RIDING IN URBAN AREAS IS OFTEN A TENSE situation for even the most seasoned cyclists. Traffic of every description screeching and revving and honking around you can be distracting and dangerous.
And if you’re not paying attention, or if you lack road skills or are unknowledgeable about the rules of the road, city riding can be a death trap. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to ride safer in high traffic areas.
- First, become a good bike handler. Find a safe place to practice evasive maneuvers and emergency braking.
- Know the rules of the road. At a minimum I recommend taking this course.
- Dress for safety. Wear a helmet and bright colors so motorists can easily see you.
- Think of yourself as a vehicle, and “drive” your bike as if you were a slow-moving vehicle—because you are.
The League of American Bicyclists says: “In all 50 states, cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists and/or are considered a vehicle.”
In many cities there are also bike lanes, that special lane marked with a pictogram and designated for bikes. In the US, it’s typically off to the right of the traffic lanes. Bike lanes are nice to have, but don’t ever get complacent and believe that by riding in a bike lane you are somehow safe. I’m ambivalent about official bike lanes. Here’s why.
- First, they are seldom continuous. They often start and stop again and again. For example, you might ride along for a mile in a bike lane, and then go through a traffic signal, and on the other side the bike lane disappears, forcing you to blend into moving traffic.
- Too many bike lanes are poorly designed and seldom maintained. In my town, I know of a bike lane that has the potential for motorists to make a right turn in front of an oncoming cyclist. And I know of another that abruptly ends with the cyclist being stranded between two lanes of fast moving traffic.
- Bike lanes collect road trash; broken glass, sharp metal objects, rocks and other refuse. It may have potholes, and the far edge may be broken off, creating a real hazard for a bike’s narrow tires.
- Motorists seldom recognize bike lanes for what they are. They often don’t see them or their pictogram. I’ve experienced riding in a bike lane and having a motorist yell at me to get out of the road. What they don’t see, they don’t acknowledge.
- Cyclists in bike lanes are often out of view of motorists. Riding to the far right of a driver’s peripheral vision often puts a cyclist is the shadows, or “among the trees”.
Now the sharrow is different. As you can see by the pictogram, the sharrow is larger and more “in your face” than a bike lane marking located way off to the side of the road. It’s in the same lane as the motor vehicle. If a driver can’t see a sharrow, I suspect his vision is so bad he shouldn’t be a licensed driver. In my opinion, sharrows are better than bike lanes in most cases. Why?
- It’s too big and obtrusive to deny.
- It’s an obvious statement to drivers, by the Federal Highway Administration, that motorists and cyclists are expected to share the road. Motorists are legally obligated to share the road, but they often aren’t aware of this law or in many cases like to play ignorant of the law.
- Sharrows are placed in the lane (where vehicles are expected to be), not in the gutter where trash and drainage grates reside.
- Sharrows are positioned to keep cyclists away from the opening doors of parked cars while promoting awareness of their right to use the road.
- Sharrows are used to show motorists that cyclists have the right to “take the lane”, and it helps show cyclists good lane positioning, especially where lanes are too narrow to share safely. Sharrows were shown to improve lane positioning of cyclists and improved passing distance by motorists. Sharrows also cut down on the number of sidewalk cyclists and wrong-way cyclists.
Many cities have adopted sharrows, and many more are currently experimenting with them. I think they are a great idea, and a safer alternative to bike lanes. If you are riding with bright colored clothing and over the sharrows you are in plain sight, visible to anyone who is paying attention. I’m hoping we get them in Jacksonville, Florida. I think they would make a powerful statement to drivers who ignore the rules, or drivers who like to harass cyclists.
What do you think?
This post represents the opinion of Lloyd Lemons regarding the safety of sharrows. Every cyclist must make his or her own decisions regarding safe riding practices.