Have You Tested Out the Bike Lane "Experiment" in Oakland Yet?

Categories: bikes

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There's something kind of ominous about riding on an experimental bike lane -- it's kind of like volunteering to the guinea pig for a new drug, except you don't get paid.

The new bike lanes that were paved in September along 40th Street in Oakland, on either side of the Macarthur BART stop might might feel just as risky. Jason Patton, Bicycle & Pedestrian Program Manager at the City of Oakland Public Works Agency, and Dave Campbell, Advocacy Director of the East Bay Bike Coalition, filled me in on this "experiment."

This experimental lane is not really called a lane -- call it a "super sharrow" -- and it sits right in the middle of the right traffic lane, indicating to all motorists that the lane should be shared. But can we share?

My initial reaction to riding in these lanes is that it's kind of like being encouraged to bring a knife to a gun fight, a cock to a dog fight, a checker board to chess tournament -- basically the lanes encourage cyclists to put themselves in a vulnerable position. As a biker, I feel that drivers are even more aggressive now, tailing close behind cyclists ( in my experience) and powering past with undisguised malice (also my experience). But as a driver, I don't feel like this measure gives cyclists adequate protection on a fast-moving thoroughfare.


The good part of the lanes? Well, they encourage cyclists to stay out of the door zone. I spoke with one cyclist who both lives and works in the area of 40th Street and said that she thinks the new lanes show drivers that cyclists have a right to take the whole lane, and it helps cyclists remember to avoid the door-zone. "But I'm worried that it might backfire by giving drivers the impression that cyclists don't have the right to take the lane in the first place," she told me.

Patton told me that that the supersharrow was used instead of bike lanes because there is no extra width on 40th Street, so creating a dedicated space for bicyclists would require removing some element that is already on the street.

"Over multiple studies and multiple years, the city looked at possible alternatives. But key stakeholders could not agree on what to remove," he said.

But there remained a need for better bike access to the BART station, so this is what we've got for now. The city decided that all four lanes on 40th needed to stay on the road in order to preserve AC Transit bus routes, and because traffic projections predict an increase in motor traffic in the coming years. The neighborhood association vetoed the removal of the median full of plants. Patton said that the experiment will run "at least into 2015."

The City of Oakland had to ask the Federal Highway Administration and the state of California for permission to experiment with this lane marking method.

This cyclist seems unsure whether to ride in the door-zone to the right of the supersharrow green carpet or right in the middle.

While Patton told me they didn't have data to report yet, the East Bay Bike Coalition has been collecting surveys online. Dave Campbell, director of advocacy at the Coalition, let me take a look at that data and this is what I found:

• The supersharrows, for the most part, haven't changed the routes cyclists decide to take.

• When asked whether the supersharrows are satisfactory or bike lanes are better, the respondents are basically split.

• A large majority of respondents would be happy to see more supersharrows on other routes.

More than 200 people responded to most of the survey questions; some filled in the blanks with their true feelings, ranging from enthusiastic support to serious alarm that someone would be killed because of the supersharrows.

Frankly, I'm for dropping one of the lanes on 40th in favor of a protected bike lane. Ideally, a projected increase in automotive traffic would be offset significantly increase in bike traffic that would follow an infrastructural move like that. The supersharrow does little to increase perceived safety, an important factor in increasing cycling share. Another kind of lane would simply do that better.

One respondent to the EBBC survey said: "As a car driver (I wouldn't dare bicycle on 40th), I wouldn't know what the green lane is except for also being an EBBC member."

There's one less car and one more bike right there.

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.

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