Some thoughts on cars in bike lanes

This is not an unfamiliar sight. In fact, if you like the genre, here's a whole tumblr about it.  People putting their cars in bike lanes is something that cyclists in DC contend with on a daily basis. They drive their cars into bike lanes in spite of plastic posts, in spite of painted pictures of bikey people, in spite of green paint, in spite of the signs that say BIKE LANE, and in spite of the presence of vulnerable people on bicycles who, in choosing to ride in those bike lanes, are clearly seeking out some kind of physical separation from cars and their drivers. People idle or park their cars in bike lanes in spite of plastic posts, in spite of green paint, in spite of painted pictures of bikey people, in spite of signs that say BIKE LANE, in spite of signs that say NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME, in spite of the presence of vulnerable cyclists who glower at them and curse at them and question why and how with all of the plastic posts, the green paint, the painted pictures of bikey people, the signs that say BIKE LANE, the signs that say NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME and cursing and glowering cyclists looking for some small bit of respite in the city from the overwhelming and uncomfortable sensation of having to ride feet or inches away from thousands of pounds of hurling metal and plastic and horsepower, why and how with all of this they still find themselves idling or parking in a bike lane. And yet they still do it.

Is it because of #CONFUSION? It is because signs that the read NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME are insufficiently clear? Is it because most of the world's parking spaces are indicated by the presence of plastic sticks and painted pictures of bikey people and green paint? Are these drivers just making mistakes? Are they wayward and entrapped and lost and not in any way desirous of parking in the bike lane, but instead somehow bewildered and unclear and under the impression that they're not doing anything wrong because there's no indication that these green lanes with plastic sticks and painted pictures of bikey people and signs that that read NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME mean anything other than "Yes, it is totally ok for your to park your car here!"? If we just added a few more plastic sticks or a little more green paint or a few more painted pictures of bikey people, would that finally do it? Would that finally clarify that the bike lane with the sign that says BIKE LANE abutted by the other signs that say NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME is, in fact, a bike lane and then, thanks to those few extra plastic sticks and that little extra bit of green paint, the driver would finally realize that he had been mistakenly parking where he ought not?

Let's not talk about bike lanes for a little. Let's talk about turn signals.

I happen to notice that some people in cars make turns (or change lanes) without using turn signals. Sometimes this creates really dangerous situations. Other times, it really doesn't seem to make that much of a difference. Let's say a person makes a turn without using his turn signal. What do you think is the most likely reason this happened? Some choices:

a) using a turn signal is confusing and the person making the turn was unable to figure out in advance of making the turn how to use the turn signal.

b) using a turn signal was too physically difficult for the person to do.

c) the person was unclear as to whether a turn signal was necessary or in any way mandated by law or custom for the kind of turn he was making.

d) the person did try to use the turn signal, but was met by mechanical failure somewhere in the turn signal process (either in the lever or in the turn signal wiring).

e) the person forgot that the he has the ability to indicate his desire to turn as he rarely has need to turn his car, either because he is out of driving habit or because he habitually only drives in straight lines

e) the person making the turn, knowing full well that he does have the option to use a turn signal and knowing full well that using the turn signal prior to turning is mandated by both law and custom, elects of his own free will and volition to not use the turn signal because while turn signals are habitually used prior to turning cars they are not strictly necessary to the action of turning the car and he has made the judgment that in this case, in this situation over which he has total control of his choice as to whether or not to use the turn signal, that the use of a turn signal is not something he wishes to do, either because he believes it would be unnecessary or unneeded in the situation or simply because he fails to rank indicating his turn in advance of making the turn as a priority.

f) zombies are chasing him and he's trying to escape them.

Cars don't turn without using turn signals. People turn cars without using turn signals.

Cars don't drive over the speed limit. People drive their cars faster than the speed limit.

Cars don't park in bike lanes. People park their cars in bike lanes.

[Bikes don't roll through red lights. People on bikes roll through red lights.]

So why do people, after assessing their situations, make the choice to turn without using a turn signal or park in a bike lane? Some thoughts on the latter:

1. They don't think of the bike lane as an inviolable space where cars should never under any circumstance be.

2. They don't think that they are inconveniencing or endangering one.

3. They don't think that they're actually 'parking' or 'standing' in the bike lane because they're only doing it for a short period of time, so it doesn't really count. [Sort of the way that driving only 3 mph over the speed limit 'doesn't count']

4. They have weighed the benefits and potential costs of making the decision to park in a bike lane and determined that the likelihood of their facing negative consequences for making this decision is very low, whereas the benefit of their parking or standing is greater.

If you happen to ride the L Street cycletrack regularly, you notice a few different kinds of bike lane blockers. They are:

1. The worker- this is someone doing a job (deliveries most often) who believes that the benefit of blocking the cycletrack far outweigh the potential punishment for doing such.

2. The flasher- no, not that kind of flasher. It's the guy who leaves his blinker on while he runs in to grab something. Maybe a smoothie. Maybe a donut. Maybe it's to pick up medicine. Either way, he's doing a quick in-and-out.

3. The taxi- (or the airport van or the livery cab or the Metro Access) similar to the worker, the guy's doing a job and blocking the bike lane is seen as abetting the completion of that job.

4. The idler- yup, dude is just sitting in the car. Why's he in the car? He's waiting for someone. Probably to pick them up. Maybe they said they'd be down in 2 minutes. Or maybe he just dropped them off when they ran inside to grab a smoothie or a donut or some medicine.

It is extremely rare, I find, to come upon someone who has just parked their car in the bike lane and left, like one would do if they parked their car in a parking spot. Because the people who are blocking the bike lane know that they're not in actual parking spots. Because of the NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME, and because of the plastic posts, and because of the painted bikey people and because of the signs that say BIKE LANE and because of the green paint. And because in their years of experience existing in the world, even if they've never seen a cycletrack before, they know that these things do not indicate 'Ok to park here.' So, why then, are their cars there?

It's because they don't think they're parking.

If they were "parking", they'd go to a space. Parking means leaving your car for a destination. Parking means paying at a meter. You don't need to "park" if you're just gonna run in real quick for a smoothie. You don't need to park if you're just waiting for someone who's going to come down in 2 minutes. You don't need to park if you're unloading passengers or unloading produce. None of those things require "parking"- they just require some space for you to put your car while you accomplish the task. Parking punctuates trips. People who are in the bike lanes, for the most part, don't see the need for punctuation.

One of the things I notice every so often (and I find vaguely infuriating) is someone idling in a bike lane next to an open parking spot. Why not just pull your car into the spot and idle there? Like, you're blocking both the spot and the bike lane by idling where you are- why not just pull into the spot? It's open! Do it! But people don't do this. Because that would be parking and parking comes with it a whole host of responsibilities (most begrudgingly, paying sometimes) and so the person will instead keep their car in this nether space, this in-between land that isn't the "parking" lane and at the same time isn't the "driving" lane. It's a space that fits the mental state of being in-between those two things. And it's where the bicyclists are and it's annoying for them, but what are you supposed to do? You're not driving and you're not parking. You're in between! Why can't they just understand that the space set aside for them happens to be the perfect space for someone who is in-between?!? "I'LL GET YOU WITH MY STOOL," someone in this in-between space might say. Where else is the in-between person supposed to go?

Obviously, there are engineering solutions. Make a bike lane or a cycletrack something better than in-between space and you won't get in-between car people there. You need more than green paint and you need more than plastic sticks with big gaps between them. If signs that unambiguously read NO STANDING OR PARKING ANYTIME fail to provide sufficient clarity about whether people in cars should stand or park anytime (answer: no), why would green paint and painted pictures of bikey people and green paint? Simply put, I'm of the opinion that it is close to impossible to all of the time dissuade people who are physically capable of easily putting a car in a bike lane  from doing so. Where there's room to easily park a car, someone will easily park a car. Because they're not really parking it. They're just putting it there for a bit, just real quick.


  1. "someone idling in a bike lane next to an open parking spot"


    But seriously, I see this a few times a week on my daily commute down 4th St NE/SE and up 6th St SE/NE. If you need to stop your car, USE A PARKING SPOT LOOK IT'S RIGHT THERE YOU ARE NEXT TO IT

    I think you're right on the money in your analysis. A lot of people just don't equate "stopping the car and shifting it into park for a while" with "parking". I mean, it's right there in the name of the gear! Park! If you are in "Park" you are parking. Unless you barely missed a really long red light and you don't feel like pressing the pedal down for a couple of minutes, I guess.

  2. Drivers don't think of themselves as operating a vehicle; they think of themselves as sitting in their own personal moving lounge. This is my little lounge. My personal cocoon. My rolling man cave. Sometimes I have to put it somewhere. It's my nice little lounge. It's nice. It's not a bother. Same is true about the indignation of drivers when a bicyclist slows them down. Their lounge cannot be slowed. They throw fits of rage when in reality the bicyclist has slowed them down by 5 or 10 seconds. A flick of the ankle can remedy their plight but NO their lounge mobile has been impeded.
    The best way to keep cars from parking in the bike lane is to separate the bike lanes with an island with curbs on either side. And then mark the near most street lane for parking. Yep, give them a whole lane to park in. Charge them for the privilege too.

  3. Not 1 in a thousand drivers know how to safely turn when there is a bike lane present. Instead of 1) checking that is clear, 2) signaling and 3) merging they, instead throw the turn from the adjacent travel lane - often without signaling.

    Re: cars stopped in bike lanes waiting. I think most drivers expect that the worst that will happen is MPD will roll by and tell them to move on. MPD must never ticket this. I once saw and MPD officer tell the driver to move on. The driver did so. He WENT AROUND THE BLOCK and pulled back into the bike lane to wait!!!!

  4. terrible title. should have been LOTS OF THOUGHTS... ;)