In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new bicycle lane on West Water Street from the Adams Street Bridge to downtown.
Before I go on, I should let you know I’m a bicycle guy. I ride my bike to work every day. I ride on weekends when I can. I think the world would be a better place if more people rode bikes instead of driving cars. I’m all for anything that makes things easier and safer for bicyclists. I think the bike paths in Miami and surrounding counties are a great thing and we should work on creating more of them.
There, now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk about the new bike lane, which has created a lot of controversy.
I’m going to say something that probably will make my fellow bikers a little angry. I have ridden down Water Street hundreds of times in the past five years on my way to the Adams Street Bridge to hop on the bike path. I ride in the proper lane, obey the traffic laws and I’ve never had a problem. Sometimes cars have to slow down because they can’t get past me due to traffic, and sometimes I actually have to slow down for cars that for some reason are crawling down the street, but it’s no big deal. It’s only for a few blocks.
Since the new bike lane has been put in, I’ve used it maybe 10 times – and I’ve almost ended up as a hood ornament twice.
Let me explain. Drivers turning right onto Water Street from any of the streets by the library tend to do this: they look left to see if anything is coming, then they start to turn right. There generally is no reason to look to the right, because normal traffic doesn’t affect that right hand turn. They start to look that way when they pull onto Water Street.
Now, if you happen to be riding a bike west on Water Street and that driver doesn’t look your way – it’s not a good thing. Over the years I have been involved in some unfortunate biking events, so I’m very cautious on places like Water Street. If you ride enough, you develop a sixth sense about cars when they’re about to do something that will not be advantageous to your future well-being. My warning light went off in both cases.
So I slowed almost to a stop because in each case it looked to me like the driver was going to pop out onto the road about the time I arrived in front of his car. That is exactly what happened. Both drivers caught sight of me when they glanced to start to make their turn and slammed on their brakes. All was well – but only because I guessed what was coming.
Some of my more radical biker friends would tell me I should have kicked the car or yelled and screamed, but I don’t blame the drivers, it’s a natural thing to do. You could also say drivers should know better but that’s not much consolation when you’re sailing over the hood of a car.
I guess what I’m saying is I’m not sure a bike lane is always the safest thing for cyclists. Sometimes we get caught up in statistics and trends and don’t stop to see if the trend is the right thing for the specific case. If we have more miles of bike lanes it can only be a good thing. That’s true, but only if you put them where they do some good.
Maybe I don’t see the big picture, and as time goes on everyone who drives a car will get used to bikes coming the wrong way down the road toward them in bicycle lanes. But I have to say I have cycled all around Troy over the years and as long as you stay off Main Street and Market Street, you pretty much have clear sailing. It seems to me the best way to insure bicycle safety is to educate drivers that they have to share the road and to make sure motorists don’t drive down Troy’s streets like they’re at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — which, by the way, is the main reason I stay off Main and Market streets.
I understand that one of the major reasons for this particular bike lane was to make it easier to go from the bike path to downtown. I don’t really think it accomplishes that. I also really don’t think that waves of cyclists are going to hop off the bike path and head downtown because suddenly there’s a lane there. You’d attract more people with better signage at both bridges that tell bikers what there is downtown to see.
Maybe lots of bike lanes really are the answer. I’ll use them if you put them there, but I have to tell you sometimes it’s scarier being in a bike lane than it is being on the road.
One last thing — if you see a guy in a black and red helmet riding a bicycle with a bent handlebar due to a past mishap, take it easy on him. That guy would be me, and I’d like to think that with a little courtesy from drivers and riders, we can all be safe.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com.