The other night, I was riding home from UC Berkeley with my kid. We rode through a bad stretch of Dana Street, where the bike lane is on the left side. It's a one-way street with heavy car traffic. As usual (unfortunately), someone was parked in the bike lane, blocking us.
We scanned for traffic behind us, looking for an opening in traffic. We found a break in traffic, and tried to go around as fast as possible. More cars arrived as we started to go around. The driver blocking the lane was playing on their phone while idling their car. Oblivious or ignorant to the problems they were causing. Perhaps they were waiting to pick somebody up?
It's unsettling to watch your child ride while surrounded by moving cars. You already feel vulnerable, and your child looks even more so.
As we continued down the road, we came across another parked vehicle, this time a pickup truck. The bike lane was blocked again. We repeated our maneuver, with my child in front of me (and car drivers behind).
It was a frustrating experience, and a common experience. These common, careless, and selfish actions of some lead to an elementary school kid riding their 20" bike on the same road as a bunch of 4000lb moving vehicles.
It's not just an inconvenience or annoyance. Incidents like these have led to injury and death.
The hazards of blocked bike lanes
Cars parked or stopped in bike lanes usually force cyclists to merge into car traffic. This puts people on bikes at risks of accidents and injuries. Recently, a 3-year old was killed in Chicago as she rode on the back of her mother's bike. Her mom changed lanes to avoid a truck illegally parked in her bike lane. A large semi-truck behind her startled her, and she lost her balance as it passed her. The truck driver rolled over her daughter, killing her.
When cars block bike lanes, people on bikes are forced to merge into moving traffic to avoid the obstruction. There can be a large speed differential which increases the chance of something bad happening. People on bikes are also at a greater risk of being doored if a passenger is about to open the car door.
Is parking in a bike lane illegal?
Parking or stopping in a bike lane may be illegal and can result in fines and penalties. In the Chicago incident, the driver of the ComEd utility truck received two tickets for parking in a bike lane and for parking within 30 feet of a stop sign.
Surprisingly, parking in a bike lane in California appears to be legal, or at least not illegal, as long as there are no "No Parking" signs nearby. I checked the California Driver's Handbook, and in the 2015 version, it states that "You may park in a bicycle lane if your vehicle does not block a bicyclist and/or there is not a 'No Parking' sign posted." This text is no longer in the 2023 version of the California Driver's Handbook.
But it doesn't make sense. If a bike lane is a traffic lane, why is car parking not expressly prohibited in one? I hope we can pass a state law to clear up the ambiguity.
This is probably the most effective solution. People are people, there is a huge variety of behaviors, and many will not follow rules and laws if it inconveniences them. Physical infrastructure solves that by preventing the bad thing (parking a car in a bike lane) from happening in the first place.
Curbs, bollards, planters, or some other physical separation should be implemented to prevent someone from driving into the lane in the first place. Even parked cars themselves can help act as a buffer.
Plastic bollards and a buffer zone are used on Telegraph Avenue to achieve this, and they sort of work.
Milvia Street in Berkeley has a series of curbs and railing to protect bicycle riders and prevent people from parking their cars in the bike lane.
A parking-protected bike lane in New York:
Some people have taken it upon themselves to document drivers who block bike lanes. Bike Lane Uprising in Chicago offers a platform to report bike lane obstructions. Christina Whitehouse started Bike Lane Uprising after she was almost hit by a truck driver while she biked in the bike lane.
And NYC is considering paying people to report those who park their cars to block bike lanes, offering a bounty of 25% of proceeds on a $175 ticket.
It's really important to have data on how often this happens to supply to municipalities. This is just a small part of the solution though as I think protected infrastructure is the most effective way to stop people from leaving their cars in bike lanes.