Floating bike lane on I Street

This is a follow-on to The I Street mess, and is another example of poor sharrow placement. Thank you, Elle, for reminding me to write about this.

On I Street between 7th and 6th streets, there is a floating bike lane on the north side. A floating bike lane, also called a part-time bike lane, is one that is designed to be a parking lane for part of the day and a motor vehicle travel lane for part of the day.

The first photo below is the lane when parking is prohibited, and it is a shared motor vehicle travel lane. The signing indicates that parking is prohibited from 4 to 6PM on weekdays. This is in order to provide more lanes for the flush of traffic heading to the freeway during the afternoon rush hour. There are sharrow markings at the beginning and near the end of the block, to reinforce the “bikes may use full lane” sign (MUTCD R4-11).

The next photo shows the same floating bike lane when parking is allowed, the rest of the time. As you can see, the sharrows are partly covered by parked cars. The remaining width of the lane, which forms a de-facto bike lane, is too narrow for a lane adjacent to parked cars and is unsafe. In this particular location in front of the county jail, it is doubly unsafe because frequent turnover in cars (one hour limit) and the type of people who park here, not the sort to be thinking of bicyclists before they open their car door. In fact, guidance on floating bike lanes recommends against their use in situations with high-turnover parking.

I Street floating bike lane during parking prohibition
I Street floating bike, parking prohibited
I Street floating bike lane, parking permitted (Elle Bustamante)
I Street floating bike lane, parking permitted (Elle Bustamante)

I never ride in this floating bike lane when there are parked cars, I always ride in the full travel lane to the left, but I often get honked at by drivers who think I should be in the “bike lane,” and don’t realize it is not a safe place to ride.

There is nothing inherently wrong with floating bike lanes. A number of cities use them in cases where they perceive a need to carry high volumes of motor vehicle traffic at certain times of day, but want to accommodate bicyclists at other times. They are always seen as a compromise that doesn’t make anyone completely happy. However, this is the only instance that I’m aware of in Sacramento, and it is not signed and marked in such a way as to communicate its purpose and use to either drivers or bicyclists. It needs to be crystal clear for everyone, or be removed. Maybe it is time for this floating bike lane to sink.

This section of I Street is the logical main access route for bicyclists to the train station. Rush hour for cars is also rush hour for bicyclists. What I see during this time of day (4-6PM) is a lot of bicyclists riding the wrong way, or on the light rail tracks, along H Street in order to access the train station. It is worrisome to me that that I Street was not designed with bicyclist safety in mind. Bicyclists feel that it is safer to ride against traffic on H Street than with traffic on I Street, despite the fact that wrong way riding is the leading cause of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, or to risk spills getting caught in the light rail tracks, anything to avoid I Street. I have seen several bicyclists fall on the light rail tracks here.

I Street in this section could be made safe for bicyclists in two ways:

  1. Remove parking from the left side of I Street and shifting travel lanes to the south so that a full 6.5 foot bike lane could be installed. The sharrows would not then be needed. Or, 
  2. Make the right hand lane a full-time parking lane and move the sharrows into the next travel lane to the left.

Given that there are bike lanes both east and west of this block, option one is probably the best because it would create a continuous bike lane, but option two is workable.

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