Are bike lanes a safe place to ride?

Posted May 10, 2013, at 3:46 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — May is National Bike Month, but for Alecia Adcock, who rides as much as 300 miles a week, virtually every day is about bicycling.

The Florida homemaker spends much of her time on the paved Little Econlockhatchee trail that is closed to cars and trucks. She sometimes rides on roads, although she much prefers staying in bike lanes on the far right when they are available.

“I’m not comfortable [riding in traffic],” said Adcock, 53, who has lost 65 pounds through cycling.

Adcock is just the type of person officials are thinking of when they build trails from abandoned train corridors or add bicycle-only lanes to roads.

Yet many cyclists, including veteran Mighk Wilson, don’t think bike lanes are safe. And they worry about the trails, too.

“Riding along the edge (of the road) is the problem,” said Wilson, who teaches a cycling course. He also is a smart-growth planner with MetroPlan, which sets transportation policy in three Florida counties.

Wilson said bike lanes can give riders a false sense of security when, in fact, they are shunted almost off the road, where drivers might not see them, and bike riders often can confront debris and crumbling pavement.

Even worse, Wilson said, some bike lanes run alongside parking spots. Motorists open their doors in the bike lane, setting up potential collisions, he said.

“You need to understand the environment you are trying to modify. Will the bike lane hinder or help it?” Wilson said.

Bike trails, which also are shared with runners, walkers and rollerbladers, can be dangerous when they run parallel to a road, Wilson said. The reason, he said, is that cars and bicyclists often are not looking for each other, which can lead to wrecks at intersections.

His solution is to ride in the middle of the lane, just like a car. That way, he said, bicyclists are easily seen and cars can give them a wide berth when passing.

As long as cyclists are courteous and obey the rules of the road, such as stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, Wilson said, they can peacefully co-exist with cars.

Actually, bicyclists have a right to the road, according to state law. And contrary to popular

belief, bikes really are not supposed to be on sidewalks. Orlando prohibits the practice downtown.

Bike lanes and trails are proliferating throughout the state. Counties and cities such as Orlando, as well as the state of Florida, have adopted policies to add bikes lanes whenever there is room on a new or repaved road.

The idea is to encourage all forms of transportation, especially as urban areas run out of space for more roads.

In Central Florida, a majority of the state roads — excluding the interstates and Florida’s Turnpike — have bike lanes, records show. That includes almost 550 miles where bike lanes are on both sides of the road. Orlando has more than 230 miles.

And the state legislature last month set aside $50 million to connect bike trails running across the center of the state, potentially creating a network 275 miles long from Pinellas through Orange to Brevard counties. Orlando’s chief transportation planner, F.J. Flynn, along with the League of American Bicyclists, are supporters of bike lanes. They argue the lanes get more bikers out, even if sometimes the design could be better.

“They encourage people to ride and make cyclists safer, and that’s our mission,” league president Andy Clarke wrote in an email to the Orlando Sentinel.

Flynn points to several studies, including one published in the American Journal of Health, that concluded cities with bike lanes have fewer accidents.

Tim Bustos, director of the Florida Bicycle Association, said he understands both sides of the argument. He said cyclists should ride where they are most comfortable.

“There is no yes-no answer,” he said.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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