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Day 2 (Tuesday, March 4th)

Today I decided to step up my game and try riding some busier streets with less bicycle infrastructure. I started off easy, heading from my neighborhood in North Oakland down toward the MacArthur BART station and the recently painted green “supersharrows” along 40th Street.

Theoretically this gives bicyclists a green carpet in the middle of the lane, encouraging them to ride in the center, outside of the parked car door zone, while also encouraging car drivers to change lanes to pass. In reality many drivers move over a little but not a full lane, choosing to still pass bicyclists with a buffer of just a few feet, despite the “bicyclists may use full lane” signs. At 10 mph “taking the lane” here was an even more daunting proposition, with a speed differential between myself and the passing traffic of 20 mph or greater.

By traveling slower I was subjected to more “waves” of traffic than usual, as the traffic signals behind me turned red then green repeatedly, allowing group after group of cars to catch up to me. With shared bike/car facilities like this we can try to make ourselves as visible as possible, but are still depending on the patience, attentiveness, and humanity of each passing driver to protect us from a collision, and with each added pass it means one more chance for something to go wrong.

From there I headed south down Webster Street, a neighborhood bike route which is also often used as a cut-through by car traffic, which the city intends to mitigate in the future by implementing traffic calming procedures to create a true “bicycle priority” street. After Webster Street I decided to try out Telegraph Avenue, the most popular bike route in Oakland yet without any cycling infrastructure. The traffic lights along the southern section of Telegraph are quite punitive, but that still doesn’t keep drivers from speeding from one to the next. I was even buzzed at very close distance by a van driver who wanted to reach the next red light a couple seconds faster. Pretty bold considering there was a police officer driving ahead of us, but changing lanes is just too much trouble, right?

All in all my commute still amounted to just a bit over 4 miles, the same as yesterday, but by riding on some busy arterial streets as opposed to official bicycle routes I was able to cut my commute time down by over 5 minutes.

I sometimes hear from people asking why bike infrastructure can’t just be constrained to side streets instead of busy arterials, not realizing that they are side streets for a reason: fewer destinations, less efficiency, less connectivity, less attention to pavement conditions, etc. These are all elements which make it more difficult for people to make more of their everyday trips by bike, and is why we still see so many people riding on streets like Telegraph Avenue that have zero bike-specific accommodation.

This is not to say that calm, neighborhood routes are not needed as well, as they are great places for families to ride, or people who prefer a longer route over a busier one. But putting well designed infrastructure on arterial streets serves more destinations more efficiently, allowing people to make more of their daily trips by bike, regardless of ability or risk tolerance.

Reader Comments (1)

I just want to say that I love that you're doing this experiment.
I learned how to ride a bike a little under three years ago (I'm 32). The first year was nerve racking, as I had to build up my endurance, learn how to navigate traffic, and figure out what to do in situations where cars (or fellow bicyclists, sadly) weren't following the rules. I took the EBBC's class within my first year, which helped.

I'm still, by nature, a cautious person, and also someone who wishes that all groups sharing the road got better training in how to deal with each other. I stop at lights, which tends to confuse my fellow bicyclists. (One guy actually yelled at a few weeks ago, swerved around me, and forced oncoming traffic to slow down to avoid him.) I regularly position myself to allow cars to make a right turn to my right at red lights - most of them appreciate it, but a few will pull up next to me and dangerously try to gun it around me when the light changes.

I do feel like until bicycle infrastructure is easy and pleasurable for newer and more cautious riders to use, there are going to be many groups that avoid getting on bikes. The attitude of many current bicyclists and drivers needs to change, too.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames McCormack

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