Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Two Cents (again) on Bike Lanes

The Indianapolis Star has an excellent article today about the new bike lanes that have popped up all over the city over the past few years. Typically, the media reports of bike lanes throw them all together with re-paved roads, new and re-paved sidewalks, and re-paving the multi-use trails/greenways, and essentially praise that it is being done at all. End of story.

City hall reporter Jon Murray got out and actually talked to cyclists who use the bike lanes. And to the surprise of some, it includes both praise for the bike lanes and criticism. Murray lets the people in his article make their points, and they are points that need to be made.

We could all make huge, long lists of why motorists are idiots and inconsiderate of cyclists, or how some asshole cyclists are jerks that break the rules of the road. But that's really a separate discussion about how cycling and alternate forms of transportation can co-exist with motor vehicles, and distracts from the discussion of bike lanes specifically.

Some of these bike lanes are just not very easy to understand. If "education" is needed for a bike lane, it probably needs to be put back on the drawing board rather than slapping it on the road and hoping for the best. And if the lane does fit the road, maybe the road needs to be re-paved and regularly swept so it doesn't become a perpetual ditch or bump.

The article also highlights something I've suspected for some time: No one really knows how many people are using these bike lanes.

And as someone who has only started cycling in the past two or so years, I have to admit: Making the transition from cycling only for athletic purposes to riding as a mode of transit was a mental leap I had to make. For a new transit cyclists, it can be intimidating hopping onto a road. Even if most of the route you've planned out uses greenways and neighborhood streets, those few minutes on the road can make a new cyclists nervous.

And I don't think those new, more casual cyclists, are going to make the jump from athletic/recreational biking to transit biking just because bike lanes are installed. Bike lanes are still on the road and all the same rules still apply.

So I think bike lanes should be seen for what they are: It makes the bicycling community more visible, but the amount of people cycling isn't necessarily increasing. Those that are cycling are more visible, and they might be doing it more often. But the raw number isn't increasing by all that much.

At least that's what I suspect.

And if that's fine, then good.

But I think the goal should be to get more people cycling more often.

And we could go a long way by improving the greenway multi-use trails that already exist in our city.

We made a good step over the winter by expanding the Monon Trail's hours.

A good second step would be to re-pave the White River Trail. The part along Cold Springs Road already has been.

Another idea is to expand the Canal Towpath and possibly pave it. As it stands now, it is difficult for multiple cyclists or joggers to pass each other if they're going opposite directions because some parts of the trail can get very narrow.

I think investing in greenways would lead to a greater benefit, even if the overall mileage of greenways is a fraction of the mileage covered by bike lanes.

But hey, that's just me.


  1. Personally, biking on the road terrifies me. I'd love wider sidewalks that actually connect to each other instead of bike lanes.

    But I am in the suburbs, so maybe my needs are different.

    1. While sidewalks are not ideal to bike on, the good thing about some of these sidewalks that are way out there in the northern parts of Indianapolis on roads like Michigan is that they get very little pedestrian use. So while they might not be designed for bikes, you might as well use them. Because no one else is.

      I'm not an expert on urban planning, but my gut instinct is that a lot of the sidewalks currently in place can't be widened by much for one reason or another.

    2. I'm in Carmel/Fishers, where the problem is the sidewalks were built by the subdivisions and only the length of the property. So there are lots of wide sidewalks that don't connect to one another. I'd like to see the city connect these.

      I thought about using the Carmel bike lanes, but so many drivers use these as a "swerve while texting lane" or a "why's this guy going slow" lane. After watching their behavior, I decided it was too much of a risk for me.

  2. I'd be thrilled if the towpath simply had the many ruts and potholes filled competently.

  3. I'm surprised he found bicyclists who had actually used the bike lanes. I rarely see anyone in them.

    Unfortunately the obsession with bike lanes, has led to a neglect of the maintenance of things like the White River Trail. It's gotten in pretty bad shape.

    1. Maybe because you are too busy complaining about malfunctioning parking meters, serious bike commuter. I ride them every day and see many people using them.

  4. Why are the bike lanes riding with traffic and not against it?

  5. IUPUI student-thank you for a piece that truly takes bike lanes for what they are. They are not force-fields that prevent have to pay attention when using them.

    A few comments on yours..

    There are more greenway miles coming. The White River trail will continue from the Zoo down to Raymond (starting late this year). The Fall Creek Trail will continue to Central Ave (should start later this year as well). The Eagle Creek Trail is starting to get serious consideration and its completion is a goal of Mayor Ballard's for the end of his second term. Greenways are great, I take them whenever I have the chance. I bought my house specifically because is it located near the head of the Monon on 10th St. Greenways are however much more expensive and have to deal with acquisition issues many times. Bike lanes are relatively in-expensive and have been included in existing road projects and in my opinion provide direct commuting routes and as you mention, bring much more awareness to more cyclists on the road.

    Personally, I use the bike lanes every day and feel much more comfortable on them, as opposed to in a lane with a cranky, up-tight driver that is worried about getting to their destination 35 seconds faster.


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