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road sage

Dear Bike Lane,

I hope you’re well. It’s finally spring – well, what passes for spring in Canada, I suppose you could call it “sprummer.” I’m sure you’re seeing a lot more business; after all, spring and summer are peak seasons for bicycle commuting. New bike lanes are being introduced in cities such as London, Ont., and older ones are filled with cyclists. That’s why I’m writing to you. We need to do something about the way you’re perceived. It might sound hard to believe, but some people find you confusing.

I’ve always considered you pretty uncomplicated. Your name says it all: “Bike Lane.”

What are you? A lane.

What belongs in this lane? Bikes.

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There isn’t much room for debate or discussion. So why are drivers confused about your use and the rules regarding you? It’s as if motorists think your name is “Okay to Park Here Briefly Lane” or “Really Narrow Right-Turning Lane.” I mean, in Ottawa, a cyclist was recently hit in a newly opened bike lane on O’Connor Street just hours after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The cyclist suffered minor injuries. How are people mystified? Did the guy driving the car think you were an “Irony Lane?”

If I handed a driver a “Salt Shaker,” I doubt they’d fill it with ketchup. Why are they befuddled by the concept of a lane exclusively for bikes?

True, there are times when a vehicle can legally occupy a bike lane: if the driver is leaving a private laneway, exiting or entering a curb lane in order to park, unloading a person with a disability or operating a school bus or taxi. None of those things are “waiting for someone,” “trying to squeeze by” or “can’t be bothered not to.”

And yet, on an average walk through downtown Toronto, I’ll witness three incidences in which a vehicle is blocking a bike lane. It might be a truck on delivery. It might be a man who turns on his hazard lights and parks in the bike lane so he can dash into a Starbucks and buy a coffee. Sometimes I’ll see a driver who is blocking the bike lane because he sees other drivers blocking the bike lane and figures it’s okay.

I suppose drivers who block bike lanes think they’re not doing anything dangerous. You know as well as I do that the opposite is true. When a driver blocks the bike lane, he forces cyclists to merge into car traffic. This is hazardous. Bike lanes are designed to make cycling safer. When a driver blocks one, he puts lives at risk.

Bike Lane, I’m writing to you because I believe it’s time for you to be more public. You like to play the strong, flat, silent type, but that just isn’t working. I doubt a majority of motorists know that cyclists have the right of way when travelling in bike lanes where the line is solid extending to the intersection. That automobiles must yield to bicycles and pedestrians and not enter the lane until it is safe. Or that when there is a “hashed out” bike lane (one with a dashed painted line) then vehicles can enter the bike lane to turn right and cyclists must pass them on the left or remain behind until the way is clear.

There are those who would argue that cyclists are not without their sins. Some use the bike lane as a mini Tour de France and bob in and out into traffic as they pass the slowpokes on their way to the finish line. But the damage they can do is nothing, compared with what a careless driver can wreck.

So how about it, Bike Lane? Maybe hold a news conference? Cycling season is upon us and we need to get the word out. Keep the bike lane clear. Keep bicyclists safe. Let’s all keep on keeping on.

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