With the addition of several bike lanes in Manhattan, it’s important to address some safety issues surrounding bike lanes for both cyclists and motorists. Many motorists in the area don’t have much experience driving with cyclists and so may not be familiar with bike lane laws. Additionally, there are a lot of students and other bike riders who don’t have much experience with bike lanes, their laws, and how to ride defensively. For the safety of cyclists and motorists alike, share this information with as many as you can.
First, lets talk about bicycle boulevards and sharrows. A bicycle boulevard is a road that has been marked as safe for cyclists to use, but in which there is no dedicated bike lane. Cyclists are expected to ride with vehicle traffic and obey all laws. These roads are marked with sharrows, consisting of a bike and directional arrows. Aside from identifying roads appropriate for cycling traffic, sharrows serve several purposes. According to USDOTs Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices sharrows are to:
1) Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle
2) Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane
3) Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way
4) Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists
5) Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling
Of course, cyclists need to use their best judgement and ride defensively even on bicycle boulevards. Because of the width of the some of the roads in the area, the sharrows may be placed very close to parked cars. You need to use your discretion, because although the sharrows help with lateral positioning, riding in one isn’t always the best guarantee of your safety. Be mindful of the “door zone” and give yourself enough room that if a vehicle occupant suddenly opens the door to a parked car you can safely avoid a collision. Remember, you have just as much right as any other vehicle to use the full road lane if needed for your safety.
Now, a few safety tips for motorists. The most common accident for cars and cyclists is what’s known as the J-Hook or Right-Hook, put simply it’s turning right at an intersection and cutting off a cyclist that’s riding in the bike lane. There are a few ways to avoid this situation. One, pay attention to cyclists. They have the right of way in intersections when they are in the bike lane, as a bike lane is just like any other lane of traffic and you have to yield before entering one. Be patient, and wait for them to get out of your path before making a turn. Second, use your turn signals so that all traffic, including cyclists, know that you intend to make a turn. And lastly, merge into the bike lane 100-200 feet before making a right-hand turn. A dedicated bike lane will be painted with a solid white line, meaning that motorists are not to use that lane, however near an intersection the solid line will change to a dotted white line, meaning that you can merge into it and make your turn from the curb. Of course, you need to yield to any bike traffic in the lane, but once you have successfully merged into the bike lane it will encourage any other cyclists to pass you on the left-hand side and avoid collisions.
To see this in action, please refer to this excellent news story: