The Robots Are Coming for Your Bike Lanes

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CC BY 2.0. Life in the Fedex Lane/ Lloyd Alter

Why not? Everybody else uses them for everything but biking.

Everybody loves bike lanes! Fedex, UPS, construction trailers, warning signs, everybody! Just yesterday, I called out to a motorcycle cop about this one in the photo above, and it was clear from his answer that he preferred Fedex in the bike lane to me.

Now, even the tech bros are coming for the bike lanes, with REV -1 autonomous delivery vehicle. They say that it can operate in both car and bike lanes. "To maximize flexibility and safety the REV-1 is light-weight and low-power enough to qualify under e-bike regulations." According to Tech Crunch,

The about the size of an electric bicycle. The REV-1 weighs about 100 pounds and stands about 5 feet tall and is 4.5 feet long. Inside the robot is 16 cubic feet of space, enough room to fit four or five grocery bags.

Bike lane sign

© Don Kostelec

Now I have been on a lot of electric bicycles, and rarely seen any that are 5 feet tall, nor do they fill up the entire bike lane. But so what? It's a bike lane. As Don Kostalec notes, bike lanes are fair game.

Cities, highway agencies, businesses, and law enforcement see bike lanes and sidewalks as disposable places. They use them as convenient dumping grounds for things they don’t want obstructing motor vehicle lanes. Construction signs, parked cars, speed trailers, plowed snow, sandwich boards, utility poles. People who walk and bike don’t have to seek out these obstructions; they come across them nearly every day while also trying to avoid errant motorists.

It's true! They are such convenient storage and parking areas, and a great spot for all this new technology. Some companies are even taking it upon themselves to rename them "micro lanes".

Life in the portable toilet lane

Life in the portable toilet lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

So what if every bike lane is a battle, or as Kostelec notes, "The tech industry and its supporters have no concept of the battles fought for the crumbs that are bike lanes and sidewalks in our cities"?

Life in the construction trailer lane

Life in the construction trailer lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is a difficult and complex issue. I have suggested that bike lanes should be "protected mobility lanes", writing recently:

Drivers always complain that cyclists have a sense of entitlement, demanding their own lanes. But what if cyclists are sharing it with scooters, cargo bikes, mobility devices and every other form of transport that is slower than a car but faster than walking? Who is entitled then?

Jim McPherson, who writes a lot about this subject, jumps in making the same point, and Don Kostelec responded:

There’s also the sting of AV companies failing to understand bad road design and the realities people who walk and bike face trying to safely get places....It’s not the duty of bicyclists or pedestrians to blindly accept this invasion of bike lane and sidewalk space. If the AV and delivery tech sector want support, then I suggest they engage the organizations working to advance safe infrastructure for people who walk and bike.

life in the fedex lane

Lloyd Alter/ Life in the Fedex lane/CC BY 2.0

I am conflicted. The bike lanes are already full of delivery vehicles and everything else that there is no room for on the roads or sidewalks. At least these things would move instead of blocking the whole thing. At least people on bikes wouldn't be the only ones complaining when the lane is blocked; the pizza's getting cold and the robot's gotta move. This might be a good thing.