Mason street has finally received the added bike lanes that have been promised to us for close to a year now. I just rode between Laurel and Laporte to check it out. And while it’s not all I had hoped for, it’s still an improvement over what we had before. The big difference isn’t the bike lanes (because, for the most part, they have been painted right where people were pedaling anyway) but the shrinking of the main thru lane.
Mason street in downtown Fort Collins received a pretty major overhaul two years ago. That’s when the curbs around the rail line were added, the street went from being one way to two way, the MAX line was started, and bike lanes and sharrows were added. I wrote a one-year review of the improvements around this time last year. So if you don’t know what Mason street looked like before this weekend’s restriping, you might want to quickly glance over that post: The Mason Trail: one year review. (Does Mason street count as part of the Mason trail? That’s how I think of it. I’m curious if other riders do as well.)
The primary complaint that I’ve heard from others regarding the newly striped bike lanes on Mason street are that they’re in the door zone. And they are. BUT… I’d like to suggest that the new lines here are not so much prescribing where the bike lane is so much as where the parking and thru lane are. Essentially the little bicyclist icon has been put about where people were biking anyway — even when there where sharrows on the road indicating that bicyclists should “take the lane.” (That means to ride in the middle of the thru lane.) But now, instead of leaving the thru lane width up to the imagination of the user, the parking lane is very clearly just a skinny strip to the right (like it was before, though a little less clearly) and the thru lane is a fairly skinny strip to the left.
Let’s face it, most people don’t feel comfortable riding in the middle of the thru with in a single file line with cars and buses. It doesn’t matter if there are sharrows painted in the street or not, their presence does little to comfort most folks. (Notice, I’m not talking about cyclists in particular. I’m talking about people. We want more people to become bicyclists, but if they don’t feel comfortable with the infrastructure, then they’re most likely going to leave the bike at home. So we need to be building infrastructure with them in mind.)
So when I watch bicyclist behavior on Mason street, especially during special events like New West Fest, when a lot of scared bicyclists are wending their way up the street in order to avoid the lack of car parking during such events, I see people either use the sidewalk or hug the parked cars. Some will even weave in and out of the parked cars in order to avoid the moving cars as much as possible. Both behaviors are dangerous. By having these new bike lanes painted where they are, even though the right side of the lane is still in the door zone, bicyclists will now be encouraged to ride in a straight line, and the cars (both parked and moving) are encouraged to hug the curbs, leaving more space at center for the bicyclists that were going to be in that spot already anyway.
Another change that was made was to add sharrows to the right hand turn lanes and bus stops so that bicyclists know where to be. This helps bicyclists to travel in a straight line, instead of weaving in and out of traffic or hugging the white line at center. For the most part, this is where bicyclists were riding anyway. This just makes it a bit more legit.
So, yeah. It sucks that the bike lanes are in the door zone. But my advice? Get over it. The improvements to Mason are going to be incremental. They just are. And the changes that were made over the weekend are a step in the right direction. Sure, it might not get bicyclists to stop riding in the door zone, but by laying down new striping, motorists have been painted into much smaller spaces than they were using before. The lanes that they had imagined without any paint had been expansive. In our imaginations, we always like to give ourselves generous portions, including space on the road. The new striping makes clear that cars still have their space (twice over, given that they also get parking), but bikes also receive a section. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but compared to Mason three years ago, it’s fabulous.
As Paul McCartney once wrote, “It’s gettin’ better all the time.”
I took many more photos during my ride this morning and have thoughts on bicyclist behavior that I witnessed. So stayed tuned for the next post in which I’ll talk a bit more specifically about some continuing problem areas along the route (that weren’t necessarily made better nor worse by the new striping, but that really should be addressed at some point).