Bicycle Lanes and the Debate Over Why We Should Have Them

Most road users in Colorado have likely noticed clearly marked bicycle lanes on the sides of streets and the shared bicycle lanes.  Both are marked with a bicycle symbol, green box, arrow or a signage as shown in the attached pictures.  Studies have shown that marked bicycle lanes not only make cyclists feel safer, they actually are safer.  However, legally speaking, we do not yet have a definition in Colorado for the bicycle lanes and how they intersect with the roads and vehicle traffic.  We see crashes at the points of intersection of bicycle lanes and public roads, and there may be a dispute as to who has the right of way.  Contact brian@weiss.law or call 303-741-0249 if you know about any crashes involving bicycle lanes as we are still studying crashes and are considering legislation that may clarify the law in this regard.

Bicycle-friendly towns like Boulder and Ft. Collins started the trend to developing extensive bike lane networks since the 1970s and more recently large cities such as Denver, Colorado Springs, Tucson, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle have begun to add bike lanes on their streets as a way of encouraging bicycle use and decreasing car traffic. These cities have also promoted bicycle commuting events such as “Ride to Work Day.”

In general, bicycle lanes should always be:

  • one-way, carrying bicyclists in the same direction as the adjacent travel lane
  • on the right side of the roadway
  • located between the parking lane (if there is one) and the travel lane
  • According to Federal standards the bicycle lane width should be:
  • 4 feet (1.2m): minimum width of bike lane on roadways with no curb and gutter
  • 5 feet (1.5m): minimum width of bike lane when adjacent to parking, from the face of the curb or guardrail
  • 11 feet (3.3m): total width for shared bike lane and parking area, no curb face
  • 12 feet (3.6m): shared bike lane and parking area with a curb face

Bicycle lane stripe width:

  • 6-inch (150mm): solid white line separating bike lane from motor vehicle lane (possibly increased to 8-inches (200mm) where emphasis is needed)
  • 4-inch (100mm): optional solid white line separating the bike lane from parking spaces

Cyclists and motorist often have arguments and disagreements over use of the roads, and bicycle lanes are yet another topic that fuels debate.  All of us, as a cycling community, can make ourselves safer and better respected by following the rules of the road and being courteous to other users. This is one of the main goals of Bike Law Colorado.  We feel that competent cyclists politely cooperate with other drivers by yielding when required, riding in the marked bicycle lanes, sharing the road, choosing the correct lane at intersections, and following the same traffic laws as motorists. When it comes to the arguments with selfish drivers, the cautious cyclist should be ready with a thoughtful response.  Here are some examples that we submit to you.

The Selfish Driver Behind the Wheel Complains The Cautious Cyclist on Two Wheels Answers
Bicycles don’t belong on the road. Bicyclists are considered either vehicles or pedestrians in most contexts and have the right to be on the road unless there is a sign to the contrary and another option is available such as a bicycle path.
Bicycles belong on the sidewalk. Bicycling on the sidewalk is dangerous to both pedestrians and bicyclists, and is illegal in many places, such as Denver and Boulder, if you ride faster than 6 mph.
Cyclists don’t pay registration fees or taxes on fuel so they don’t belong on the road. Paying fuel taxes does not give one the exclusive use of the roads. Moreover, local road work is chiefly funded out of general tax revenues. The cost of bicyclists using the road and damage to the road is minimal compared to the congestion and road damage created by cars and trucks.  Finally, many cyclists also drive vehicles and pay the same taxes.
Engineers should design roads for motor vehicles. Roads should be designed with all legal vehicles in mind, including bicycles.
Accounting for bicycles in designing roads is difficult and expensive. Not true, as the two types of bicycle lanes set forth above and which are now in many towns and cities do not add much of a cost to the cost of new road construction.  In fact, many as were added in after the roads were already designed and in place.  Cyclists prefer smooth and well-maintained pavement, like motorists.  Further cyclists desire drain grates which do not pose a hazard for the rolling narrow road bike tires.
Since there are bicycle paths, bicyclists should stay off the roads. Bicyclists who know how to safely ride in traffic in compliance with traffic rules can ride safely almost anywhere without getting hurt. Some bicycle paths are shared with other users like dog walkers with long leashes which can be more dangerous than roads to a cyclist.