Since I’ve moved to Albuquerque I’ve really brushed up on my traffic skills. In Flagstaff we had a few busy intersections, a few tricky places to navigate. Albuquerque is much more complex. Figuring out the safest way to proceed through town is not always clear. I work hard at it.
Albuquerque has more linear miles of bicycle facilities than almost any city I know. Many of the bike lanes in place are first generation bike lanes, and almost all of them are too narrow. They guide bicyclists into a riskier position over at the far right edge of the road. The good news is we are learning how to design better bike facilities. Time for bicycle infrastructure 2.0 .
I like the ‘best practice preferential use lane’ in the graphic above. It guides bicycles to a position that is more advantageous and reduces conflict with motorists and pedestrian traffic. The six foot bike lane integrated with a narrower general use lane and buffered from the edge makes bicyclists more visible, which is the number one concern for comfort and safety. It makes bicyclist more predictable because they won’t have to maneuver as often to avoid debris, bad pavement, or a car pulling out from a driveway or side street, and bicyclists will have a better field of vision and improved sight lines. Crash risks from cars turning right in front of bicyclists, or crossing left in front of bicyclists from the oncoming direction, will also be reduced. With an integrated bike lane (integrated meaning flush with the pavement of the general travel lane, with a simple white stripe between them) bicyclists have maximum options and can change lanes to pass slower traffic, to turn left, or to avoid a hazard such as a dog on a long leash along the side of the road, or to give extra room to people walking or to protect playing children.
A six foot lane encourages bicyclists to ride two abreast. Two abreast means bicyclists double their vision and are poised to communicate. Riding two abreast makes bicyclists more visible. Riding with a partner is the safest and most encouraging way to bicycle. And yes it is fun!
Narrow, rough, edge bike lanes have caused a lot of undesirable outcomes. Bicyclists are less visible, and motorists and bicyclists sometimes interpret this road configuration as meaning bicycles have less priority and are supposed to be out of the way. That is the wrong orientation for safety, and quite frankly it can be very discouraging to ride in that environment. The good news is we have knowledge and tools to make things better, and we know how to use them. We know that increasing bike and pedestrian safety increases road safety for everyone. We know that encouraging more people to feel they have the choice to ride when they want to is empowering, and can be a gateway to habits of lifelong health and positive social relationships.
The best infrastructure makes traffic principles intuitive and the rules of the road clear. The Bike League’s Quick Guide has the basic rules of the road and principles of traffic law on p. 14, 15. I see a lot of bike guides and maps that quote local traffic code, but that is not always easy to digest. The Quick Guide distills the practices of safe cycling to essential components. The pathway to growing bicycle ridership is easier than we sometimes think. If we simply focus on supporting the people already bicycling and treating them with respect and dignity, then it will be easy to see that this way of travel is something our society embraces and promotes.