Sometimes it’s not what’s said, but what’s left unsaid, that speaks volumes. When there’s a belief, or a behavior, that is generally consented to without the need for speech or direction, that’s a bias. It might not be the bias of every individual in a community. But it is definitely the bias of the majority. The assumption that the edges of the road are for parking cars is just such a bias in our society. And this generally agreed upon, yet unspoken belief can lead to dangerous situations for bicyclists.
There are several places in Fort Collins where the bike lane and the parking lane appear to be the same thing. There’s one white line separating moving motor traffic from the bicycles and parked cars. So is it a bike lane? Is it a parking lane? When in doubt, what do you do? You look at the signs.
As the photo above points out, the signs aren’t always that helpful. One would *think* that a bike lane sign means no parking. But it doesn’t. Unless there is a sign that specifically says “no parking,” then parking is allowed.
Did you catch that? In order to have a bike lane, you have to have a sign. But in order to park your car, there doesn’t have to be anything at all. The default function for the side of the road is parking.
The only exception is when there is a sign that says otherwise. The only exception is when there is a sign that says specifically “no parking.” Saying that the lane is to be used for something else isn’t sufficient. You have to clearly state that the bias does not hold in this situation. Otherwise it does.
To be fair, this “not really a bike lane” shown in the photos above does widen out just around that curve, leaving room for both parking and biking (even when doors are left open). But that really just adds to the obfuscation. So here parking is allowed. And there (around that curve) parking is allowed. And there are no signs regarding parking one way or the other, so the assumption is that it’s all good. But there is a specific sign for the bike lane, and yet the bike lane simply doesn’t exist either at that turn (Oak and Shields) or just ahead at another curve (Oak and Washington).
So what we have signs for isn’t always true. And what we don’t have signs for is OK by default.
Does that make any kind of sense to you?
So imagine my astonishment when I noticed this sign on S. Howes Street. It’s certainly removing the ambiguity of the situation.
Unfortunately, I believe this City sanctioned use of the side of the street for both parking and bike lanes, leads to ever more confusion in the mind of the users. It’s one thing when there’s a marked bike lane that is clearly distinct from the parking lane. (Granted, sometimes they’re right smack dab in the middle of door zones. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) But when we use one lane to stand in for both functions, then in cases where there’s not room for both, which is primary? The function with the sign? Or the function without? Believe it or not, the function without will win every time, because that’s the use that our culture is biased towards.
If we want a city with a zero fatality rate, then we’ve got to remove these types of ambiguities from our local infrastructure. If a bike lane is a travel lane, then it can’t also be a parking lane.
I’m not fan of sign clutter, but we’ve got to creatively find a way to clearly mark where parking is allowed and not just where it’s not. We’ve got to move away from the biases that we’ve built into our car centric society, because our car centric society is not sustainable. And dealing with the parking vs. traveling lane issue would be a good place to start in Fort Collins.