The latest fad, in Waterloo Region at least, is bike lanes with curbs around them. These, it is thought, will be safer for bicyclists and so increase bike commuting. Sounds good, no? All of a sudden everyone seems to be behind the idea - you hear it all the time, proposed with great authority.
But wait. There are a few other things to consider:
- Given the much higher cost of this sort of bike lane over a regular bike lane, a shift to the new lanes will almost certainly slow down the development of new bike lanes.
- The new bike lanes require more space so won't be possible on many roads. This isn't a drawback unless (as I've heard) people decry the regular bike lane as unsafe - then we just end up with less bike lanes.
- In winter, it will be more difficult to plough these lanes. Regular bike lanes (essentially just a white stripe down the road marking off a lane for bikes) are easier to plough. The city will have to send out a different sort of snow plough to handle the new bike lanes. They likely just won't get ploughed.
- As a cylist, I don't relish the idea of a curb surrounding my lane because it makes it more difficult for me to merge with traffic to make a left hand turn or get to an address on the other side of the street. It also makes it more difficult to pass slow bike riders and other impediments.
- The curb alongside the bike lane does not solve the biggest problem of bike lanes: at intersections, bike lanes tend to disappear - leaving the cyclist high and dry in the most dangerous part of the street. This problem will probably be much worse with curbed bike lanes, as the curb will have to stop at every spot where cars need to turn.
- Curbed bike lanes only make sense on streets with limited car access - long stretches of road without intersections or driveways. But in those situations, a path running a few meters away from the road is a safer and more enjoyable alternative for bikes.
- There is an accessibilty consideration: how do pedestrians with walkers, baby buggies or wheelchairs cross them? What about the sight impaired?
The curbed bike lane idea may be made with the best of intentions, but it may also be a very negative force on the future of urban cycling. We'd be better off itemizing the problems with regular bike lanes and thinking up better ways to solve them: motorists parking in bike lanes; lanes running close to parked cars with doors that could suddenly fling open; safe ways for bikes to make turns and cross intersections; etc. And the number one priority is just to have more trails, paths and bike lanes, and to make sure they connect.