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Tag Archive: safe cycling

Friday Musings: Your thoughts on “sharrows”?

Many of my bike buddies have heard me go on and on about sharrows for a few years now. I’m sure our Facebook followers have heard me mention my concerns about sharrows from time to time, too.

For those of you who may have missed it, here are some of my thoughts on them: while I think they can be a useful tool in the arsenal of bike-friendly infrastructure, I am very concerned that many cyclists and motorists both don’t really understand what they represent. Neither group is particularly good about “sharing” the road (the operative part of “sharrow”) at times. I’ve seen cyclists treat road with sharrows as a full-width “bike lane”, despite cars backing up behind them. I’ve also seen motorists crowd riders against parked cars when sharrows are present. Further, I’m afraid that some cities use sharrows as a quick pacifier; slap some down on the pavement and then tell cyclists, “yeah, we’re building bike infrastructure…what more do you want?”

sharrow

It’s my belief that when a city chooses to add sharrows to a road surface, that MUST come with an advertising campaign or some other method to get the word out to road users — so that everyone knows what those mysterious chevrons represent and to remind folks that yes, we must all actually share the road. We all know that there is far more to bicycle infrastructure than simply putting up some signs, or spreading some paint onto the roadway…a lot of planning, logistics and study must come with it in order for all that effort to be of value to road users.

So, I was a bit surprised to read the following article, which appeared in the Edmonton Journal the other day:

A new study out of British Columbia suggests the use of shared bike-car lanes on major roads doesn’t actually increase safety for cyclists and may pose a greater risk if they add confusion to the streets…

…The shared bike-car lanes, called sharrows, are seen as a simple solution when the city, neighbourhood residents or local businesses don’t want to remove parking or a lane currently used for vehicle traffic. They consist of a painted bike with arrows on the pavement, and signs along the side of the road.

When researchers at the University of British Columbia looked at 690 cyclist collisions serious enough to land a cyclist in the hospital, they found the only bike infrastructure that significantly reduces risk is having a separate route for bikes.

Please read the rest of this enlightening article by visiting the Edmonton Journal page.

I’d love to hear our readers thoughts on sharrows: do you love them? Hate them? Are you indifferent to them? Do you find them effective and well-placed, or see them as an “easy out” for cities who don’t want to spend much on improved bicycle infrastructure? Please leave your comments below.

The LAB Weighs In On Tampa’s Recent Cycling Tragedies…

I was surprised and elated to find out today that Tampa’s recent spate of cyclist deaths has received attention from none other than the president of the League of American Bicyclists, Andy Clarke. He drafted a letter to the Hillsborough County Commission and to the Tampa City Council/Mayor’s Office and gave our friend Alan Snel a sneak peek at it. Alan gave me permission to share it in its entirety with you here:

Bicycling Safety in Tampa and Hillsborough County
A Statement from the League of American Bicyclists
By Andy Clarke, LAB President

The tragic deaths of six area bicyclists in recent weeks is an awful reminder of the terrible toll – and excruciating personal loss – caused by traffic crashes in the Tampa area. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims and to all those touched by these fatalities. There is nothing we can do to bring these loved ones back.

Perhaps the best we can hope for is that their deaths serve as a wake-up call to the community: a clarion call to the cowardly hit-and-run drivers and red-light runners who show such disdain for human life; a clarion call to the Mayor, city council, and county commissioners striving to create safe, livable communities; and a clarion call to every bicyclist, pedestrian and driver on area roads. Please – take care, pay attention, and show some respect for each other.

Part of the tragedy unfolding in Tampa is the fact that crashes like this are generally on the decline nationwide, even as more and more people in cities across the country get back on their bikes and enjoy the healthy benefits of active transportation. One out of every six bicyclists killed in the United States each year loses their life on Florida roadways; the recent spate of fatalities in Tampa alone is one percent of the annual national total.

Our plea to the elected leaders of and the entire Tampa Bay community is that you decide today that this is unacceptable and must stop. The way communities react to tragedies such as this truly defines their commitment to bicyclist safety and to their “bicycle-friendliness?. Three years ago, the leading bicycling city of Portland, Ore., suffered two bicyclist deaths just a couple of weeks apart. The immediate response of Mayor Sam Adams in pulling together the law enforcement, traffic engineering, public safety, and bicycling communities to coordinate a powerful and effective response clearly demonstrated their true commitment to ensuring their city streets are safe for bicycling. Nothing short of that will suitably honor the lives of these Tampa cyclists.

Our plea to the residents of Tampa, especially those behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, is to stop treating cyclists like animals. The callous disregard for human life shown by the driver who won’t even stop when they hit someone is inexcusable; as is the level of vitriol towards cyclists on display in the on-line newspaper comments that follow every such incident. We understand that many cyclists flout the rules of the road and that such behavior is irritating – the organized bicycling community, including the League, tries hard to change that dynamic through our education and club programs. But not only are the recent deaths NOTHING to do with cyclist misbehavior, the last victim was on the sidewalk when they were hit by a car involved in a red-light running crash.

As this last fatal crash highlights, traffic safety in Tampa is really not about bicyclists, or bicyclists versus motorists. It is much bigger than that and deserves a much bigger response. The temptation to crack down on bicycling as somehow inherently unsafe must be resisted. People out riding and walking are the indicator species of a healthy, vibrant, safe and livable community. Street design, community development, and driving behavior that discourage people from bicycling and walking should not be tolerated – not least because it makes everyone vulnerable and unsafe. Distracted, drunken and drugged driving is a scourge that affects every motorist as well as every cyclist and pedestrian. Speeding and red-light running, turning without slowing or stopping, failing to yield or signal will catch up with us all whether we are behind the wheel of a car or simply trying to get across the street. For the last several decades, more than 40,000 people a year have been killed in traffic crashes in the United States – mostly car drivers and passengers. That simply wouldn’t happen if we were all following the rules.

Our plea to the law enforcement community is to take these fatalities and crashes seriously. We understand that rarely does someone get into their car with the intent of causing harm, let alone death. The impact of killing someone must be devastating, and remarkably rarely do the families of the victims want revenge. They do want justice, and I believe they do expect the serious impact of a driver’s careless, inattentive or dangerous disregard for the safety of others to be taken into account. There may be new laws that are required to adequately prosecute “causing death by careless or dangerous driving?, so people take the everyday function of driving a little more seriously. By all means crack down on cyclist behavior that is a real threat to public safety or a common cause of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, but please don’t assume that a cyclist is in the wrong simply for being on the road in the first place. We really don’t deserve that.

The Tampa area is blessed with numerous League Cycling Instructors, active bicycling clubs, bike shops and bike-related businesses that promote more and safer cycling. Our bicycle-friendly community program provides a roadmap for improvements. There are expert traffic engineers and planners who know how to design safer streets for ALL road users. There are examples across the country of where this is being done – even the formerly-mean streets of New York City are being transformed into complete streets that people can walk across, ride along, drive down, and park in safely and conveniently.

Even though the tools are there, that kind of transformation doesn’t happen easily or overnight. We urge Tampa Bay area elected officials to work constructively with the local cycling community, traffic safety experts, law enforcement, public health, business leaders and local neighborhoods to make the tough decisions to usher in a new era of safer streets and more livable communities – not just for a bunch of bicyclists or for the grief-stricken families of fallen riders, but for the good of the entire community.

Wow…great stuff. Andy seems to capture what many of us in the Tampa Bay area are thinking, but he delivers it much more eloquently than a lot of us could right now. Let’s hope this gets the message to our elected officials and they finally realize that something MUST be done to give cyclists and pedestrians an equal (and safe) footing on Tampa’s mean streets.

Not Allowed to Ride to School?

Many of us around here are big fans of encouraging school-age children (and their parents) to ride bicycles to school…it gives kids much-needed exercise and helps teach them that it IS possible to live car-lite. Besides, riding a bike to avoid gridlock around the school is a fantastic way to start and end the day.

And, with the incidences of diabetes and childhood obesity running rampant through the U.S. population, finding a way to use muscles instead of gasoline makes a lot of sense from a health perspective. So, it’s always troubling to hear when kids are thwarted in their attempts to do something positive for themselves and their environment…when school officials don’t allow children to ride bikes to school, we’re ALL in trouble. Here’s an example from last month, an incident in Saratoga, New York:

School officials in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., reprimanded a mother and her 12-year-old son for riding their bicycles to school on national Bike to Work day and confiscated the boy’s bike, according to a story in The Saratogian.

Janette Kaddo Marino and her son, Adam, 12, pedaled the seven miles from their home to Maple Avenue Middle School.

“After they arrived, mother and son were approached first by school security and then school administrators, who informed Marino that students are not permitted to ride their bikes to school,” the story said. “School officials took her son’s bike and stored it in the boiler room. They told her she would have to return with a car to retrieve the bike later in the day.”

Read the full story at Seattle PI by clicking here.

And, strangely enough, this isn’t a U.S.-only phenomenon. In fact, a very similar incident occured in Portsmouth, UK a week later:

A Portsmouth youngster has lost his year-long campaign to be allowed to cycle to school. Sam O’Shea, 11, has been told that the road outside St Paul’s Catholic Primary School is not safe enough to use.

Authorities are sticking by their October 2008 decision – despite the fact that Sam and his family persuaded the city council to bring forward a planned redesign of the road layout. They also arranged for a professional risk assessment, which found that the street was safe for children to cycle on.

The full article can be found on Bike Radar by clicking here.

Troubling times, indeed. A tip of the foam hat to our friend Shek for bringing these two articles to our attention.

If any of you have had similar run-ins, please let us know about them in the comments.