This picture sparked a lengthy debate between a bike advocate friend and I, this morning. The picture, posted by another friend to Facebook, shows a bicyclist in Fremont reporting a delivery truck parked illegally in the counter-flow bike lane on 34th St in front of the PCC grocery store.
My initial reaction--which was less thoughtful than my friend's, admittedly--was that the picture encapsulates the unfortunate stereotypes of the self-righteous advocate. A bicyclist stops riding in order to whip out the cell phone and take traffic enforcement into their own hands. Cars drive less than 10 mph on that block of 34th and it would be safe to cut into the car lane and ride around the truck, so why waste energy getting worked up over the small stuff?
My friend, possessing greater clarity on the issue than me, argued that the situation was indicative of the larger problems: bikes are marginalized and enforcement is lax at best. In the end I had to humbly agree with him. Though this particular lane-blocking truck might not be that big a deal, it turns out it's just one of many examples of cars and trucks parking in bike lanes. My friend sent me this one of a cop car in the same spot on 34th (I'd like to hope that the parking enforcement 3-wheeler was there to give her a ticket, but I've got my doubts):
A 'Cola reader sent this picture a few days ago of trucks blocking the bulk of a bike lane on Western Ave. It is partially a design issue since the trucks are too wide for the parking lane, but there are two trucks blocking the lane, nonetheless:
I have seen plenty of trucks and cars idling in the bike lanes on 2nd Ave downtown, and just the other day I saw a car driving down the new buffered lanes on 7th Ave for twenty yards before making a right-hand turn. I'm sure every bicyclist in Seattle has their own accounts of similar situations.
Biking in the city poses enough problems as is. For a new rider, negotiating trucks and cars blocking the already-limited bike facilities is difficult at best and in certain cases (with more and faster cars) dangerous. It gets said over and over (because it's true), but in order for bicycling to grow as a form of transportation, it needs to feel safe and easy for everyone.
This is primarily an issue of enforcement. In the grand scheme, bicycle infrastructure is still relatively new, so education factors in to some extent as well. But the double-yellow line and "No Parking Anytime" sign are pretty good indicators that you're not in a parking spot. Obviously parking enforcement officers are not able to catch every vehicle blocking the bike lanes. I'd guess that they don't more times than not, since people don't usually stay in their illegal parking spots for too long. Which brings me back to the phone-wielding bicyclist.
In retrospect, I'm glad she reported that truck. I don't know if anything actually came of it, but if the driver got a ticket because of it they're going to be less likely to park in bike lanes in the future. I still don't think it's ever worth getting overly worked up about cars and trucks in bike lanes. The only thing less persuasive than self-righteousness is anger. But, expanded parking enforcement isn't likely to happen anytime soon, so there's real merit in bicyclists taking the initiative if it can ultimately make riding safer and easier.