Wednesday, March 03, 2010

LA's Sharrows Campaign goes astray before it's underway...

The City of Los Angeles is finally getting close to implementing a Sharrows pilot project, complete with study methodology, data collection, analysis, and evaluation. Phew! All this in order to get Sharrows painted on the streets of Los Angeles.

Sharrows, for the uninitiated, are "Shared Lane" markings that typically consist of the image of a bicycle with a chevron on top but sometimes use a cyclist in a little "house." The Sharrow communicates good lane positioning (theoretically) and is meant to encourage cyclists to ride in the lane and out of the door zone. The Sharrow is also meant to communicate to the motoring public that cyclists belong on the street, in the lane, and out of the door zone. The debate over Sharrows typically comes down to the proper lane position for cyclists. The minimum positioning for the Sharrow is typically 11' from the curb line which is 3' from the edge line of the typical 8' parking stall. Not really outside the door zone! Cycling activists who favor riding completely out of the door zone contend that 13' from the curb line is the appropriate minimum position for a Sharrow.

Many cities have implemented Sharrows as a tool for supporting cyclists as a vital and viable element of a comprehensive transportation system. San Francisco, Long Beach, Portland, Hermosa Beach, Pasadena, Austin, and even the sovereign state of Highland Park have Sharrows on their streets. In some cases the Sharrows went down without much forethought or before/after behavior evaluation. In other cases, the process included significant data collection and analysis.

San Francisco did a study in 2004, collecting and analyzing videotape of cyclists and motorists before and after the installation of Sharrows on 6 different streets in San Francisco. The stated goals of the Sharrows pilot project in San Francisco were to:
  • Improve positioning of both cyclists and motorists on streets without bike lanes;
  • Reduce aggressive motorist behavior;
  • Prevent wrong-way bicycling;
  • Prevent bicycling on sidewalks.
The pilot project and the study were successful, revealing the most significant impact was on the behavior of motorists who increased their distance from the parked cars on the right side of the street by 50%.

Of course, this was San Francisco and there is no way that the City of Los Angeles could use this study to justify Sharrows on the streets of LA. After all, San Francisco is smaller than Los Angeles, they have different sensitivities, their paint is unlike our paint, there is not much LA can learn from SF!

The US Department of Transportation is also studying Sharrows in six cities around the country including Austin which recently installed 70 Sharrows along with cameras that will collect data so that the USDOT can evaluate motorists and cyclists and their ability to figure out on their own how Sharrows work.

According to the National Associations of Transportation Officials (NACTO) and their Cycling for Cities initiative, more than 76 American municipalities are now utilizing Shared Use Lane Markings to encourage cyclists to ride in a safer lane position, to alert road users to the correct lane position of cyclists, to move cyclists our of the "door zone" of parked cars, to encourage safe passing by motorists, and to alert all road users to the presence of cyclists. without taking up any additional road space.

In city after city, a simple survey reveals that every city had an objective when they implemented their Sharrows program. In Seattle, Sharrows were a "friendly reminder from the Seattle Department of Transportation to drivers: Leave room for those who choose to pedal their way around town." In Portland, "the explicit purpose of sharrows is to educate drivers that bikes belong in traffic lanes." From Wisconsin, "Sharrows remind moptorists that bicycles belong on the street." From the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices comes the explanation "This pavement marking indicates the appropriate bicyclist line of travel, and cues motorists to pass with sufficient clearance."

Along comes Los Angeles, led by the LADOT, and implementing a Sharrows pilot program takes on a completely new meaning. First of all, the emphasis seems to be on impacting the behavior of cyclists, not motorists. In light of recent objections to Sharrows, such as the LADOT's stated fear that they will interfere with the flow of traffic and that the paint will be slippery, the fact that SCAG and the LADOT are partnering in a study that evaluates the behavior of cyclists and not of motorists leaves one asking the question, "What is the purpose of the pilot project?"

In San Francisco, the purpose of the Sharrows program was to improve the position of both cyclists and motorists. It was also to reduce aggressive motorist behavior.

In Austin, the purpose of the Sharrows program was to study the ability of cyclists and motorists to figure out how the Sharrows work.

In Los Angeles, it appears that the purpose of the Sharrows program is to impact the behavior of cyclists. That reeks of the LADOT's mandate to normalize the behavior of LA's motorists and to demonize the behavior of LA's cyclists. Will the AAA come along to help, bringing volunteer motorists to help in analyzing the shift in the behavior of motorists? Why is the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world engaging in a "scientific" study of a pilot program that commenced with no purpose, that fails to evaluate motorists, that consists of little commitment, and a casual approach to supporting cyclists in Los Angeles.

Based on Austin's size, Los Angeles should be putting down over 400 Sharrows and installing cameras to study the impact on the behavior of both motorists and cyclists. Better yet, Los Angeles should be asking why Austin has a better relationship with the USDOT and why Austin is getting federal support in studying the impact of Sharrows on motorists and cyclists.

Barring a partnership with the USDOT, perhaps Los Angeles could simply take a look at the Bellevue Sharrows study which documents traffic volumes for both motorists and cyclists along with traffic speeds.

From Austin to San Francisco, from Bellevue to Long Beach, Great Cities are doing Great Work and they all have great ideas that should inspire Los Angeles to engage in a Sharrows pilot program that raises the standard, not just for the implementation of Sharrows but for the process of evaluating pilot programs. Come on LA, raise the bar!

Most of all, remember that on congested streets, surface markings will be hidden by...vehicles! If the Sharrows program is to succeed, it must be supported by signage such as the BAFUL (R4-11) that reinforces the Sharrows message and reminds motorists that cyclists have the right to use the full lane. If the LA version of the Sharrows program is to succeed, it must be supported with a clearly defined campaign goal, with an inspired mechanism for collecting and analyzing robust data on the behavior of all modes, and with the enthusiastic (not reluctant!) support of the City of Los Angeles.

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