When a Bike Lane is Not a Bike Lane

When I talk to people about bicycling in Newport Beach, of which I do a lot, I’m usually telling them how much I enjoy and benefit from it. Yes, both the talking and the cycling.

But I am often asked why cyclists “ride on the road” as opposed to in the bike lane.  There are several answers for several situations:

  • The first involves the absence of a bike lane altogether.  Most Newport Beach roads do not have dedicated bike lanes.  And sometimes where there are bike lanes, they mysteriously and inexplicably disappear.  For example, San Joaquin Hills Drive has dedicated bike lanes from its southern terminus at Newport Coast Drive all the way down to Spyglass Hill.  But, at Spyglass Hill, the bike lanes disappear on both sides of the road.  If you are familiar with the downhill side of the road, you know there is a white line painted on the right hand side starting a few hundred yards down the hill.  Many people assume the right side of that line is a bike lane.  In fact the white line on the right is the “fog line” which marks the edge of the road.  The area to the right side of that line is the shoulder of the road.  Cyclists are allowed, but not obligated, to use the shoulder.  And as you can see in the following Google Maps link, the shoulder there is often filled with parked cars (in violation of the City’s ‘No Parking’ signs).  So cyclists can’t ride in that shoulder.

    

  • But, when there is a dedicated bike lane, sometimes it is unsafe due to hazards such as the steel plate truck ramps, sandbags and rocks seen in the next three photos and due to hazards like that described in this related article.  These photos were all taken yesterday (11.16.11) on the downhill side of MacArthur Blvd, south of San Miguel, heading toward Corona del Mar:
    Steel Plate Truck Ramp Protruding into Bike Lane:

Could you imagine riding into these?


Traffic Pylon and Sandbags in Bike Lane:

Sandbags in bike lane, apparently diverting water from storm drain

 

Rocks in Bike Lane:

Motorists wouldn’t notice these rocks unless one cracked a windshield, but they are big and sharp enough to destroy a cyclist’s tires and cause a crash.  They run the length of MacArthur from the steel truck ramps depicted above to the driveway for Corona del Mar Plaza.  They are probably picked up by truck tires exiting the construction site, deposited in the number two lane as the truck tires spin faster, then blown over to the bike lane by the tires and wind generated by cars.

 

The following video takes you past the truck ramp, sandbags, rocks and, as often is the case, a commercial vehicle parked in the bike lane in violation of BIKE LANE and NO PARKING signs:

(Pause the video at 31 seconds if you need the phone number of Associated Laboratories.)

So, what looks like a safe bike lane from a car seat may, in fact, be a mine-field for the cyclist.  Any one of these hazards causes cycling accidents.  Even if a cyclist avoids the hazards, it is inevitable that the rocks strewn across the bike lane will cause a flat tire, and a bicycle with a flat tire loses some of its handling and braking characteristics — generally resulting in a skidding drift to the downhill sloped right side of the road.   And that could cause a cyclist to collide with any of these hazards.  The results of such a collision would be catastrophic.  And the hazards and debris in this bike lane are always there.  It seems to be the residue of the adjacent construction of Newport Beach’s new Civic Center which is not scheduled for completion until the end of 2012.

I hope the description of the hazard explains, in practical terms, why cyclists do not always ride in that bike lane.

As for the legality of cyclists riding outside the bike lane, one should be familiar with California Vehicle Code section 21208 – Permitted Movements from Bicycle Lanes – which reads:

21208  (a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:

(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.

(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

(3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.

(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.

(b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.

This bike lane full of hazards is not unique in Newport Beach.  Throughout town, landscaping trucks routinely park, in violation  for hours at a time without providing alternative safe passage for approaching cyclists.  When this happens on streets like San Joaquin Hills Drive and Newport Coast Drive, cyclists must merge in to very high speed (55 and 60MPH, respectively) shared traffic lanes.  Additionally, the landscapers leave rocks, pine cones and other debris in the bike lanes.  In reality, local cyclists know about this and exit the bike lanes at certain locations known to be cluttered with debris.  But those cyclists who are “passing through” are at much greater risk.

The illegally parked commercial truck in the video betrays Newport Beach’s lack of adequate – of any, really – turnouts for motorists who need to check directions, make phone calls, enjoy a view or – in the case of the people in the photo below, taken on Newport Coast Drive at Ocean Ridge Drive – stop to pick up a friend who was likely working at a home nearby.

Note the 60MPH speed limit here:

It’s easier to meet your ride in the bike lane, compared to asking the driver to pull in to the turnaround area in front of the community gates

Unlike the rocks and construction site overflow in the bike lanes, the lack of turnouts cannot be easily remedied by enforcement of current laws*: it is a design flaw.  It should have been apparent to the designers of the road that motorists would need to pull over, and turnouts should have been added.  Instead, motorists have no choice but to pull over in the bike lane, forcing cyclists out into the freeway-speed shared lanes, and into grave danger.

 

*California law, of course, as well as Newport Beach’s municipal code (section 12.56.060) prohibit parking in bike lanes.

Comments

comments

3 Comments

  1. Comment by billdsd:

    I like this article a lot but more could be added to it.

    CVC 21208 only requires bicyclists to use the bike lane if it has been established pursuant to CVC 21207. CVC 21207 requires that bike lanes conform to California Streets and Highways Code 891. SHC 891 requires that bike lanes conform at least to minimum standards established by the California Department of Transportation. Those standard are in the California MUTCD Part 9 and the Caltrans Highway Design Manual Chapter 1003.2. Both are online. There are an enormous amount of so called “bike lanes” that don’t actually meet minimum design standards — especially widths.

  2. Comment by David Huntsman:

    Good points Bill. Will pick up a measuring tape tomorrow!

  3. Comment by Matt:

    Thanks billdsd.

    A lot of what look like bike lanes aren’t. They’re edge lines or fog lines, to keep drivers from running off the road or hitting parked cars. For example, PCH in front of the Bay Club. Some are even marked as bike lanes when they shouldn’t be, like Bristol St.