- George C. Palaidis
When road design can spark confusion and create danger
I was out for a ride the other day and came across a confusing and dangerous section of road that isn’t uncommon here in South Florida. This time it wasn’t because of the drivers. It was due to the road design.
The photo to the right is on a stretch of A1A in Hollywood, Florida. It looks like the bicyclist is traveling in a dedicated bicycle lane, right? He’s not. That’s not a bicycle lane or any other type of bicycle facility. What the road designers here have created is a very slender shoulder to the road.
Under Florida law, a bicycle lane is a lane of travel that is specifically designated and marked for bicycle use. That’s not what we see here. In fact, bicycle “Share the Road” signage has been posted along the road (Don’t get me started on the problems with that sign…that’s for another day!). Additionally, that shoulder area is much too narrow to be considered a bicycle lane, or to be used for any other purpose (for example, broken down cars).
Looking back on a prior post, we know that Florida law states bicyclists have the same rights and obligations as drivers when using the road. So if a bicyclist wants to ride in the road, they have to ride in the roadway if there is no dedicated bicycle lane provided. A roadway is defined as excluding a berm or shoulder. And of course a bicyclist can “take the lane” if there’s not enough room for a car and bicyclist to travel side by side safely (with the 3-foot buffer in between).
The designers of this stretch of road were certainly cognizant of that. Signs were posted along the road advising drivers that bicyclists would be sharing the road with them, acknowledging there is no bicycle lane provided and that the lane itself is substandard width. The problem is that they also created this pseudo “bicycle lane” resulting in a mixed signal to all users of the road. Drivers (or anyone else) could see the "lane" and, not knowing better, determine that’s a bicycle lane and assume there would and should be no bicyclists in the travel lane. Now any driver coming upon a bicyclist appropriately traveling in the lane would be antagonized and could (as we’ve all experienced) lash out at the bicyclist.
This isn't the only stretch of road that has this design flaw. Also on A1A in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Florida, we see the same slender shoulder alongside the roadway in the photos to the left. The only purpose for a shoulder that size is to create a pseudo "bicycle lane" which doesn't comply with any standards created by the Florida Department of Transportation and only creates a more dangerous condition and antagonizes drivers when bicyclists appropriately travel in the roadway.
Some might ask why not travel in the shoulder anyways, and stay out of the roadway and away from cars and trucks. First and foremost, I believe bicyclists need to do what they can to stay safe when out on the roads, but of course know and follow the law.
That said, riding on shoulders like these isn't safe. As with any shoulder along any road, there's debris and cracks and holes that can make it dangerous for bicyclists. And of course once a bicyclist comes across those dangerous conditions he or she may pop into the lane of travel to go around them, exposing the cyclist to vehicle traffic that isn't expecting the bicyclist to be there because of the pseudo "bicycle lane."
Also, the slender width of the shoulder creates a situation where there isn't a 3-foot passing distance for cars and trucks to give a bicyclist when passing. Drivers will assume they don't need to give that 3-foot buffer because both the bicyclist and driver are in their respective "lane," resulting in bicyclists getting clipped or sideswiped.
Hopefully municipal and state road designers will address these dangers. While it may have seemed like a good idea or even done with good intentions, creating these pseudo "bicycle lanes" out of these shoulders only creates an additional danger for bicyclists and gives the wrong message to drivers.