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The Solo Cup Bike Lane

August 20, 2012

Inspired by Ian Dutton’s Guerilla Bike Lane, I started to think about other, more basic ways to separate drivers from cyclists in the city.  Plastic delineators are nice, and a row of parked cars is even better, but sometimes all it takes is very simple approach.  Some bike lanes can be separated from car lanes by little more than a raised curb and be quite effective.  While such a design isn’t going to stop an out-of-control driver from crashing into cyclists or pedestrians, it can deter motorists from parking in the bike lane, with a few notable exceptions.

A few weeks ago I had plans to meet a friend in Greenpoint.  Before I left I remembered that while the Kent Avenue bike lane is perhaps the gold standard of protected cycling infrastructure in the city, the physical separation switches to a mere painted buffer after North 13th Street.  At North 14th Street, where Kent turns into Franklin Street, even the green paint disappears.  I also remembered that Franklin Street is a favorite resting spot of livery car drivers and truckers who frequently park their vehicles in the bike lane and wide buffer.  It’s not an exact match of the location where the bike lane switches from protected to buffered, but this screen grap from Google Maps shows a garbage truck parked in the Franklin Street bike lane:

The Guerilla Bike Lane on Bergen Street relied on some leftover plastic delineators, but since I wasn’t likely to happen upon such tools by chance–and definitely wasn’t about to haul a dozen of them on my rear rack–I decided to bring about as basic a “delineator” as I could find: plastic cups.  In addition to their small size and low cost, they offered some other advantages:

  1. The red color would make them more visible against white thermoplastic and black pavement.
  2. They could be easily driven over by a fire truck or other emergency vehicle.
  3. If hit by a car, the only damage would be to the cups.

So, armed with a stack of cups and a roll of duct tape, I set out for Franklin Street and stopped shortly after North 14th Street.  There, I set up this makeshift bike lane:

I stuck around to see how well it would stand up to traffic, which was light of both bicycles and motor vehicles.  But what traffic there was tended to respect the bike lane, at least for awhile:

In fact, the cups seemed to be doing such a good job that one rider cruised by hands-free before tucking back down on his handlebars just at the end of the buffer.  

James Schwartz of The Urban Country had similar results when he and Dave Meslin of the Toronto Cyclists Union created the “Trashy Bike Lane” to show how a simple new street design could improve safety at a location where a pregnant woman had been crushed by a truck while on her way to pick up her son at school.

After monitoring the bike lane for a little while and seeing no incursions by motor vehicles, I left to meet my friend.  A more direct route to my daughter’s daycare meant that I didn’t take Franklin Street home, so I never got to check on the cups.  I doubt they survived very long, since they eventually would have been crushed by a drifting driver, knocked over by a poorly executed bike slalomer, or swept up by a sanitation truck.  But while using red Solo Cups may inspire a few jokes about Brooklyn hipsters and bike lane versions of beer pong, my little experiment did provide at least a modicum of evidence that very basic forms of separation can make big differences when it comes to defining road space for different users.

  1. D Bennett permalink
    August 21, 2012 12:15 am

    As much as I applaude the creative thinking and the time spent in research, I would have hoped you would have cleaned up the cups…

  2. Opus the Poet permalink
    August 22, 2012 1:21 pm

    You didn’t “create” a bike lane here, what you did was demonstrate that raised lane markers were better respected than paint alone. I would submit this bit off “research” to your local DOT to request that raised markers be included in all future buffered bike lanes.

    And good job!

    • August 22, 2012 2:41 pm

      True enough. I may have internalized some sort of urban-design-related existential angst: does a bike lane exist if a driver can park or drive on it? Ceci n’est pas une bike lane, I guess.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. Jojo Munkey permalink
    August 27, 2012 8:51 am

    Thanks for littering – I’m sure your local DOT appreciates your “efforts.”

    • Dot permalink
      August 28, 2012 2:04 pm

      It’s not litter, it’s “art.”


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