it is a common occurrence — familiar to every bicyclist — where you can be riding along a perfectly nice bike lane only to have it disappear for various reasons.
Bike lanes are highly prized for making cycling “more comfortable”; so I think it’s safe to say disappearing bike lanes would be considered quite stressful, and an impediment to cycling for many cyclists.
I have, over the past year, had occasion to regularly ride along Warner Road in Tempe (this area is sometimes referred to as “south” Tempe. Here’s a map of the general vicinity) between I-10 (the city limit) and McClintock Drive; it’s about 3.5 miles. The road is very much an arterial road with two fast through lanes (45mph, if i recall correctly) plus a bike lane each way plus some sort of middle lane throughout (it’s usually a TWLTL; two way left turn lane; it becomes a left turn lane at major intersections). The difficulty is at every intersection where there is a right turn only lane, the bike lane is dropped ~ 250′ from the intersection. This dropping occurs asymmetrically at some, but not all, of the major intersections. It is most prominent westbound: the lane drops at McClintock, Rural, Kyrene, Hardy, and Priest Drive. That is FIVE TIMES in three miles!
On the plus side; it mitigates the problem with bike lanes where through-cyclists being right hooked (by eliminating the bike lane altogether; drastic but effective). On the negative side, for through-cyclists… 1) it creates legal ambiguity between obeying the RTO traffic control device; and riding AFRAP (AZ has no enumerated exemption for RTO lanes) 2) it can be very difficult, if not harrowing, to merge into the right through lane with high-speed through traffic 3) riding in the RTO raises conflicts with oncoming left-turning traffic.
There is an alternative, sometimes called a “Combined bike/turn lane”; It doesn’t eliminate the negatives, but it does address some of them. E.g. it makes it explicitly legal to proceed straight through the (otherwise) RTO [see below info from Bruce Friedman for details]. From the FHWA page Bicycle Facilities and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:
Allowable through the 2009 MUTCD… Shared-lane markings in exclusive turn lanes
Disallowed… Combined bicycle lane/turn lane where the lane attempts to establish a bike lane
[On older versions of that page, it used to allow for a BL combination experimentation which is now disallowed, and SLMs are ok] Here’s what it used to say:
Combined bike lane/turn lane: Experimental if bike lane markings are used, but can be implemented at the present time if Shared Lane Markings are used instead of bike lane markings
Also discussed at NACTO and note that they show illustrations that are explicitly not permitted by showing a bike lane marking rather than a shared lane marking; And a paper evaluating similar scenarios is at bicyclinginfo.org
Would this be better? (I mean better than doing nothing?) I think so.
Tempe 311 / CouncilCommunicator
(sent thru cc email because rich text is easier) Please pass along to your streets people AS WELL AS POLICE DEPARTMENT.
Many major intersections in Tempe (particularly south Tempe), on roads with bike lanes use a configuration where the BL stops a few hundred feet before major intersections and the road widens where the space formerly occupied by the BL becomes a Right-turn-only (RTO) lane. This configuration is concentrated in south Tempe, there is a list below. All drivers of vehicles, including bicyclists, are prohibited from using the RTO lane as a through lane. This creates conflict between thru going bicyclists and motorists sharing the road.
I have occasion to traverse such intersections thousands of times a year riding a bicycle… a small fraction of motorists will harass a bicyclist here, and a small fraction of a small fraction of drivers will slip into criminal behavior: Threatening & Intimidation, and/or Endangerment, and/or outright Assault. It begins with unnecessary (and illegal) horn-blowing, and can escalate to intentional close passing, driving towards the bicyclist (i.e. to force the bicyclist from the bicyclist’s lane), etc. Rare but it happens.
Happily, there is a VERY INEXPENSIVE engineering fix, which ameliorates these troubles, and as far as I understand is as safe or safer. This treatment is fully compliant with the MUTCD.
List of Intersections in Tempe…where this treatment would be appropriate and desirable. The cost would be minimal, in each direction one “EXCEPT BIKES” placard to be added to the existing RTO sign, and one (or two) Shared Lane Markings:
- Warner at Priest (westbound)
- Warner at Hardy (both)
- Warner at Kyrene (eastbound)
- Warner at Rural (both)
- Warner at McClintock (both) and McClintock at Warner (both)
- Guadalupe at Kyrene (both), and Kyrene at Guadalupe (both)
- Guadalupe at Rural (both)
- Guadalupe at McClintock (both)
I don’t ride as much north, there are only a few places i can think in north Tempe where combined use would be appropriate, one being Broadway westbound at Rural where notably there is already an “EXCEPT BUS” placard due to the bus bay on the far side.
For more on the use of combined Turn lanes, please see http://azbikelaw.org/should-warner-road
Warner Road update 2020 (#2020)
As of this moment there are no ground markings; though if i had to guess they will be added. Sure enough, the Sharrows (Shared Lane Markings) were added, two per, within the next week or two everywhere the Except Bikes placard was added. City staff had seen engineering drawings back in mid-2018 but that got delayed because of a shortage of thermoplastic stencils and various other delays. They are biased to the left side of the lane (I don’t have a pic handy), just like in the examples below.
Just some examples
Here’s on from Los Alamos via labikes blogspot. I need to check: is the right-arrow stencil a specified/standardized size?
Slide 9 in this presentation* shows Miller Rd at Osborne, Scottsdale where southbound they have installed a sharrow into a formerly RTO lane; and added the except bikes placard to the RTO sign. The same treatment is at Miller and Thomas. (for some reason, Miller Rd is sometimes known as 76th St). Also in Scottsdale, more recently 68th St at McDowell was sharrow’ed (though i don’t see a placard?). In the latter example, the sharrow is placed in the center of the effective lane width, which is the preferred placement. The Sharrow on Miller is placed at the extreme left of a quite-narrow lane. Also notable on 68th is a bike-specific loop detector.
*Also of note, the presentation referenced above contains a couple of out-of-state examples (one is from OR, the other HI) currently dis-allowed “lane within a lane” configurations.
The city of Phoenix has installed some combination lanes circa 2013 on Galvin Parkway, e.g. near the Phoenix Zoo, this is very near border with city of Tempe, I think this was done at same time as the area was re-striped with a left-buffered BL. Note that this is the wrong symbol; there is only one correct shared lane marking symbol, and the “helmeted cyclist” is not it (image of correct symbol). The it’s unclear to me if the dotted line is permitted, see MUTCD Part 9 FAQ #11. At this time, the only allowable configuration for combination is to end the BL before the RTO; at which point shared use (for bicyclists) can be allowed through SLMs, and “except bikes” if there’s RTO signage. The signage at the Galvin installation is this overly-elaborate affair, which is incidentally non-standard, that, again, implies there’s a BL between a thru, and an RTO lane. (see email reply about this treatment in comment below) [UPDATE: as of 2019 it appears as though the dotted line has be blotted out; the symbol is still incorrect, it’s still a helmeted cyclist, like a BL symbol, with a double chevron as is found on an SLM; also the right-lane-must-turn-rigth signage is still wrong; it needs an “except bicycles” to serve the apparently purpose]
Here’s another City of Phoenix installation, 12th Street at Camelback, it was mentioned on the City’s recent improvements page as being done March 2016. This uses similar features as the Galvin installation mentioned above; as above, the dotted line seems like a bad idea… there’s no reason or point to trying to separate thru bicycle traffic from right-turning traffic within that narrow lane; and the sign implies there is a BL between the thru and RTO lane. Along that same project, there were some combined Bus/Bike Only Lanes, e.g. 12th around Northern.
Portland, OR: N Rosa Parks Way at Albina. Installed ~ 2015. Longer explanation at bikeportland.org, and note that OR laws are distinctly different regarding bike lanes. Portland has some history with doing sketchy installations; however this seems fully compliant with FHWA recommendations; including a correct sharrow (SLM) and also has signage making it legal for bicyclists to continue straight in what would otherwise be a RTOL.
Here is an example of a well-designed combined lane in Cleveland. Thanks, Andy Cross! Lorain & W 140th St, Cleveland, OH
A Strange Conversation
There was light traffic, it was a holiday-Monday morning, and relatively early, pre-morning rush. I was eastbound along Warner Road approaching a red signal at Kyrene., Tempe AZ. As is the usual case along this arterial, the BL drops ~ 300′ before the intersection. I had no trouble merging from the right into the right-hand through lane. I was first-up, stopped at the signal, a short time later a driver in a large white luxury SUV pulled up alongside me in the left through lane, and got my attention by a light tap on his horn, he wanted to talk, I looked and nodded. Thus began an odd ~ 20 second conversation:
driver: I just want to ask you a question. Why aren’t you in the Bike Lane?
me: (short delay; somewhat puzzled) There is no Bike lane here.
driver: I’m just asking, why aren’t you in the Bike Lane? (motions toward the far side of the intersection, where the bike lane resumes)
me: oh. To my right is a right-turn-only, I’m going straight ahead… I will be in the bike lane once it starts again.
driver: what makes you think you’ll make it across? (or something, this one was particularly strange) Why aren’t you in the bike lane?
At this point, it’s gotten like an Abbott and Costello routine; thankfully the light turned green and he roared away. His demeanor wasn’t aggressive or loud or anything obviously negative. Was he being rhetorical? Snarky? Smarmy? Hard to know!
During our interchange, two drivers used the RTO lane, and made a right on red.
The UVC Right-Turn clause / Other states (#UVC)
This is a bit confusing, and doesn’t apply to AZ anyway (see here for a long dissertation on AZ’s FTR law), but here goes…
The UVC’s FTR (bicyclist-specific Far to The Right law) as well as some other states contains a FTR exception, that alludes to right-turning. Nota Bene: that although these sound similar they are each different from one another:
- UVC § 11-205(a)(4) When riding in the right-turn-only lane
- CVC § 21202(a)(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized (also see 2019 update, below)
- DE § 4196(a)(3) When approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right-turn lane, in which case a person may operate a bicycle in this dedicated lane, even if the bicycle operator does not intend to turn right
- Washington (2019) RCW 46.61.770 (their existing”AFRAP”/AFRAS law); adds this RTO exemption clause “When approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right turn lane, in which case a person may operate a bicycle in this lane even if the operator does not intend to turn right”
The UVC and CA (the pre-2019) versions have been around forever, at least decades.
The UVC version is the most mysterious to me. E.g. does it apply, or matter, if the bicyclist is going straight or intending to turn right? Does it imply a bicyclist may legally go straight through in a RTOL? (It doesn’t seem so to me).
The CA version says nothing of RTOLs (not counting the 2019 change, see below), and clearly gives bicyclists, who wish to exercise it, the most protection because it explicitly allows them to move away from the right edge anywhere a right hook could occur, even if the lane is wide. In states like AZ, you would have to rely on the implicit “as practicable” to protect yourself in the same way. Note also that in CA, in many urban areas with frequent driveways and intersections, this clause effectively completely neuters the FTR law.
So, neither the UVC nor the CA version of this exception makes it legal to proceed straight through a RTOL.
Delaware (2012) — The DE one, though, is different; it was a bill passed just in 2012, SB-120. Advocates for the bill say the new clause “… gives cyclists the ability to go straight in a turn lane” , eg. see bikede.org. Placing this clause inside an exception to their FTR law seems odd but I guess that’s ok. (as an aside: the same bill explicitly allows bicyclists to use paved shoulders — 4196(d) ”Any person operating a bicycle may ride upon a paved shoulder with due regard for any traffic control devices intended to regulate or guide traffic or pedestrians.” Some updated news from 1stbikes.org where it’s noted there are sample diagrams to be inserted into Delaware’s MUTCD.
California (2019) — AB1266 explained at calbike.org “(the bill allows) bicyclists to cross intersections straight ahead from the relative safety of a right or left turn lane.”; adds a new section, (e), to CVC 22101, to establish signage to allow bicyclists to go straight thru formerly turn-only lanes. It’s not clear to me why this law change is needed (e)(1) just states the obvious, it’s maybe just seen as a prod to the DOT to do something in (e)(2).
It’s worth noting that this new law does not alter CA’s unusual FTR exemption whenever a right turn is permitted whether or not it’s a turn-only lane… this is by far the most favorable and protective of cyclist safety.
Washington (2019) — SB5723 (a “Vulnerable user” law update), contains major reorganization of their AFRAP law RCW 46.61.770 ; and added a RTO exemption clause “When approaching an intersection where right turns are permitted and there is a dedicated right turn lane, in which case a person may operate a bicycle in this lane even if the operator does not intend to turn right”. It also adds some other verbiage, eg bike lanes and shoulders may be used by bicyclists.
[ UPDATES: this info is superseded by an article dedicated to the issues at/near Warner and Kyrene. Also note this area was completely overlaid in late 2016 at which time the striping was changed dramatically. ]
Continuous Bike Lane?
Here is Dan Gutierrez’s diagram of converting from dropped to continuous bike lane. So, the novelty here is that essentially he’s saying there techically is no RTO Lane, and traffic turning right merges into the BL in preparation for the turn. The bike lane is simply wider; in fact it’s as wide as the RTO would have been. The hitch is, as far as I can tell, that this is specific to CA because of the way they’ve explicitly written their manner of turning right statute which requires drivers to merge into the bike lane. The CA requirements are as far as I can tell very unusual; it’s not in AZ, nor is it in the UVC so don’t expect CA-style language anytime soon in other places. See here for a comparison of AZ, CA, and UVC.