I'm posting this long version here, and a short version in the LANL Reader's Forum page. An intermediate version appeared in the Sunday, 1 July Los Alamos Monitor (subscription required) and in the Los Alamos Daily Post (free).
In the last few months, there have been two crashes on Diamond Drive that occurred when a right turning motorist crossed the new bike lanes in close proximity to a bicyclist riding in the bike lane. Without going into who did what to whom ( I wasn't there), I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to manage this facility.
Regarding sharing roads equipped with bike lanes, and turning across bike lanes. Some of the law is not exactly clear (at least to me), but the law on changing lanes is clear. When turning right across a bike lane, which is a lane designed for the exclusive use of bicyclists and part of the traveled portion of the street, you as the motorist are moving out of your lane and across the bike lane and must do so safely. The same applies to a bicyclist leaving the bike lane to make a left turn or moving out of the bike lane to merge into a regular travel lane. Here is the code, followed by some comments.
Sec. 38-257. - Driving on streets laned for traffic.
Whenever any street has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic, the following rules in addition to all others consistent herewith shall apply:
(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety;
The law is in black and white and reinforces best practice. Some of the recent scary interactions leading to close calls and crashes on Diamond Drive south of Orange/Sandia are in the shades of grey area of applying the law, or are caused by inattention. Safe, alert, defensive driving and biking can keep you out of harm’s way.
So if you are the motorist:
- When making a right turn on a road with bike lanes, make sure you have safely overtaken a cyclist before going into your turn. The act of turning causes you to slow down and that cyclist you passed may have caught up to you; you may turn directly into the cyclist.
- Signal your turn in advance and check your blind spot before turning to make sure there is not a bicyclist on your right or about to overtake you.
- If you see a cyclist slightly in front of, or along side you as you approach your right turn, let the cyclist proceed through the intersection and turn behind the cyclist. Speeding up to pass the cyclist and then slowing down to turn can result in a crash.
- Cyclists and motorcyclists are more vulnerable than you are. Train yourself to be aware of these smaller vehicles.
If you are the cyclist
- Watch for motor vehicles slowing down and signalling to turn as you approach intersections and driveways. If a motorist is slowing down as he approaches an intersection or driveway, he may be preparing to turn right across your path.
- If you are overtaking a motorist on the motorist’s right, you are in that motorist’s blind spot. That could result in a crash if you are passing on the right at an intersection or driveway and the motorist indeed turns. Don't expect people to have eyes in the backs of their heads; mistakes are indeed made.
- If motor vehicle traffic is slower than you are, and you are overtaking the motorists, be aware of locations where a motorist can turn across your path. Ride defensively at an appropriate speed, keep your head up, and be observant.
- If you are traveling at the speed of traffic in a busy area or one where the bike lane may be screened from side streets or parking lot entrances by visual clutter, one can signal and merge out of the bike lane (safely) or slow down to a prudent speed in the bike lane.
- You are more vulnerable to injury than motorists and not as visible as a car. You must take this into account and ride your bicycle (or motorcycle) with extra awareness for your own safety. Stay alert, practice situational awareness, and always wear a helmet to protect your head in the unlikely event of a crash.
There is a good video here demonstrating the right turn problem.
Video acknowledgements to Mass Bike Vids.
The safe and lawful cyclist is demonstrated by John Allen
|An optimal commuter is not an optimal time trialer.|
Here, handlebars are level with seat. It helps to sit up
so you can easily keep track of traffic.
Deep drop bars can be installed
and used when appropriate.
There is no easy, quick, and foolproof fix to having bike lanes next to driveways, side streets, and other midblock curb cuts. If there were, we (i.e., the County and its traffic staff) would have thought of it already. For example, one commenter reminded us "...Some time back, I (the anonymous commenter) posted an anonymous comment to a thread saying that it seemed to me that the safest course for a car driver on turning right, was to merge into the bike lane and thereby avoid right hook configurations by filling it up and making it impossible for bikes to be there. I got confirmation responses from folks here that that was indeed the correct thing to do. Unfortunately, the legal quote above "entirely within a single lane" seems to go against this conclusion. It is impossible to be entirely within a bike lane when you are driving a car..." Assuming for the moment the motorist properly merges without cutting off a cyclist or blocking the bike lane as well as part of the regular travel lane for half a block if traffic stalls, it indeed results in a conflict between two laws: one, that says to keep your vehicle entirely in a single lane as much as is practicable, and another that says to make right turns from as close as practicable to the right curb or road edge. The more basic law is that you don't leave a lane until it is safe to do so, which should be one's basic guidance regardless of what one is driving or riding on.
The problem seems to be that bike lanes were created with the simple concept that bikes will be to the right of cars and this will reduce conflicts. Unfortunately, and especially in urban areas, that is not always the case. What I've done here, after considerable discussion with LAPD and Dept. of Public Works, is provide some safety guidelines but not tell people how to make turns. That will be determined by what is going on around you at time zero.
To quote Keri Caffrey (as posted on Carbon Trace) "Bike lanes, which are promoted as being safe, generate a lot of manufactured conflict in urban areas—because channelizing traffic by vehicle type, rather than speed and destination, violates the principles of movement and breaks an otherwise functional system" But many cyclists (not to mention motorists) want them, so we all have to work with the compromises to travel they require.
Both motorist and cyclist are responsible for being observant, aware of each other’s presence, understanding and working within the system as it exists, and negotiating safe passage to their destinations in an area which is busy, such as Diamond Drive south of Orange/Sandia.
Some other information tuned to Los Alamos is here.
Thanks, and keep it safe and away from the ragged edge out there.
Chair, LANL Traffic Safety Committee
Co-Author, 2005 Los Alamos County Bicycling Transportation System (i.e., “bike plan”) as adopted by County Council