There’s been a strategic breakthrough on the front lines of the American bike wars: This week, the Boston suburb of Cambridge mandated that protected cycling lanes be installed on all streets that are slated for reconstruction under existing city plans.
Passed by the city council on April 8, the ordinance appears to be the first of its kind in the U.S., and allows Cambridge—a dense university town that already has an unusually high share of bike commuters—to ascend into the ranks of the most progressive bicycling cities in the country. Local law now requires the city to erect vertical barriers between cyclists and cars on any roadway that’s rebuilt, expanded, or reconfigured under the Cambridge Bicycle Plan, a proposed 20-mile network of separated lanes, or the city’s five-year street and sidewalk plan. Only in “rare circumstances” where the city manager must cite physical or financial restraints will there be exceptions.
Life as a pedestrian, cyclist, or scootist in the Washington region can be a harrowing experience. Vehicles blocking crosswalks or standing in bike lanes are commonplace occurrences that put everyone at risk—especially those of us not protected by two tons of steel.
“They are being very clear that the bike lanes are there for people who are biking.”
he District Department of Transportation wants to make clear to drivers that the city’s bike lanes are not to be used for parking, or to pick up or drop off passengers; it also wants to leave no doubt about the rules for traffic enforcement officers.
Chiefly, they say, the lanes are for bike riders. Vehicles are not allowed to enter the lanes unless safely turning at an intersection, into a driveway or alley, or entering a legal parking space.
That means drivers are not allowed to move into the lanes to avoid conflict with other traffic. Taxis, Ubers and Lyfts are not permitted to pick up or drop off passengers there either. Commercial trucks should look elsewhere to load or unload merchandise.
Motor vehicles are allowed to stop in a bike lane only when necessary to enter a legal parking space or to follow the directions of a police officer, according to proposed revisions to existing city regulations.
The other evening as I worked in a coffee shop on a busy intersection at rush hour in Washington, DC, I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the number of drivers passing by that were looking down at their phones. Over the hour I watched, at least half of the drivers who were stopped at the red light looked down at their phone screens at least once, hurriedly scrolling and typing away, entirely oblivious to the fact that the light had turned green until they received a helpful honk from the car behind. When the light was green at least a quarter of those passing through were glancing down at their phones or fixated on some knob or dial on their console, glancing up only sporadically to see if the car ahead was braking. While driverless cars may eventually free us to spend our commutes entirely on our phones, in the meantime, could AI-powered traffic cameras finally rid of the dangers of distracted drivers?