Tuesday, June 15, 2010

LADOT's Bikeways Department continues to fumble LA's Sharrows program

(photo by @LosAngelesCM)

The LADOT's Bikeways Department is busy installing Sharrows on Fountain Ave. in East Hollywood, drawing cheers from those who have waited years for any progress and jeers from those who think that years of debate and planning and preparation should have prevented the missteps that have already occurred.

Fountain Ave. is a street of variable width. There are three distinct areas between Western and Vermont with street width that ranges from 38' to 60' (approx) and with lane configurations that vary from traditional midblock to a variety of intersection treatments. This makes the LADOT's Bikeways Department's decision to place the Sharrows a consistent 12' from the face of the curb all the more dangerous. While the traffic lane on Fountain Ave. proceeds from one end to the other in a straight line, cyclists are directed by the Sharrows to follow a line that varies in distance from the center of the street, moving cyclists back and forth as the street narrows or widens. Urban Cycling education directs cyclists to pick a line and stay with it, communicating clearly to other road users with predictable behavior their intended destination. Yet the Sharrows are less than 7' from the centerline of the street in the study area and as much as 18' from the centerline of the street at the Vermont end. The Sharrows must be in a consistent position so that cyclists are integrated into the traffic flow, not inserted and then removed based on the variable curb position.

The Sharrow pictured above is placed 12' off the curb to the right but it's 18' from the centerline of the street. This Sharrow is in the right turn lane, a travel lane used by right turning traffic accessing a side street and positioning the cyclist in position to become the victim of a Right Hooking motorist who will pass on the left in order to turn right. The correct position for the Sharrow is to the left, closer to the center of the street, positioning the cyclist with through traffic, allowing right turning traffic to pass the cyclist on the right and turn onto the side street.

This Sharrow directs cyclists into the back of the parked cars ahead, or cyclists can veer to the left and enter the traffic lane as the street narrows, hardly an inspired engineering choice. Cyclists should be in the correct position in advance of this conflict point, the Sharrow needs to be moved to the left.

This Sharrow is also placed 12' off the curb to the right but it's less than 7' from the centerline of the street. The orange circles indicate that this is one of the "study" Sharrows and that the behavior of motorists and cyclists in this area will be gauged to determine the efficacy of the Sharrows. Studying the impact of the Sharrows that are in the travel lane and ignoring the Sharrows that are outside the travel lane is a study that will yield skewed results. This curious study may not gather much data on the impact of Sharrows on the behavior of cyclists and motorists but it certainly reveals a great deal insight into the LADOT's Bikeways Department's strategies, priorities, logic, and knowledge of urban cycling.

This photo is looking back at Fountain at an all too common variable street width. The flow of traffic on the single lane in each direction is smooth but the addition of the Sharrows directs cyclists to move in and out according to the width of the street. The Sharrows should position cyclists in the correct position in the lane, not just a uniform distance from the curb. Bad for cyclists, bad for the flow of traffic.

This photo demonstrates the importance of the "measure twice, spray paint once" mantra, demonstrating that even when the LADOT's Bikeways Department commits to placing the Sharrows a uniform 12' from the curb, they're just not up to the task. 12' is not always 12' the LADOT's Bikeways Department is doing the measuring. This is an easy enough mistake to make but on a bike, the misplaced Sharrows are easy to find. Cyclists know when they are moving back and forth and as we rode the street, even without measuring, we were able to pick the Sharrows that didn't "feel" right.

Painting Sharrows on the street without surveying the larger environment and determining the best place for cyclists results in Sharrows that engineer conflict, directing cyclists into potholes, over sunken water main caps, and along the most worn line on the street (the right tire track of the motor vehicle traffic). Simply adding the consideration of the best street surface would result in the Sharrows being placed in the center of the travel lane which is also the best location for controlling the lane. Even better would be to coordinate with the Bureau of Street Services (they installed the Sharrows!) and prep the street so that local resurfacing projects and the implementation of the Sharrows program could be complementary.

(photo by Dan Gutierrez of DualChase.com)

These Sharrows are in the center of the travel lane and they are supported by the R4-11 “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” Sign which reinforces the message that motorists need to hear. The correctly placed Sharrows are supported by the signage and together, they communicate clearly to cyclists and motorists the correct lateral lane position for cyclists on a travel lane that is too narrow to share side-by-side. These Sharrows are not in East Hollywood and the R4-11 sign is nowhere to be found on Fountain Ave.

The City of Los Angeles would do well to check its "We don't take direction from the neighboring villages!" attitude and start looking around at the more agile and innovative communities that are consistently beating LA at improving the quality of life for their residents, their road users, their businesses, their visitors and their voters. Long Beach spent 4 weeks planning their Sharrows project and they ended up picking up an Innovation Award from the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Manhattan Beach reportedly spent a mere $2K on their Sharrows but complemented that meager investment of funds with maximum professional implementation and fastidious attention to detail, drawing compliments from even the hardiest of transportation critics. Effective solutions do not need to be complicated or expensive, sometimes simply executing well is a significant step in the right direction.

As for Los Angeles, it's not to late to salvage the floundering Sharrows project. The best place to start would be to engage the critics, involve the constituents, draw in the advice of the Caltrans Bicycle Advisory Committee and LA's Bicycle Advisory Committee, and invite the community to participate in the process. Relying on advocates who are on the clock is the simplest way to get applause from the choir but it is hardly the formula for creative and constructive criticism. Most important, go ride a bike. Ride through Long Beach, ride through Manhattan Beach, then ride down Fountain Ave. The street looks a lot different when viewed from a bike.


Greg Thomas said...

"...cyclists are directed by the Sharrows to follow a line that varies in distance from the center of the street, moving cyclists back and forth as the street narrows or widens."

This is freakin' absurd! How clueless can the LADOT be? This is completely contrary to every piece of safe cycling training I've ever seen.

Anonymous said...

Minor correction.
You mention Manhattan Beach spent $2,000. I believe you are referring to Hermosa Beach, whose sharrows are depicted in the last photo by Dan Guiterrez. To the best of my knowledge, Manhattan Beach does not yet have sharrows, but is working with neighboring cities in the development of a beach cities bike master plan.