My Commuted Commute

This short film from Oikofugic Productions raises a number of questions regarding bike lane design and effectiveness. While I can certainly see the major drawbacks of the bike lane shown in the film, it doesn’t at all resemble the bike lanes I ride everyday, all of which are more well-designed and safer.

How does the bike lane in the film compare with those you ride everyday?

33 Responses to “My Commuted Commute”

  • Don says:

    The placement on the left side of a one-way thorouhgfare is counterintuitive and certainly makes for some confusion, but other than that I see many of the same issues every day. Our lanes aren’t marked nearly as well. The density and mixed use of such an urban location certainly makes it hard to separate bike lanes. I would think in a grid one might opt for a less-traveled parallel side street to avoid some of the business-related obstacles, but then there are other visibility issues. Clueless pedestrians need to be taught to respect the possibility of on-coming traffic, but absent a critical mass or the occasional collision, We’ll just have to use a bell judiciously, choose routes sensibly, model courteous sharing of the road, andn hope for the best.

  • Adam says:

    First, as an FYI: this type of facility is typically referred to as a “cycle track” rather than a bike lane. They are similar, but the main difference being that a cycle track is wider (generally 7 feet or more) and is separated from car lanes by a barrier of some sort (parked cars, bollards, a curb, etc.)

    Second, thanks for posting this. I’m a professional in the bicycle facility planning & design industry and it is helpful to see dissenting opinions about the effectiveness of cycle tracks. The planning and design of this type of facility is all the rage right now and while I am generally in favor of them, there are a lot of detailed design issues that need to be considered. Also, I haven’t run across good feedback from cyclists like this.

  • Supp Suppinger says:

    Well, this bike lanes, and even the whole design of the public space, the whole streets, indicates me, that human beings in this city are on the lowest scale of importance (as are cyclists). Motor vehicles are on the highest scale of importance. So did the machines already take over? Compare those ridiculously narrow side walks with the width of the road surface? Parking and riding cars get more space, than the human beings, which have to share a tiny side walk? This is not city planning for humans, it is city planing for machines. That´s terrific!
    Well, it is not so different to Vienna, sadly. At least here in Vienna (Austria, Europe) the bus lanes are regularly (legally) opened for cabs and cyclists! So cyclists sometimes pass a lot of cars standing around in traffic jams. It is relatively safe. Buses do not go that fast, and they stop every few hundred feet, so it is not likely that a bus is going to get close to You from behind.
    People should really concentrate their efforts to build (change) more people friendly cities!!

  • Pete says:

    Well, Alan, this is where our “mock” indignation at how good you Californians have it turns into real indignation! ;-)
    This is about as good as it gets for a lot of bike commuters in the US – NYC is considered one of the most bike friendly major cities in the country! (#8 on Bicycling’s Top 50, and the highest ranked city east of the Mississippi) While these bike lanes may seem to be little better than having no bike lane at all, many of us who have no bike lanes at all would be perfectly happy with these.
    BTW, that corner in the freeze-frame with the guy in the white tank top is along the “walk” mode of my multi-modal commute – I pass it every day!

  • Chris Baskind says:

    I’ve never seen a lane like that. Seems that the problems those riders are encountering are poor design and lax enforcement. Lanes work for the Dutch, and they’ll work for us, too.

  • brad says:

    Here in Montréal we have a wide variety of types of bike lanes, ranging from sharrows to physically separated lanes. The physically separated lanes are of course the ones where I feel safest, mainly because cars can’t park in them and they’re less obstructed in general — but still when you’re downtown you have to keep alert and a close eye out for oblivious pedestrians who walk across the bike lanes without looking.

    There are a few stretches of bike lane here that are separated from traffic by Jersey barriers, which feel safest of all, but even the lanes with a low separation curb (about 4 inches high) are great. They don’t address the risks of being hit by right-turning traffic coming up behind you in an intersection, though. Toronto’s “bike boxes” are a pretty good approach to reduce that risk, but they’re only effective at preventing accidents at intersections with traffic lights.

  • John says:

    @Adam: What I can’t understand, is how projects like this are being implemented by you and your peers without input from the cycling community. You yourself said that this was the first feedback of this nature you’d come across. That’s absolutely astounding to me. Do you guys design solely on academic principles divorced from real world experience? Do any of you even ride bikes in these environments? You’d do yourself and the public a tremendous service by getting out of the office and onto the streets before undertaking any further “improvements” to cycling.

  • Matt S. says:

    I wish I had bike lanes at all,I live out in the country where bicyclists are viewed as speedbumps not vehicles.

  • neighbourtease says:

    I was excited when they were putting this in but riding on it was a massive drag for all the reasons the cyclists in the video suggest so I avoid it at all costs. The left turning traffic is, in a word, insane, and because of the timing of traffic lights this is one of the fastest streets in Manhattan with cars easily and regularly reaching 20MPH above the citywide speed limit of 30MPH (and, of course, there is never any traffic enforcement).

    It is worth mentioning that I am not cycling like the people in the video are, either, in that I am on an upright bike without special gear and am generally a fan of separate facilities. It’s horribly sad that those who said the bus lane is the safest place to ride are correct in this instance.

    I’m hoping the city DOT will make an effort to improve this situation and that crappy bike lanes are our first step toward something better — in the way they were in Europe in the 70s.

  • Adam says:


    To respond directly to your comments: 1) I can’t speak for everyone, but when I work on a project, I spend a great deal of effort trying to gain input from the cycling community. We have meetings, one-on-one interviews, surveys, etc. On particularly tricky or major projects, we’ll ride the facility with local cyclists. 2) This is the first input of this nature that I have seen. I think this is because cycle tracks (the type of facility discussed in that video) is a new concept in America…very few exist. I had obsolutely nothing to do with that facility (I’m in Texas, not NYC) but so far all I’ve heard have been good things about it. It’s good to hear differing opinions. It actually validates some of the issues that I’ve noticed with this type of facility. 3) Again, I can’t speak for everyone but no, I don’t design solely on academic principles divorced from real world experience. When designing a facility, we have to look at existing and anticipated vehicular traffic volumes, speeds, and patterns; right-of-way limitations; engineering constraints; and adjacent land use…as well as cyclist preferences. The challenge is that there are different types of cyclists with different preferences and levels of comfort. There are the so-called “effective cyclists,” but then there are also the more timid cyclists. All that to say, there are trade-offs necessary in any transportation facility design (bicycle, car, or otherwise). 4) Yes, I make it a point to ride the routes/facilities that I plan or design…before and after, if possible. 5) Well, your last comment sounds like a personal attack, considering you know nothing about me, so I’ll just not respond to that one.

  • Rick says:

    It’s become a personal evolution of sorts, having begun with my tete-a tete with John Schubert on this forum a couple of months ago, that I now see the wisdom (and safety) of “taking the lane”; since then, both Erin and I have tried to incorporate his principles into our everyday riding (Erin has even written about it on her blog), and I think we’ve come to the same conclusion as the fellow in the film: there seems to be two types of riders–one that goes for a leisurely ride, and one that wants to get someplace. The First Street bike lanes seem geared towards the former, while the later does better either riding in traffic or taking the bus lane. I’m not taking sides, per se, but it does seem that the film strengthens Mr. Schubert’s perspective somewhat: when the bicyclist acts like he or she belongs in traffic, cars will treat them accordingly; when they don’t, it’s just another object that drivers have to get around to go on in any manner they wish.

    Kudos to you, Mr. Schubert, and thanks for altering my world view.

  • John says:

    @Adam: Sorry, I shouldn’t have been so acerbic with my statement regarding you getting out of the office… I didn’t intend it as a personal attack, but rather a strong admonition. And that was based on what I’d inferred from your initial post, which I now see left me with an erroneous impression as to the degree of input that you obtain from cyclists. Thanks for clearing that up, and thanks for the efforts that you’re expending to make the roadways a safer place for us all.

  • Val says:

    Bike lanes?! Cycle tracks?! Yeah, right. What I get to ride on is busy four lane streets where I can be pulled over at any time by an officer in a bad mood and told that I am “Impeding Traffic”. Alternately, I can sometimes use the one MUP in this area, where going over 10 mph will make you liable for a $101.00 fine. By all means, let us continue to try to improve the facilities that are being built, but start by being thankful you’ve got something to improve. Val

  • Fergie says:

    Well, to answer Alan’s query these bike lanes bear no resemblance to my regular commute but that’s not surprising because I ride mostly in suburban and marginally urban areas around San Francisco, not a densely populated urban core like Manhattan.

    The lanes seem useful enough, but I saw a lot of problems in how they were being used by bikers (salmoning), pedestrians (wandering in and out) and delivery drivers, taxicabs and other entities that shouldn’t be there. It didn’t seem safe to me and I would probably not use them, as I’m more comfortable riding in vehicle traffic than in traffic such as you saw in the bike lane video.

    What can you do to change people’s behavior, that’s the real question here. Is it traffic calming on the busy streets, routing cycle traffic to the less heavily travelled streets, more enforcement of rules against double parking in bike lanes and riding against traffic? Maybe all of the above – read BikeSnobNYC for a continuing blow-by-blow account of the frustrations of being a bike commuter in NYC. It makes me very glad to live in my suburban community and to be living in California. I love visiting Manhattan, but I would never enjoy living there.

  • Sharper says:

    Proof that bike lanes are a good stepping stone to help get ridership started, but that American traffic planners (and we bike advocates) need to start thinking about what to do when those riders outgrow their training lane.

  • Adam says:

    @John: No worries; sorry for the misunderstanding.

    One thing I want to add to my comment about the wide variability of cyclist types is that this is one of the biggest challenges to making our cities more bike-friendly. As can be seen in the comments above, different people have different approaches to cycling in traffic based on their preferred speed and level of comfort. Some take the lane (for good reason) wheras others are too intimidated to even ride on a major road (also for good reason). Compared to cars, which all travel roughly the same speed, some cyclists travel 2 or 3 times faster than others. So while I might feel comfortable riding 20mph with traffic on a 40mph road, my grandmother riding at 10 mph would definitely not.

    It’s very hard to design an individual facility or an entire bike route system that perfectly accomodates all types of cyclists. Without getting into a lengthy discourse about all of the either-ors and variabilities that we have to consider, I’ll just say that different people and different cities have different opinions on how to approach this issue.

  • Bernie says:

    As a new bicycle commuter, that bike lane looks like a death trap to me.

    But what really caught my attention was the attitude of the folks in the video in general. I’m glad my biking friends are more supportive of *everyone* getting out and using bikes for transport and not just the speedy folks. Just ’cause we’re slow doesn’t mean we aren’t commuting somewhere or that we don’t have just as much right to use the space as you. There just needs to be a way for us all to co-exist safely; there’s no reason we all need to move at the same pace. The question is do you just want a better bicycling experience for yourself, or for all folks getting around by bike?

  • CedarWood says:

    We have one MUP which I am very thankful for, one freeway overpass with excellent bike lanes, and one bridge with nearly unusable bike lanes. Anywhere else, cyclists must ride the shoulder. If there isn’t one, we take our chances in the lane or on the sidewalk.

    Kudos to Adam for riding the routes he designs and actively pursuing input from cyclists before designing those routes. I wish more engineers and planners considered all road users’ needs equally when constructing infrastructure.

  • Victor says:

    I live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – a city which currently has a cycle-friendly mayor. My daily 40 km round trip commute takes me along regular roads with no shoulders, a dedicated bicycle-pedestrian bridge (although the odd 49cc gasoline powered scooter also uses it) across a river and major roads with painted lines designating bike lanes. I have tried the traffic calmed official bicycle routes but find that these routes have steeper grades than the main roads and a lot more small street intersections which I perceive to be more dangerous than cycling along major streets with painted bike lane lines.

    I conduct myself as a vehicle on the road, wear a visibility vest, use hand signals and deploy multiple flashing lights on the front and rear of the bicycle. While barrier protected bike lanes have their place, I often think that the motoring population as a whole would benefit MORE from cyclists conducting themselves as vehicles (which is their legal definition by the way). I would even favor a nominal fee ($1) licensing program where cyclists would have to pass a traffic knowledge and skill proficiency test to ride their bikes on public roadways. This is an unpopular suggestion I realize but it would go a long way to educate cyclists on the proper use of roadways.

  • Molly says:

    This could’ve been filmed in downtown Minneapolis. In my experience, cars and pedestrians don’t respect the lines of paint that keep cyclists separated from traffic. In fact, most of the paint on the bikes lanes has worn off anyway.

  • Pete says:

    Adam makes another good point (further evidence he actually HAS thought about these things!) – the disparity of riders we have in the US makes planning bike infrastructure that much more difficult. If you look at a video of a typical Dutch street, you’l notice the vast majority of the riders are moving about the same speed, whether teenagers or grandparents. (Passing seems pretty rare, and when I have seen it the faster rider goes well out of their way to keep clear.)
    I’m not suggesting everyone has to ride the same all the time (that would be downright un-American!), but I think it’s an oft-overlooked part of the “bike culture” that helps to make thing work better in Europe.

  • Jim Ball says:

    The part of the city I live in has no bike lanes of any sort. Many high traffic streets have no sidewalks. Side streets and neighborhood residential streets often don’t go through. The bike lane in the video doesn’t look much better than what we ride on except the paint.

  • JQFrederick says:

    I’m not sure why just using the bus lanes wouldn’t be faster, cheaper and safer. Cars are used to staying out of bus lanes (due to enforcement, I’m sure), and by the looks of the video, cars/trucks just see a bike lane as a convenient place to park out of the flow of traffic. Bus lanes used as bike lanes (shared lanes) allow access city wide (?) with no extra expense of bike lanes. They certainly should be wide enough (if you could keep the “salmons” out…)

  • Chris Morfas says:

    Newbie and slower bicyclists appreciate facilities such separated facilities such as these. These facilities encourage new or infrequent bicyclists to ride more. That’s good!

    Here are two short videos from proponents of these facilities:

    As “Commuted Commute” amply demonstrates, these facilities do not serve confident, faster bicyclists particularly well (Note that the dissidents in the video tend to be young, fit and dressed in lycra).

    Balancing the needs of all bicyclists is the challenge. Can we provide facilities for kids, families, the elderly and other less assertive cyclists while still protecting the rights of those cyclists willing and able to use roads?

  • Steve Butcher says:

    I, too, live in a rural area and have no bike lanes (and much less traffic). That said, It would be great to have some type of bike lanes on which to ride; but I doubt that will every happen in my area. Though I have very little experience riding bike lanes, I can tell from the lanes in the video, there are some design problems evident. Trying to add lanes to existing roadways would certainly involve compromises from the ideal. It seems to me that supporting organizations that promote cycling and, especially cycling for practical transportation, can go a long way towards developing the infrastructure needed for safe and efficient bike lanes. Those organizations plus individuals at the grass roots level, can be a strong voice to the officials whose job it is to design, fund, and build those bike lanes.

  • Nick says:

    I wonder how the cyclists in this video would respond to the bike lanes in central Amsterdam. There the streets are filled with pedestrians, bikes, motor scooters, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, cars and trucks, all sharing extremely narrow roads with only the vaguest understanding of right of way. The difference is that everyone (except those on motor scooters, haha) move very slowly, dancing around one another constantly. What’s amazing is that everyone moves about safely, mostly because of the low speeds. Nonetheless, the compact geography makes getting around very quick for everyone except car drivers. That’s why there are so many cyclists.

    The makers of this video clearly interviewed only one of the two types of cyclists they mentioned, those that go fast and feel comfortable in traffic. What lanes like this, separated from motor traffic, promise to achieve is to get more people using bikes, especially those that don’t feel comfortable near cars.

    The great lesson to be learned from videos like this is that cycling facilities of this sort must be part of a comprehensive, inter-connected system rather than isolated islands that are out of the ordinary.

    Maybe soon New York will try shared spaces, the other Dutch innovation.

  • John_in_NH says:

    Agreed Nick!!

    I elaborated a little on the video, and some of the comments here in relation to the built environment causing the problems. Using Amsterdam is a good example, only because it is the largest city, but it not always a good example of the best infrastructure, and actually has a much lower cycling rate than parts in the North of the country.

    Speed is key though, in the city, which is dense, speed is low(or really should be), in rural areas higher speed can be reached (depending on bicycle type) as you go between towns, again on a fully separated network, or sometimes on rural country lanes with only tractor or horse traffic to deal with. They have weekend warriors there too, clad in Lycra, with the sleek helmets and everything, only difference is those same people typically bicycle to work like everybody else once Monday comes along. You may take your car to the track on the weekend, but come monday you are back in your civic stuck in traffic going to work. People who think like they are in a race car going to work get ticketed (or should)

    the need for higher speed might have something to do with integration(or lack thereof) into the public transportation element. If you need to cover 10 miles into work, well maybe you bike 2 of them in 10 minutes, hop on the train for the other 8, which takes maybe another 10 and then do the last distance to work, you are not a speed demon for the full 10 miles and you get there in 30 minutes, not sweaty, instead of going 20mph like a bat out of hell.

    it would be interesting to see if, since distances in NYC are greater, that makes much of a difference. My small community (~20,000) is quite dense(considering), it is 2miles by 4 miles (give or take) and as such is very bikable even with no network to speak of. With the idea that people very much like a commute of about 30 minutes, both directions can be covered in this time.

    Maybe in our cities what we need are longer distance commuter routes that provide priority at lights and allow a green wave at say 17mph with other side streets offering a slower pace, with the encouragement being that long distance folks should take the highways and then they can get across town faster and not be almost running over grandma every block… Maybe we need to go beyond what the dutch have, in terms of cycle path types. Theirs are plenty wide to pass 2×2 as needed or even more sometimes, and passing does happen especially as riding starts to get rural, but maybe we need something different…

  • Mike says:

    Having read a fair amount of David Hembrow’s writing on the subject of cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands, it seems to me that the biggest difference between the street in the video and a typical one in the Netherlands is that the cyclists in New York do not, de facto, have priority at places where they are crossing paths with turning motor vehicle traffic. The worst part is that the parked cars actually block motorists’ view of cyclists, making it very difficult on everyone, even motorists who are actively looking for traffic in the bike lane (to me, calling this a “cycle track” is glorifying it a bit).

    About the differences in cyclist speeds — the ratio of speeds of two bicycles is commonly much higher than that of automobiles, but Adam’s claim that cars “all travel roughly the same speed” is hardly true. I would be quite surprised if the difference (not the ratio) of speeds of cars was not typically greater than the difference in speeds of bicycles. I really don’t see a fundamental difference in the behavior of motorists and cyclists on this front. People who want to go faster often behave as though slower-moving vehicles are not entitled to use the road.

    Regarding passing in the Netherlands — Pete and I have not been watching the same videos. David Hembrow (again) has quite a few videos taken from his Mango (velomobile) which show plenty of passing on Dutch cycle tracks. All of these maneuvers that I can recall have been done with care and civility (so I am in agreement with Pete on this point), which probably reflects differences in education and culture. Cyclists might also be more civil (compared to motorists) when passing because of a lack of physical barriers between them.

    Last point, I promise — I’m in Winnipeg, which has many streets marked with a bus/cycle lane. These are no picnic to be in. There are a lot of buses (Winnipeg has no subway system), and they stop frequently, causing cyclists to change lanes and pass them, only to be overtaken again by the same bus just before it stops again.

  • Tim D. says:

    I live in a place that isn’t nearly as crowded as NYC (a college town in mid-Missouri), and bike lanes are still ridiculously placed/designed. In residential areas, you can’t ride in them because it’s completely legal for cars to park in them. If you get lucky and there aren’t cars in the lanes, then people are using them to walk in, or, as in the video, they’re full of bike salmon (thank you BSNYC for such an appropriate term). On bigger roads, they’re just lanes painted into the existing shoulder, which is typically torn up as all hell and full of debri like glass, various pieces of cars, etc. I just ride in the lane wherever I go.

  • Derek says:

    I wouldn’t ride in the bike lanes depicted in the video. Auto lanes all the way in that circumstance. I can’t afford to get hooked and layed up by some idiot in a cage w/o adequate insurance.

  • S. says:

    As a new commuter, that bike lane looks very scary.
    The cars going in the same direction, turning left into the bike lane will eventually hit a cyclist.

    Here are three top points I learned from the video and comments.
    Should have built the lane on the right side.
    Should have build a curb to keep delivery trucks out.
    Change the car speed to 20 miles per hour along the bike route.

    These are the things that can save lives, increase ridership, and make the city more livable.

  • JeffS says:

    While it seems obvious to most everyone that these facilities encourage tentative cyclists to ride, I am not sure that we are doing the responsible thing by providing them with a false sense of security.

    Then again, maybe this is just too extreme of an example. NYC seems to have concluded that enforcement was undesirable long ago.

    All I can say is that I wouldn’t be caught dead riding down this lane.

  • WPM says:

    I recommend this 2-minute video on how dangerous the door zone can be: The narrator is Preston Tyree, formerly an authoritative (and good) independent consultant on bike safety, now working for the League of American Bicyclists which promotes all bike lanes and changes the subject when anyone asks about dooring accidents. Alan, you are lucky to have good bike lanes in CA. Here in NYC, most lanes are as described in the video — either putting riders squarely in the door zone of parked cars or trapping them in the Danish-style cycle tracks.

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