The disappearing bike lane

Here’s a hazard you don’t run across every day: You are coming home from work, a bit weary, in the dark, and set about making a habitual left turn into a bike lane that … that … whoa, what’s that pair of headlights? Coming straight at me!

This happened Monday evening. I rode west on Fifth Avenue, past Fifth Street Market, as I often do. I approached the four-way stop at Pearl, right in front of Lucky Noodle, slowed and got ready to turn left onto Pearl.

Pearl, just south of Fifth, has that bike lane in the middle of the street, between the north and southbound vehicle lanes. I turned south, toward the bike lane. I do this all the time.

This is when I noticed the headlights. I quickly veered right, into the auto traffic lane. And then I pulled over and stopped to figure out what had just happened.

After some rough cocktail napkin calculations, I concluded that the bike lane that used to be here is gone. I returned to the scene the morning after. Here’s what it looks like:

In short, the bike lane has been redacted.

As you can see, this is because of the newly erected chain link fence on the left, which in turn is a consequence of the construction of Brian Obie’s new hotel at Fifth Street Market. So cars coming north are now forced into the space where the southbound bike lane used to be.

Apparently, I am not the only one who has been surprised by the disappearing bike lane. I had contacted the city to see if they know how long the fence will be up. I ended up talking to David Roth, associate transportation planner with the city Public Works Department.

He told me he had done the same thing on his bike a day or two before. In fact, at that point, he said the original striping was still there, which made it even more confusing to a cyclist heading down Pearl. He was the one who requested the bike lane be painted over in black.

He wasn’t sure how long the fence is going to be up, but the change is temporary, he said. The hotel is supposed to be finished by summer.

In the meantime, I just plan to “take the lane” here if I’m headed south on Pearl. Once you get halfway down the block toward Sixth Avenue, the fence goes away, the road opens up again and the bike lane returns. So then you can get back into the bike lane before you reach the light at Sixth.

Roth told me there is going to be a sign put up reminding motorists that cyclists are entitled to take the full lane. He said there was even talk of putting in temporary sharrows. Sharrows! But he didn’t know if that would happen.

Anyway, if you’re used to riding that bike lane, be careful.

12 thoughts on “The disappearing bike lane

  1. YES! Exact same thing happened to me in same spot. We train ourselves to aim for bike lanes in the quirkiest locations in this town, and then suddenly they vanish–but our habits are much harder to paint over! Gaaah.

  2. Isn’t the City obligated to put up some kind of signage stating that traffic lanes have been altered and to proceed with caution? Or a “Bikes Merge” warning?

  3. A good question here is why the northbound lane wasn’t closed for cars? I would wager there are more southbound cyclists and north & south bound pedestrians than cars on that route. Even if there are more cars they have High or Oak on either side of Pearl to travel North and this location is already an uncomfortable spot for cyclists as motorists back up on Pearl.
    The northbound lane could have (and should have) been turned into a space for pedestrians and cyclists.
    I hope we are able to discuss this at tomorrows BPAC meeting. If this is there through the summer we need a better fix.

    1. I can speak only for myself, but as a cyclist I think I’d have some reservations about starting to use the northbound traffic lane as a southbound bike lane — for one thing, I’d worry about cars coming out of the Fifth Street Market parking lot, not expecting a bike in that part of the road coming in that direction — and other possible confusion.

      But as to the broader point of your comment — that this is a heavily used bike lane, and that it may be worth discussing a better solution: Yes.

      1. I use this bike lane frequently and noted some issues with it before this resigning. Often cars would ignore the lane, which is strange in it’s left justification in the lane. I understand need to justify the lane on the left of Pearl as it goes further south, but it also puts riders into a door zone for passengers, who tend to be less focused on traffic flow. Further, I see it as an issue to have cyclists on the left side of traffic in terms of predictability, as in most bike lanes are on the right of traffic. Just observations, please feel free to reference my experiences.

        1. David,
          I agree with most of what you say here. I, too, have always thought the left-side bike lanes odd (the one on High St., too). But I’ve used them for a long time and haven’t had much problem. It’s sometimes awkward when a car is getting ready to turn left at a light — but maybe no more awkward than if you were on the right and a car was turning right.

          But, yeah, that door zone scares the hell out of me, too — between Broadway and 10th as you pass Mezza Luna and Sweet Basil and the bus station.

          I’ve actually started using Charnelton lately, which has a right-side bike lane. I have found it to be a bit quieter and more pleasant riding than Pearl — assuming it doesn’t send you too far out of your way to the west. (might write a little more about Charnelton in a coming post).

  4. I am generally opposed to bike lanes in principle. All lanes should be legally and customarily usable by bikes.

    I also am suspicious of the “sharrow” concept. I think it sends the message that roadways that do not have a sharrow need not be shared.

    And for those expecting the city of Eugene to do anything that makes sense for cycling (e.g., posting signs for changes in street lanes), you will have a long wait.

    1. I take your point about bike lanes — in principle. I’ve mentioned what I call the “Planet Zork” a time or two. Would be nice. But in practice, with the number of cars out there and streets like Coburg Road, I’ll have to opt for pragmatism over principle — or maybe I should say survival over principle.

      As for sharrows, yeah, I have the same thought about them. I’m skeptical, but we have so few around here, I can’t really speak from experience.

      Thanks for reading.

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