The C is for Crank

Why All the Outrage Over Bike Boxes?

By Erica C. Barnett September 30, 2010

Yesterday afternoon, I spent 15 minutes on the air with KOMO Radio's Ken Schram, talking about what Schram called the "war on cars."

Before going on the radio, I prepped for a conversation about road diets, parking-meter fee hikes, and a proposed increase in the commercial parking tax---you know, the stuff downtown businesses and neighborhood associations are all worked up about. What I didn't anticipate: A rant from Schram (echoed by his fellow KOMO host Dori Monson, who ranted yesterday about "bike Nazis") about bike boxes, street markings that allow bikes to stop at intersections in front of cars.

Seattle's getting four bike boxes---one, already installed, at 12th and Pine, two at 12th and Madison, and one at 7th Ave. S. and S. Dearborn St. The "boxes" consist of green paint markings that direct cyclists to move in front of cars, preventing drivers from taking a right turn around cyclists (or into cyclists' paths).

Perhaps even more than "road diets," which replace driving lanes with bike lanes and add a turn lane for cars, the bike boxes have brought out anti-bike, pro-car contingent, which argues that it's unfair to make drivers wait for cyclists at red lights.

From the cyclist's point of view, of course, this is an asinine argument. First, the primary point of bike boxes is to make cyclists more visible to drivers. When drivers hit cyclists---and yes, cyclists do frequently get hit in right-hook accidents by inattentive drivers---the inevitable refrain is, "I didn't see her!" Bike boxes make drivers more likely to see us.

Second, cyclists already have the right to block cars in traffic. If I'm first at a traffic light, I'm allowed to take the lane---there's no law obligating me to scoot over when a car comes up behind me, any more than a driver is required to pull out of the way to let a car behind him pass.

Third, and most importantly: It isn't logically consistent to argue that cyclists should have to follow the rules of the road (AKA, act like a car) and that cyclists should have to get out of the way the instant a driver shows up on the scene. If you want me to ride on the right side, obey traffic laws, stop at stop lights, and stay off the sidewalk, it makes no sense to say I should move to the side---i.e., act like a pedestrian---the second I keep someone in a car from turning right.

Either cyclists are road users with all the rules and responsibilities that implies, or we aren't, and we should be allowed to break the rules but expected to cede most of the road to cars. You can't have it both ways.
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