning taken is that this is the place for bicycles. So an average bicyclist will stay in the bike lane, not realizing that the safe manesuver is to merge into the general purpose lane. The result is a right hook danger that has been created by the design.
There are a lot of ways to solve this issue, but this is the worst possible solution. Creating a separate signal phase for bicyclists and right turning traffic is one solution. Dropping the bike lane in favor of green-back sharrows in the general purpose lane is another.
However, this problem spot is minor in comparison to what happens just on the other side of the intersection. Here, the bike lane suddenly ends and becomes a right turn only lane. There is no signing for bicyclists or motor vehicle drivers, no pavement markings, no indication of what biyclists should do. I’m a vehicular bicyclist and would not be in this bike lane fragment to begin with, but for the average bicyclist, this green paint is a clear message, “this is where you belong.” Whoops. Sorry. Turns out we needed the road for a right turn lane, and just got rid of the bike lane. Hope you are still alive, but if not, well it wasn’t our fault. But the thing is, it is the city’s fault. This is a mis-design, and the city should be sued the first time someone is injured at this location. It is not as though this was an existing location where the city did the best if could to squeeze in bike facilities. This is a new construction where things should have been done right. They were not.
There are several good solutions for this location, and the NACTO Guide to Urban Bicycling has several, but even the standard MUTCD design is better than this. Though you can’t see the turn lane due to the parked FedEx van (it was there for more than 10 minutes, double-parked, and I couldn’t wait any longer for the photo), there are no bike markings in the right turn lane at all. There is no “bicyclists may use full lane” sign. Maybe bicyclists are meant to fly over this right turn lane and return to earth at the bridge. Or maybe they are meant to die.
As I always warn people in bicyclist education classes, don’t get sucked in by paint. Paint doesn’t keep you safe. And in this particular case, paint creates a danger for you that would not exist if not for the paint. Negligent design, for sure.