Downtown Cedar Rapids bike lanes still confusing drivers, cyclists

When in doubt, expert says, yield to bikes and slow-moving traffic

One of three groups of cyclists set out for a ride during a Meet Me at the Market program entitled
One of three groups of cyclists set out for a ride during a Meet Me at the Market program entitled "introduction to Cedar Rapids Bike Lanes" at the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, September 12, 2013. The event included a 2.5 mile bike ride through parts of downtown. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Chris Bevauns often rides her bike through downtown Cedar Rapids on her way to Coe College. She admits, however, she often forgoes the bike lane and sticks to the sidewalk.

“I know you’re not supposed to do that as a biker, but I feel much safer than going in a bike lane,” the 43-year-old said.

Over the past two years, the city has established bike lanes in the downtown area along Third Avenue, Second Avenue, Fourth Avenue and and Third Street. Community members have noticed the lanes, but some say they’re a bit leery of how to properly maneuver the additional lanes and its occupants.

“I come from both sides of it,” Bevauns said. “I don’t know how to use the lane as a driver, and I’m not sure how to use the lanes as a biker.”

Iowa code states cyclists should generally be treated as any other vehicle on the road and are subjected to the same laws as motorists.

Cities and states must follow federal guidelines to create a bike lane, as detailed in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Devices.

"So that when you go from one state to another, or one city to another, the signs look the same. The signs look the same and the traffic lights look the same," said Milly Ortiz, Iowa Department of Transportation bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. "That's why it's uniform across the nation.”

All bike lanes must have a white line separating the lane from the vehicle lanes and be accompanied by either bike signs or road markings and be a minimum of five feet, Ortiz said. Length can vary as street engineers take into account parking and sewer placements.

Scott Hamlin, Cedar Rapids engineering technician, said the bike lane on Third Avenue is wider than five feet, and officials are working to adjust it.

However, despite the uniformity and signs, Bevauns said she and others still feel unsure about situations like right-of-way and wish there was more information available for the public.

Mark Wyatt, Iowa Bicycle Coalition executive director, said when in doubt, it's always best for a motorist to yield to bikes and slower moving traffic and allow them to pass.

“I think sometimes drivers think it’s natural to pass the bike at the speed they’re moving, but the correct thing to do is slow down first and figure out when it’s safe to pass,” he said. “That may be one of the biggest keys.”

But what about turning? Hamlin said the city has two types of bike lanes. In one, a car can cross into the bike lane to turn right. Another type is where a right turn lane that cars and bikes both share. Each type has markings to notify cyclists and drivers.

Wyatt said when a cyclist wants to turn left from the bike lane, they should be prepared to signal three times as they cross from the bike lane and move towards the center of the road to turn left. They shouldn't turn left at an intersection from the bike lane.

Wyatt said both cyclists and drivers need to be aware of everyone on the road, and more cyclists on the road increases the safety for everyone."I think it's patience across the board, as things become more intuitive over time," Wyatt said. "It becomes a moment of patience, whether or not they're in the bike lane, slowing down a little bit helps everyone."

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