Bicyclists persuade panel to spread sharrows

Sharrows — white decals to designate streets frequented by bicyclists — generally make bicyclists feel safer, but many motorists aren’t sure what they mean.

Published  October 1, by the Santa Fe New Mexican
By Tom Sharpe 

Many drivers blind to pricey street decals that aim to raise awareness of bikers

Sharrows — white decals to designate streets frequented by bicyclists — generally make bicyclists feel safer, but many motorists aren’t sure what they mean.

Two years ago, the city began using sharrows.

Last month, the Finance Committee balked at installing 270 more on 13 streets after Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger said some drivers are confused by the symbols depicting a bicycle and arrows.

But after seven bicycle enthusiasts spoke in favor of the sharrows at a public hearing Monday, the committee unanimously recommended letting the $92,395 contract to the sole bidder, Highway Supply Co. of Albuquerque.

Wurzburger questioned whether it might be more cost-effective to give away free bicycles than to continue spending more than $300 per sharrow. She said she would like to see the city educate motorists about what the symbols mean and collect data on how effective they are.

Rick Devine of the Public Works Department said a study in San Francisco, where sharrows have been used for years, resulted in no empirical safety data.

But bicyclist Jim Harrington said the San Francisco study proved cars reduced speeds and gave more clearance to bicycles. “This is in marked contrast, for example, to the bicycle lanes which have never been shown to improve bicycle safety,” Harrington said.

Steve Hield said he has noticed the difference riding bikes on Camino Cabra since sharrows were installed. “I’m treated with more respect,” he said. “People give me more room. They don’t try to pass me on the blind curve. … They work because they are telling motorists that they can expect to encounter a cyclist on this road.”

Gary Schiffmiller said drivers also have improved since sharrows were put on Baca Street. “Psychologically, the drivers feel like it’s more legitimate for me to take the lane, which I always do now,” he said. “I get honked at and swore at a lot less frequently. … I think it’s the best bang for your buck you can get.”

Most people interviewed Monday along Marcy Street, one of the first places to get sharrows, said they aren’t sure what they mean.

Josh Riebsomer and Amanda Mather, clerks at the Mira clothing store, had noticed the decals on other city streets, but not those in front of their shop.

“They’re supposed to be a biking lane,” Riebsomer said.

“Sort of semibiking lane,” corrected Mather. “It doesn’t seem to me that it’s a technical biking lane.”

“We don’t have very good biking lanes,” Riebsomer added.

At Video Library, owner Lisa Harris knew the symbols designate lanes that bicycles and motorized traffic are to share.

“I interpreted that, ‘Be careful. There are bicycles, and we are weasels and don’t have a bike lane, so we’re putting this on to make it your responsibility that they pass through safely,’ ” she said. “I’m really not sure people notice them without being reminded. I noticed the day they put them down, but I truly have just become blind to them.”

Robert Rael, who was loading flattened cardboard boxes onto a truck in front of Design Warehouse, had to have the white decals pointed out to him. “Oh those? Yeah, I’ve seen those a lot,” he said. “I thought it was like a bike lane or something.”

Even Police Chief Eric Johnson said he hadn’t heard of the sharrows and had no idea what they mean.

Alicia “Cease” Martinez, who usually rides a bicycle to her job at Video Library, knew right off that they mean “make room for bikes” but added, “people don’t notice people on bikes here either. …

“It would make me feel safer if people started paying attention to them. There are so many (bicyclist) friends I have that have been almost hit.”

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.

Streets up for sharrows

These are the portions of city streets that would have sharrows installed on them this fall:

Henry Lynch Road, from Richards Avenue to Agua Fría Street

Palace Avenue, from Otero Street to East Alameda Street

Grant Avenue, from Palace Avenue to Paseo de Peralta

Don Gaspar Avenue, from Paseo de Peralta to Coronado Road

East Alameda Street, from Palace Avenue to Camino Pequeño

Washington Avenue, from Paseo de Peralta to Artist Road

Paseo de Peralta, from Cerrillos Road to East Alameda Street

Old Pecos Trail, from Coronado Road to Old Santa Fe Trail

Old Santa Fe Trail, from Old Pecos Trail to East Alameda Street

Gonzales Road, from 200 feet above Cerro Gordo to East Alameda Street

Second Street, at the Hopewell Street intersection

East Alameda Street, from Water Street to Delgado Street

Camino del Monte Sol, from Old Santa Fe Trail to Camino de Cruz Blanca