Monday, June 16, 2014

Believe it or not, N Harbor Dr just got more dangerous for bicycles, thanks to new bike lane

I had only ridden east (from Pt Loma toward downtown) on N Harbor Dr through the airport once before, I think it was around December 2012. I was still quite green to road cycling then and this group ride I joined took us through there. It was a horrible nightmare and I still don't know how all 8 or 9 of us survived that airport off-ramp merge just east of Harbor Island Dr. Navigating that merge across two fast moving lanes of traffic made Russian roulette seemed a safe and sane game by comparison.
Overhead view of the area. Bikes would be traveling on the dotted line... only to suddenly find ourselves in the middle of 4.5 lanes of fast traveling cars, with the 1.5 off-ramp lanes on the right trying to merge to our left.
Overhead shot of N Harbor Dr at Harbor Island Dr before bike lane (screenshot from Google Earth).
The merging area where the airport off-ramp merges to N Harbor Dr, before the new bike lane was put in.
After that episode I avoided riding through there on the way home from my Pt Loma rides, and when I do have to go to Downtown from Pt Loma I'd hop onto the sidewalk MUP (multi-use path) at the Harbor Island Dr intersection just to avoid that merge (and, yes, there are always some jerk cyclists riding way too fast and too close to pedestrians and runners on that stretch of the MUP. I guess when they get off their bike and into their car they turn into those drivers that pass other cyclists too fast and too close, too!).

Anyhow, last week a friend took me riding home from Pt Loma through N Harbor Dr again. We got to the Harbor Island Dr intersection and noticed there was now a buffered bike lane leading east on the road... and we got wondering if some new bike infrastructure had been put in to make it safe(r) to stay on the road through the dangerous merge... Naturally we made the mistake of, you know, getting on that buffered bike lane to check it out.
Heading east on N Harbor Dr approaching Harbor Island Dr. We would normally be hopping onto the MUP on the right sidewalk at this intersection.
But last weekend we spotted this... a new buffered bike lane telling us to stay on the road.
Heading east on N Harbor Dr buffered bike lane... Not seeing any warning sign for bikes or cars...
I took a few pics from the airport off-ramp underpass heading toward the merge, and I was looking out for some signs telling cyclists on the bike lane what was coming up ahead or telling the cars coming down the off-ramp to slow or to look for bikes on their left and to yield... or even a traffic light or stop sign that would be controlling the merging lanes' traffic flow. I didn't see anything...

Nope, not a single 'yield' or 'stop' or 'watch for bikes crossing from left' sign. Nothing...
And then there it was! The merge... No warning or caution or yield or stop sign for anyone. Nothing. The thin strip of traffic island that divided the buffered bike lane from the two lanes of airport off-ramp just ends, and the bike lane does this elbow turn to the right and just disappears into the crossing traffic lanes (the right one of which is merging left, so the cars are already preoccupied with making room for each other at that point. Who the heck would be expecting to have to look for any bicycle's sudden appearance on his LEFT??). I could see the buffered bike lane emerging again by the curb on the far side of traffic, but there isn't even a dotted set of line connecting one side to another.

My friend was somehow convinced that the airport off-ramp traffic had a 'yield' sign that they need to obey (if there is one, it must be way back up toward the top of the overpass 'cause I'm sure I didn't notice any in the last 100 yds or so) and just turned with the disappearing bike lane and went right across traffic. I don't know how, but he somehow made it across without getting hit. I had much less faith in drivers' ability to obey any yield sign (especially ones that I myself hadn't seen), so I slowed and the yellow car in the lane closest to me just blew by. The red car in the far right merging lane hesitated a bit before also blowing by... but there was a good little gap behind him that I could thread through if only the next car in the lane next to me would just go, but he didn't! He slowed to try to help me cross, which made it even more awkward 'cause the last thing I wanted was for him to slow and block me from view of the not-yielding car in the far right lane. People gets killed that way all the time! Luckily for me, tho, the car in far right lane had a sensible driver and he also slowed when he saw this other car slowed, and I managed it across. I was grateful for those drivers, but I couldn't be more mad at the traffic engineer who came up with this scenario if I had tried. Felt like I had just survived an assassination attempt!

I'm afraid I didn't taking any photo as I tried to survive the merge and right after it. I was far too busy cursing and wishing all sorts of ill stuff on whoever it was that designed that interchange for bikes. As a local I knew about this dangerous interchange and only ventured onto it last week because I was LURED into by the new bike lane. Otherwise I would have just gotten onto the sidewalk MUP and not be in conflict with any car at all. What are the chances for the tourists trying to get around town by bicycle who aren't familiar with the area at all?

If any cyclist gets hit by a car there and dies, the traffic engineer that designed that interchange ought to be charged with premeditated murder. Before this buffered bike lane was put in, at least cyclists finding ourselves suddenly in the middle of the traffic could just stay in the lane and take a while to merge to the curb. Now the bike lane wants us to suddenly do a 90 degree turn across 1.5 lanes of traffic that hasn't been told to look out for us... and we aren't even told to stop where the divider ends either. We're just supposed to roll along, turn right with the vanishing bike lane and somehow all those cars speeding down the airport off-ramp that's trying to merge left to the main road are supposed to totally miss us.

And to think that I have been told fairly recently by some car-centric morons that "bikes should just stay in the city and ride only in bike lanes"...

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Thanks for stopping by. Be safe on the roads!