Thursday, September 9, 2010

When is a bike lane not a bike lane?

A week or so ago, I was pulled over by a cop.

I s'pose I had it coming.

He was in a police vehicle (actually a pickup truck, but with logos and lights), and had drifted over into the "bike lane" in anticipation of a right turn. He was behind two other stopped vehicles, all waiting for a green light. I was approaching from behind, and as I went by, I hollered out "bike lane!" (I sometimes do that when motor vehicles are in a marked bike lane. And it particularly disappointed me that a police officer wouldn't set a better example.)

Since police generally always need to have the last word, I wasn't surprised when the light turned green, he didn't turn but instead turned on his flashers and "pulled me over."

The officer was very polite and professional; I'll give him credit for that.

He explained that he was in the right. According to him, a bike lane that ends with a "dashed stripe" at the intersection is available for use by both bikes and right-turning motor vehicles. He said it's in the book, and that's what they're teaching drivers. Theoretically it will reduce the number of "right hook" accidents.

The current Idaho Driver's Manual (link HERE - PDF, 3+ MB) says on Page 3-10, "The dashed bike lane stripe indicates that drivers turning right can merge to the right and bicyclists turning left can merge to the left."

I was aware of that. However... how far back can the merge take place?

I would contend that once a driver reaches the dashed stripe, he can (carefully!) merge to the right. The officer was behind two stopped vehicles, one being a city bus, and was well back from where the line changed from solid to dashed.

He admonished me to exercise restraint when shouting at drivers (good advice always!), because "they might be right."

I presented several confusing/contradictory/hazardous scenarios.
- What if a car in the real traffic lane is turning right? Can another motorist drive up next to him in the bike lane and turn right? Who goes first?
- Why do cars on Eagle Road get ticketed for using the bike lane as a right-turn lane?

We shook hands and went our separate ways, after agreeing that the law is ambiguous and mostly not understood. The whole experience reinforced my notion that "cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles." (John Forester) Perhaps bike lanes, particularly at intersections, cause more problems than they solve.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Kudos to the cop for at least being aware of bike laws. Ambiguity and interpretation aside, his understanding of the letter of the law is welcome.