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Opinion: Addressing complaints, clearing up confusion over Louisville’s new bike lanes

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East Breckenridge bike lane

East Breckenridge bike lane

Last week, I wrote that the bike lanes recently added to Kentucky and Breckenridge streets between downtown and the Highlands are a positive sign that Louisville has embraced transit diversity. The article generated a large number of comments (and Twitter responses), some of which deserve additional consideration.

The Mysterious “Bike Lane Flyer”

I shared the story of a belligerent pickup driver who commandeered the bike lane on Kentucky Street for his own motoring purposes. His incorrect and dangerous behavior was justified, in his own words, because the bike lanes were open to automobile traffic “during rush hour.”

Commenter Jim Reid suggested that a flyer circulated by Metro Government just before the bike lanes appeared may have been the source of the confusion. Mr. Reid helpfully provided a photo of that flyer, which, sure enough, is confusing. 

The flyer shows “what the street will look like during non-rush hour.” Looking at oncoming traffic, the far right lane is for parking, then there is the bike lane, then a driving lane with another parking lane on the far left. The flyer does not show what the street looks like during rush hour.

Anyone who has actually driven on Kentucky or Breckenridge Streets since the bike lanes have been added knows that the parking lane on the far left of the flyer becomes a driving lane during rush hour. That’s the difference. The bike lane does not change – it’s for bike use only at any hour of the day. 

Obviously some confusion could have been avoided had the flyer depicted the street during both rush hour and non-rush hour. But we commute with the flyers we have, not the flyers we want.

Irresponsible Cyclists

Any media mention of bicycles generates an irresistible fury in some people, driving them to comments sections to denounce cycling as an irresponsible roadway menace. My article was no different. Laundry lists of traffic violations were cited. Anecdotal generalizations were made. Many people apparently feel that any transgressions by cyclists should entirely disqualify them from use of the road.

This zero-tolerance policy for cyclists has always confused me. Many impose a standard of behavior for cyclists to which they do not hold other motorists.

Anyone who regularly drives any amount of distance has cursed under or over their breath at the illegal and dangerous behavior of other motorists. With so much rule-breaking regularly committed by car drivers, why the hostility toward bikes? Personally, I’m far more frustrated by motorist recklessness, which risks my life, than by cyclist recklessness, which risks only their lives. An irresponsibly driven, 3,000-pound Toyota Camry, for example, can do far more damage than an irresponsibly driven, 30-pound Trek Allant. And I couldn’t find any statistics for “motorists killed by bicycles,” but the reverse was readily available.

Bike Lanes as a Waste of Transit Resources

Another common complaint about bike lanes is that they take up too much space on the road and impede car traffic. 

Commenter Bert Riberio, for example, claimed that bike lanes take up “50% of the right of way.” That’s not quite true. During non-rush hour on Kentucky Street, for example, the bike lane gets 8 feet of space while the driving lane gets 10 feet. During rush hour, the bike lane remains the same size, while the space for driving doubles to 20 feet. On eight-lane Taylorsville Road, between Hikes Point and Hurstbourne, bike lanes occupy the shoulders, taking no space from cars at all.

On Twitter, “MarshallGrissom” suggested to me that “embty [sic] bike lanes have doubled” his drive time to work (though he didn’t specify his route or the amount of time involved). I personally drive both Kentucky and Breckenridge streets to and from work each day during rush hour and I’ve never once encountered a traffic jam since the bike lanes appeared. Two 10-foot driving lanes is plenty to handle the volume of car traffic.

In truth, we’re talking about a few city streets out of thousands. Nearly every aspect of Louisville city planning and transit management for the past 60 years has been devoted to automobiles. We even demolished two huge sections of downtown in the 1960s and 1970s in part to make driving more efficient. Parking lots now dominate the landscape where historic buildings once stood. And it’s far worse in the suburbs.

Taking a few feet of space for bike lanes out of what is still a vast, car-dominated network of streets can’t possibly be the horrible injustice many claim it to be. And it certainly doesn’t justify calls for violence against cyclists, who are entitled to use any road, not just those with bike lanes.

In the end, bike lanes take up relatively little space, move cyclists out of driving lanes occupied by cars, and increase safety for everybody. If Louisville is never going to return to its heyday of rail transit, the very least we can do is make a little room on the road for bicycles. But I know patience for others may be a little too much to ask for.

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