Seattle Likes Bikes is somewhat skeptical of Seattle’s newish bike boxes, saying they are confusing. And, it does seem that a lot of people, bike riders and drivers alike, are confused by them (though many people are not). He also observed several people stopping on top of the boxes and making right turns on red, even though they are supposed to be banned.
I have said before that I like the boxes. I like that SDOT is experimenting with the tool, using them for three entirely different purposes. In conjunction with the restriction of the right turn on red (which can be very dangerous to pedestrians), I think and hope the boxes will prove to reduce conflicts.
But overall response to the boxes has ranged from excitement to anger. But there seems to be a whole lot of, “Meh,” responses out there. Perhaps it is our fault, as bike advocates, for not giving them a proper introduction into our city. We should have thrown them a welcoming party!
Imagine if, each time a cool new bike feature was installed, bike riders and activists threw parties and celebrated them? SDOT could even help out (no one parties like traffic engineers, I hear). We could get a bunch of people out trying the new features together and trading their thoughts. Bike riders would fill local bike racks and hang out in nearby shops and restaurants. These road changes change the way we use our city, and that is no small task.
Bike boxes are exciting. They are really simple ways to increase the visibility of people on bikes and to allow for safer crossings by foot. But they only work if people use them properly. Portland had some growing pains when they tried them out at first, but now people seem to understand how they work and obey the rules. A recent study showed that they are working. But Portland also celebrated their arrival more than we have.
Now, the boxes are not perfect. The “Let’s get behind it” signs depict a full standard bike box, even on the Madison “boxes” that look almost nothing like the boxes in the sign’s diagram. This is a little confusing, for sure. Portland also paints “STOP HERE” on the road before the bike box advance stop line, which SDOT should certainly consider in order to improve compliance.
But, mostly, people are not going to follow rules if they don’t see the point. We have proven this over and over again throughout history. And if we do not show excitement for the boxes and demonstrate how useful and simple they are, then we can’t expect people to be concerned about leaving them clear and waiting for the light to change.
I know, for one, that I plan on riding the new bike lanes on NE 125th as soon as they go in. Who else is with me? Maybe we should make it a party.