Letters 3-4-14


Bicycle lanes are dangerous setting

The recent front page article on the Queen Kaahumanu bike lanes could not have had a more apt headline. They are indeed “a formula for disaster.” I’ve been a bicyclist (recreational) for a half century and, even considering my years cycling the bus- and taxi-laden canyons of Manhattan, I cannot recall a more dangerous setting than these lanes between Makala Boulevard and Henry Street. I would note that just because something is “the standard” doesn’t mean it’s intelligent or appropriate.

The danger of having cars and trucks passing you on both sides, often at more than double your speed, while they are necessarily attending to other motorists (mostly in their side view mirrors) as they attempt to enter/exit the highway is obvious to most. The obviousness of the danger is likely the very reason that more cyclists haven’t been seriously injured or killed. A vast majority of us avoid using them like we would avoid jumping into the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. In an ironic Catch 22, the very rarity of bicyclists occupying these lanes adds to their danger. Area motorists are simply not accustomed to seeing bikers there. We are usually on the far right of a traffic lane (or on the shoulder) on all other local streets and roads.

Even for cyclists using a rear view mirror and seeing danger approaching from the rear, being between two merging traffic lanes on a highway makes escaping to a safer area almost impossible.

So, other than constructing a completely grade separated bicycle path, which is very pricey, what are some ways that we can mitigate the risk of this “resource” the state Department of Transportation has provided? I would recommend two, for starters. First, a significant density of caution signs for motorists approaching the zone in question, as well as on the entry streets to the area. Secondly, a bold — possibly neon green or orange and at least 12 inch wide — striping on both sides of the bike lane could help improve motorist awareness of the possible presence of bicyclists where they may not normally be expected. I respectfully have doubts about Franz Weber’s suggestions of raising the lane or installing raised markers as these have the potential of control issues for less experienced cyclists if their tires strike them at the wrong angle.

Until these lanes are improved, any bicyclists considering using them should be extremely attentive to vehicles approaching them from behind — on both their left and right. Also wear the brightest colors you can find.

Finally, avoid riding into a low angle sun; it virtually eliminates your visibility to motorists approaching you from behind.

May there always be safe days and miles ahead of us.

Eugene Schmitz

Kailua-Kona