bike lanes and light lanes

Some while back, BikinginLA set forth a long list of legislative changes that could make biking in Los Angeles a safer and more enjoyable experience. A couple of his suggestions bear on bike lanes: For example, requiring that streets with heavy traffic also provide bike lanes; or placing full responsibility for an accident occuring in a bike lane on the driver; requiring that bike lanes be maintained in their original condition; and (though it doesn’t always require a bike lane) stipulating that cars must leave three feet of clearance when passing bicycles.

But as anyone who’s spent time riding in the city knows, bike lanes are sometimes few and far between. To confine yourself to riding only in bike lanes is to consign yourself to riding in small circles in local communities (not exactly true, but still…). So with that in mind, I was recently struck (reading my friend Jordan’s blog) by an idea a couple of designers had: Rather than putting bicyclists in bike lanes, why not have bike lanes travel with cyclists?

As they note:

A close brush with a distracted driver is enough to intimidate the most avid bikers from riding at night. The problem isn’t just about visibility, as safety lights are effective at capturing the attention of a driver. However, these lights are typically constrained to the bike frame, which highlights only a fraction of the bike’s envelope. Bike lanes have proven to be an effective method of protecting cyclists on congested roads. One key is that the lane establishes a well defined boundary beyond the envelope of the bicycle, providing a greater margin of safety between the car and the cyclist. Yet, only a small fraction of streets have dedicated bike lanes, and with an installation cost of $5,000 to $50,000 per mile, we shouldn’t expect to find them everywhere anytime soon. Instead of adapting cycling to established bike lanes, the bike lane should adapt to the cyclists. This is the idea behind the LightLane. Our system projects a crisply defined virtual bike lane onto pavement, using a laser, providing the driver with a familiar boundary to avoid. With a wider margin of safety, bikers will regain their confidence to ride at night, making the bike a more viable commuting alternative.

At first glance, it’s a great idea, though I’m still not exactly sure how visible the lane would or could be. It might be most succesful in places where car traffic was moving slowly enough that cars would see bikes before they were close enough to pass; car traffic moving at high speed might just miss the light entirely in the process of blowing by. But my favorite part about the idea is the way in which it suggests that bikes have a larger envelope than the couple of inches surrounding their person and their bike. A light like this might go some ways towards asserting that bikers actually should have a right to something more.

(Thanks again to mere pixels for the link)

UPDATE (22 january): Bike Commuters went the extra distance and emailed the designers with some questions about the project. Their response ends with this fascinating comment:

It’s been truly remarkable to see the excitement that this concept has generated, especially considering it was just a fun quirky idea to begin with. What’s been equally interesting in my opinion is to see how the product has pushed the debate of who owns the roads. This well established debate has been a common point of discussion within my own family, and clearly the LightLane, nor any product, will solve it. Instead we hope that it connects with people in a new and fun way.

Please see the full response over at Bike Commuters.

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4 responses to “bike lanes and light lanes

  1. I JUST saw this on Trek’s lifestyle blog. I can’t figure out if it’s real or not…

  2. It seems real enough – I mean, I don’t think there’s actual a real light that does this, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable and viable idea. Looking at the original blog, it looks like a design company and not a bike company. So real idea? Yes. Actually real in the way that we could buy it? I don’t think so.

  3. “For now, the idea exists only on paper but the duo has received so much positive feedback, they are planning to build a prototype.”

    -from Streetsblog

  4. Prototyped in May 2009:

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