One of the main thoroughfares on my commute was repaved a couple of weeks ago, but they just got around to re-striping the bike lane the other day. It’s been interesting, observing how motorists behaved after the removal of the bike lane, and how they position themselves now that the lane is back in place.
The road is unusual in that it’s nearly wide enough for two full lanes going either direction, but it’s only ever been one extra wide traffic lane and a narrow bike lane in either direction. Traffic on this road averages 40-50 mph.
Prior to the repaving, motorists never seemed to know quite where to drive in the overly wide traffic lane. Some would hug the center line, while others drifted clear over to the right, brushing up against the bike lane. Some even treated the main traffic lane as if it was two lanes; this probably explains the centerline and bike lane huggers.
After the repaving and subsequent lack of lane striping, things got even hairier, with cars spread all over the road. Since the speeds were too high to take the lane, I often found myself hugging the road’s edge, keeping one eye on my rearview mirror in case I needed to make a quick evasive maneuver.
The new, re-striped bike lane is now double to triple wide and the main traffic lane is closer to what is normal for a 40 mph road. The difference in how motorists position themselves on the road is dramatically better. The traffic lane is now clearly a single lane, so there’s no incentive to push toward either edge as if it’s a double lane. The bike lane doesn’t need to be as wide as it is, but the decision to clearly define the main traffic lane as a single lane was a good decision.
The point of all of this is to illustrate the power of a white line on the ground to affect road users’ behavior. Obviously, a white line will not protect a bicyclist from an out of control vehicle, but it will communicate to responsible, coherent drivers where they should be on the road, and what portion of the road should be allocated strictly to bicyclists.