If you were out of town this summer, you might have been surprised to see a new and distinctive pavement marking along Forest Avenue upon your return. They’re called sharrows (short for “shared-lane marking arrow”).
By Steve Cadenhead
If you were out of town this summer, you might have been surprised to see a new and distinctive pavement marking along Forest Avenue upon your return. They’re called sharrows (short for “shared-lane marking arrow”). Here’s the thinking behind them.
Forest Avenue is heavily used for recreational purposes. Residents bike, jog, walk, and push strollers up and down the road, and many children also bike or walk along it to get to school. Because of the narrow roadway and absence of sidewalks in many sections, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists all are competing for the same space, and the result is usually unpleasant and potentially life-threatening encounters.
In a perfect world, there would be dedicated bike lanes and full sidewalks along Forest Avenue. However, without bonding, the City has little money available for major capital projects, and it’s unclear there’s even the appetite for improvements such as widening Forest.
So where do sharrows fit in? Sharrows are a relatively new, official, standardized street marking that is used when bike lanes are needed but not feasible. Sharrows are completely different from bike lanes, which are separate travel lanes set aside for bicyclists, marked by a solid white line and a completely different symbol. A sharrow is a painted emblem on the roadway, akin to say a School Zone marking, intended to encourage the safe co-existence of motorists and cyclists.
Sharrows are recommended in situations where the road is crowded and well-traveled; where there is significant bicycle traffic; when the posted speed limit is 35 mph or below; where the roadway is too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; and where bicycle lanes are not possible or feasible. They indicate to motorists the possible presence of bike traffic in the roadway, and remind motorists that they are sharing the route with bicyclists. Likewise, they indicate to cyclists the correct direction in which to ride (always with the flow of traffic!) and the safest part of the roadway to ride in.
Studies have shown that sharrows do indeed succeed in reducing the distance between cyclists and motorists. They suc- ceed in reducing incidences of “dooring” (where a motorist exiting a parked car opens the door into the path of the cyclist, causing a collision). Studies show that motorists also tend to drive more slowly when sharrows are present. Sharrows also improve the behavior of cyclists, reducing incidences of their riding the wrong way on the road, or riding on sidewalks. In other words, they improve safety.
Employing sharrows on Forest Avenue is a quick, easy, low-cost step toward easing confusion and improving safety on that busy thoroughfare. It’s easily reversible should they be deemed a failure. This improvement doesn’t cost taxpayers or the City anything, since it was completely funded by a grant from the YMCA.
Sharrows alone won’t solve all the traffic issues on Forest Avenue, but they’re a step in the right direction. Our streets are a community asset; they belong to the residents and the community, and are not for the sole benefit of motorists. Installing sharrows is a step towards balancing the needs of non-motorists and motorists on our streets.
The author is co-chair of the Rye Shared Roadways Committee.