sharrow problems

My post on the new downtown bike lanes, shortly after the work was completed in fall 2012, had some mild criticism of the placement of sharrows. After many months of riding on these particular streets, and observing how bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers respond to their placement on the roadway, I am now prepared to criticize the sharrow placement more strongly.

The California MUTCD section 9C.07 specifies that shared lane markings (commonly called sharrows) must be at least 11 feet from the curb where parking is present. Either traffic engineers or paint crews, not sure which, are taking this to mean that the sharrows should be placed exactly 11 feet from the curb, as many of those in the recent Sacramento project were. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide has a better recommendation, “On streets with posted 25 mph speeds or slower, preferred placement is in the center of the travel lane to minimize wear and encourage bicyclists to occupy the full travel lane.” However, the NACTO guide has not been recognized or adopted by either the state or Sacramento, and in fact some vehicular cyclists are opposed to the NACTO guide because it promotes separate facilities over riding in traffic, but that is a conversation for another post.

One of the purposes of the sharrows is to guide bicyclists about the best place to ride in situations where bike lanes are not present and the lane is too narrow to share, 14 feet or less. When sharrows are placed to the side of the travel lane, they are too close to parked vehicles and their car doors. Doors on some two-door vehicles come out an amazing 54 inches from the side of the car. So if the side of a parked car is 7 feet from the curb, the door comes out 11.5 feet, more than the minimum specified in the MUTCD, and that does not even count handlebar width and shy distance. Eleven feet is not a safe placement. Many bicyclists know that this is not safe, and therefore ride in the middle of the travel lane, but since they are no longer riding on the sharrows, motor vehicle drivers think that they are riding in an illegal fashion and do the typical immature driver things: yelling, honking, following too close, and intimidation through close passing. Yet if the bicyclist is riding on the sharrows, then many motor vehicle drivers feel that there is room to squeeze by in the same lane, thereby coming much too close to the bicyclist and endangering them. The only safe place for the bicyclist to be is in the middle of the travel lane, and that is where the sharrows should be.

Examples and solutions after the break…

incorrect sharrow placement, I Street westbound, approaching 9th Steet
incorrect and dangerous sharrow placement, I Street westbound, approaching 9th Street

Examples and Solutions

The photo at right is from I Street, approaching 9th Street. The roadway is three through lanes, one parking/left turn lane, and one parking lane on the right. The block is bounded on the north side by curb extensions or bulbouts, which are a bit more than the parking lane width. I’m glad to see the curb extensions, as they greatly increase safety for pedestrians (who are more vulnerable than bicyclists), but in this case the sharrows not only place the bicyclist too close to parked cars but too close to the curb extensions. The placement is dangerous, and it must be moved.

Of course the city could have eliminated parking from the south side of I Street for this one block, and had plenty of width to continue the bike lane through this block, but it chose not to and instead to prioritize other considerations over bicyclist safety. A bike lane is present both east and west of this block.

correct sharrow placement, 10th Street
correct sharrow placement, 10th Street

The photo at right shows correct sharrow placement, in the middle of the travel lane. Ironically, this is just around the corner from the incorrect location, on 10th Street between H Street and I Street.

All of the sharrows that were placed in the last project, as well as the ones placed earlier, for example on T Street, must be evaluated for proper placement, and then moved to the correct location if they are not already there. Since some sharrows were placed properly, I assume that either the traffic engineers or the paint crews are aware of the correct placement, but did not make it due either to inattention or concern about “slowing down traffic.” Bicyclist safety should always come before concerns about slowing down traffic.

Going forward, what is needed is a city policy that states:

Where a shared lane marking (sharrow), specified in California MUTCD Section 9C.07 Shared Lane Marking, is used, it shall be placed in the center of the travel lane.

Of course it is hoped that the next revision of the federal and California MUTCD will have this standard, but revision is at least four years away and probably much longer. This is a problem that needs to be solved for the City of Sacramento, now.

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