Bike lanes might be coming to Huntsville. As an avid cyclist whose written about bike safety for The Houstonian before you’d think I would be in full support, but while I don’t hate the idea I don’t think bike lanes will solve the bicycle safety issues around town. The best solution to bicycle safety, is and has always been, driver and cyclist awareness and education.
Every single one of us that has a Texas driver’s license took a knowledge test that included questions about bicycles. Most of us probably haven’t brushed up on the subject since we were 16 though, so here’s a refresher: Tex. Transp. Code § 551.101 states that bicyclists are entitled to all rights and obligated to all duties of the road that apply to a motor vehicle. This means that a cyclist has every right to be on the road, in the center of the lane (known as “taking” the lane) and is a part of traffic. This also means that a cyclist must obey all stop signs, lights and any other road sign they encounter. Often drivers will expect a cyclist to move to the side of the lane so that they can pass, and while every cyclist can do this (and should if the situation requires it), the cyclist doesn’t have to and often times it is dangerous. The reason why a cyclist shouldn’t move out of the center of the lane is the same reason it is unsafe and illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Once you have removed yourself from traffic, cars are less likely to see you, yet you are unable to turn or stop without interacting with traffic. Most bicycle and car collisions happen when one of the vehicles turns into the other. My fellow motorcyclists will recognize this type of accident as a SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you) and why would the car see the cyclist? With all the things a driver has to be aware of when driving, watching the side of the street or the sidewalk rank pretty low on the list. The second most common accident occurs when a car attempts to pass a bike without giving them the legally mandated 3 feet of room required to do so safely.
Now why wouldn’t bike lanes help decrease these accidents? Well, if Huntsville had protected bike lanes that were separated from car lanes by a barrier that spanned every road in the city, they probably would. This would require that every road nearly double in size. What is more likely to happen is that we will get unprotected bike lanes next to the car lanes that cover only certain routes. Unprotected bike lanes only serve to remove bikes from traffic, and again out of sight out of mind for drivers. If the lanes are accessible by cars, believe that cars will be in them. Whether it’s to use them as a parking lane, or to pass other drivers, unprotected bike lanes in every city I cycled in, become secondary car lanes. Additionally if the lanes only cover certain areas, wherever they end bikers will have to reintegrate with traffic. Wherever these spots are, they’ll become the new hot zone for cyclist car collisions are bikes will “suddenly” appear around drivers not trained to pay attention to bike lanes.
If the school and the city cannot fund protected bike lanes that cover a sizable part of the city, then instead of going all in on bike lanes, money and effort should also be spent on ways to inform students about their rights and responsibilities as drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Instead of trying to separate bikes from drivers we need to build a community that respects each other and cares about each other’s safety. Personally, I spend enough time risking accidents at the velodrome, I don’t want to feel like I’m risking my life every time I get in the saddle here.