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Why is it so difficult for motorists to steer clear of bike lanes?

He was just another crazy cyclist popping in and out of my lane without any warning. Though I tried to give him some space, it just didn't seem to be enough. For some reason he kept darting in and out of traffic. Typical maniac cyclist. No respect for law and order.

Why couldn't he just use the bike lane?

Well, to be honest, he was trying. He was trying to use the bike lane. He was trying very, very hard. His efforts, however, were wasted.

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You could have gene-spliced Spider-Man and Batman and stuck the result on a bicycle and even this super superhero would not have been able to use the bike lane. That's because motorists had already appropriated it. In a mere two-block stretch, I spied three automobiles parked lackadaisically in the bike lane. One had been abandoned in front of a coffee shop. Another contained a driver (presumably waiting for someone) who had his ride idling. The third was a cabbie picking up a fare. Together, they rendered the bike lane virtually useless.

And so the cyclist had no choice but to veer precariously out into traffic each time he came upon a parked car. I guess that's why so many of them carry rabbits' feet.

I often hear drivers complain about bike lanes. The range of gripes starts with, "They are always empty. They're never used." The list continues to include, "They slow traffic" and "Cyclists don't use them properly."

I'm the last person to claim that all cyclists obey the rules of the road and behave in a responsible manner. They don't – just like some drivers are morons. Yet how can we claim that bike lanes don't work if we never give bikers a chance to properly use them?

The fact is that in most Canadian cities bike lanes are routinely blocked by drivers who either don't know or don't care about their proper function. They're used as places to double park, make quick or not-so-quick stops, and anything else that might strike a driver's fancy. It's an amazing phenomenon, considering that when you block a bike lane it pushes cyclists into car traffic and causes the very delays and chaos drivers complain about.

The problem won't go away. In the future, there will be more and more bike lanes and the chaos will worsen if motorists continue to consider them little more than very narrow passing lanes.

In a bid to clear the confusion, here's a quick "Driver's Guide to Bike Lanes."

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  • Bicycle lanes, also known as bike lanes, are created for the use of people riding two-wheeled vehicles. Just because you can fit your car’s two right-side wheels into a bike lane doesn’t mean you can use it.
  • They are narrow, just wide enough to fit one or two bicycles.
  • They can be hard to identify. Often you will see a picture of a bicycle painted on the pavement in these lanes. That’s a clue.
  • Bike lanes are not coffee conduit arteries. If you need a coffee, why not park in a space designed for cars? Many cyclists would like a coffee, too. Your parking in the bike lane means they may not live to get one.
  • If bike lanes are left clear then bicyclists can ride without having to slice into car traffic. Then you don’t have to get mad at them.

Think of it this way: When was the last time you were driving in the left lane and came upon a bicycle parked smack in the middle of it? The bike stood there, abandoned, leaning on its kickstand. All the traffic had to squeeze into the neighbouring lane. Finally out sauntered the bike's owner holding a soy latte. That's what you're doing when you park in the bike lane.

Reactionary drivers will argue that bike lanes are pointless. Cyclists, they'll claim, are renegade miscreants hell-bent on flouting the rules and running stop signs. They ride around town – looking fit – acting like they're superior. Cyclists should be fined and licensed and then fined again.

Cycling advocates (easily the most sanctimonious people you can find on this or any other planet) will argue that cars should be eradicated from the face of the earth. Cars are evil. Anyone who drives a car is a fascist. When you're sick and being rushed to the hospital you should be pedalled there by burly EMT officers. If we could just drop millions of bicycles on Syria, everything would be all right.

I'm not interested in these folks. I'm appealing to the moderates on both sides. People who just want to move about their towns and cities at a reasonable speed and at an acceptable level of safety. There's been a lot of talk about how the Danish accommodate bicycles. I don't think their system will work here. I believe Germany is a more realistic model. Like North Americans, Germans love cars (see: the autobahn) but they have plenty of bicycle infrastructure and cycling is a popular and accepted mode of transportation.

German transport laws are based on the Trust Principle. Cyclists trust drivers and pedestrians to obey traffic laws. Motorists trust cyclists to use proper lanes (because they actually exist) and to obey traffic laws. In Germany, you're not allowed to blow through a stop sign just because you're cycling and you're not allowed to run a bike off the road just because you're driving an SUV.

Trust. In order for it to work someone has to take the first step. How about this? We drivers stay out of the bike lanes and we'll trust the cyclists to use them properly. Who knows? We might surprise ourselves and actually live up to expectations.

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Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More


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