Surveys in San Francisco and Los Angeles suggest that both drivers and cyclists want separate space for bicycles. This separate space in the form of bike lanes not only protects cyclists from automobile traffic, but also makes drivers feel safe around bicycles. This insight could prove useful for city planners who are often blamed for waging an “alleged” war on cars. It could also do away with the notion that drivers would not favor a reduction in parking space to make way for bike lanes.
The surveys were conducted by Rebecca Sanders, a University of California-Berkeley doctoral candidate in transportation planning and urban design. Streetsblog reports that Sanders “began this research with Jill Cooper of Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, under the sponsorship of the state department of transportation (Caltrans). They interviewed drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on major corridors in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles.”
Sanders says, “What was interesting about that study was that in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most requested item, across the board, was a bicycle lane on the corridor. It was the most requested item by drivers, it was the most requested item by pedestrians, and it was the most requested item by bicyclists. That was quite surprising to us.”
Why do drivers want bike lanes?
Although cyclists and pedestrians asking for bike lanes seems natural, why would drivers want bike lanes? Sanders found that bike lanes help drivers be aware of cyclists and predict their behavior. Overall, when drivers and cyclists both have dedicated street space, there are less chances of conflict between the two. Sanders says, “Everybody wants predictability on the roadway. Nobody wants to feel like they’re going to get hit or hit someone else and it’s going to be beyond their control.”
What kind of bike lanes do drivers want?
The study also found that drivers were most at ease when there were higher levels of separation between bicycles and cars on streets. Drivers preferred protected bike lanes rather than painted bike lines. Sharrows were the least preferred choice of cycling infrastructure.
A key concern drivers had was that bike lanes in the door zone of parked vehicles are less effective. According to Sanders, drivers “know that if someone opens their car door, that could send the bicyclist into their lane.”
As Sanders points out, “When we focus on tradeoffs only, and we talk about taking away parking to put in a bike lane for bicyclists, people perceive it as a war on cars.” Considering drivers use 100 times the road space that cyclists do, that perception doesn’t entirely make sense.
Creation of dedicated bike infrastructure is based on the premise that a design feature that seems to directly benefit one road user—in this case, cyclists-– may in fact benefit other road users too. In order to benefit all users, urban planner should premise their road design on a complete streets approach.