Entitlement on bike routes?

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Off BroadwayEarlier this week, an upset cyclist turned to me as we were riding along the Off-Broadway bike route and asked, indignantly, “Don’t bikes have priority on the bike routes?”

It turns out that she had approached the intersection at Hemlock and 7th and pushed the bike-button on the side of the road. This is one of my least favourite intersections as it has one of those makes-no-sense configurations: Stop signs east/west on the bike route and a flashing green light on Hemlock north/south.

Anyone in Vancouver will recognize this as a typical “pedestrian-controlled intersection,” and I think that it borders on negligence to have them on this part of the bike route.

At any rate, the woman rode up along 7th Ave, pushed the bike-button and waited for the light to turn. A motorist pulled up beside her and also waited for the light to turn. When the light turned, the motorist turned right, crossing the path of the cyclist: a typical “right-hook.” No one was hurt, words were exchanged, and the cyclist moved on to the next intersection with much more adrenaline than she had 2 minutes earlier.

I didn’t see the “interaction,” but this is a typical event at this intersection. But the question intrigued me. The cyclist felt that since it was a bike route, all other types of vehicles should yield to the bikes. She felt that the motorist shouldn’t have passed her in the first place, and certainly shouldn’t have turned in front of her.

Although sympathetic to what had happened, I had to disagree with her on most points. I agreed that the motorist shouldn’t have turned in front of her like that. But otherwise I felt she was mistaken.

Bikes on bike routes have to obey the same traffic laws as the rest of traffic. A bike route is just a street that has more signs, traffic calming, and bicycle-oriented traffic controls. The speed limit on bike routes in Vancouver is 30 km/h, but I doubt you’ll find anyone who a) knows that, or b) obeys that.

To avoid conflicts with other vehicles on the bike routes there are some simple things you can do. First, ride predictably and according to the rules of the road. Next, take your lane. Ride more than a door-length from the parked cars and don’t weave in and out as parked cars come and go. Yes, this will put you in the middle of the lane. You’re safer there. You might even hold up some vehicular traffic. Tough, they’re the ones riding on routes intended to make things easier for bikes.

At stop lights and those silly pedestrian-controlled intersections, it’s a bit more difficult, particularly if you need to push the bike-button. The bike-button puts you right at the curb and opens you up to the same sort of situation the woman encountered. I will often push the bike-button and then move myself closer to the centre of the lane, or forward to impede the right-hook.

If there’s already traffic lined up at the light, it’s even more confusing because if you (or a pedestrian) don’t push that button then no one’s getting across. But you’re not supposed to come up along the right side of vehicles! If it’s clear no one has pushed the button, I will ride up on the inside so I can push the button. If someone has pushed the button, though, I happily queue in behind the line of waiting vehicles.

Common sense and defensive driving should prevail, though. If there’s a vehicle beside you at an intersection, make sure you know the motorist’s intentions before putting yourself in the path of 2 tonnes of steel and metal. Make eye contact. Watch the front wheels. Even if you have right-of-way, yield if it’s at all possible that the motorist is going to disregard that.

Bike routes are places where motorists should expect to find bikes, but in the end, bikes are just another vehicle on the road.


On an unrelated note, the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC) has changed its name. In an effort to “… refresh its image and broaden its perceived reach as a central organization for programming, advocacy and engagement across the entire Metro Vancouver region” it has renamed itself “HUB: Your Cycling Connection.”

Last modified: April 30, 2012

7 Responses to " Entitlement on bike routes? "

  1. Ian says:

    Great article. I completely agree.

  2. Diana says:

    I think I probably do feel a little bit of entitlement on bike routes. For the same reason most people don’t agree with bicycles dipsy-doodling along main roads like Broadway or 4th, etc. I don’t agree with cars zipping along designated bike routes as a means to avoid traffic. Bike routes aren’t there for cars, they’re for bikes! I think more traffic calming measures should be put in place and enforced to keep these routes safer for cyclists. If I’m just going to see lots of car traffic along bike routes, why shouldn’t I just bike along the main roads then?

  3. Gaylin says:

    As a long-time pedestrian in Vancouver, I wish more cyclists would obey the rules of the road, I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly been hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk, trying to walk safely at times is difficult!

  4. S. Morris Rose says:

    Seems like you don’t quite accept your own thesis. Riding more than a car door away from parked vehicles is a great idea, but it’s no less a great idea off a bike route as it is on one. It’s quite simply the only way to ride safely regardless. As for the larger point that a bike route offers on special rights or privileges, there can be no argument.

  5. Phil says:

    Another great article. “Right hook”, love it.
    I live down the street from the hemlock/10th intersection and, yes, it is a hellish one. The wait for a walk signal is long, and the signal itself is one of the shortest I’ve encountered in the city.
    On a side note, this article reminded me of how important simply going out and riding as often as you can (or desire to) is great for cycling in Vancouver. I use 10th extensively and always try to when I head east/west in Vancouver – the more cyclists on this route the more drivers will be discouraged from driving it. Anthony, I’ve been thinking about your article you wrote a while back on cyclists riding on arterials – I’m baffled to see riders navigate across Granville down broadway when 10th is one street over. Perhaps it’s just new riders, unbeknownst.

  6. Wayne says:

    >I will often push the bike-button and then move myself closer to the centre of the lane, or forward to impede the right-hook.

    Absolutely! It’s the only safe thing to do. I never understand why a cyclist would want to stay on the RHS and leave themselves open to that risk. I suspect that right-turning car drivers appreciate the unambiguity of my positioning (though that’s almost irrelevant), although any advantage for them is cancelled out when a cyclist sits there next to the bike-button anyway, meaning that between us we block any potential right turning car.

  7. Bill Barilko says:

    Passive/aggressive never gets anyone far in traffic-it might get them run over though.