Monday, 6 February 2012

Bike boxes

As part of recent amendments to the Australian Road Rules, something called a "bicycle storage area" appeared in them. It took me a while to work out what was meant by that. For a while I thought it was one of those little lay-bys that are on certain four lane roads that are designed for cyclists to sit in, turn their head 180 degrees like an owl and wait until the coast is clear before turning right:

It turns out that they are what are known elsewhere as bike boxes. I understand four are planned for Adelaide CBD. One is on the corner of Rundle Street and Pulteney Street next to the scramble crossing:

In theory, the idea is pretty good. If it is connected to a bike lane, it allows cyclists to get past all the stationary traffic and make themselves nice and visible. Alternatively, you might think it's an easy way for cyclists to say to motorists, "hey, look at my arse". Like I say though, they work best when they are connected to a bike lane. The one on Rundle Street is - sort of:

While the idea behind them is admirable, they do suffer from a couple of problems. If they are installed with no other traffic treatments, the cyclist suffers from being intimidated by a line of cars leaving the intersection at the same time as them. A motorist may believe that the cyclist has cheated a little by moving to the front of the line of traffic. They would be wrong of course but they may be even more upset at what they perceive to be the audacity of the cyclist in then plonking him or herself right in front of their car for no apparent reason. The bike box allows that of course but the motorist may still wonder why, especially if after the intersection is a continuing bike lane to the left of them. You might wonder why the cyclist needed to sit in front of them at all.

Another problem is what happens after the bike box. In the case of the Rundle Street bike box, if the cyclist turns left, this happens:

One block beyond the truck (which admittedly is not always there) is a door zone bike lane that is designed primarily to protect parked cars from moving traffic. However, if they turn right (and they have to get across 4 lines of traffic travelling in that direction), there is nothing for them:

It is a very wide arc turning right there and cars can pick up a fair bit of speed. If they are doing so behind a cyclists who took their position right in the middle of the bike box, it could well be intimidating. Bike boxes can be seen in North America and judging by posts on blogs like At War With The Motorist and As Easy As Riding A Bike, they are also appearing across London. They're not so common in Europe though. That does not mean of course that they are the wrong way to go about things but I do think they suffer from the two shortcomings I have mentioned. A possible improvement would be separate lights for cyclists that allow them to leave the bike box and get across the intersection to the safety of a decent bike lane before any cars are allowed to start moving.

Better still, follow these instructions:


  1. A few bike boxes have started to appear around Perth. I haven't used one yet. I suppose they might be helpful to get across to the right hand lane but when I turn right on busy inner-city intersections my technique is usually to not be in front. As I approach the intersection I take the lane and join the queue of cars waiting to turn. I sit back in line and wait in the line of cars because it means that less cars will be trying to push past me as I make the turn and get over to the left in the new street. If I had make a turn at that four-lane sea of bitumen in your photo would also be worried about the speed of vehicles coming behind.
    Surely Adelaide doesn't need a four lanes of motor traffic in the CBD. It looks like a freeway. How about two lanes, a row of trees and a 3 metre wide cycle lane instead.

  2. That would be a dream. As you can see, there is plenty of room for it. However reclaiming even a bit of space from cars is so much more difficult than you would imagine.