Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Leading cyclists in the wrong direction

Last week on the way to work, I saw a friend who was also commuting by bike. A couple days later, I talked with him on the phone and found that he rides to work pretty often. Why hadn't I seen him before? Because our paths diverge just north of Victory Drive. He joins the northbound Lincoln Street while I remain on Habersham Street.

He asked why I didn't follow the bike route and my answer was simple: wrong-way cyclists. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Lincoln Street bicycle lane is on the left side of a northbound one-way street. Because it's the only marked bicycle lane in downtown Savannah, it naturally attracts cyclists and even those who need to go south. This forces them to ride against automobile traffic, which seems particularly dangerous at cross streets where motorists look for traffic originating from the south, but not necessarily the north.

It also requires northbound cyclists to play chicken with their southbound counterparts, which is why I steer clear of it all together. Here's one of the obstacles that I'd have to negotiate on my daily commute, if I used Lincoln Street. Add in a southbound cyclist nearing the tree at the same time and the game of chicken becomes even more exciting.

And, as the following photograph suggests, the bicycle lane provides very convenient parking for motorists.

The bicycle lane terminates at the intersection of Liberty Street, at which even law-abiding northbound bicyclists find themselves instantly on the wrong side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. (Lincoln becomes a two way street at this point). Turning right onto Liberty Street also presents problems for the northbound cyclist at this busy intersection.

But perhaps I'm making too much of this wrong-way cyclist thing.

Lincoln Street does have some advantages. First, there are stop signs at the intersections of Anderson and Henry streets. This would probably make my commute quicker, as I would not have to wait for the traffic signals to change as I do on Habersham Street. This, by the way, seems to make motorists very uneasy. I suppose they are so used to seeing bicyclists blow the lights that they are freaked out when I don't.

Finally, there is something to be said for the idea of strength in numbers. Because Lincoln Street is popular with cyclists, perhaps motorists are more used to seeing them on the road. I am considering using Lincoln Street on my morning commute. Because I'm convinced riding against traffic is a terrible idea, I'll keep using Habersham Street on the way home. Anyone else out there have experience using "one-way" bike routes?