Irvin Dawid says sharrows have been added to roads to send a message to driver and bicyclist alike — ‘Share the Road.’
If you’ve driven, ridden or even walked along California Drive between the Millbrae and Burlingame Caltrain stations recently, you should have noticed new engravings in the street that show the bicycle icon along with two, directional arrows. Known as sharrows, they are put there to send a message to driver and bicyclist alike — “Share the Road.” They also indicate the correct direction for cyclists to travel, i.e. always ride with the flow of traffic, not against it.
Sharrows are a relatively new symbol for transportation planners, having first been introduced in San Francisco in 2005, but have expanded rapidly to cities throughout the country. They are generally used on streets where striped bike lanes are not possible or advised. Yet those same streets provide key bike routes, and are often placed on county bicycle maps, as is the case with Burlingame’s California Drive.
While the message to the motorist is clearly to expect cyclists to be using the road, the placement of the sharrow itself is critical because it indicates where the cyclist should be riding. Don’t expect the cyclist to be riding on the extreme right-hand side but more towards the center, i.e. away from the curb or parked cars, which means that passing the cyclist may be difficult, and it may in fact be advisable to move to the left lane if there is one.
The major reason for what may appear to be an awkward placement of these sharrows has to do with parked cars, or merely a narrow lane. Where cars are parked, should a door open while a cyclist is riding alongside, the result can, and often has been, tragic.
I read of one such incident in March — the cyclist was from my high school, graduating just two years ahead of me, so I took special notice (see “Dooring Claims Bronx Cyclist”; http://www.planetizen.com/node/43416). Even though 57-year-old Megan Charlop was an experienced cyclist, she found herself within the “door zone.” This tragedy was preventable — had the motorist looked before opening the door, had Megan biked more toward the center of the road. Even if motorists would have to slow down to pass her, or move to an adjacent lane, Megan would not have swerved to avoid an opening door into the path of a city bus.
Closer to home, on May 19, the tragic circumstances repeated themselves on Oakland’s MacArthur Boulevard, as Erik Fitzpatrick, 35, swerved to avoid an opening door into the path of an AC Transit bus.
Motorists and cyclists need to be reminded that the California Vehicle Code (CVC 21202) specifically allows a cyclist to “take the lane” should safety conditions warrant it. Narrow lanes and the presence of parked cars present two such conditions.
As someone who bikes frequently on California Drive, I wish to thank Jane Gomery and Augustine Chou, programs manager and traffic engineer, respectively, in the Public Works Department; the Burlingame Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee; and, the Traffic, Safety and Parking Commission for for their successful application for a $20,000 grant from the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County. A also thank Burlingame for matching the grant, to enable this low cost but effective project. Motorists and cyclists should expect to see very visible “Share The Road” signage going up any day along California Drive.
If you know of any streets that you bike on where you find yourself too close to parked cars, let your city know — and point them to what was done on California Drive as a low-cost remedy.
Finally, motorists — please remember to pass cyclists with great care. And cyclists, stay out of the door zone.
Irvin Dawid is a smart growth activist based in Palo Alto. He can be contacted at email@example.com.