A New Pilot Program Could Bring Sharrows to Los Angeles

[[image:sharow_mini.jpg::inline:1]] Faster then a bike lane, able to leap over tall piles of bureaucratic paperwork… these simple road markings are possibly making their way to the streets of Los Angeles.

Published January 31, 2006 by C.I.C.L.E.
By S. Sanchez and L. Elliott

Faster then a bike lane, able to leap over tall piles of bureaucratic paperwork… this simple road marking shows promise in a new study. But is it the super hero of bike facilities — able to keep the peace on the streets and in the back rooms of cycling advocacy organizations?

The image “http://www.bicycle.sfgov.org/site/uploadedimages/dpt/bike/BelAireProof.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Sharrows are markings painted directly onto the road consisting of a stencil of a bicycle with two chevrons placed above it. They are designed to function as a guide to encourage safe riding and driving behavior from both bicyclists and motorists.

Many bicycle advocates are particularly attracted to sharrows because they do not need special engineering to be placed on our roadways — they are just much simpler to ‘get done’ without all of the red tape and additional costs associated with bike lane implementation.

[[image:sharrow_bike.jpg::inline:0]] Unlike bike lanes, sharrows do not create a separate bike lane, rather they are supposed to promote the awareness that the right lane is a shared traffic lane to be used by both motorists and cyclists. Many cyclists don't even realize that they have a right to the use of the entire right lane if road conditions warrant that it is necessary to do so in order to avoid road hazards. One potential road hazard, and one of the most common bike accidents, is 'getting doored'. Proponents of sharrows feel that these road markings will help direct bicyclists into taking the proper lane position so that they may avoid the 'door zone'. In addition to this, the sharrows also direct bicyclists to ride in the street, rather than on the sidewalk, and guide them into riding in the same direction as traffic, not against it.

The sharrows also function as an advisory to motorists. The goal is to encourage the motorist to share the road with cyclists, reduce hostile motorist behavior, and perhaps influence the driver to allow for a little extra space between their vehicle and the cyclist when overtaking a cyclist on the road.

Now this all sounds great, but do the sharrows really work?

Taking into account the results of a recent San Francisco study utilizing before and after videotape analysis, they seem promising. The study used 140 hours of video footage collected primarily during the weekday commute, at six different locations that were heavily used by both recreational and commuter cyclists.

The study suggests that the bike/chevron sharrows did have a notable influence on the position of both cyclists and motorists. On average, the presence of a sharrow significantly increased the distance of cyclists to the parked cars. The markings also decreased the number of sidewalk riders by 35%, and lowered the incidence of wrong-way cyclists by an incredible 80%. This might be where sharrows can be especially useful. Many urban car/bike collisions occur when the cyclist is not following basic traffic principles, and if sharrows can discourage this type of behavior, they can potentially save lives.

It also appears that the sharrows had an influence on the motorist behavior as well. On average the markings prompted the driver to allow for an extra 2 feet between their vehicle and the cyclist when passing. The markings apparently influenced motorist’s behavior even when there was no cyclist present, increasing the space between the passing vehicle and parked cars by about a foot — which may be a little added benefit for those motorists exiting or entering their parked cars.

But can the markings reduce the number of hostile interactions between motorists and bicyclists as well you might ask? This part of the study remained inconclusive. But this result supposedly had more to due with the low number of observable hostile interactions caught on the tapes before the sharrows were put in place.

Prior to this latest research, sharrows had already been applied to roads in the United States and quite a few other cities around the world including Denver (CO), Gainesville (FL), Cambridge (MA), Portland (OR), Oakland (CA), Paris (France), Brisbane (Australia), Zurich (Switzerland), and Buenos Aires (Argentina) to name a few, and now they may be coming to the car-laden streets of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) is planning to launch a pilot project within the L.A. metro area in the very near future. The LACBC is currently seeking input from the local bike community to help them identify the 5 most ideal routes within the city of Los Angeles so that they can propose that the LADOT paint sharrows on at least 3 of those routes. The pilot project will most likely be followed up with a study to test their effectiveness. If they prove to be a worthy cause, then the LACBC can begin planning more routes.

[[image:cardoor_sharrow.jpg::inline:0]] As with bike lanes, sharrows have their opponents as well. The suggested placement of a sharrow is a minimum 11 feet from the curb, and this seems to be one of the primary areas of concern. The idea is that the suggested minimum 11 feet from the curb placement could still be putting the cyclist in the door zone. Considering the popularity of large vehicles, such as SUV.s, this does seem like a distinct possibility and indeed a cause for concern. It would be nice to see them placed a little further out from the curb so that cyclists aren’t being inadvertently led into the door zone.

But even with proper placement, there will still be those out there who hate to see any markings laid down in the first place and wish that drivers and cyclists just knew and followed the rules of the road. To these Vehicular Cycling (VC) proponents, sharrows may be problematic just by the mere fact that they are on the road. Their concern is that these types of road markings or similar facilities can lead to eventual restrictions being placed on where a cyclist can and cannot ride. They maintain that the rules of the roadway are already in place, and that a cyclist is already allowed full use of the lane, thus there is no need for any special or new regulation or facilities. VC advocates contend that these bike specific markings can also be dangerous for cyclists if the cyclist is too afraid to “break the rules” and ride outside of a poorly engineered bike lane or sharrow zone in order to avoid a potentially hazardous situation.

On the other side of the bike advocacy coin, even some bike lane advocates have concerns about sharrows. They feel that sharrows compromise on the issue of creating more space for cyclists on the road. That when a bike lane is properly engineered to keep a cyclist safely away from the door zone, they are more beneficial overall, even if the lanes do take much longer to get approved and implemented. The concern is that sharrows will be laid down because of their ease, and that streets will never be restructured (such as removing parking or reducing the number of driving lanes) to make room for cyclists, and that sharrows do not provide a proper safety zone for the beginning cyclist who, they feel, are less apt to use a sharrow without that delineating line creating a buffer between them and the cars.

Can sharrows bridge the huge chasm separating the pro-bike-lane and the anti-bike-lane encampments? That remains to be seen. More research needs to be done on sharrows, and this pilot project offers that exact opportunity.

Sure… we may need more than just markings. We need public awareness campaigns, education, strong enforcement of the existing traffic laws, and so forth — but if the latest research is valid, it suggests that sharrows could provide a positive step in the right direction, and definitely an avenue that’s worth exploring.

Whatever your political slant, we do suggest that you get involved. The LACBC is actively looking for your suggested routes for the pilot project and has an online form that only takes a moment to fill out.

Visit the LACBC's site to participate in the survey: http://www.labikecoalition.org/surveys/lacbc_sharrows_survey.html