Consequences of “Draconian” Bikeways: Improved Left Turns

A couple days ago as I approached an intersection, I prepared for my left turn the normal way: merged out of the buffered bike lane and continued over to the left turn pocket. While I sat there in the queue waiting for the light to change, it struck me that the turn would’ve been faster if I’d been able to go straight then made the turn at the corner. This is the type of turn, also known as the “Copenhagen left“, is all but forced by the design of protected bike lanes that prevent people on bikes from leaving them away from intersections. That’s not a major problem, but it has resulted in the protected intersection finally getting recognized as a sensible way to deal with bikeways by Americans. (Though they’re also a great option for intersections even when the roads in question don’t have protected bikeways.)

Many folks bemoan that fact and assume that it would be slower and more inconvenient than being able to turn by merging across traffic to do so. However, most traffic signals are timed in a manner as above whereby missing a light often means a lengthy wait in a stew of exhaust fumes. (Or worse yet, not being detected at all if no cars are already waiting.) At that point, making a Copenhagen left instead would at worst, require just half the waiting of the “proper” left. If all-directions green signaling is used and phased favorably, bikes would have guaranteed faster travel through the intersection almost every single time.

These sorts of improvements and enhancements are what need to be brought up in planning and design discussions to build a transportation system where the bicycle is not just a tool of the poorest of the poor or those who “enjoy” biking, but available to all users regardless of skill level. These infrastructural changes can promote that by not just offering facilities that score high on the safety scorecard, but that also are vital in creating  an environment where a bicycle is timely alternative to driving not just for racers, but for normal people too.

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