Many major cities have dedicated bicycle lanes where cyclists are encouraged to ride. Motor Vehicle Code 21208 demands that riders stay inside the lanes when they are available. There have been many discussions on the importance of bike lanes, and whether they really do promote safe travel. We always encourage you to obey the traffic laws and ride in bike lanes when they are available. It is always a good idea, though, to keep in mind some of the reasons behind bike lanes, as well as some of their pitfalls.
Some pros of bicycle lanes:
1. Dedicated bike lanes attract new cyclists. Many cities are promoting cycling as a healthier and more environmentally friendly way to travel.
2. Even uneducated cyclists can stay within the striped lanes dedicated to cycling. Having more uneducated riders on major streets may not be such a great thing, but it’s better to keep them within their own lanes than allowing them to ride freely in moving traffic.
3. Riding in fast moving traffic is scary. Big cities will never attract new cyclists if they don’t have dedicated safer ways for cyclists to travel.
4. Having dedicated lanes moves bike traffic off the sidewalks and onto the streets. This is safer for pedestrians and bike riders.
5. Every expert bike rider began as a novice. It’s better to give the new riders a safe place to ride than to expect them to follow the California Motor Vehicle Code from day one.
Cons of bike lanes that should be considered:
1. Car riders resent bike riders and think bikes should always be in bike lanes, even when it is unsafe to do so.
2. Bike lanes frequently have obstructions. This tends to happen more in cities where there are few streets with dedicated bike lanes. Car drivers who are not used to bike lanes will park or stop in the lanes if they think they’ll only be there for a short period of time.
3. Cyclists will sometimes stay in the lanes even when it is unsafe to do so. Riders who are not familiar with the California vehicle code will often ride in obstructed lanes, or ride in lanes when they are traveling faster than the other riders.
4. Riders will travel in these lanes and forget that there are cars in the other lanes. For example, bikers will turn left while still inside the bike lane (that is usually located on the far right curb). Riders will also travel the wrong way inside the lanes. Traveling in the same direction as traffic flow is still the safest (and legal) way to travel, even when riding inside a dedicated bike lane.
City officials are determined to keep bike riders safe. Riding inside the dedicated bike lane will be the safest way to travel if that option is given to you. If you still feel uneasy about riding your bike on city streets, consider defensive riding tactics.