Erica Barnett at Publicola says the 2nd Ave bike lane is probably the worst in the city:
Here are some of the many things that could happen to you as a cyclist on Second:A passenger in a parked car could open his or her door into your path, knocking you down;
A driver could decide to turn in to a parking space, hitting you from the left;
A driver could turn out of a parking space, hitting you from the right;
A driver could decide the bike lane is their own personal driving lane;
A driver could decide to turn left and fail to yield to you, forcing you to stop abruptly or slamming in to you from the right.
I completely agree with Erica.
If you are just headed south through downtown, I find 5th, which has practically no bike-centric aid, much safer. I don’t know if I have ever ridden in the 2nd Ave bike lane without at least one near-miss with a car (and I ride very cautiously). If you ride on 2nd, it really is better to take a general traffic lane and act like the bike lane just doesn’t exist. I would rather the 2nd Ave bike lane be torn up than remain as it is (though I would much rather have it be fixed).
So this is a good opportunity to look at this bike facility and figure out where it went wrong. Below are some of my ideas. Please offer your thoughts on why it is worse than others and what could be done differently.
- The lane is on the left, where turning and parking motorists are simply not expecting bicycles. They are not used to us being there and it is not in their muscle memory to check there for a bike. This is not an excuse, but it is the reality.
- The bike lane was squeezed onto the side of a busy street. Where many other bike lane projects were just one part of a larger traffic calming project, the traffic on 2nd is anything but calm. In many ways, the safety increases from bike lanes may have much less to do with the facility being separate and more to do with decreased speeding (yes, 10 miles per hour over the limit is speeding). I have spent a lot of time in this area of downtown, and I am willing to bet traffic on 2nd could be calmed and still flow smoothly. The lights are timed well enough that speeding cars just hit stoplights anyway, so slowing the top speed of traffic would likely not slow total vehicle movement (though I admit I am no traffic engineer).
- The bike lane is downhill, so bikes are going fast. They are fast enough to be integrated with general traffic, yet the bike lane squeezes bikes into a small space that puts them in exactly the most dangerous part of the street, vulnerable to cars pulling out of/into parking and turning left.
- Sharrows in the center of the right lane on 5th could be a big help in the meantime (sharrows in the left lane could be good, too, though few bikes are going to want to get to I-5 and the left lanes are often backed up). They may encourage many bikers to try the route. I can almost guarantee that people will find 5th less stressful and just as fast as 2nd (depending on your destination, of course). This could help get people out of the 2nd Ave bike lane now while we figure out ways to fix it.
UPDATE: I meant to note that I don’t mind the uphill portion of the lane on 2nd. It’s the downhill that I find dangerous.
UPDATE #2: Just in from BikeWise today, a crash on 2nd at University: “I had trouble with my gears, I downshifted going downhill when I meant to shift up. I was traveling not too terribly fast going downhill as I was braking trying to get my gearing figured out. When I did, then I accelerated. The car that had just passed me slowed and turned left in front of me. I hit the driver’s side of the car. She finished the turn then pulled over and got out to make sure I was okay. I was, and the bike seemed to be/seems to be.
We exchanged phone numbers, but I wished I’d gotten her license plate and seen her driver’s license.
I took what would be an ideal route for me to use to commute to work, only if drivers learn to watch for bikes. Even though I was in the bike lane, a driver who passed me did not see me.”