Solving Cities

Get rid of painted bike lanes!

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Even flimsy plastic barriers could keep cyclist safer and drivers more relaxed. Turn to Europe, and the United States looks like a chump.

"In fact, the cups seemed to be doing such a good job that one rider cruised by hands-free before tucking back down on his handlebars just at the end of the buffer," writes Gordon.

There is something so refreshing about do-it-yourself public behaviour experiments. Imagine a world where most people felt inclined to find out for themselves - the streets would transform into delightful mayhem.

Last week Doug Gordon, author of the Brooklyn Spoke blog, decided to try a bike lane experiment using nothing but red plastic Solo cups (a.k.a keg party cups) and duct tape.

The question driving the experiment is one cyclists and city planners have been arguing about for over three decades. Should we build bike-specific infrastructure, or is it safer for cyclists to integrate into road traffic like motorized vehicles?

Guerrilla Bike Lane Separation on Bergen Street (photo from Streetsblog)

Inspired by Toronto bike advocates' Trashy Bike Lane, which was installed after a pregnant woman named Jenna Morrison was killed by a right turning truck, and a one-man fight to stop Brooklyn police from parking in a local lane (pictured above), Gordon taped the red plastic cups along the outer edge of a painted bike lane.

While entirely unscientific, his hope was to see if drivers would be deterred from drifting into and parking on the bike lane - a common occurrence along Franklin Street.

"In addition to their small size and low cost, they offered some other advantages," Gordon wrote about the plastic cups. "The red color would make them more visible against white thermoplastic and black pavement. They could be easily driven over by a fire truck or other emergency vehicle. [And] if hit by a car, the only damage would be to the cups."

It worked. At least, for the time Gordon observed before going to pick up his daughter from daycare (DIY experiments do tend to suffer from, well, the goings-on of everyday life).

"The message? Physical barriers, even small ones, have a greater effect on driver behavior than painted lines," writes Sarah Goodyear for The Atlantic Cities.

And it is not just driver behaviour bike advocates fight to change. Separate bike-infrastructure also encourages more cyclists. At least, this is the argument advocates against the "vehicular cycling" approach use.

"I also have come to believe that the more physical separation that can be achieved between bikes and cars, the better. I’ve seen all too often how little protection a stripe of paint offers," Goodyear writes.

Look to cities like Sydney, Australia, and the case for physical separations is made even stronger. The city has seen an 82 percent increase in cycling over the past two years.

Let me just repeat that: an increase of 82 percent in two years.

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Sonya James

Contributing Writer

Sonya James is a multimedia producer based in New York. With creativity and innovation in mind, she speaks to diverse voices on topics from racism in the art world to the patriotic nature of southern food. She holds a Masters Degree in Community Development. Disclosure