In our hometown, bicycles are the go-anywhere vehicle. Under California law, bicycles have a right to be on the road just like any other vehicle (with a few restrictions). We also have a fairly extensive network of on-street bike lanes and off-street multi-use paths at our disposal. And while I don’t normally recommend sidewalk riding, doing so is legal in our city, and it occasionally makes sense along certain parts of our multi-lane, high-speed parkways. In our area, bicycling is truly the one mode of transportation that has no limits.
Even though we have the right to ride on all of the above mentioned facilities, we still sometimes sense resentment from our fellow road and trail users. Motorists often seem surprised and annoyed when we take a lane, pedestrians and joggers often seem startled to encounter us on the sidewalk, and dog walkers often seem nonplussed when they have to leash their dogs and confine themselves to one lane of the multi-use trail as we pass. The one space that unambiguously belongs to bicyclists is the bike lane.
Of course, a bike lane is simply a stripe of paint on the ground, but a clearly marked bike lane makes a powerful statement of ownership. In essence, it says, “This space belongs to bicyclists. If you’re not a bicyclist, stay out.” And while I’m fully aware of the argument that bicycle lanes may send the message to motorists that bicycles shouldn’t be in the traffic lane, I believe the stronger, overriding message is, “Bicyclists are important here. They own a portion of this road outright, so give them some room, and give them some respect.”
So, even though we have every right to take a lane or ride on a sidewalk (both of which we do whenever it’s prudent to do so), and we certainly enjoy the quiet beauty of our off-street bike paths, we like our bike lanes best because they’re the one piece of pavement we can unequivocally call our own with absolutely no argument from other road users.