Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guilty Pleasure: Bike Boxes, to use or not to use?

This gives me the willies: crowded intersections, waiting for the light to turn green.  Check out the statistics:  over 50% of bike/car collisions happen at intersections.

The guy next to you is revving his engine, probably wondering if it's safe to make that legal turn-on-red with a bicyclist sitting there.  The awkward moment turns dangerous after the light changes, especially if you, the biker, want to go straight.  Who goes first?  The (slow) bicyclist or the car?  Worse: when you're in a bike lane that changes mid-intersection from the far left on one side of the street to far right on the other.  If you wait for the cars you might not make it across before the light changes.  If you go for it you might get smacked.

I'm thinking of one intersection in particular, on the corner of 7th and High in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon:
 


City planners created Bike Boxes to address this problem.  Here's how they work:

A box marked for bicyclists is painted on the street, giving bikers space to wait in front of the cars and a head start when the light changes.

Bike boxes have been used in Europe and Asia since the 1980's.  Cities in the US started experimenting with them around 2000. Note that in the photo of the Eugene intersection above, there is a bike box.  In fact it was one of the first in the country, installed in 1998.  Go Eugene.  It was recently spruced up, but sadly, not with the bright green of a similar box installed on the University of Oregon campus:



In fact, the bike box on 7th and High is so low-profile, I didn't notice it until two cool-looking young people pulled into it. They chatted nonchalantly with each other, while brazenly blocking the cars behind them.  This definitively answers the legal-turn-on-red question (no, not if a biker is in front of you), and the question of who goes first.

So, the next time at that intersection, I tried it.

It was great.

It also felt dangerous.  Talk about being separated from the herd.  I just know the guy behind me was gunning to make his right-on-red, and steaming at my impertinent backside.


But the driver did not do anything impolite or dangerous, and I'm alive to tell the tale.

So, is it smart to take advantage of a bike box?

Another bike blogger (streetswiki.wikispaces.com) writes that when used correctly, bike boxes significantly reduce bike/car accidents. They work best, however, when (1) drivers and bikers are well educated about how to use them; (2) when they are brightly painted; (3) when the stop line for cars is a few feet behind the bike box; (4) when the bike box is at least 14 feet deep to improve visibility for cars and to let more bikers fit in the space; (5) when the box is paired with a lane that guides bikes straight to the lane across the street.

This bike box does not meet ANY of the above criteria.  My advice to myself and others:  proceed, as always, with caution!

Still, if we're going to help get drivers used to bike boxes, we should use them.  It is fun to roll in front of a long line of idling cars and go first. Right of way, hurray. It is, dare I say it? kind of a rush.  Right up there with eating chocolate.  Well, almost.

Sources:
http://bikeportland.org/2009/09/25/eugene-revamps-an-old-bike-box-but-advocates-arent-satisfied-23883http://streetswiki.wikispaces.com/Bike+Boxes, ttp://bicyclesafe.com/, http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/traffic/accident.htm,http://www.kmtr.com/news/local/story/New-green-bike-box-changes-traffic-in-Eugenes/3dmJvKOOSEOM0F0akkv3oQ.cspx, http://sportsmedicinecareer.blogspot.com/2010/05/chocolate-biking.html

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