Narrow shared bike/car-parking lanes (BPL), as are commonly used around the Inner West, are increasingly seen as dangerous, promoting cycling next to parked cars, with the risk of getting “doored”. The RTA guidelines recommend these pseudo bike lanes (they are called “pseudo” because they don’t meet the Australian standard for a bike lane and cyclists don’t have to ride in them, they are only “advisory”) on 12.8m-wide roads but many cyclists now prefer to ride to the right of the white line, “in the traffic”, away from car doors.
Is there a better way?
In the City Clover Moore has decided two way separated bike paths are the solution, but out in the ‘burbs money is a lot tighter and such luxury is unlikely. Although there are possibilities if parking was removed from one side of the road. See campaign for Balmain Rd bike path. Darley Rd is another possibility, as one side of the road has no residential.
In Leichhardt there is a move to the “Booth St solution”. This is when the downhill BPL is removed and the space allocated to a wider uphill bike lane which does give room to avoid doors, though you still need to be careful. Going downhill, cyclists are expected to ride out in the traffic away from car doors. They can maintain a reasonable speed and should not hold motor vehicles up unduly, particularly if the speed limit is 40 K.
Marion St is currently being designed along this principle- wider uphill bike lane, no downhill PBL. Also in Catherine St between Piper St and the CWL. Cyclists and motorists need to understand how it works though, and Councils should do more in the way of informing people how to use these sort of roads.
What happens on a flat section of road? So far the old RTA design is still being used as there is no real alternative, except to remove the bike logos in the parking lane and place them in the traffic lane to signify cyclists don’t have to ride next to parked cars. Slower speed limits also help, and pressure is slowly growing for European speed limits, which are 30 K in residential areas and 40 K on other non arterial roads. Balmain peninsular is all 40 K now,and some streets in Leichhardt, but compliance is not the best- speeds tend to be around 45 to 50, but that is still better than the 55 to 60 in many 50K areas.
Other lane markings that could help cyclists are Advanced Storage Lanes and Boxes at intersections, where cyclists get short sections of lane to help avoid left turning lanes or to position themselves better. These have been recommended for Leichhardt in the Bicycle Strategy but the RTA is so far not allowing them, or making it hard to get them implemented by charging hefty design and supervision fees.
Another useful lane marking is at roundabouts, or slow points, where a bike lane or shared parking lane should not suddenly be cut off but should continue towards the roundabout, but not into the roundabout, as a straight dashed line, with the legal meaning that motorists shouldn’t overtake a cyclist ahead of them who is trying to merge, just as applies to cars. Some councils do this but Leichhardt Council and the RTA think that cyclists in a lane approaching a roundabout should stop and give way to motorists coming up from behind them. This is OK if you are a nervous sort of cyclist and can hear the motorist coming but it makes cycling a lot less fluid if you are always stopping to give way.
Width of lanes on roads
Research by the RTA and others has shown that if lanes are narrow (less than about 3m) motorists do not try to pass cyclists in the same lane. If lanes are wide, greater than about 3.7 m,and there is no parking, motorists can pass cyclists fairly safely- particularly if they go over the centre line a bit. But if lanes are in the range 3.2 to 3.7m motorists think there is room and often try to pass and go too close to cyclists- bearing in mind that motorists are supposed to give 1 m clearance when passing according to the RTA Handbook. Therefore lane widths in this range should be avoided.
When there are parked cars and a 2.2 m parking lane is marked, as in parts of Catherine St, allowance should be made for opening door width. Even when using a traffic lane width of 3.8m you need to allow 1.5 m from the parking line for where a cyclist should be riding. A car cannot pass the cyclist safely in the same lane in this situation, as the effective traffic lane width is only about 2.3 m.
Buses and wide vehicles
Wide kerbside lanes of 4.5 m, with no parking, allow cyclists and buses to coexist in the same lane. But most kerbside lanes in Leichhardt have parking, or on main roads like Victoria Rd or Parramatta Rd, kerbside lanes are around 3 to 3.4 m only.
Around Leichhardt STA is demanding traffic lane widths of 3.2 m for buses on 12.8 m roads. This means the door zone bike lane, if retained, is reduced to 3.2 m, totally unsafe, and below even the RTA’s own substandard bare minimum for a shared bike/parking lane. The logical conclusion is that cyclists need to “take the traffic lane”, as they are entitled to, and bus drivers will need to wait until overtaking is safe or the cyclist finds a wider bit of road where they can move over to allow passing. Cooperation and goodwill is needed on both sides.