A Piece of the Road We Can Call Our Own

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.

15 Responses to “A Piece of the Road We Can Call Our Own”

  • Ak Mike says:

    Great topic.

    I believe your following statement is one of the best arguments for bike lanes: “Bicyclists are important here. They own a portion of this road outright, so give them some room, and give them some respect.”

    This relates to some of the comments I’ve been receiving lately in this small town. Some motorists here also appear annoyed, and a few have voiced their annoyance stating that cyclists do not pay road excise taxes, and so are “subsidized” by motorized vehicles. This goes right to the heart of the idea of ownership.

    The truth is that local roads, where the majority of pedestrian and bicycling traffic takes place, are mostly funded by a municipality’s general fund. Most of this funding comes from sales taxes, which is generated by everyone when purchasing goods and services. Hence, motorists and cyclists pay equally into this pool of funds.

    To top this off, motorized traffic inflicts a cost on this use in that cars and trucks degrade the road surface, where cycling and pedestrian traffic does not. Additionally, the costs associated with the exhaust generated by the burning of petroleum produces immeasurable negatives to many urban areas.

    Taken together, the cyclist and pedestrian actually overpay their fare share of the funding of local roadways.

    A very good report on this can be found at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. The VTPI is a gold mine of similar cycling and pedestrian reports.

    Victoria Transport Policy Institute
    Report: Whose Roads? Defining Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Use of Public Roadways

    AK Mike

  • Pete says:

    I’m equally happy with bike lanes, etc except for one thing. When they are sporadically and inconsistently provided, by saying “bikes belong here” in places where they are painted, they also end up saying “bikes DON’T belong here” in places where they are missing, although this is often not the case. I’ve also never actually ridden in a bike lane. They don’t seem to exist anywhere I ride.
    Robert Hurst makes an interesting case for “sharrows” in his books – by being intentionally vague, they may in fact increase awareness. I’m not sure I’ve personally experienced this in practice, but I know some similar ideas are being explored in other types of traffic engineering. Google “Hans Monderman” to see some of his experiments with removing ALL traffic signage from intersections in Dutch cities…

  • Tali says:


    It is all very well to worry about what the absence of bicycle lanes says on a road, but when so many roads positively scream “motorists welcome”, it is all a bit academic. Provided they meet basic standards of surface quality, not being in the door zone, width and continuity bicycle lanes are a big plus.

    As for Hans Monderman and naked streets. It is really critical to understand that that approach only has a limited application. The Dutch do not oh their success in promoting cycling to naked streets, indeed, the opposite is the case.

  • Fergie348 says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves. I see plenty of automobile users who think of bike lanes as handy temporary parking spots while they pick up their morning coffee or dry cleaning. As for safety, I have met more than several people who refuse to ride their bikes in traffic because they’ve seen cars drift into the bike lane and thus think by being there on their bikes they may be in some peril. I personally would like to see the concept strengthened by use of road dots or perhaps small divider cones. People seem to pay attention more when they actually run into something that makes noise on their vehicle. I would of course prefer that something to not be me..

    For me, sharrows provide the illusion of sharing without any actual facility for bikes. Most drivers are as mystified by them as I am, it seems.

  • Alan says:


    “Let’s not kid ourselves. I see plenty of automobile users who think of bike lanes as handy temporary parking spots while they pick up their morning coffee or dry cleaning.”

    That’s an issue of enforcement. Fortunately, we have fairly aggressive enforcement here locally; it’s certainly an issue in many areas though, as seen on the following website:



  • Ted says:

    There needs to be more thought given than just painting a line on the side of the road. This one does not appear to be as bad as some I have to ride on, but notice that there is a bike wheel grabbing groove right down the middle of this bike lane. I have to ride one on a fairly busy street that has at least an inch drop betwen the asphalt and the concrete. Effectively the bike lane is only 18 inches because of that.

  • Moopheus says:

    Bike lanes are useful, but clearly far from perfect. Not only do cars pull into them without warning, but often they are painted too narrow, so that if you are in them you are well inside the door zone. And other cyclists do not seem to get that they are directional, despite the arrows clearly painted in them. I do use them, we have plenty of them here, but they are only a partial solution to the mixed traffic problem. But that may be the best we can do: a mix of partial solutions.

  • Jen says:

    The bike lanes in our neighborhood are what actually sold me on moving here. I’m not a California native, and when my boyfriend took me around the area to show me how bike friendly the streets were (as well as runners/walkers/joggers, etc), there was no way I could say no.

    From what I’ve seen, the majority of automobile drivers are respectful of cyclists, and vice versa, though I do see a couple of cyclists from time to time that push the big buttons (riding recklessly) for drivers and other cyclists.

  • B Amer says:

    I like bike lanes too, but I have read that cars actually pass closer to bikes when a bike lane is present. Drivers tend to be more careful of bikes when there’s no bike lane.

    I really like the solution some cities are going to – separated bike lanes like they have in Europe.

  • Alan says:

    @B Amer

    The study I believe you’re referring to was the Walker Study (correct me if I’m wrong):


    This highly publicized study looked at rider appearance (helmet use and gender) as well as lane position and their affect on motorist behavior.

    If you were referring to a different study, I’d love to see it; I’ve yet to see a study that looks at bike lanes and motorist behavior.


  • Michael says:

    A great start. Societal change comes slowly,like a glacier. The current “green” moniker has some positive actions and this is one of them. I find it ironic that the letter “E” in bike has a large impression of an automobile tire as if they were mocking us. There will always be those who see bicycles as childhood toys and the first step to car ownership. The toughest hurdle will be getting those individuals to give riders respect. And steps such as bike lanes are the beginning of that.

  • Eric says:

    I just read an article in the OC Register about a couple who were cited for choosing to ride on the sidewalk along a particularly dangerous stretch of the PCH, despite the fact that there was a sign stating bicycles were allowed on that stretch…


    I agree with Fergie348 that it would be nice to have bumps, cones or something to further delineate bike lanes beyond just a painted line.

  • Nick says:

    AK Mike,
    I think that argument about motorists “subsidizing” bicyclists is just cranky complaining. I agree with you that it isn’t true, but even if it were it would be inaccurate. I drive all my work commuting miles and most of my errands on a bike, but I own/license/insure 3 cars. I’m paying as much as any motorist but make a much smaller demand on the transportation infrastructure. Since most bicyclists also own cars, its the bicyclists who are subsidizing the motorists by paying the same fees but using the resources at a much slower rate. Of course I’m not paying tax on gas I don’t burn, so maybe I’m just arguing too.

  • Fergie says:

    Thanks for the link to the O.C. Reg article Eric.

    The picture says it all, really. 95% of what you see in the shot is facilities for cars – auto transit lanes and of course parking. Separating the two is a narrow strip of raised sidewalk for pedestrians, barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side. I wouldn’t want to ride on that sidewalk, it’s too narrow to safely accomodate bikes and pedestrians.

    The larger structural problem is one of allocation. In most places 95%+ of the paved space is built for and used by automobile traffic. That’s seen as normal, and any attempt to reallocate space (taking away parking, narrowing lanes, etc.) will be met with resistance from the current ‘kings of the road’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bike lanes but ultimately they won’t pass the mom test if they’re not accompanied by other traffic calming and safety measures such as speed bumps & tables, bulb outs, etc. I doubt there’s much space on the PCH for safe and secure bike facilities – I wonder if there are alternative parallel routes that would be better candidates for human powered through traffic?

  • Fergie says:

    Ha. I just read the Walker study synopsis. I guess I should start wearing a wig on my commute. I wonder if I can get a helmet integrated model?..

© 2011 EcoVelo™