Back in the day, “the day” being the late 1800s, the bicycle began to get popular. But, oh! Those dirt/mud/cobblestone roads!
“Hey,” someone said (I don’t really know if someone actually said “hey”), “we should put down some hard surface on the roads so bike riders will have an easier time.”
About that same time, motorcars were being developed. Eventually, people began to prefer them to bikes for getting around. I blame Henry Ford. (I am apparently not too mad at him. I drive a Ford.)
So our roads were designed for cars, sidewalks for pedestrians and not much was designed for bikes. Horses got a raw deal, too.
The current infrastructure, for the most part, greatly influences how drivers, bike riders and pedestrians see each other which, in turn, shapes behavior.
Have you noticed drivers seldom drive their cars on a sidewalk? That’s because they know sidewalks are for walking and spitting. With a relatively safe sanctuary, pedestrians have little reason to be out on the road with the cars. When pedestrians and chickens need to cross the road, the infrastructure usually provides a safe-ish crosswalk with a red light.
If you are a cyclist, you applaud every attempt to define where you should ride. Not only does a bike lane tell the rider where to be but it tells the driver where the rider will be.
It also makes it easier for everyone to obey the law. And easier to not hit a bike rider and to not be hit. This is good. Sometimes, there are so many white lines of so many different widths and solidity that it can be confusing. It’s downright mind-boggling when side streets, multiple lanes and freeway on-ramps are added.
I’m talking to you, Sierra College Boulevard at I-80.
If you are heading south on Sierra College Boulevard, the bike lane is on the far right as it approaches Granite Drive. It then (properly) moves to the left of the right-turn-on-to-Granite Drive. Crossing Granite, it stays to the left of the turn into Sierra Commons but then is suddenly to the right of the lane to the westbound I-80 on ramp.
The temptation for the cyclist is to accelerate as fast as he can to establish his position in the through lane in front of a long line of cars, some of which will be fading onto the freeway. But unless he got a running start, this isn’t likely to happen and there is an awkward dance between driver and rider as each try to figure out the best course of action.
Much of this could be avoided not only by better placement of the bike lane but by painting it bright green to make it clear where the rider will be heading.
While it would be lovely for cyclists to always have a protected bike lane, including our own bridges and underpasses, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, there just isn’t any room in the existing infrastructure or the terrain doesn’t lend itself to special paths for bikes.
Of course, the main obstacle is money. There isn’t much of it and what there is tends to go to making it easier for cars to get from here to there faster. The least expensive option is painting bike lanes bright green, as done in some cities.
But it is a matter of public safety. As I have pointed out before, most cyclists are also drivers and no driver wants to hit a cyclist.
Many dedicated bike advocates are working for us but we all need to do our part. At the very least, we can all ride responsibly, educate ourselves on the law as it pertains to cycling and, given the chance, do just a little to advocate for a better cycling infrastructure.
Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.