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Bike Boxes Stoke Motorist Resentment in Seattle

11:00 AM EDT on October 1, 2010

Changes to the street often have a way of irritating people who were accustomed to the way things used to be, but sometimes it's surprising how seemingly minor changes can set off an angry response. In Seattle, the city's installation of bike boxes -- painted street markings that let cyclists advance to the front of an intersection and make safer turns when red lights turn green -- has prompted complaints from those who think the road belongs to the users with the most horsepower.

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Erica C. Barnett of Network blog Publicola reports on her recent appearance on KOMO radio, where the subject of the segment was "the war on cars":

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.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Kaid Benfield at NRDC's Switchboard takes a stand against massive urban demolitions in shrinking cities. The Rails to Trails Conservancy reports $580 million has been cut from bicycle and pedestrian projects nationally due to rescissions. And World Changing ponders the future of the city of Seattle from the perspective of sustainability.

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