Getting There: Integration or Separate-But-Equal?

All of the wonderful, diverse comments in response to my interview with Eric Iwersen have brought up some points about bicycle-car interactions that merit further discussion. The conversation started to get interesting when it focused on the case study of the transformation of Apache with the light-rail construction. As Eric described, Apache went from a six-lane arterial signed at 40-45 mph to a four-lane arterial with a bike lane, on-street parking, 35 mph speed limits, and more extensive pedestrian access.

While overall I think the retrofit is an improvement (especially lowering the speed limit), it does raise a general question (legalities and design standards aside): does the presence of bike lanes fool drivers and bicycles into thinking that bicycles should only be found in bike lanes? And if that’s the case, do bike lanes thus mis-educate drivers and cyclists about how to safely and comfortably interact with each other, as suggested by Al, Freewheeler, and Ben?

If the answers to these questions are yes, what are some alternative methods that Tempe could employ? What’s working, and what could work better?

As Ben said, probably the biggest improvement to Apache from a bicyclist’s perspective is speed reduction: fatal accidents happen when vehicles travel at speeds over 30 mph, so slowing traffic down should have favorable consequences for accident rates and will make it easier for bicycles to ride with traffic. From what I understand of the City’s history, though, they have found it politically complicated to universally lower speed limits (drivers get grumpy about this). Instead, the City is working to phase in lower speed limits as other retrofits occur (Eric, please correct me if I’m wrong about this).

So, what else? How about sign changes? Here are three ideas with various merits and limitations:

1. Sharrows. Several other US cities have been testing out “sharrows,” signs painted on the roadway that indicate that cars should expect to share the roadway with bicycles, and indicate where cyclists should ride (i.e. free of the “door zone”). From my experience riding around in areas with sharrows, I don’t think they really do much for anybody, because they’re usually put in places where drivers already expect to see bicycles, and they’re only really useful in situations where lanes are already quite wide and allow vehicles and bicycles to share the same lane.

2. Share the Road. In Tempe we’ve already got a lot of “Share the Road” signs up, but I personally don’t think that they register with motorists because they aren’t white (legally required directions) or yellow (advisory). And also, what does it actually mean to share the road? Does that encourage bikers to ride too far to the right?

3. BAUFL-CLTP. After some heavy deliberation, San Francisco is implementing what they call BAUFL-CLTP signs in some areas(“Bicycles allowed use of full lane – change lanes to pass”): there’s a .pdf summary document about these signs here. Has the sign change been successful? I don’t really know yet–if you know more, let me know. I think these signs would shock Tempe-area motorists, though.

My question to you is, do you have other ideas or further insights into the ones presented here, or commentary on these possibilities? What can we continue to do to make the majority happy with our transportation infrastructure?