Philly Pedals

Advocacy / Tips - Safety / Urban Planning

Communication Breakdown

Philadelphia Bike Ride

I have been biking in Philly for 22 years. I remember biking before there were bike lanes. It is a lot better now that there is some infrastructure for bikes, and I really want to see separated/protected and respected bike lanes become a reality. Nevertheless, for all our progress we have a hard time with clarity of design* on our streets. We need to do better job of communicating road usage in places where bike infrastructure joins or crosses car infrastructure.

We make bike lanes that disappear entirely or convert to sharrows and then the sharrows disappear. We do not provide enough guidance to any of the road users (bike or car) as to how or where the two modes of transportation are supposed to merge once the lane or sharrow disappears. The cyclist is used to navigating challenging roadways but the mash-up of bike and car infrastructure is confusing and frustrating for the driver. And the last thing a cyclist wants is a confused or frustrated driver trying to squeeze by.

Let’s use the 10th Street bike lane to demonstrate how we provide some infrastructure for bikes but signs explaining road use are for the driver alone.

Looking at 10th Street from Pine to South, the signs are to the benefit of the driver.

This signs near 10th and Pine lets a driver know where they can enter the bike lane and for approximately 50 feet the bike lane is a sharrow. The signs also let drivers know they should yield to bikes.

Three lanes, but signs only for drivers.

 In the next block, at 10th and Lombard, the bike lane ends and the road narrows to a sharrow, but there is no sign to help the cyclists merge or to let drivers know to expect a cyclist merging. In the photo, you can see signs showing two lanes, one for going straight and one for turning; but there are three lanes here. Where is the bike lane indicated? (Hint: it isn’t.) If it was a third car lane, by law it would have a sign like the ones below.

Two types of Right Lane Ends signs.

The cyclist becomes invisible to cars. A sign showing the three traffic lanes, one ending, one straight and one turning and a bikes merging sign would help drivers and cyclists. A bike box for cyclists to use at the end of the bike lane would give cyclists a safe way to move into the single lane.

I would never advocate bad bike behavior, but you could see why a cyclist might choose to run the light at 10th and Lombard so they can feel safer moving into the single lane at the end of the bike lane. It doesn’t make it right, but it is an understandable reaction.

We need to use May Use Full Lane signs all over the city.

After the 10th Street bike lane ends there are sharrows for one block. After that, it is a single travel lane with parking on both sides. After the sharrows disappear, a May Use Full Lane sign would be helpful. It gives bikes a place in the road. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices says May Use Full Lane signs should be used, where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side. 10th Street from South on is a perfect place to use this type of sign.

I don’t know if adding these types of signs will change cyclist or driver behavior but it would help road users know what to expect. As we will be introducing many new and possibly inexperienced cyclists when bike share comes along it would be wonderful to have road use and warning signs for BOTH cyclists and drivers. When we design areas where bike and car infrastructure join or cross we need to do a better job of making the design clear and understandable for all the road users.

*Clarity of design phrasing attributed to Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke.

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