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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sharrows Will Make Cycling Safer in Old Town

Smart Cycling Column by Rick Price
Fort Collins Coloradoan, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010

Bicyclists often ask me what to do when the bike lane ends, such as when riding east on Mountain Avenue or Oak Street into Old Town.
The answer to the question is take the lane. Any of those streets that have on-street parking and no bike lane require you to act as a vehicle (since you are, anyway, by law) and take the center of the lane. You are safer there because you are more visible and should assert the basic principle of first come, first served. The car behind you will have to wait, as it would for another automobile poking along looking for parking.
Many people don't feel comfortable with this solution. I am pleased to announce that relief is on the way, at least on Mountain Avenue.

At its August meeting, the Bicycle Advisory Committee, a sub-committee of the city's Transportation Board, heard a report from transportation planner Scott Weeks that sharrows are being planned for Mountain Avenue from Meldrum Street to Riverside Avenue. This is great news for those of us who pedal to Old Town from the west.
The 2004 Strategic Plan for Old Town noted that "discontinuous east-west bicycle routes in and out of Old Town make it extremely difficult for cyclists from west side neighborhoods to get to downtown for work or entertainment." The plan further commented that lack of signage and visible connections "make bicycle commuting a poor alternative" for those who work downtown.
So what's a sharrow? It is a contraction of "shared lane arrow." It is a large bicycle stencil with arrows or chevrons painted in the center of the lane indicating where bicycles should be for safety purposes when there is no bike lane. It renders clear to motorists that they can expect to find bicycles in the travel lane.
Sharrows are used principally in communities where streets are too narrow for bike lanes. Boulder has sharrows, as do Oregon cities Portland and Eugene. They have become standard markings in many California cities, including Berkeley, Long Beach and San Francisco. Long Beach has even painted a wide green stripe down the travel lane indicating where bicyclists should position themselves. Some members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee encouraged our transportation planners to do something similar.
Sharrows are just another means of asking motorists and cyclists to share the road. They serve an important educational purpose by pointing out that it's OK for bikes to pedal down the middle of the lane where they are more visible, won't be hit by cars backing out of diagonal parking and where they avoid the door zone of cars parallel parked along the road.
Some of us on the Bicycle Advisory Committee would like to see sharrows on all east-west streets into Old Town. We feel they would make Old Town much friendlier for bicyclists and motorists.

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