Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bike lanes anyone?

The city council claims that we have ~1000km of bicycle infrastructure in Vienna. That's not exactly true, cause sometimes they only put a small green sign beside the road and call it a bike route. No change in design whatsoever, not even lower speed limits. Most other parts of the "real" bicycle infrastructure are bike lanes, more precisely Mehrzweckstreifen which probably can be translated by "multiple use lane" (if anyone has a better name for it, let me know). By definition they are also bike lanes but are separated by a broken rather than a continuous line. That means that cars and trucks in the lane left to it can use this Mehrzweckstreifen if they are too fat. As you can imagine this already leads to problems, because most people don't know (or don't want to know) that cyclists always have priority on a Mehrzweckstreifen, that parking and stopping on it is not allowed etc. That's simply because cyclists have to use bicycle infrastructure if there is one (it's the law). In Vienna cars are parked on both sides of basically every road, and most bike lanes are not even 1m wide. Hence cyclists have to ride directly in the door zone, where cars wouldn't drive anyway because it's too dangerous. I always ride very far left on them, nearly on the line itself. If I have to cross the line (e.g. due to badly parked cars beside it) I shoulder check and signal.

But there are also Mehrzweckstreifen that are well-designed. Here's one example of such a bike lane that is ~1.5m wide. It is a bike lane that allows riding against a one-way street. In general I would call this a proper bike lane that should work. Never underestimate human stupidity though. Since I use this bike lane regularly I know of the problems. Here are just a few:

  • The road is cleared of snow, the bike lane isn't. That's particularly nice if the snow freezes.

  • Once the snow is gone, grit is left on the bike lane. That's dangerous and causes many flat tires.

  • Even after the winter there are literally massive problems - illegal parking. Every third time I pass this bike lane, somebody parks on it. I'm so fed up with this. I always have to shoulder check, signal and move into the oncoming traffic that doesn't expect a cyclist to be in that lane (it's a one-way street after all). Sometimes it's even impossible for me to see whether there is oncoming traffic, e.g. if a truck is parked in such a way that I can't see the junction ahead. I think I once read that in Germany illegally parked cars get partially blamed in case an accident happens. In Austria we don't have that. So if I have an accident because I have to leave the bike lane it might be entirely my fault, because I should have used the bicycle infrastructure and otherwise would only be allowed to walk the bike (especially in a one-way street). The police doesn't care about illegally parked cars on bike lanes, even if they accidentally see one. I've never seen a car that got a ticket :-(. And have you ever tried to talk to a person that parks illegally yourself? I could fill a whole blog with such stories, but it's too depressing thus I won't..
  • Another problem are cyclists themselves, in particular cyclists that are not familiar with the road traffic regulations and only ride a few times in the summer. Believe it or not, but some people don't know that bike lanes are only to be used in one direction (the same direction as the car lane next to it, except in one-way streets). We also have some one-way bike paths that work the same way (arrows indicate the direction in which one is meant to use it). It happened to me more than once that cyclists tried to ride in the wrong direction (even on very small bike lanes/paths with many regular cyclists on them) and nearly crashed into me. I don't know if they just don't know the law or deliberately endanger fellow cyclists. I always tell them, but so far it never happened that somebody actually stopped and turned around or moved to the other side of the road. They didn't even apologize. Sad too.

Am I complaining too much? As I said, the bike lane itself is perfectly well-designed. The traffic planners just didn't take into account that some people are stupid and ignorant and that the misuse of the bike lane is too easy.


Anonymous said...

You're not complaining too much, just telling it like it is. The huge similarities between bike lane problems in Chicago and Vienna are so interesting. Everything you wrote in this post matches my problems exactly. The only difference is that here there are no bike lanes that allow cyclists to go the opposite way down a one-way street, but there should be. My worst interaction with a driver is when the bike lane looked like that first picture, so I was riding in the main lane (perfectly legally) and some ass brushed past me and yelled out his car window, "Ride in the bike lane, you idiot!" Wow, what a gentleman! At the stop light I had to inform him that the bike lane is covered in ice and could he please be mindful of my safety. Grrr.

spiderleggreen said...

Yes, it can be frustrating sometimes. While I do think that your bike lane is good as a transition to something else. Perhaps you should think bigger. If people can choose to ignore the law and park in the lane, it's not the best solution.

One problem is that Vienna wasn't made with cars in mind. If it was, it would look more like Vegas. Vienna is more dense because it was made to accommodate foot traffic. But the car came along and now everything is too crowded. Use your voice to point out this fact. Overcrowding is an opportunity to change things back to a more people powered way of getting around.

Get more people on bikes and things will change, because people will demand it. Change the infrastructure to make it safe to ride and more people will get on their bikes.

anna said...

Thanks for your comments.

@ Dottie: I've experienced a lot of honking in similar situations. It's always good to confront car drivers with their behavior, I think.. It's good that we have some one-way streets in Vienna that allow cyclists to ride the opposite way. In fact that's probably the main reasons why I'm faster by bike than by car in the city :-). If one thinks about it, one-way streets are only built for cars (because they are too fat and also need parking space), which is a little bit unfair anyway.

@ spiderlegreen: I completely agree with what you say. Unfortunately most car-addicted people don't want to realize this anymore and rather than using car sharing pools buy bigger and bigger cars every time.
Strictly speaking, sidewalks (and crosswalks) have been invented AFTER cars became popular - and later even been narrowed to create parking lines. It takes a pedestrian twice as long for the same distance as it did in the 60ies.. It opened my eyes a few years back when I saw a main street I used to know well without (parked) cars. There was a festival and it was so much nicer and quieter. It was a another great feeling when they closed down the whole city center for a few weeks at the Euro2008 last year (European soccer championship). Although some people predicted a traffic collapse, nothing happened - people just used public transport and their own legs instead.

Things change slowly to the better as traffic planners realize that people should be in the focus and not cars. Maybe I'm just a little too impatient :-).

spiderleggreen said...

Anna~ I don't think you are too impatient. But I do think that you are onto something with the Euro2008 example. Change peoples options and the adapt. I think there is a fear in Minneapolis that if they close a road, chaos will result and the citizens will rise up and burn down city hall. Nonsense people will, if they are given other options, change their behavior.

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