An omnibus in the bike lane: new blocking rule

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was good news for people who bike when new bike lanes were added to Victoria St. However at busy times, the lanes approaching Ghuznee St and Vivian St are often blocked by vehicles attempting to reach the left turn lane, but not quite making it. The same situation also occurs at the Featherston St/Bunny St intersection.

Here’s where the Omnibus comes to the rescue – not a real people mover, but the Land Transport Rule: Omnibus Amendment 2016This put together a number of changes (the “omnibus”) to the Land Transport rules that govern our roads. The amendments include one relating to blocking cycle lanes: “a driver (other than a cyclist) approaching an intersection or an area controlled by traffic signals must not enter a cycle lane if the driver’s intended passage or exit from that cycle lane is blocked by stationary traffic.” (Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 4.5(3), to be technical)

Why is this rule important?  It’s not just because vehicles blocking the cycle lane hold bikes up, but because the bike lane gives people a space where they can feel safe on bikes. Having vehicles intrude into this space makes it feel less safe, and makes biking less attractive. Less biking means more congestion, to the detriment of people who need to drive cars.

The new rule came into force on 1 December. How should people driving motor vehicles and riding bikes adapt to the new rule?

If you’re driving a motor vehicle, and need to turn left across a bike lane to get to the left turning lane:

  • Indicate that you wish to turn
  • Check there is space for your vehicle in the left turning lane
  • Check that there isn’t a bike approaching in the bike lane
  • If there is a bike approaching, wait till it is safe to cross the bike lane. Don’t worry that other vehicles may be held up behind you. Straight ahead vehicles have the option of using one of the other lanes, and in any case it’s better to hold up other vehicles for a few seconds than to endanger yourself or people on bikes. Bikes need the bike lane to access the advance stop boxes at the intersection, which helps them to move off safely without holding up other traffic.
  • When it’s safe to move into the left turn lane without blocking the bike lane, do so.
  • When you make the left turn, avoid swinging into the bike lane.
  • If you are caught blocking the cycle lane, you could pay $150 towards improving road safety (aka a “fine”).

If you’re riding a bike on the bike lane  between a left turning lane and a straight through lane:

  • Be tolerant – a vehicle may be blocking the lane because of an unexpected change in traffic flow
  • Give a cheery wave to drivers who wait for you to come through on the bike lane.
  • Avoid remonstrating with drivers, or banging bodywork, even though this is tempting. This reinforces the image of the “aggressive cyclist”, and could put you in danger if the driver reacts badly. Worse still, the driver could be your next door neighbor 🙂
  • If the bike lane is blocked, signal right and move cautiously to filter around the blockage. If the lights change and the traffic starts moving, hold your lane and move with the traffic until it’s safe to return to the bike lane.

Incidentally there are other rule changes that affect biking: making it clearer how bikes and cycle lanes should pass through intersections, allowing vehicles to pass bikes using a flush median (the hashed painted areas in the centre of some roads, e.g. Greta Point), formally recognising sharrows, allowing (actual) buses to use cycle lanes when dropping off and picking up passengers, and extending the time during which bike lights should be used. These relatively small changes will make it safer and more attractive to travel by bike. Other changes are in the pipeline.