The Sharrow’s National Discussion
On Friday I was informed of a USA Today article focusing on the sharrows and green stripes installed on Second Street in Belmont Shore. Sharrows are an illustration on the street that demarcate that bicycles are to share the road with motorized vehicles as defined by California Vehicle Code. A five foot wide green stripe was included on Second Street to inform bicyclists to ride in the middle of the right-hand lane away from the door swing zone of parallel parked cars. The new bicycle improvements have been praised by many while cursed by others.
Unfortunately, the article “City puts bicycles directly in the path of motorists” by Chris Woodyard was written almost entirely from the perspective of a few frustrated motorists and people with little understanding of the legal rights and obligations of cyclists. Perhaps it is to be suspected by a column titled “Drive On: a conversation about our cars and trucks” who had a previous article about whether bicycle rights have gone too far. Frustrated about the tone of the article and the seemingly lack of investigation for the green stripe’s purpose I felt obligated to write a letter with the hope of providing a more balanced perspective. Judging by the nearly two hundred reader comments I was not alone in wishing for a better informed editorial.
I am an urban designer in the area and used to live a few blocks from the bike improvements you wrote about and can tell you while it has been a contentious topic, the green stripe and sharrow has been developed with the full intention of making it safer for bikers as well as pedestrians in this commercial district. The green strip encourages bikers to ride away from the door swing area of the parallel parked cars while discouraging drivers from sharing the narrow lane as they pass. It is also meant to keep bikes off the crowded sidewalks, a hazard for pedestrian as well as for the cyclists as they navigate intersections.
The commercial district as well as the adjacent residential neighborhood is parking impacted so encouraging alternative forms of transportation (including biking) is important to maintaining the vibrancy of the local businesses. As the driver complaints allude to there is a perception that they slow traffic. For a variety of reasons automobiles do not typically travel very fast on this street nor should considering the amount of pedestrian activity happening in and around the streets. The addition of the green stripe and sharrow does little to further slow traffic.
Beyond on all of this conversation, bicyclists are legally obligated to share the road with automobiles. In very few situations are they allowed to ride on sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes are not always an option due to limited street profiles. The green stripe and sharrow should be considered part of an education for drivers and bicyclists for how to properly share the road. I do wish you follow up this article with a more balances view.
This was apparently not the last word in the discussion about Belmont Shore’s Second Street sharrows and green stripe. There was a follow-up article Monday in USA Today with greater input from bicycle planning experts including the city’s own Charlie Gandy. Overall, it appears that Woodyard is attempting to be provocative in these articles, either to increase readership or spur actual discourse related to bicycling. Judging by the comments section (not always the best indicator) it seems that this article has just added fuel to the fire. I hope that a more thoughtful discussion continues to take place in Long Beach as it endeavors on greater bicycle facilities across the city.