Tuesday, July 06, 2010

LA's Sharrows Program prompts formation of National Sharrow Task Force

"This Sharrow on the approach to Vermont 
positions cyclists to the right of two right-turn lanes, 
setting up a right-hook collision"

The debate over LA's inaugural Sharrows program went to Chicago where transportation experts from the private, public, and advocacy sectors took one look at a picture of the meandering 4th Street Sharrows and let out a collective groan of disapproval. The LADOT Bikeways Department's unique Sharrows standards stirred a new debate among the members of the National Committee of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), one that sees the Bicycle Technical Committee (BTC) reconsidering its years-long development of Sharrows guidelines and the recently adopted recommendations.

Over the last several years, Sharrows proponents fell into two groups; those who wanted ambitious and strong guidelines that would ensure proper Sharrows implementation and those who argued that soft language would facilitate Sharrows approval from the full NCUTCD. The "aim low to get approval" proponents prevailed long ago and the LADOT Bikeways Department is in the process of demonstrating the folly of the "aim low" strategy, much to the dismay of the Sharrows proponents who have worked for years to gain approval.

This past week, Enci and I attended the NCUTCD conference in Chicago where we joined the members of the BTC as they briefly discussed the details of LA's Sharrows program, including the meandering path that results from measuring from the curb instead of from the adjacent travel lane, and the question was raised "Will the LADOT have to populate the streets with "Bikes Merge" signs?" Additional discussion was given to LA's variable positioning of Sharrows before and after intersections, areas that should be consistent and based on destination, as opposed to LA's standard which is simply based on the presence of curbside parking. It was at this point that the Chair moved the dialogue from the specifics of LA's fumbled implementation, offering his opinion that "the unintended consequences of an ill-advised and poorly executed Sharrows campaign are costly and dangerous."

From the discussion that ensued, the following points were made:

  • Lanes that are less than 14' wide are non-sharable (side-by-side) and "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" is the appropriate signage support.
  • The "Share the Road" sign is "a completely ineffective traffic control device." The presence of a cyclist does not constitute danger nor does it warrant a warning sign.
  • Sharrows that are part of a study are painted and Sharrows that are permanent are installed using Thermoplastic. The removal of Thermoplastic is costly and damages the surface of the street.
  • Sharrows should be positioned in relation to the left travel lane or street center, not from the curb lane. The recommendation to go no lower that 11’ from the right-curb does not infer measure from the right.
  • Sharrows should be positioned so that cyclists follow a straight line that follows the direction of travel, not a meandering path.
  • Sharrows can be supported by "Bikes Merge" signs where appropriate.
  • The Bicycle Technical Committee dumbed down the language to get the Sharrows approved. "It feels like we shot ourselves in the foot. It will be used for a number of years but without the guidance that we proposed.

The Sharrow controversy is just one of the many issues that the BTC is working through the process and the others include use of the "Except Bicycles" signage, Bike Lane treatments at intersections, Barrier-Separated bike lanes, Bike Merge signage, Colored Bike Lanes, and Door Zone Markings. Given that the NCUTCD meets only twice a year, the opportunity to present findings and recommendations to the full body is limited. The Chair of the BTC moved the Sharrows debate into the formation of a Sharrows Task Force that will return with recommendations that will be presented at the January 2011 NCUTCD conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, it is incumbent on the LADOT and its many partners to heed the advice of the experts, to review LA's implementation of the inaugural Sharrows program, and to consider the full spectrum of guidance including proper lane positioning and clear communication to road users.

It is also incumbent on the cycling community to consider the regrets that are being expressed by transportation professionals at the NCUTCD as they review the folly of soft language and conclude by declaring "We need to fight a better fight in the future so we’re more more effective."

The Sharrow in the foreground is 10' from the center of the street. The next Sharrow is 15' from the center, followed by a Sharrow 10' from the center. This is engineered conflict and a collision between a motorist and a cyclist would be the responsibility of the cyclist because the Sharrow positions the cyclist as merging traffic, not as through traffic. Through traffic has the right of way. These Sharrows are dangerous and provide a false sense of security.

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is sponsored by organizations such as League of American Bicyclists, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Institute of Transportation of Engineers, Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, American Society of Civil Engineers, National Safety Council, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Automobile Association, American Highway Users Alliance, American Public Works Association, American Public Transportation Association, American Railway Engineering & Maintenance of Way Association, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Association of American Railroads, Governors Highway Safety Association, Human Factors Resources, International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, International Municipal Signal Association and National Association of County Engineers.

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