on-road bikeways

The ECG’s ultimate goal, as we all know, is a route which is 100% off-road, routed on multi-use trails.  Today we are about 1/4 of the way there, a remarkable feat, for which we are grateful to our numerous partners in community organizations, government agencies, and elsewhere.

24% complete today… that means that the remaining 76% is still on interim on-road routing (minus some miles on ferries).  So naturally the ECGA spends a good deal of time ensuring that the quality of that routing is as high as possible.  We work with local cyclists to determine the highest quality route (using our special blend of 17 herbs, spices, and other criteria) to connect the completed trail segments.  Often this means streets that are already part of an official bike route (municipal or state) or streets with bike lanes.

Something happened yesterday that could make our job easier. The 2009 edition of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD, for those who enjoy alphabet soup) is finally out after a v-e-r-y lengthy delay.  The MUTCD is the national guidebook published by the Federal Highway Administration that defines and regulates all traffic control devices, traffic signs, traffic signals, and pavement markings in the United States.  For instance, a stop sign is a red octagon no matter where you go in the US because the MUTCD says so.  And shared-lane markings, or sharrows, are in the guide for the first time.

For years, many agencies have justified their decision not to apply sharrow markings to their streets by simply stating that, as sharrows are not in the MUTCD, using them would open the agency up to liability in case of accidents.  Now that sharrows are “official”, that excuse no longer holds water, and we should see an explosion in the use of these markings, which are already in use in many locations around the country.

Why should we be glad for this?  The sharrow, as defined in the Manual, serves 5 purposes:

A. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle,

B. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane,

C. Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,

D. Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and

E. Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

Essentially, the sharrow guides cyclists out of the door zone of parked cars, serves as a pavement-bound “share the road” reminder for motorists, and will hopefully lead to minimized “bike salmoning” – that is, biking on the wrong side of the street, or the wrong way on a one-way.  Use of sharrows on the interim on-road ECG will lead to safer conditions.

Just because sharrows are now in the MUTCD doesn’t mean that agencies must begin using them – but it does remove one potential impediment.  We should be glad for this, and we should (and will) advocate for greater use of sharrows on the on-road portions of the East Coast Greenway.

2 Comments

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  1. Jacob says:

    Although they are not standard, many larger cities are experimenting with on-street barrier-protected bike lanes (9th Ave, 8th Ave, Broadway, Allen St, Sands St, & Kent Ave in New York City, 15th St NW in DC, and SW Broadway in Portland). It is very likely that these will eventually wind up in the MUTCD. These could serve as essential links in the Greenway network, especially in dense, urban areas with extremely limited rights-of-way.

  2. Eric says:

    Jacob, great point. I could not agree more. In addition to the US cities you mentioned, such barrier-protected bike lanes are an established part of the streetscape in cities like Montreal, Quebec City, and many western European cities. It’s only a matter of time before more US cities pick up on the benefits of these facilities.

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