Drivers adapting to novel Humboldt bike lanes

After initial confusion, motorists seem to be adjusting to a new road configuration on Humboldt Street, the first of its kind in Victoria.

The city recently installed bike lanes on either side of a middle vehicle lane shared by two-way traffic — what’s known as advisory bike lanes — on one block of Humboldt Street between Blanshard and Quadra streets. Work is underway to extend the design to the block between Blanshard and Douglas streets.

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Motorists in both directions are supposed to drive in the centre vehicle lane and pull to the side, into the bike lane, when they approach an oncoming car, then return to the middle lane.

If there is a cyclist in the bike lane, drivers pull in behind the cyclist.

The city says the design is meant to support riders of all ages and abilities by lowering speeds, reducing the volume of traffic and narrowing the road for vehicles.

There are signs alerting drivers and cyclists approaching the street to the new configuration, although they’re partially obscured by trees, and some drivers are finding the change confusing.

Michael Williams, who works in an office building on Humboldt, said he’s seen some “bewildered looks” on drivers’ faces.

“I’ve seen people driving down toward me in the bike lane several times already and then driving up and people playing chicken, like: ‘What do we do now?’ That’s been fairly common, people sort of mildly horrified,” Williams said.

The new configuration, part of the city’s active transportation network, involves lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h from 40 km/h, and installing traffic-calming measures such as speed humps and a new pedestrian crossing with extended curbs.

Sarah Webb, the city’s manager of transportation planning and development, said the road is “a bit strange right now,” because the city is still in the process of reconfiguring the street. The city expects to complete both blocks of advisory bike lanes by early August.

Once the road is done, drivers can navigate it as they would any residential street that doesn’t have a painted centre line, Webb said.

“That exists right across our municipality. Absolutely. The difference here is that we’re on a route that is intended for cycling and active transportation, and so the painted advisory lines are a bit of that reminder to drivers that the road is shared with cyclists and to take care when moving over,” she said.

The city plans to share information about the corridor on its social-media channels and website, which features a video explaining how advisory lanes work.

“We’ve been out there monitoring already, just even on the one block, and just watching people, and you know what? People are doing the right thing,” Webb said.

The rest of Humboldt Street, from Quadra to Vancouver, will be identified as part of the cycling network with painted bike-lane symbols on the road.

Edward Pullman, director of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, said the design might look a bit confusing for cyclists and drivers at first, but people quickly learn how to navigate it.

“My experience being on it a number of times has been pretty positive. Drivers pretty quickly learn how to navigate the road with cyclists as well,” he said.

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