Drivers, bicyclists ignoring the law along new bike lanes

Drivers, bicyclists ignoring the law along new bike lanes
New bike lanes popping up on Louisville streets have drivers feeling anything but bike-friendly. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
New bike lanes popping up on Louisville streets have drivers feeling anything but bike-friendly. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - New bike lanes popping up on Louisville streets have drivers feeling anything but bike-friendly.

Cyclists say they need the space for protection against drivers who won't share the road. But our cameras found the riders themselves may be a big part of the problem. Some bicyclists told us they didn't know or didn't care about the rules.

Matt McCormick says some drivers just don't get it.

"So you get whoever rolling down the street saying, 'I didn't know that was a bike lane. I was just taking whatever road I wanted,'" said McCormick.

But cars weren't the only ones that were out of line when we spent a day along the city's newest bicycle lanes. Cameras had just spotted McCormick running a red light on his bicycle.

"Is there a law on that?" McCormick asked when I questioned him.

Bicycles have to follow the same laws as vehicles, but you would never know it based on what our cameras captured one day in October along Breckinridge and Kentucky Streets. That's where the city recently took away a lane from drivers and gave it exclusively to bicyclists, all part of of Mayor Greg Fischer's Complete Streets initiative.

The plan appeared to be causing complete confusion for some. Cameras recorded cars in bike lanes, bikes in cars lanes and city vehicle that appeared to break the rules by driving in the bike-only lane.

A number of bicyclists were also breaking the law, running red lights and riding in the wrong direction.

"It's just one-way going that way," said one cyclist who was going the wrong way on Breckinridge Street. He wouldn't provide his name. "I know I'm probably going the wrong way. I just got to get to the store."

Andy Murphy, president of the Louisville Bicycle Club, said he thinks a lot of people haven't gotten the word about the new bicycle lanes.

"Casual cyclists may not know how to use this," said Murphy, adding there is only one solution to the problem.

"Education seems to be about the only way, and I don't know how we can do it any other way than that."

When asked whose job it is to educate, Murphy replied, "It's everybody's responsibility."

Harold Adams, spokesman for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Works, which is responsible for tracking the bike lanes' use, said the bike lanes are clearly marked, and there's no excuse for drivers or bicyclists not understanding how to use them.

"Most of it is not at all complicated," Adams said.

Still, there are at least three different kinds of bike lanes -- separate, shared and buffered -- spread out on dozens of different streets around the city. Sgt. Phil Russell of the Louisville Metro Police Department said confusion over what the markings mean is the most common explanation when officers stop people for violating the new boundaries.

"If the officer observes the violation in front of them, they have an obligation to enforce the law if a violation occurred," said Russell; "however, there are some times when officers are on their way to more pressing matters that diverts their attention from that. There have been numerous times when officers have stopped motorists and bicyclists for those violations. Often times they have determined that a warning is sufficient to educate about the law. A lack of understanding was the underlying problem and that is why we allow officers discretion."

Adams said the city is working to spread the word.

"We are doing as good a job as we can with the resources that we have," said Adams.

With no money for a public awareness campaign, the city has relied on press releases when a new bike lane is added and instructional videos on the city's website. Some drivers and bicyclists are clearly not getting the message.

"I'm not a motorist. I'm a bicyclist," McCormick said before riding away. "I'll probably continue to run red lights."

Adams said Public Works does plan to remark some of the bicycle-only lanes to make it clearer that cars are not allowed.

A request to LMPD to determine how often officers hand out tickets to bicyclists who break traffic laws is still being researched.

Mayor Fischer's office did not respond to interview requests before he left town.

At a biking event this summer, the mayor seemed to laugh off complaints from people who didn't like or completely understand the new rules.

"If this is the biggest problem we got in the world, we will all be in good shape," Fischer said at the time.

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