This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss on-street bike lanes. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roads, sharrows and paved shoulders.
People often say that they wished Princeton had bike lanes. We do have bike lanes! Check out these bike lanes in the photo above, which can be found on Mercer Road (Princeton Pike). They extend all the way from the intersection of Princeton Pike and Gallup Road to the town line with Lawrence Township- that's a full 0.4 miles! And there's another example on a second Princeton street- can you think where? (see below to find out!)
On-street bike lanes, demarcated with a white painted or thermoplastic strip, and accompanied by specific signage or an in-lane bike symbol, are a true cycle facility. They give cyclists priority space on the roadway, which means they can ride out of the stream of traffic. This tends to make for a less-stressful experience for the cyclist, and it's good for car drivers too, because it means that slower-moving cyclists have a safe place to be, and are less likely to occupy the travel lane. Cycle lanes are much better than shoulders, because they are designated as travel lanes, which means cyclists have a right to cycle in them, and a right to expect the lane to be maintained.
Are cycle lanes safe? They offer no physical protection from cars swerving into them, or making careless turns across them. But the balance of statistical evidence strongly supports the idea that cycle lanes bring a safety benefit. They are safer for cyclists, and they even reduce the accident rate for car drivers. This is because motorists passing cyclists in a lane are found to move less far to the left when passing cyclists in a cycle lane, and therefore do not cross over into the opposing travel lane as much. This is a key advantage of a cycle lane: predictable cycle behavior. The cyclist has a predictable location on the road, and is likely to stay in the cycle lane. Predictable behavior makes circulation safer.
Perhaps more surprisingly, on-street cycle lanes are associated with a lower accident rate than cycling on sidewalks / side paths. The sidewalk or sidepath provides physical separation from cars, but drivers do not expect cyclists to be on sidewalks. Sidewalk/sidepath treatments put cyclists at risk from cars exiting from driveways, and at intersections. In fact, in Princeton, it is mandatory for cyclists to dismount at cross streets when using sidepaths, and walk their bike across the crosswalk. This significantly reduces the fun and effectiveness of bicycle transportation, and the reality is that many cyclists risk cycling across crosswalks instead of dismounting and walking their bikes. On-street cycle lanes allow cyclists to remain on their bikes, and maintain a steady lane position past cross streets.
OK, did you already figure out where the other cycle lane in Princeton is? Here it is- on Quaker Road, between Princeton Pike and Route 206:
What do you mean you can hardly see it?! Yes, it is a bit faded, and it's also only about 100 yards long. Presumably the pole on the right hand side used to indicate that it was a designated bike lane- until it snapped in half and wasn't replaced! But this lane is clearly indicated on the municipal sidewalk and cycle facilities map (look for the magenta line). And it has some good features- observe the drainage grate, which, importantly, is a cycle-friendly design, which means your wheel won't fall between the rails of the grate.
At some point this cycle lane was presumably the top of the line of Princeton's bicycle infrastructure. It's just one little section though, and without connecting to much of anything, it lay unused, and as time has gone on, it has been almost completely forgotten. Hopefully we can soon add more bike lanes. They aren't perfect, and they often conflict with on-street parking, but they are a proven form of cycle infrastructure, which has been demonstrated to make people feel safer when riding their bicycles.
What do you think of on-street bike lanes? What streets in Princeton do you think would be most appropriate for this treatment? Let us know!