Friday, May 28, 2010

Indianapolis' Dangerous Downtown Bike Lanes w/Addendum

Russ Pullium pens a column today talking in part about the City's commitment to creating bike lanes and how the City's development of those bike lanes led to Bicycling magazine listing Indianapolis as one of the top-50 cities for bicyclists. Pullium column begins:
Indianapolis' brave bicycle commuters can celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly this time of year.

"The good: Commuting by bike has become a bit safer.

The bad: It is still pretty dangerous.

The ugly: Bikers aren't welcome around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The good: Mayor Greg Ballard has become a cheerleader for biking. Last week he observed Bike to Work Day by taking a ride. Last month he celebrated Indianapolis' inclusion in Bicycling magazine's top 50 bike-friendly cities. Next month he plans to open bike lanes on Allisonville Road.

The mayor has led the way in adding bike lanes all over town, including a plan to open 35 miles of lanes this year. He also has championed the Cultural Trail -- a Downtown bicycle-friendly path that Brian Payne of the Central Indiana Community Foundation has pushed with commendable perseverance.

Ballard sees bicycling as one part of protecting the city's environment. "A city linked by trails, sidewalks and bike lanes for people of all ages to travel where they need to go is a major component of my vision for making Indianapolis one of the most sustainable cities in the Midwest," he said recently."
As someone who regularly commutes by bicycle, this is an issue that I feel I can speak on from experience.. From 2004 throught 2006, I commuted twice a week (during the warmer months) from my northwest side home to my job in Greenwood. The ride was about a 45 mile round trip. Since the fall of 2006 I've worked downtown Indianapolis. My commute now is only about 19 miles round trip, much of which is spent on the White River trail.

I don't share Pulliam's enthusiasm for those downtown bike lanes. They are not "safer." In fact those bike lanes are downright dangerous for bike riders and drivers alike.

First rule of urban bicycle commuting is that you don't ride your bike right next to parked cars. People parking throw open their doors, with only a glance over a shoulder looking for cars, not a much harder to see bicycle. The downtown bicycle lanes often run right by parked cars, putting bicyclists at risks. Even worse, those bike lanes weave in and out of traffic lanes. Vehicular traffic is often crossing over the bike paths. It is a very dangerous situation.

You also have the problem of broken pavement, debris and standing water often in the narrow bike lanes. Confronted with those obstacles, a bicyclist has to make a suden manuever often by going outinto a traffic lane. Go west on the Michigan Street bike lane. The pavement is in awful shape. The picture above is of standing water in the New York bike lane. With the traffic lanes narrowed to make room for the bikelanes, there is less room for the cars which creates a more dangerous commute for everyone involved.

Here is the truth about biking in Indianapolis. Downtown has always been one of the safest places in the city to ride a bike. The lanes are extremely wide allowing bikers to easily maneuver out of the way of obstacles (which you can't do if confined to a narrow bike lane.) Traffic rarely fills up all the lanes. A decent bicyclist can fairly easily keep up with traffic and if you're really slow, you can ride on the sidewalk. (Contrary to what many people think, riding a bike on a sidewalk in Indy is not illegal.) When you create bike lanes you change that dynamic, creating a more dangerous situation for drivers and bike riders.

Pullium's column does correctly note that bikers are more safe on dedicated trails and that the Ballard administration has not lived up to the promise to expand those trails. Heck, I'd be satisfied if the Ballard administration simply paid attention to upkeep of the existing trails. The White River trail is in terrible shape. The pavement is buckling and grass is growing in the cracks.

Frankly those in the organized bicycling community have an inferiority complex. After years of being ignored, they are thrilled that someone is finally paying attention to them, even if nothing of substance gets accomplished. Me, I prefer real progress on making bicycle commuting in Indianapolis safer. That we are not seeing.

ADDENDUM: I posted this as a note below but it is such an important point that I thought I would put it into the main post.

Here's another reason why bike lanes in general can be unsafe. Bicycle instructors teach people to "ride large." You are not supposed to ride on the far right side of a traffic lane because it's hard for cars to see you there. Instead you are supposed to ride well off the side of the road so cars can see you and make decisions to pass by going into the OTHER lane. If you ride along the side of the road, you're likely to get a brushback pass where a car passes within inches of your bicycle, assuming of course the driver sees you at all.

What these bike lanes do is to throw out that long-time safety instruction about "riding large." The bike lanes confine bicyclists to a narrow strip of road next to traffic where nearly every pass is a brushback pass. The bicyclist is left hoping the driver stays in his lane and/or isn't distracted and crosses into the bike lane. If so, the bicyclist has nowhere to go.


Downtown Indy said...

Like every thing, it seems, when they build it they talk about about how great it is but then they let it fall into disrepair.

I think you are referring to the asphalt portion of Wapahani trail along Riverside park, where there are several crevices caused by tree roots (in addition to weeds). I've hoped they would smooth those out for years.

It also seems to be a target for empty beer and liquor bottles.

I've ridden the gravel towpath many times and more than once missed seeing a large tire rut "chuckhole" from Water Co trucks, nearly being thrown off my bike when my tire drops in.

I rode the Mich St bike lane awhile back. It was covered with debris which included lots of broken glass. I should say i rode 'beside' the bike lane, in the traffic lane.

I also rode to the IMS once and had to plead my case to several yellow shirts before I was allowed to park in the motorcycle area in turn one. They didn't want my bike inside and I didn't want to chain up to the fence outside where it would fall victim to (a) vandalism, (b) theft or (c) being cut loose and hauled off as some vaguely-defined 'security threat' by the police.

Unknown said...

While I agree with Mr. Ogden, that cyclists should operate their bicycles like vehicles. It is completely disingenuous to state that the "bike lanes are downright dangerous for bike riders and drivers alike" in downtown Indianapolis. I, like Mr. Ogden, have been bicycle commuting for some time in cities as diverse as Chicago (before the infrastructure that is there now), Atlanta, Portland, and now Indianapolis. I can tell you from personal experience that bike lanes as well as other on road infrastructure has made bicycle commuting a much more pleasant experience. But don't take my word for it; look at the research that has been done on this topic. When you get the time, jump on Google scholar and conduct a search of your own. You will find that there are far more a studies showing that when on street infrastructure is implemented there is improved safety for cyclists, then the other way around. I thought John Forester's arguments had been put to bed years ago, but I guess I was mistaken. Take Portland, Oregon, for example; their bicycle mode share has increased by double digits nearly every year for the last 6 or 7 years, but injuries and fatalities have remained flat or fallen. These studies are done in bicycle friendly cities all over the world and they have come to the same conclusions, accidents and injuries fall.

The one caveat is good design and Indianapolis’ DPW has been using proven design methods from all over the world. The bike lanes that you stated "weave in and out of traffic lanes" do so because you have high volumes of right turning traffic. Therefore, instead of having automobiles turn right over a bicycle lane or drop the cyclists into that right lane with turning traffic to fend for themselves, the bicycle lane shifts. Again, a practice that has proven safe all over the world and I should mention (knock on wood) that Indianapolis has not had one reported accident in those "blue" lanes. Could an accident occur at one of these “blue” lanes, sure it could. But I would like to mention that it could and did happen before the implementation of bicycle lanes. In fact, one of the most common causes of fatalities and injuries when bicycle and autos collide is the “right hand hook”. The Marion County Health dept has done bicycle counts pre-bicycle lanes and post-implementation as well as looking at bicycle/auto collisions on both Michigan and NY. At this time, usage is up and to my knowledge accidents are down.

I apologize if I come off harsh but it upsets me when people state “opinions” as “facts” without doing any research to support their arguments.

Everyone stay safe out there and keep the rubber side down.

Jamison said...

Well, as someone who lives downtown and uses the bike lanes every day to get to and from work or anywhere else in the city, I am very happy they are there. Are they fading and in bad condition at spots? Yes. Are Michigan and New York, west of College, going to be repaved and restriped with the nice thermoplastic that is on Illinois and East? Yes. Has DPW said that we will never use paint for bike lanes again? You get the point. Indy is learning, and we have some fantastic people who are sticking their necks out to make this place a better place for cyclists.

On street bike lanes, unlike multi-use paths, are not meant for recreation, so there is an assumption that you are a rider that is aware of your surroundings and can handle the lane shifts so you are on the left side of traffic that is turning right. Yes, dooring can be a problem, but once again, if you are looking ahead and see when people are parking then you can prepare. Some people think bells are a novelty on bikes, sometimes they are, but they can be very helpful in warning drivers, pedestrians and other bikers of your presence.

If you don't feel safe in them then use the sidewalk, use a driving lane (it is legal as long as bikers ride no more than 2 abreast) or just be patient until the Cultural Trail is finished.

This seems like a glass half-empty piece about something that I believe is very positive in this city. It is a bit discouraging that you seem to try and speak for everyone in the biking community here downtown. Your views are very different, not wrong, but different from mine and many others who ride these streets daily and are very appreciative that the lanes exist. I appreciate your subjective take on the lanes and hope it starts even more conversation about the steps the city is taking to make biking safer and more attractive.

Downtown Indy said...

I cring everytime I cross ovet I70 going south on East Street. I have one eye glued to the mirror approaching that right-turn-crossover.

It scares me to think there are cars cresting the bridge and they suddenly see the lane jog and me sliding left into their path - when they may not realize their path should be towards the right.

Yes we are in the infancy, so to speak, with our bicycle lanes and some learning is required - from DPW, motorists and cyclists. And it should get better as more lanes are made and everybody gets accustomed to them.

But for now there are some definite rough edges that need to be smoothed down.

Citizen Kane said...

I have sent that same picture to DPW several times to no avail. The problem is that the storm sewers on either side are higher than the road, so there is always a massive puddle there after any heavy rain.

I have thought from the very beginning that many of the bike lanes, particularly along New York Street and Michigan Street were a monumental waste of money and I can't imagine riding on Allisonville Road by choice for any length of time.

One of the worst stretches of the New York bike lane is west of west Street as it swerves / criss-crosses from the curb past two right turn lanes.

But I continue to ride everyday and do the best I can to avoid heavy traffic and narrow roads.

Blog Admin said...

I noticed one of the early commentators said that bike lanes aren't for recreational riding, but for cyclists who know what they're doing. But the point of a bike friendly city, in my view, is to get MORE people than the dedicated hardcore cyclists riding. And as a more "casual" rider who wants to get better, the bike lanes, no matter how safe they may be, are a mental block for me. I just don't feel safe on them. And I imagine a lot of other more casual riders feel the same. And if we don't feel safe, we aren't likely to get to the point of using bikes for transportation.

Jamison said...

I said they are not for "recreation." They are different than the Monon or other multi-use paths because you can't mindlessly ride without taking into consideration what is going on around you. I am not a "hardcore cyclist"; I ride everywhere I go, but I wear a t-shirt and jeans when I ride. What do you people want? Should they take the bike lanes away? Would that get more people out riding? The point that I was making was that if you want to ride your bike and not have to think then stick to the Monon and Cultural Trail. I don't have anything against these trails; I use them quite often, but if you area going to ride on the road you have to understand that everyone isn't going to roll out the red carpet for you.

Marycatherine Barton said...

I applaud all who are brave enough to bike in city traffic. I'm not.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Bike Commuter,

I'm a little puzzled why you think my take is me only my expressing my "opinion" but you expressing yours is an expression of "fact."

Your suggestion that accidents are down is pure speculation based on no evidence. I would imagine that the number of bike-car accidents before and after the bike lanes is miniscule and statistically irrelevant. But with the bike lanes, you have the chance of much more serious accidents with cross-over traffic.

You fail to explain how running a bike lane by parked cars is somehow safe. Likewise, I'd like to see the studies that say weaving bike lanes in and out of traffic lanes is a good idea. Spend about an hour sometime watching how those bike lanes are utiliized and you'll find that cars drive in those lanes all the time. Mostly it's because the lanes weaving in and out are confusing to the drivers of the cars.

Paul K. Ogden said...

When I ride my bike on my commute, I'm generally going 15-25 miles per hour. When I head home utilizing the Michigan Rd bike lane, I really have to slow way down because of the broken pavement, standing water, debris, etc. in that lane.

When you encounter those obstacles, your only choice is to slam on the brakes, hit the obstacle or weave out into traffic. If you were in a regular wide traffic lane (like we had on Michigan Street before the bike lanes) there would be no problem getting around the obstacle.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Bicycle instructors teach people to "ride large." You are not supposed to ride on the far right side of a traffic lane because it's hard for cars to see you there. Instead you are supposed to ride well off the side of the road so cars can see you and make decisions to pass by going into the OTHER lane. If you ride along the side of the road, you're likely to get a brushback pass where a car passes within inches of your bicycle, assuming of course the driver sees you at all.

What these bike lanes do is to throw out that safety instruction about "riding large." Instead the bike lanes confine people to a narrow strip of road next to traffic where every pass is a brushback pass...if they see you at all and don't cross into the bike lane while distracted by talking on the phone, for example.

Jamison said...

So what is your suggestion? I don't hear anything but complaining. If you don't like the bike lanes then don't use them; you are by no means legally obligated to ride in the lanes. I will keep enjoying them...and I have learned to interact with cars by riding, not from "bicycle instructors."

Paul K. Ogden said...


My suggestion would be to removed the dangerous bike lanes downtown and spend the money on trail upkeep and expansion.

Saying simply don't ride on them isn't a solution. The traffic lanes are narrower because of the bike lane and its more dangerous there than it was before. The lanes need to be removed completely. That's what I understand Fort Wayne did after their flirtation with bike lanes. The problem there, as is happening here, is that the lanes get filled with broken glass, broken pavement, standing water, etc.

This morning, my mailman stopped by my law office. He's an avid bike commuter and has ridden to Detroit and on other long trips. I asked him how he felt about the downtown bike lanes. He immediately sneered at them, calling them "very unsafe." He identified the same problems with the lanes I have here, including the problem with the lanes going right next to parked cars.

I think the lanes appeal more to the casual rider than those of us who commute on a regular basis. The commuters tend to ride at higher speeds. Our bikes are about getting us from Point A to Point B.

Jamison said...

I am not sure who "us commuters" are, I ride to and from work and everywhere else in the city (over 2000 commuting miles last year).I ride between 15-20 mph on my bike in the lanes and love them. Just don't speak for all city riders because I can get one supporter for every naysayer. If you ever want to talk about this in person I would love to sit down and chat. I think after NY and Michigan are repaved and restriped they will be much nicer.

Citizen Kane said...

I was riding on New York Street before the bike lanes and I did not in anyway believe that adding these lanes, at considerable expense, would make my ride better or safer. And, of course, they have not.

I totally agree with Paul's 1:44 pm post.

Junk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Junk said...

*Sorry for the Re-post.

I have been a daily commuter for three years in this city. Not only during the summer when it is nice but every day throughout the year including through rain and snow. My commute is 7 miles and is 100% in and around downtown. I have to disagree with pretty much everything that you have said.

As having ridden on the same exact streets both before and after the bike lanes were installed (I use Michigan to get to work and New York home from work) it is much better now with the lanes. I agree that in some places the pavement really sucks, but it isn't like this pavement changed before and after the bikes lanes. It sucked just as much before as it does now. I also am not a proponent of "riding large" if it means that you are going to ride in the middle of the lane especially when there is a bike lane there. "Riding large" is intended to allow cyclists to be seen when drivers would otherwise not be looking for them. Part of the beauty of bike lanes is that drivers who go down Michigan and New York every day are now beginning to be conditioned to the bike lanes. Regardless of whether there is a rider in that bike lane, there is a huge white stripe making them aware of that lane.

I don't know what roads you were riding on before the bike lanes when you were getting a lot of room from drivers, but I certainly did not experience that. I have even noticed a change from when the bike lanes were first painted, cars are less likely to hug the line and almost always yield at the funky cross over before Pennsylvania.

You do need to be more aware of your surroundings when you are biking on the street, bike lanes or no. This is no different than driving a car. If you don't feel comfortable in the lanes, stick to finding the best route on sidewalks and bike paths.

Jamison said...