Aren’t “Shared Lanes” Redundant?

October 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I spent the day riding my bike up to Evanston, primarily to go to my favorite café, Kafein, and also to use the North Shore Channel Trail and the new cycle track on Church St. in Evanston.

The North Shore Channel Trail is nice. I started near Lawrence and biked north. The only feature of the trail I’m really not keen on is crossing at the busiest streets, because you have to really watch for cars turning right when you have the green light/pedestrian “Walk” signal. I don’t think there’s enough signage to tell drivers that there is a crosswalk there and the bicycles use it. I don’t really know if that would make a difference anyway.

The new cycle track on Church St. is just a few blocks east of the North Shore Channel Trail. I really enjoyed this and want to see it on a lot more streets.

Church St Cycle Track

Church St. cycle track in Evanston. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

Part of the lane is protected by columns and the rest is mainly a small painted buffer that I find more of a formality than a practicality with projects like this. What I really appreciated was the downtown portion of the lane, which uses parked cars as a buffer:

Church St Cycle Track, downtown

Downtown Evanston’s Church St. cycle track. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

This really is optimal and the best way to protect pedestrians. The extra buffer is also a great way to protect cyclists from being hit by an open door. In future projects where the entire road is repaved, I think putting a permanent buffer would be a great idea.

Evanston did a great job here, and I think we need to see a lot more of these in the Chicago area.

I don’t bike up to Evanston much; usually I just use my bike for errands and small trips and not really to explore, although I do think that bicycling is the best way to see new neighborhoods of a city. Today I had to plan my trip using a Chicago bike map, which I find a little misleading – mainly the “Existing Marked Shared Lanes.” These are simply streets that have markings on them reminding drivers that cyclists can use the lane – which is true on every street (except high-speed roads like freeways). While I think that these signs and marking are a good way to educate drivers of the fact that cyclists can use the street and entire lane if necessary, isn’t it possible that they could also mislead uneducated drivers into thinking that cyclists can’t use unmarked streets? Furthermore, I believe they give cyclists a false sense of the cycle features on the street, especially if they’re planning their trip using the Chicago bike map, which denotes these streets with a similar marking as streets with bike lanes.

Shared Lane marking

Shared lane marking. Credit: Shaun Jacobsen.

The photo I took above shows a faded “Shared lane” marking on Wilson Avenue. The marking doesn’t really create a lane, it just tells drivers that bicycles can use the street – but sometimes I wonder if it even makes a difference.

Shared lane sign

Shared lane sign. Credit: Ukranian Village Neighborhood Association.

I don’t know if it’s a huge deal, but I think that we should make a bigger effort to push for more buffered, curb-side bike lanes instead of settling for pavement markings. These markings shouldn’t be counted as a city’s effort to make cycling safer since I highly doubt they do anything at all. Only if we narrow streets so as to include more uses and make those uses safer and more attractive by slowing down auto traffic will we actually see an increase in cycling. There are many streets in Chicago that should be narrowed or have a lane removed – off the top of my head, I can think of Sheridan Rd. (north of Hollywood), Ashland Ave., Western Ave., Cicero Ave., and Clark St. (which, for much of its length, should be converted into light rail and pedestrians only). These streets are almost suburban-quality with few stops and feature no incentive for drivers to slow down.

Shared Lanes are redundant because all streets are shared lane streets. Whether or not they are an effective tool in bike safety is debatable, but I believe that the best way to make biking safer and thus more attractive is dedicated, separated bike lanes.