>Commuting through ambiguity, or wishing for better cycling infrastructure


Every morning when I commute to work on my bike (that is, when I do commute) I see this small and slightly sad sign sign:
The sign comes at the end of the popular river front bike path coming from the west and at the beginning of this busy intersection:
My city is generally a bike friendly city and has many fair, and some good, bike lanes. However, this intersection from this direction is a difficult one for the bike commuter. First of all the intersection is often very busy with motor traffic. Second, there is no natural flow for bikes coming from the river front bike path. The design, from the west, is entirely for pedestrians. It is, in a sense, a gap in the bicycling infrastructure, coming at a critical and dangerous junction, with a non-bike-friendly bandaid as compensation.
The sign tells the biker that some sort of 90 degree turns are required, or at least suggested (it is not clear). One assumes that it means cyclists should use the cross walks in order to get to the bike lane on the far side (diagonally from this vantage point) of the intersection. But the sign is somewhat cryptic. Utilizing the crosswalks is technically feasible but, in practice, this is a real pain for the cyclist. What the cyclist wants to do is to keep riding without having to dismount and walk, or even having to cross one crosswalk, wait for the light, then cross another crosswalk, before regaining normal commuting speed. Stopping at the light is not the issue of course. Just stopping at two lights in short order is the pain, especially if one is trying to get to work. Plus, to the sensible mind, it is a clunky “solution.”
For some people this is no big deal. For the bicycle commuter who comes to this intersection everyday this is an annoyance. Most cyclists that I have observed, including myself, go straight across and then try to find some way to cross the lanes to the other side. With traffic coming from at least two directions this can get dicey. Often I ride up on the sidewalk, work my way down a hundred meters or so, and then wait until the road is clear to cross. Getting into the far bike lane is always a welcome relief. To me that is only slightly less annoying than using the the two crosswalks. And honestly, since this intersection was one of the places where, as I once entered the crosswalk from the other direction (with the light in my favor) a motorist nearly right hooked me as she talked on her cell phone, so I don’t feel my method is the less safe of the two. Needless to say the driver never saw me and kept on driving, and I could not have been more visible unless, or course, I had lit several flairs and posted signs (which I did not).
What I would like to see here is a diagonal bike lane through the intersection with its own traffic lights. The path could be marked for bikes only, with directional arrows. It could the first of its kind of experiment in this city, and very progressive I should say. Plus it would be one more great way to encourage more people to get out of their cars and bike.

The reason I write this post is because I am increasingly aware of the importance of infrastructure to the habits of both motorists and cyclists. If someone is driving or cycling in an unpredictable or unusual way it is likely they are trying to navigate a situation that is not entirely clear or does not adequately suit their commonsense needs. There are often tensions between motorists and cyclists and part of the reason is that motorists forget just how much motorized-vehicle-specific infrastructure is in place to control their driving actions and decisions, and they may not understand that similar infrastructure for cyclists lags far behind that of motorists. Another part of the reason is that when cyclists face ambiguity or nonsense, and because they are human, they will make choices that suit their needs.

Finally, the real reason I write this is because every time I ride I think about how fragile life is, how easy it is for humans to (in the moment, without thinking) value the lives of others dramatically less than their own, and of my own family at home.We have faced some difficult times in the past due to reckless motorists. My wife and kids do not want me to get hurt or die. Neither do I. So I ride carefully and defensively. I try to take no chances. But I still love riding, and it is good for me in many ways. There are no guarantees that even the best infrastructure will ensure any cyclists will avoid death, but good infrastructure can help.

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