Thursday, January 3, 2013

Little lesson on Bike lanes, Sharrows, and the like

From Montpelier Bikes
What are they?  
Collectively known as bikeways, each of these terms refers to a different type of facility.  Bicyclists should educate ourselves about these terms and use them correctly to ask for what we want.  They are not interchangeable!  

You wouldn't ask for a chocolate chip cookie if you actually want an ice cream cone! (or vice versa)  Let's speak carefully, toward a common vocabulary.  It is up to us to educate ourselves, traffic engineers, and decision makers.  Here's a primer:

  • Bike lanes are areas of a roadway, set off by a stripe, that are stenciled with a bicycle image, and signed for preferential use by bicycles.  Parking is not permitted in bike lanes.  A bike lane is generally not used by pedestrians.  Bike lanes striping stops before an intersection, and continues on the other side, creating the illusion of continuity.  Bicyclists are not required to ride in a bicycle lane - you may wish to leave the lane to turn or avoid road debris.  This is a photo of a bike lane in Olympia, WA.  Note the pavement stencil and sign. 

  • Bike paths are separate tr
     ails, usually 8-14 feet wide.  Bike paths are often shared with walkers, runners, inline skate rs, and horses -- and thus are more properly called "Shared-Use Paths."  The photo shows Montpelier's Winooski River Path, a shared-use path.
  • Paved shoulders are areas at the edge of the roadway, set off by a striped line.  While paved shoulders do create space that may be used by bicyclists, they do not send a message to either bicyclists or motorists that bikes have a space on the road.  They are not not stenciled or signed for bicycle use.  Parking may be permitted, and the shoulder stripes - unlike bike lanes - bend around the corner at an intersection.  
  • Sharrows (share + arrow) are more properly called shared lane markings.  Sharrows are placed to indicate bicyclists' right to the road where there is not enough space for a bike lane.  The arrow indicates t he d
     irection of travel.  Sharrows are well-suited to Mont pelier's na rrow streets.  These are soon to be in cluded in the national standards for roadways in the U.S.  In the meantime, over 50 local municipalities are already using them - including Burlington, VT.

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