Cities are responsible for keeping streets clean and safe, including clearing the snow. But bike lanes are usually in the part of the street where snow plows push all the snow. So if you are a cycling commuter, you may find getting around on your bike difficult in winter.
The extent to which a city must clear its bike lanes of snow and can be held responsible for injuries that occur due to plowing negligence depends on local laws. As bike commuting becomes more common, and cities are encouraging alternative transport, municipalities will also have to make room for bikers on snowy streets and roadway planners will keep cycling commuters in mind. The future roadway may look different.
The Buffered Bike Lane
According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and other experts, buffered bike lanes are an increasingly popular roadway design that provide safe cycling conditions but present unique maintenance issues. The buffered bike lane is physically separated from the street by a physical buffer, as opposed to just the abstract one made of painted lines and designated by the law.
The physical separation between the bicycle lane and auto lane solves the problem of plowing snow into the buffered lane, as it is physically distinct. But buffered bike lanes require special narrow plows to clear them and present unique risks to cyclists, as they accumulate debris more easily. Bikers have difficulty avoiding the debris in the narrower lanes because they are stuck in the buffered area.
Injuries can and do occur on buffered lanes. Who can be sued? The Massachusetts transportation experts write, “Responsible parties may include one or more state agencies and municipalities, as determined by right-of-way ownership, abutting land ownership, or the number of jurisdictions spanned by the separated bike lane.”
Alta Planning and Design’s Perspectives in Planning is a series on non-motorized transport and design. In 2014 it focused on winter bike lane maintenance across the US and made a number of suggestions for how cities can improve snow removal without endangering non-motorized drivers on two wheels. Alta, too, highlighted the buffered bike lane as the wave of the future of cycle commuting.
Injuries This Winter
If you are injured this winter from a bicycling accident on a buffered bike lane or any other roadway, speak to an attorney. Many personal injury attorneys do not charge for a consultation and will assess your case at no cost.