Bike lanes: Keeping fast cars safe from opening doors

You know how it seems like most American bike lanes are almost entirely in the door zone?


And you know how most local governments will claim it’s just an unfortunate side effect of limited road space?

Well, the Fresno Public Works Department has decided to be extremely candid about the REAL benefit of bike lanes. That is, bike lanes are great because they keep drivers safe from those pesky doors that may suddenly be opened.

Behold the department’s report to the city council about an upcoming road diet.

This Gettysburg Avenue Bike Lanes project will improve Gettysburg Avenue by installing on-street bicycle lanes and creating a center two-way left turn lane between Fresno Street to Winery Avenue. No parking will be impacted along Gettysburg Avenue and through vehicles will be separated from opening car doors by the bicycle lanes.

PDF, report on page 138

Isn’t that sweet? The REAL reason the council should approve this project is because it makes driving fast so much safer.

That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise though. The “bike lanes project” was modified so that almost half the project mileage includes no actual bike lanes.

If this project rings a bell, it’s because I discussed it back in December when a council member decided to delay a routine public works project (a resurfacing and restriping) and make it political.

Of course, the entire project is a game of politics. It became clear at that meeting that the bike lanes were simply there so that the city could grab money from a grant program and be able to use it to repave a street and make it safer for cars.

The project is funded with CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality) funds, namely funds intended to reduce air pollution. That’s where the bike lanes come in, as obviously people on bikes are not causing air pollution.

As was stated in the meeting, the real purpose of the road diet was to increase safety to motorists. This is definitely not a bad thing, as safer streets are obviously better (and road diets are also safer for pedestrians and cyclists). However, the attitude of the city representative was pretty bad. He pretty much stated that the only reason bike lanes were going in is because the grant required them.

The person from the city was a disappointment. He went out of his way to make it clear he wasn’t a cyclist, and he would never use a bike lane. The emphasis from him was also the safety benefit of a turning lane, and the bike lanes were a necessary evil.

Half a year later, I guess the city has found a way to make that necessary evil into a positive. Now that bike lanes can be rebranded as door buffers, all is well.

But that’s not all.

Remember the Bike Master Plan (BMP) that was promoted in 2010 as a great new thing, a turning point in cycling infrastructure in Fresno?

The plan that the report makes sure to mention?

This Gettysburg Avenue Bike Lanes project from Fresno Street to Winery Avenue will allow for a safer route for existing bicyclists to use this corridor as an alternate to the heavier travelled Shaw Avenue to the north and Ashlan Avenue to the south. Gettysburg Avenue was identified in the 2010 City of Fresno Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Master Plan as a critical east-west link in the bike lane network. Neither Shaw Avenue nor Ashlan Avenue is considered viable for bicycle lanes.

That’s funny. Neither Shaw nor Ashlan are viable for bike lanes? But yet that very same master plan shows….

PDF, maps begin on page 161

Bike lanes on Shaw and Ashlan in the project area.

(Gettysburg is between the two)


I guess since those streets don’t have street parking, door buffers aren’t needed.

I mean seriously, look at the size of that right lane and tell me with a straight face that bike lanes aren’t feasible.


And I guess Gettysburg isn’t THAT critical for cyclists, because the plan was changed from what was supposed to go in last year. I guess they did the math and figured out the absolutely bare minimum bike lane mileage required to be able to pillage the CMAQ fund.

Somehow, that math worked out so that a little less than half the bike lane project will actually involve bike lanes.

In response to neighborhood concerns, the Public Works Department was able to modify the planned roadway striping to maintain four lanes of traffic between First Street and Cedar Avenue, the location where traffic volumes are the highest along the corridor. These four lanes of traffic consist of two eastbound travel lanes, a single westbound lane and a center two-way left turn lane

Of course, the BMP includes bike lanes between First and Cedar. But I guess that no longer matters because a couple of seniors expressed concerns.

So what is it Fresno. Is the BMP important or not? You can’t claim the plan called for lanes on a minor street, and hype that up, and then ignore the very maps in the plan that call for lanes on streets people actually want to use. And you can’t claim that Gettysburg is critical for cyclists but then throw them under the bus (or SUV) because of the small chance that congestion MAY appear for a few minutes a day…in 20 years (during the meeting, the studies shown states that congestion wouldn’t be an issue until 2030).

And you can’t claim that bike lanes will reduce air pollution but then promote the project as a way to make driving safer.

Well actually, I guess they can, because that’s exactly what the city has done.

13 Replies to “Bike lanes: Keeping fast cars safe from opening doors”

  1. "through vehicles will be separated from opening car doors by the bicycle lanes"

    … unless the through vehicle is a bicycle. Oh, I forgot, bicycles aren't real vehicles. And they go slow slowly they'll only got a few minor scratches if they hit a door, right?

    "… throw them under the bus …" Yes, that's exactly how opening doors can actually kill cyclists.

    OTOH, I don't care for bike lanes on large multi-lane streets like those pictured either. It's not just about there being room for bike lanes. Bike lanes on big multi-lane roads with many intersections and driveways create turning conflicts at each and every one, and the problem is made worse because of the many lanes of motor vehicles that shield a cyclist at the edge of the road from the view of most of the surrounding motorists. This is why so much effort and money has to be put into bike lane intersection design on roads like this, to remediate the edge conflicts created by them. Most bicyclists are understandably scared at the thought of controlling a travel lane, but frankly, that's the safest behavior on a road like that, and if it were talked about more openly as something that is legal and possible, I think that be beneficial to all cyclists.

    1. Shaw, which is pictured, does have many turns, some every few feet. However, without the bike lane, 99% of riders stay in the sidewalk, which is even more dangerous. Of course, even more people who would make the trip by bike either drive or don't make the trip at all because the conditions are so uncomfortable.

  2. Sharrow on Shaw and Ashlan might be something to consider. I actually attended all the meetings for the BMP and what was discussed was that Shaw and Ashlan have big interchanges with SR 41 and SR 168 which are not that friendly. And your cross section for Shaw is not accurate for the entire length as it can be very narrow in some parts and does have on street parking in others. Shaw moves 40,000+ cars a day at speeds in excess of 40+ MPH where Gettysburg moves under 20,000 cars a day at slower speeds. What the City was trying to do for the BMP was identify streets for all levels of bike users. It really is only a couple council members one of which will be termed out at the end of the year that are causing the issues. Biking is the most affordable mode of transportation and there is no greater community in need of creating affordable transportation options than Fresno!

    1. The interchanges are indeed a nightmare, and the worst part about it is that 168 is so recent and it was designed that way. In fact, the 180 interchanges which opened within the past 5 years are just as bad for cyclists. It's actually not that hard to modify them to make them safer though, as the real danger comes in the extremely wide turning radiuses which allow people to drive onto the ramp at 50+ mph.

      The 41 interchanges, which mostly require hard right turns are much safer.

      I chose that picture of Shaw because thats exactly what Shaw looks like between Cedar and First – the section of gettysburg that won't be getting bike lanes because that extra car lane is just so damn important. The choice isn't striping all 20 miles of Shaw or none at all. Bike lanes in places are better than none at all. That area of Shaw, the area near Fresno State, can certainly have bike lanes. Why does the city claim theyre not feasible?

  3. James as a bicycle advocate, vilifying government with your article is not the way to make it more effective to meet your needs. Develop relationships and work together and look for solutions. Bike riders are in the minority currently in Fresno and they are not going to be heard if they are attacking. Work to create partnerships. Look at what Long Beach or Portland are doing with the Businesses. Businesses can be your friend to accomplish your goal of more bike lanes, trails, bike parking, bike boulevards, green bike lanes, and sharrows.

    1. Bike advocates did work with the city, which is how the Bike Master Plan was developed. But now the plan is being completely ignored. Besides claiming bike lanes are unfeasible in streets explicitly listed for bike lanes in the plan, and besides cutting a mile of bike lanes from this bike lane project, the city is also going to redo Broadway downtown later this year….without bike lanes. Of course, the BMP calls for lanes on that street as well. The city should absolutely be called out on ignoring the BMP every step of the way.

      It is also not right to apply for air pollution mitigation money, call it a bike lane project, and then strip out half the bike lanes.

  4. The Bicycle Master Plan was promoted in 2010 and also received great praise and was awarded an American Planning Association 1st Place Award for Comprehensive document for the ten county region in the San Joaquin Valley. That same year 30 new miles of bike lanes were installed in Fresno which was the second most to any city in the US besides New York.

    Fresno has fallen on hard economic times in government due in large part to the out of control suburban planning that did not create the necessary revenue to support the costs of providing services. What was needed was a Growth Management Plan. This is something that General Plans should evaluate. Is the land use, transportation, parks and public safety feasible to construct and maintain now and in the future. If you build a roadway that costs $10 to build but that creates development impact fees that are too high then you need to reevaluate your basic assumptions of how big of a roadway you can really afford. Likewise if you build a roadway where your sales tax, property tax, gas tax, and Measure C can not provide the revenue to maintain the infrastructure than you will create a diverging cost versus revenue financial plan. In CA nearly $37 Billion additional dollares are needed in the budget to maintain roadways the way they are suppose to be maintained. Unfortunately deferred maintenance has caught up with many jurisdiction. That is in large part what has occurred in Fresno. Older communities were left behind for new ones and people stopped investing in older neighborhoods. Blight took over which induced crime and the need for robust public safety. Even the more wealthy areas of Fresno do not fund maintenance very well. But it is the parks and the roadways in combination with the land uses that create Quality of Life. You can't get Nordstrom quality for WalMart prices. both business models are successful but you have to figure out what you can afford. A well designed and built community can afford more as property values and revenues in an area grow rather than decay.

    1. Fresno did indeed stripe a whole lot of lanes in 2010. But shortly after that summer, the city's transportation guy was hired by another city and since then, there's been nothing. The bike lane project SW of downtown was cancelled. This project was delayed and then cut in half. Broadway will be rebuilt downtown without lanes.

      The budget isn't a good excuse, because at the same time the city has continued to green light highly expensive road widening projects. Look at Peach south of 180, the continuous work on Herndon, the road widenings in the Copper part of town, the work on 180, and then the $55 million the city gave to improve the 180/168 ramp connection.

      $55m would pretty much pay for the entire BMP to be implemented.

  5. Without the bike lane, the cyclist has the right to the whole road. The bike lane directs the cyclist to use the most dangerous part of the road. There have been quite a few fatal dooring collisions, plus thousands of "mere" injuries due to dooring. Riding in the door zone isn't safe, and the government shouldn't pretend that a paint brush can make it safe. The superior alternative is to use the "Bikes may use full lane" signs and the shared lane marking, placed at LEAST 13 feet from the curb, outside the door zone. A door zone bike lane makes the city responsible for dooring injuries and deaths.
    — John Schubert, Limeport[dot]org

    1. Sharrows have never been used in Fresno. While a lack of bike lanes do allow cyclists to use the whole lane, in reality what happens in that cyclists use the sidewalk or don't bike at all. Bike lanes always have and always will encourage more people to use bikes.

      I commute by bike (on gettsyburg!) and I would not make the commute if the lanes weren't there. There is a noticeable degradation in comfort in the sections without lanes.

  6. James you should contact Scott Mozier at the City of Fresno. He is a great guy and you can work with him to solve some of your concerns. 559 621-8650

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