Berea's Bicycle Blunders

Good intentions, gone wrong
by Fred Oswald, PE, LCI #947

The city of Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, is a quiet residential community, home to Baldwin Wallace College.  City government, under encouragement from a citizens' advisory committee and with taxpayer's money from the metropolitan planning agency installed "bike lanes" on Front Street.  This was once an excellent street for cycling -- it had wide lanes and moderate, low-speed traffic.  Now it has several hazards in less than 1/2 mile of road.

This author has a more extensive illustrated article on Bicycle Blunders and Smarter Solutions.  The longer article discusses common blunders (serious mistakes) related to bicycle use, education, advocacy, engineering, and traffic laws in additon to showing how to avoid blunders through understanding problems and by following best practices.

Before the Blunders

The photo at left shows Front St. looking towards the "Berea Triangle" (taken 2000).  The cyclist is about five feet from the parked cars (the minimum safe distance) yet there is still plenty of room for any passing traffic in either of the two lanes to his left.  The speed limit here is 25 mph.  This was a safe and pleasant place to operate a bicycle.

The right photo, taken about one block further down the road, shows the most difficult spot in the area, a right turn lane that is not well marked (taken 2002).  A cyclist (or motorist) should stay out of this lane unless he is turning.  Here the cyclist is looking back, preparing to merge to the through lane on his left.

The best action the city could take involves education:  teaching everyone that bicycles are vehicles that should be operated on the same roads, by same rules and with same rights as other vehicles.  Part of the teaching is lane position and correct merging as the experienced cyclist (above, right) demonstrats.

Berea Blunders

Bikelanes often encourage mistakes -- by both cyclists and motorists.  These mistakes cause crashes.  In the photo at right (from near where the photos above were taken) we see the bike lane directs cyclists to stay to the right and motorists to stay left as they approach a minor intersection.  A motorist turning right here is likely to "right hook" any cyclist present.  Beyond this intersection, the bike lane directs bicycle traffic into a right turn only lane.  This means that straight-through cyclists will be in the wrong position at the next intersection.

The yellow dots added to the picture indicate the correct route for a straight-through cyclist (merging to the through lane and deterring a right hook).  The green squares show the correct path for a right-turning driver (of car or bike), merging to the right side of the road before making the turn.  This is in accord with 4511.36(A) of the Ohio Revised Code, which says:  Approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.  The bike lane stripes are a traffic control device that encourages violation of 4511.36(A).

At right (intersection of Front St & Bagley Rd.), we see a more serious blunder, also in conflict with 4511.36(A).  The bike lane passes to the right of a lane primarily for right turning traffic.  Cyclists are directed to a route that makes them cross paths with right-turning traffic first at a side street in the foreground, then at a driveway that leads to a drive-through pharmacy and finally at the main intersection where cars are just starting out from a new green light.

In the photo, a car is turning across the bikelane and a truck is following.  Both of these drivers are followed the paint markings on the roadway instead of turning correctly as required by 4511.36(A).  The green squares added to the photo show the correct path for turning traffic.  The yellow dots show the correct path for a straight-through cyclist, toward the left-center of the dual destination lane.

This intersection contridicts recommendations of the two official guides for bicycle facilities: the AASHTO Guide [1], and Part 9 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices [2].  Both warn against directing bicycle traffic to the right of right-turning traffic.

Knowlegable cyclists refer to an intersection with bike lanes striped to the corner as a "coffin corner" because it is so dangerous.  Unfortunately, the AASHTO Guide and MUTCD allow coffin corner designs that conflict with proper bicycle operation at minor intersections.  (The MUTCD at least discourages coffin-corner bike lanes at major intersections.)

In the Door Zone

Installing striped bike lanes next to parked vehicles is a bad practice at best.  If it is done anyway, there must be measures taken to keep cyclists out of the range of opening car doors.  This takes lots of space, about 18 feet for the parking lane and bike lane combined.  In Berea, the bike lane ends 14 feet from the curb -- four feet short.  The result can be catastrophic.

Notice in the photo at right, that the open car door reaches far into the supposedly "safe" space of the bike lane.  These lanes are created to encourage beginners to use bicycles and to "show them where to ride".  Beginners will not be aware of the hazard created by car doors.  They tend to ride in the middle or to the middle-right of the marked space, within the reach of a door such as the one shown.  Note that this car (Mercury Cougar) is not even a large one.

If a cyclist hits a door with the right handlebar, the wheel will be wrenched violently to the right, causing the cyclist to fall to the left.  If the timing is wrong, the cyclist may fall under the wheels of a passing vehicle.

Because of the door zone and intersections hazards, the marked bike lane space here is precisely the place NOT to ride.  These bike lanes are directing people into known hazards.  This is why this author considers bike lanes, like those shown here, to be an example of engineering malpractice.  The city should be liable if someone is seriously injured here.

Even a small vehicle, such as the red car shown at right, can encroach on the "safe" space of the bike lane when a door opens.  The obstruction occurs suddenly and without warning.  With these bike lane stripes, Berea has installed a traffic control device that cyclists must disobey in order to be safe.  This hazard is not just theoretical.  There are many dooring crashes each year, some fatal.

In a particularly a gruesome fatality, Tuffs University student Dana Laird was crushed under the wheels of a passing bus when an opening car door suddenly blocked the Cambridge Mass. bike lane in which she was riding.  You can read more about this in the Bicycle Blunders article.  The new bike lanes in Berea, like the fatal one in Cambridge, meet the width requirements of the AASHTO Guide.

Better Practices

How can Berea and other cities do better?  First, they must train city officials, planners and the members of bicycle advisory committee so all understand correct bicycle operation.  Then they should share this knowledge with the whole community by distributing educational materials, running clinics and seminars.  The police bicycle patrol can set a good example by riding correctly on main streets in the city.

When facilities development is considered, start with the physician's rule:  First, Do no harm!  Since Front St. already was a very good road for cycling, they could have just left it alone, except to fix the problem with the poorly marked turn lane shown in the top-right photo.

If the city really wants to apply paint to the street, they could improve safety and discouraging door zone riding by adding "parking crosses" depicted in the digitally-altered photo at right.  These markings would define the area of each parking stall, encouraging motorists to park close to the curb.  Five foot long lines extending away from the parked cars would mark the door danger zone and discourage cyclists from riding there.  A public education campaign explaining the dooring problem would reinforce the lesson of the pavement markings.

A benign way to add bicycle pavement markings is to eliminate the stripes that become unsafe traffic control devices and simply put a few stencils on the roadway.  Various designs have been tested, including "chevrons" and "sharrows".  Any such markings must be far enough from the curb (best place is in the middle of the travel lane) so they do not encourage riding too far to the right including in the door zone.


[1] Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, 1999.  The Guide says:  At signalized or stop-controlled intersections with right-turning motor vehicles, the solid striping to the approach should be replaced with a broken line.  Actually, even a broken line is a bad idea because the line directs both cyclists and turning motorists to the wrong places on the road.  It would be much better if there were no bikelane stripes near the intersection.

[2] Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Part 9 Traffic Controls for Bicycle Facilities, 2003 by the U.S. DOT - Federal Highway Administration.  The MUTCD states (page 9C-4):  An optional through-right turn lane next to a right turn only lane should not be used where there is a through bicycle lane. If a capacity analysis indicates the need for an optional through-right turn lane, the bicycle lane should be discontinued at the intersection approach.

© Copyright 2004-2008 Fred Oswald.
The author is a certified "League Cycling Instructor" and a professional engineer in Ohio.
This article may be copied with attribution.
Last Revised 12/28/08