20 August 2009

Share the Road

A couple of weeks ago my friend Yuriy showed up at my parents' house on his bike. I pulled out my dad's bike, pumped up the tires and we set out for a ride. We ended up doing a pretty substantial loop down through downtown Framingham to Ashland then cutting over to the center and taking 135 back into Framingham. It was a nice temperate Sunday and there were few cars on the road. I was some fears of a harrowing adventure battling all sorts of traffic, but things went very smoothly.

The ride really got me thinking about biking more. Within the next two weeks, I made plans to bike to Riverside and take the green line into Boston. These ended up getting scrapped when I got sick, but I still like the idea quite a bit. The weekend after that aborted ride, I decided I'd bike instead of drive to my friend Matt's house in Saxonville since we had made plans to play catch in the field by his house.

This ride was not as nice. I basically took 126 the whole way, which presents two major obstacles: the route 9 overpass and the intersection with route 30. I'm sure to an experienced biker these are no problem, but they really threw me. For the overpass I ended up riding on the sidewalk the wrong way and then crossing on the bridge. For the route 30 intersection I ended up getting off the bike and just walking it across, which took several light cycles.

What really intimidated me was a lack of a clear plan for approaching those intersectiosn. For route 30, I probably should have wedged myself between the cars in the right turn lane and those going straight onto 126. I'm a bit less sure about how to contend with the fork before the overpass. When do I start cutting into the middle of the street?

I think one of the primary problems is a lack of education. What little I know about bike protocol I got from Boy Scouts. Furthermore, it would be nice to know how much motor vehicle operators know about how bikes are expected to maneuver in traffic. It's worrying that a driver could misunderstand what you're expected to do on a bike and plow into you. Maybe these are topics that should be broached in a driver training class, but I don't remember anything about it. They probably already have enough to worry about.

And the education problem is not just with people in cars. Yuriy and I weren't exactly law abiding citizens on our bike adventure. We went through a couple of red lights when the situation looked safe. We rode on the sidewalk and I'm still not sure if that's completely disallowed or just prohibited in downtown areas. And I've seen kids riding around in middle of busy streets with no regard for the situation. Even law-abiding bicyclists can be disconcerting to me when I'm driving on narrow streets.

Luckily, I think this is a problem that town and city governments can address fairly cheaply and relatively effectively. I'm not really thrilled with what Framingham has done thusfar though. Signs have gone up on various roads with a bike and car alongside accompanied with the text "Share the Road." This is pretty weak gesture, and while it's likely cheap it's not something that I'd consider effective. Besides alerting people to the fact to watch out of bikes, there's little information transmitted. What I'd like to see is to paint in bike lanes on newly paved roads, where the wideness of the road permits. These are especially critical at intersections to direct bicyclists of where to make their turns and inform motorists of bikes crossing lanes of traffic. This sort of marking, with signage indicating the presence of the bike lane indicates to motorists and bikers that there are clear rules to follow. Furthermore it might be effective to designate certain roads as bike routes and highly discourage bike use on narrow roads.

I hope that bike accessibility is a priority among local governments. I think a lot of people have bikes, but need it to be established as a normal thing before they start using it as a frequent means for local transit. Setting up bike lanes seems like a pretty low risk investment, worst thing that happens are the lanes for cars are a little more narrow, that could really indicate to people that biking is welcome here.


  1. I think that it's kind of a catch-22: there aren't many bikers on the roads because there's little biker awareness/infrastructure, and there's little awareness/infrastructure because the city doesn't see many bikers on the roads and therefore doesn't think it's an issue. Adding bike infrastructure could certainly encourage biking and perhaps do a little good for the environment and economy; yet given the current economic situation it's possible that this is not something that cities want to bother with.

    As far as I remember, driver's ed told me that bikes were to be treated like cars and that was about it. I could be misremembering, though. So I guess a driver is supposed to see a bike as a very slow, very fragile, very bothersome car.

  2. I'm not sure I really buy the cities/towns not recognizing the issue because they _are_ putting up those doofy 'share the road' signs. And I don't really see it as an economy thing because road improvement money tends to get pooled up over time and spent and as of late there was been stimulus funding available.

    I think what's happening is most people don't really think of biking and those who do don't explicitly communicate what they want clearly to their local governments.

    In my opinion this is exactly the sort of "politics" people can and should be paying attention to because you can get meaningful changes pretty rapidly.

  3. shit i just posted a relatively lengthy analysis of local government but i didn't fill in the verification word so it wasn't posted.

  4. also i just noticed that the time for the posts is in Pacific