A day in the life of a bicycle lane

At the moment, I'm lying here between the paved traffic lane and the gravel shoulder, staying cool until the sun warms me up. During the hot day, most vehicles pass me by without giving me so much as a wink. I prefer to think that's because they really don't appreciate my importance.

I am a rather nondescript entity, just a strip of pavement on either side of the roadway, typically bordered with solid white stripes eight inches wide, with an occasional stenciled outline of a bicycle.

Each day my peace and quiet is interrupted by a noisy onslaught of vehicle traffic, usually far too close for comfort. Adding insult to injury, those car and truck tires generate a "sweeping" effect that pushes all kinds of debris onto my surface. It's terribly humiliating to be covered with grit, broken glass, syringes, cans, dead animals (peeuw — they stink!), plastic sacks of garbage, nails, screws, bolts, staples, and much more. It's a wonder cyclists are willing to ride on me when I look like this.

Other things that ruin my day are parked cars and garbage cans lined up along me blocking my route, loose gravel from intersections and driveways thrown onto my surface, and clumps of dried mud dropped by tractors.

I don't want to sound like a grouchy old fuddy duddy, but life is tough when I can't achieve my reason for being: safety for bicyclists.

There are some bright spots in my life, of course.

Occasionally, a street sweeper cheers me up by clearing all the debris from my surface. Man, does that make me feel like a million bucks.

The best part of my day is when a bicyclist quietly cruises down my mid-section, treating me with proper respect and appreciating my function within the transportation system. I like to think I provide them a safe refuge amongst the motorized beasts that cruise my shoulder.

My official title is "bicycle lane." According to Oregon Statute 801.155, that means I'm part of the highway. I'm adjacent to the roadway, designated by official signs or markings, for use by persons riding bicycles, except as otherwise specifically provided by law.

Some motorists confuse me with my cousin, the road shoulder. Oregon Statute 801.480 describes "Shoulder" as the portion of a highway, whether paved or unpaved, contiguous to the roadway that is primarily for use by pedestrians, for the accommodation of stopped vehicles, for emergency use and for lateral support of base and surface courses. [1983 c.338 §88].

You see, my cousin and I are quite different. Although you often see cyclists riding on my cousin's surface area, it wasn't really designed for safe cycling.

I'm so special there are laws that pertain specifically to me (It gives me a fat head sometimes). Look at this one: "A person commits the offense of failure of a motor vehicle operator to yield to a rider on a bicycle lane if the person is operating a motor vehicle and the person does not yield the right of way to a person operating a bicycle, electric assisted bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, moped, motor assisted scooter or motorized wheelchair upon a bicycle lane" (Oregon Statute 811.050: Failure to yield to rider on bicycle lane).

My size varies, depending on where I've been built. The Oregon Department of Transportation requires me to be six feet wide if I'm a standard bike lane. However, I can be narrower (4 feet) when there are open shoulders or (5 feet) when I'm against A curb, guardrail or parked cars. In the city of Medford I vary from four feet to six feet wide depending on the classification of the street.

Ten years ago I was restricted to only a few streets and highways in the Rogue Valley. Now, I'm getting more respect, and am showing up in a lot of really cool places. I think I need to thank the city, county and state transportation planners for recognizing that I make the world safer for both bicyclists and motorists.

I also know that I greet a lot more cyclists cruising on my backbone than I used to. Must be a sign of the times, or maybe gas prices. Hey, the other day, I even got a car to wink at me. Life's not so bad you know. We all have a purpose. Mine is to help bicyclists and motorists share the road and respect each other.

Hope to see some of you two-wheelers on my surface soon!

Bicycling enthusiast Bob Korfhage of Phoenix is a former president of Siskiyou Velo bicycle club.

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