Bike lanes have about a dozen different names and an approximately equal number of design variations. However, the intended purpose of bike lanes is the same on all streets, in all cities: to provide cyclists with a car-free lane for safer, more efficient riding.
When used appropriately, bike lanes make our streets safer for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. Unfortunately, many drivers view these conveniently uncongested avenues as the perfect place to park their cars, delivery trucks, and government vehicles, negating the purpose of reserving a separate pathway for cyclists.
If you ride a bike, the fact that people park in bike lanes isn’t news to you. If you drive a car and have ever been in an incredible rush to pick up your dry cleaning before stopping at the grocery store before picking up Sally at soccer practice, this fact isn’t news to you, either.
It’s no surprise that folks take advantage of bike lanes for parking. People have been parking in front of fire hydrants and double-parking on crowded city streets for decades. The growth of bike lanes in many US cities is offering these parking miscreants a big, new juicy target.
For some drivers, the relatively small fines ($65 per violation in DC) are worth the risk. This is especially true for commercial drivers in congested cities who view these tickets as part of the cost of doing business.
In certain areas, there is little to no enforcement of these parking violations. In other areas, such as Denver, there is unclear language in the municipal code that may allow certain government vehicles to ignore posted signs, including “No Parking” signs, based on their discretion.
Whether we increase fines or implement escalating fines for repeat offenders, push for stricter enforcement, or hope that Twitter feeds dedicated to shaming government officials for ordering pizza while parked in bike lanes, we need to find ways combat this problem. Educating drivers on the overall usefulness and effectiveness of bike lanes should be the overall focus for a sustainable change in drivers’ attitudes.
There are many ways to frame the argument when educating drivers on the value of unobstructed bike lanes. Drivers who park in a bike lanes are probably often the same drivers who becomes irate when a cyclist is forced to enter traffic to avoid an obstruction in the bike lane. And, when cyclists have unobstructed, safe bike lanes, more people are on bikes and less are in cars less, leading to more parking.
If you want to see examples of all kinds of crazy things happening in bike lanes, just do a quick online search. Or better yet, hit the streets and ride a few miles in your local bike lanes.
City and transportation planners, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and very intelligent people at departments of transportation have worked very hard to increase the number of bike lanes in our cities. Now, we all need to take the next step and better educate agencies responsible for safeguarding this infrastructure as well as individuals responsible for sharing this infrastructure.
To learn more about protected bike lanes, I highly recommend checking out the Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program dedicated to building bike lanes in cities across the United States.