The first tip off is the name: "bike lane." It's not a "car lane" or a "truck lane" or a "stroller lane" or a "jogging lane." It's not a "Purolator lane" or a "trucker-needs a-coffee-lane." It's not a "waiting-for-your-spouse-lane" or a "small-right-hand-passing-lane." It's a bike lane.
It's a lane that cyclists use to move about. It separates automobile and bicycle traffic, so that each can flow. The theory is that if we have all these lovely inviting bike lanes then more people will cycle and this will alleviate congestion. It's all about the flow. It's all about the commuter feng shui.
Other than this fundamental premise, there aren't too many restrictions or rules for the bike lane. It should be easy to keep them in proper use. So, why is it so hard for motorists to stay out of them?
That's a little greedy, don't you think? Every other road is a "car lane." It's not like the world is clogged with bike lanes. They are a relative rarity. Bike lanes are narrow strips that have been carved out of bloated thoroughfares.
Yet every time you look around, you see a car blocking a bike lane. The perpetrators think they have a good reason. Someone needs to get his dry cleaning, or get out of a cab or can't be bothered to find a proper parking space and then decides to make it the cyclists' problem.
When a car blocks the bike lane, it forces cyclists to pop out into car traffic – and that's dangerous. Yet it's a risk motorists are willing to take – mostly because if it goes wrong it's the cyclists who pay the price. Rather than being a safe place for riders, the bike lane gets transformed into a bastardized version of bicycle whack-a-mole, with cyclists being forced to pop back and forth into traffic. It creates confusion and the potential for injury.
Regular readers of this column know that I'm an optimist. I believe that people, left to their own devices, will find ingenious, wonderful, incredible ways to screw things up. So given this best of all possible roads proclivity I'm offering a foolproof way to determine where you should be, bike-lane-wise.
How to Know if You Belong in the Bike Lane:
1) Look down your arms toward your hands. Are both, or at least one, holding a bicycle handlebar? If so, then you belong in the bike lane.
2) Wind in your hair, but you're not driving a convertible.
3) A passerby says "nice bike."
4) An increased heart rate that is not caused by the stress of driving in the city.
5) You are wearing a helmet or refusing to wear a helmet as a statement against car oppression.
Many motorists oppose bike lanes. They say they cause congestion. This is nonsense. Bike lanes encourage people to bicycle, a great way to commute moderate distances – say, five to 15 kilometres. Yes, I know the guy two desks down from you at the office bikes 55 kilometres each way and lives on nuts and lean, raw meat, but I'm talking about humans here. Tired, have-to-drop-the-kids-off-at-school-and-get-to-work-and-then-stop-on-the-way-home-and-buy-toilet-paper-and-that-stupid-special-tape-they-need-for-their-damn-Grade-2-school-project humans who don't have the luxury or time to stay in that kind of shape.
Bike lanes get rid of street parking and make driving much more pleasant. Traffic moves better when you rid a street of parking because there aren't morons everywhere parking and bottle-necking the road.
The problem with motorists blocking bike lanes is that there seems to be no penalty. Not even bike cops give people tickets for parking in the bike lane. It's strange because if you go seven seconds over your time on a metre there's a ticket on your window faster than you can say, "Make my quota." But if you want to pull into the bike lane you can have yourself a tantric park.
Cyclists are angry. In Toronto, they have a website dedicated to chronicling the worst offenders: mybikelane.to. It lists the worst by company and also by individual photograph. The hope is to shame these transgressors.
Maybe shame won't work? Perhaps we need a dose of imagination. Picture this: a cyclist parks his bike in the street blocking traffic and goes for coffee. Motorists would go ballistic. It's no different when you block the bike lane. It's stupid, dangerous and rude. So stay out – unless you're on a bike.
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