As a confirmed bike lane agnostic, and one who has previously expressed some unease with the way we do 'Copenhagen-style' bike lanes in Melbourne, I don't share BV's enthusiastic support for the separated bike lanes in Albert St. In fact, since these lanes were installed I've been looking to avoid Albert St altogether, even heading over to the busier Victoria Parade to seek an alternative route.
Here are a few of my concerns:
Firstly, the south (in-bound) side of Albert St is probably a reasonably OK candidate for a separated lane, at least alongside the parks and St Pat's where there are few entry points for vehicles—a long uninterrupted run is a better location for a separated lane.
However, this isn't the case on the north (out-bound) side where there are many minor entry points (laneways and driveways). The textured green paint helps to cue drivers to stop and look, but it's not a guarantee that they will. Incidentally, this is on a downhill incline where riders of all abilities will tend to pick up speed.
That aside, like the installation in the upper end of Swanston St, I'm utterly baffled as to why this particular stretch of road needed a separated bike lane at all. Prior to this installation, I always found this to be a pretty safe street—two traffic lanes kept the cars moving, leaving an empty parking lane almost exclusively for bikes during clearway times. And the traffic is not so heavy at other times that I ever felt threatened mixing it up in the main traffic flow.
As if to highlight the questionable need for the Albert St bike lane, I wonder why this lane stops at Gisborne St? The road layout between Gisborne St and Nicholson St is unchanged, but if the bike lane design is so good, why doesn't it continue all the way to Nicholson St?
I intensely dislike the way that riders are dumped from behind a line of parked cars into a turning lane. This guarantees conflict by design, and I've already seen a few close calls in the turning lanes. Of course, this is seen in other Copenhagen-style lanes—including those in Copenhagen (see this Copenhagen bike lane become a turning lane at about 25 sec):
Just because that's the way they do it in Copenhagen doesn't make it right or safe. Interestingly, BV's own 'promotional' video for the new lanes (recorded in June—no lane paint, no poles) mysteriously skips a part of the lane where this conflict occurs, even without the line of parked cars (note jump cut at 39 sec mark as the riders approach the Lansdowne St intersection):
On the flip side, I have seen cars parked beyond the clearway times, and one-lane out from the curb is not where drivers expect to see parked cars. Forget the lines, surface paint and poles—you can't see that stuff in the dark, and it just looks like cars are parked in the middle of the road. That must be dead scary for drivers coming over the rise near St Pat's. I've seen a few close calls down that hill already—actual collisions seem likely.
And finally, at the risk of sounding churlish, you can't get away from the possible conflicts with drivers crossing back and forth to the parking ticket machines. Sure it sounds trivial, but it's a completely avoidable conflict that didn't exist before these lanes went it. We need to ride carefully, but if someone is struck by a bike in these lanes it will at least partly be because unnecessary pedestrian-bicycle conflict has been designed-in to them.
Smooth moves prevented
Being able to smoothly merge into the right-hand lane in advance of making a right-turn used to be one of the pleasures of using Albert St. This option is now largely cut-off, as a rider is pretty much obliged to take the bike lane and becomes trapped behind a wall of parked cars or (during clearway times) must slalom through the row of flexi-poles and across the rumble-strip to access the main traffic lanes.
The alternative is to dart across two traffic lanes where the bike lane ends close to the intersection (the quick and dangerous option) or to make a hook-turn (i.e. right turn from the left) after the change of lights (the safer but considerably slower option).
There's nothing wrong with a good hack—some creative thinking happens when a hack is required. And then there are crappy, ugly hacks—those flexi-poles qualify as one of the latter kind.
I can't see them on the original plan (or are they those unlabelled dots?) and it seems that they have been installed as a lazy afterthought. I'm sure they help to keep the cars aligned into the parking lane, but I don't fancy a high-speed (or even moderate-speed) impact with one of them.
There are real downsides in forcing bikes right into the gutter lane:
it's where all the crap from the road tends to accumulate—to date there's not much evidence that the Council is doing much about sweeping the lanes, and I doubt that the new poles will make it any easier to keep the lanes clean;
there's the lovely heritage bluestone guttering itself, which reduces the effective lane width (OK, not by much);
but the king-hit is hazards like this (which can also be seen in BV's video above at 27 sec):
How can they paint green textured paint around this and just leave it like that? Sure, I've seen worse but it's not what you expect in something masquerading as a bike lane.
A better option?
By way of contrast, here's the bike lane in nearby Clarendon St:
I'm no road engineer but I presume (assuming we need a dedicated bike lane in Abert St at all) that there was a good reason why this model couldn't have been used. Note the wide traffic lane, wide bike lane (wide enough to minimise exposure to the door zone), and parking space that is not shared with the bike lane.
Of course, there is less traffic flow on Clarendon St but that bike lane feels like a better and safer place to ride.
In any case, I notice that the whole schemozzle is up for review and council may reverse its decision to install these lanes—of course, after you've installed them is the right time to "attempt to clarify the purpose of the bikes lanes", isn't it?
Looks like money well spent, as the whole thing descends into farce.
That said, while many others share my concerns, I'm sure heaps of people are finding the new bike lanes absolutely delightful.
The intention is good and from you are saying maybe the implementation is at fault.
There will never be a 100% safe way for cars and bikes to share the roads. I like the on-road bike paths where you are between parked cars and the moving cars but what really bugs me is the way the bike paths disappear through intersection, road narrowings or any other obstacle that makes riding less safe. We seem to be happy to narrow a road to put in a right turn lane but then just stop the bike path and you are on your own. (So many examples that if you ride on the roads you know what I mean)
Saying there are still issues but its getting better. Lets keep the discussion going.
Thanks for a reasonable and clearly written explanation of what's wrong with this lane. We are going through this process in Syndey at the moment, unfortunately the tone of the debate is a lot more hysterical.
Bike lane is dangerous - have been riding on Albert - it used to be amoungst the safest streches of my journey. Just back from a holiday in Denmark - I can assure you ther are 0 bike lanes designed like that in Copenhagen.
Having lived in Copenhagen, I can tell you that there is a significant difference between here and there. In Denmark, cars MUST give to bikes when turning right (our left). Because of this, the 'disappearing' bike lane is not much of an issue because bikes still have right of way when travelling straight ahead.
And are all the Melbourne bike lanes so tiny? Looks tough to fit a cargo bike or kids trailer on them.
The eastern end of this path where it disappears just before Punt Rd is a nightmare and someone will be injured or worse here before long. I get out of the bike lane at the intersection before and merge with the traffic. Its down hill so this is not a problem, far better than trying to cross left hand turners who are racing to get around on the green. People sticking car noses into the bike lane on the nth side is becomong common to. Better the way it was.
I don't ride all the way down to Punt Rd on Albert St but it was a messy intersection before, so I guess it's not much better now.
These days I avoid riding east/downhill on Albert St. I prefer to take my chances on Victoria Parade, and it's turned out to be a less-stressful and safer option.
I still ride west/uphill on Albert St. Due to the road running alongside the Fitzroy Gardens and St Pat's, the bike lane is a fairly uninterrupted run on that side of the road.
I'm pretty late to this party too. I've been cycling the route since before / after these lanes, including the couple of improvements -- I've now given up on it. It's just too dangerous. I now risk it up on Vic Pde, which seems a bit ludicrous, but that's the way it is.
BV's line seems to be that everyone should just slow down -- thanks for that, helps me out very little -- Haven't seen the hordes of new cyclists to justify it (it seems a lot quieter from what I can tell).
I hate albert st, as much because it undulates too much as because of the lane.
I don't normally use it but I did this morning. SOme schmuck overtook me on the left just as the light went green and proceeded to ride very slowly in front of me. I discovered that the lane is not wide enough to try and safely pass.
I rather ride on gertrude, down clarendon and past the G to birrarung marr, or sometimes even Victoria.