Snares and Traps for Cyclists

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Cycling Safety

Snares and Traps for Cyclists

What does the photo above show? It reminds me of the traps used to ensnare animals, used by trappers who hunt animals for their fur. As the animal passes, its leg gets caught in the snare…
So why are these snares appearing all over Seattle’s bike lanes? Is it a nefarious plot by cyclist-hating drivers to kill us off?
Actually, the snares are one unfortunate byproduct of creating “protected” bike facilities. The city has been installing flexible bollards to provide a visual separation between cyclists and cars. The reasoning goes that cyclists will feel more comfortable with the barrier separating them from cars, which will encourage more people to ride bikes, which in turn has many positive effects.
The flexible posts are relatively easy to install. The company manufacturing them probably markets them heavily. I can imagine the sales rep bringing one to a planning meeting. It looks very well-made: white and black and reflective…
Alas, this is Seattle – where almost every car has dents because drivers tend to mis-judge the size of their vehicle – and so people tend to drive over these posts. Good thing they are flexible… but eventually, the get ripped off their foundations, leaving a bump and a snare.
During daytime, they are relatively easy to avoid, but at night, they are nearly invisible.
To make matters worse, the city has been installing them not just to separate cyclists from cars, but often in the middle of the cyclists’ path. It is only a matter of time until the center post in the photo above will be ripped out by a car turning out of the side street. Then a bump and snare will be right in the center of the bike lane. When you consider that this is at the start of the bike lane, where cyclists are moving from the road to the bike lane, it’s very likely that somebody will get caught in the trap!
Here is another installation, located at the end of the Ballard Bridge. It’s bad enough that cyclists have to cross the right-turn lane with fast-moving traffic barreling down on them from behind. The safest path is the shortest way across (solid arrow), yet the posts obstruct that path, forcing the cyclist to remain in the dangerous turn lane much longer (dashed arrow). Once they are permitted to cross, they compete for space with the cars turning out of the side street.
Funny thing is, a sharrow roughly indicates where it’s safest to ride, but the flexible posts now obstruct that path. When I now ride here, I actually move all the way to the left into the path of fast-moving traffic to stay out of harm’s way. I have no idea why these posts were installed at all – it’s not like cars are ever driving through that space.
All this is happening in the name of making cycling safer in Seattle. I understand that it is not malicious, but it is so incompetent and dangerous that it must stop. Take out those flexible posts, at least in any place were a cyclist might conceivably go. If a post “must” be there, then make the bases reflective, since they remain after the posts get ripped out, so cyclists can see them in the dark. And have crews go around and replace the posts that are ripped out within 24 hours, before somebody gets hurt. Let’s hope there is not a life-changing injury in the meantime…
Don’t get me wrong – I think cycling facilities are important and often appropriate. Like everything, they need to be designed carefully and maintained well, otherwise, they can do more harm than good.
Stay safe out there.

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