A Chorus of Cheers, But Then Some Jeers, Greet “L.A.’s First Sharrows”

6_13_10_Sharrows.jpgCity Council President Eric Garcetti and the B.S.S. Crew that painted the Sharrows.
Photo via LADOT Bike Blog

(An early version of this post listed the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition as in partnership with the government groups.  That relationship has been clarified below. – DN)

It was just after-noon on Friday when the first tweet came in.  After literally years of discussion, planning and studying, the city was finally painting Sharrows, officially known as Shared-Lane Markings, on the streets of L.A.  The Sharrows appear on a half-mile of Fountain Street in East Hollywood.  Eventually, the Sharrows will extend for a full mile between Western Boulevard and Vermont.  This marked a major victory for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who has pushed for Sharrows to be on the street for at least half a decade.  While the Coalition celebrated last week, they’ve made clear that last week’s paintings were the start, not the end result, of the Shared Markings on L.A.’s streets.

Billed as the city’s first Sharrows, even though some appear on private streets in Westwood and D.I.Y. Sharrows appear in Northeast L.A. by the Gold Line, this "pilot program" is finally coming to fruition after years of advocacy by the LACBC with an assist from Council President Garcetti’s office.  While it might be a simple task to get Sharrows on the streets in some cities, in L.A. it took five years and the work of three government bodies, the LADOT, Bureau of Street Services and Southern California Association of Governments.  In addition, a chunk of funding for the project came from the  Bohnet Foundation, with additional funds provided by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.  It’s a good thing Metro wasn’t involved too, or it might have taken another couple of months before we saw any paint.  Just a reminder, it took four weeks for Long Beach to move their award-winning green Sharrowed lanes from Charles Gandy’s head to the street.

You can see above what a Sharrow looks like.  If you’re new to the discussion and wondering how that is supposed to make a street safer; a Sharrow serves two purposes.  First, it tells cyclists where to ride to avoid the door zone.  Second, it alerts and reminds drivers where cyclists can and should be riding with the support of the law.  I would add that third, it reminds the police that cyclists aren’t supposed to ride in the gutter, but that’s just the cynic in me after too many "ride to the right" commercials.  As we’ll see later, the placement of the Sharrows is creating a real concern that "L.A.’s first official Sharrows" aren’t going to accomplish any of these goals.

The first to report on the new paint was the LADOT Bike Blog who made sure not to undersell the event.  The blog opened by declaring, "Friday June 11th marks a new beginning: LADOT is proud to unveil the first official Sharrows within the City of Los Angeles."  Jeesh, don’t you guys read The Source?  A touch of objectivity in style goes a long way in selling your message.  The Bike Blog was pretty breathless in its reporting of the installation, and goes into great detail on the process of actually painting the Sharrows, as shown above.  While the Bike Blog talks about the markings appearing between Vermont and Western on Fountain, so far the Sharrows only appear in one direction (Eastbound) and only go for half the strip.

Following the Bike Blog, an excited celebratory post appeared on the LACBC Blog, and LAist followed with some pictures and mild praise.  While reading the post at the LACBC Blog, I flashed back to an interview I conducted with Smolarski and LACBC Planning Director Dorothy Le.  The interview, conducted in May of 2009 touched on the topic of Sharrows and why it was taking so long for the paint to get on the ground.  Smolarski basically said she would be thrilled if Sharrows were painted before the New Year.  After all that work, it must have been double exciting to see the city finally making good on their years-old promise, after untold hours of advocacy, to paint these road markings.

On the Eco-Village Blog, Joe Linton wrote a piece as detailed as the LADOT Bike Blog’s except his outlined the tortured history of the project.  If I had to describe his post in one sentence it would be, "It’s nice to see Sharrows on the street but it’s taken forever."  Linton paid special attention to the infamous comment made at a City Council Transportation Committee hearing by Senior Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery that the department was concerned about cyclists slipping on paint and suing the city.  I would have focused on Mike Uyeno’s concern that the Sharrows would lead to slower car traffic, but to each their own.  I guess it’s a good thing he chose the "slippery when wet" comment, as Ted Rogers snarked on it several times at Biking in L.A.’s announcement of the Sharrws.

But of course the most important issue is how the Sharrows actually effect how people ride on Fountain and the other five streets that will see them installed in the coming weeks. The early reports are mixed.  Some people seem happy that the LADOT and city are doing something.  I’ve even seen some tweets referring to a ride along Fountain as "empowering."  However, reports from Stephen Box, who measured the Sharrow placement and found it wanting, should raise some eyebrows.

At Soap Box, Box reports that the Sharrows are placed only 12 feet from the curb, which places part of the marking within the door zone.  Box videos himself measuring the distance, so there’s no doubt about where the Sharrows are, then goes into depth about how the difference between a Sharrow placed 12 feet and one placed 13 feet makes all the difference in the world.  And if you don’t want to take Box’s word for it, you don’t have to.  He provides quotes from bike safety experts, including Long Beach’s Gandy, and a deeply disappointed president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.  After all, if the Sharrows aren’t directing cyclists to ride where they’re safest, then what’s the point of the program in any case?

For Box, the Sharrow placement is part of a larger issue.  For years, LADOT has preached that cyclists should "Ride to the Right, and Stop at the Light."  When a Sharrow is placed too far to the right, it brings up the issue again.  Despite the importance of placing Sharrows so that cyclists are riding outside the door zone, these Sharrows are placed a little too far to the right reinforcing the idea that cyclists should "ride to the right."  LAPD’s new training materials tell their officers that cyclists are entitled the full use of the lane.  Is LADOT continuing to preach something different, or was the placement of these new Sharrows just a mistake?

To be somewhat fair to LADOT, and the Bureau of Street Services who actually paints the markings, there is going to be a chance to fix this mistake at other locations.  Thus far, the city has painted Sharrows at one quarter of one of six locations they are to be painted, roughly 4% of the pilot project.  In the meantime, the debate between 12 and 13 or 14 will carry on as some cyclists ponder whether a mis-placed Sharrow is better than no Sharrow at all.

  • Garcetti is cute. I just hope I don’t have to swerve to avoid getting doored and slip on those sharrows. What a road hazard!

    No really, sharrows, good, details, leaving something wanting. But sharrows still good.

  • Chris L

    The magic of lowered expectations. You’d think we just got a separated bike lane.

    Still, something is better than nothing. Lets hope the pace of building new bike infrastructure in LA accelerates.

  • mandor

    I ride that stretch of Fountain often and looking forward to see how/if my experience changes! Now if only LADOT could address the speed of traffic on such a narrow street that is officially marked as a bike route. I think it’s marked as 30mph (35 maybe?), but we all know speed limits are just the opening bid.

  • LA Dept of DIY sharows were first.

  • Alex Kenefick

    The first sharrows are finally painted on the ground and people are already starting to dog pile all over LADOT for doing it wrong. That’s an awesome way to make the city want to do more sharrows, huh?

  • Erik G.

    As I posted to Soap Box: Can anyone explain to me why Parking is allowed on Fountain? It is an arterial. It is supposed to be used to move people and goods, not store private property. Lose the parking and put in a Copenhagen-style cycle track.

  • Alex,

    Have a little respect…for yourself and for your community. This wasn’t a sweater knitted by a near-sighted Aunt or a birdhouse built at summer camp by a young nephew; it was a transportation innovation implemented by a team of engineers who work for the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world.

    It is not too much to expect the LADOT’s Bikeways Department to perform their duties to a professional standard. In fact, it is irresponsible to argue for the lowering of those standards or to argue that there should not be some form of oversight and accountability.

    Sharrows on the Streets of LA, done right, done professionally, done to standards. It’s a simple standard, look to Long Beach or Manhattan Beach if you’re unclear on what the successful implementation of a Sharrows program looks like.

  • hey s-box,

    the SUV in your video – how far away is parked from the curb? i would’ve liked to see that included in the vid.

  • Eric B

    Stephen, your video should be required viewing for all Councilmembers.

    If we can’t get a $100,000 pilot study of paint right, what are we doing? How do we evaluate the markings’ effectiveness at moving bikes out into traffic where they belong, if the markings aren’t out in traffic?

    Long Beach’s green sharrow lanes may be a bike advocates dream, but Hermosa Ave. is probably a more realistic example for LA. Sharrows are smack in the middle of the right lane (of a four-lane street). They are accompanied by clear signs saying “Bicycles may use full lane.” Clear, concise, and conflict-free. The signage tells bikes and cars what each of them are supposed to do, and they do it! People with beach cruisers going 8-10 mph are comfortable on a 30 mph street just because the paint and signs are right. It’s amazing.

  • Gina

    They blew it big time, the sharrow is too close to the open door of the car, it give the impression that it’s just a bike lane, not a shared lane, they need to move it over an extra foot so that drivers know that they can’t squeeze by a bike.

  • Gina

    I think they need to measure from the centerline dividing the two lanes, not the curb, if the painting starts about three feet from the innermost part of the center line of the lanes then it will look more uniform (curbs undulate many feet to and from the center line on most roads)becasue the center line dividing the road is static.

  • KateNonymous

    “While the Bike Blog talks about the markings appearing between Westwood and Western on Fountain”

    That’s Vermont and Western, as earlier, right? It can’t be Westwood.

    I wonder how they tested this system. They know things need to be tested to make sure they work properly, right?

  • That’s Vermont and Western, as earlier, right? It can’t be Westwood.
    —-

    Oh, that’s an ugly typo. You’re right, and that’s been corrected. I just saw the Westwood ones this weekend and they must have been stuck on my mind.

  • Brian M

    @Erik G. : Parking is still allowed on Fountain because Hollywood is packed full of houses and apartments that predate adequate parking allowances, and because businesses on Fountain don’t have parking lots (in most cases).

    It’s nice to talk about how Fountain “should be” from the perspective of someone who’s using it to get somewhere, but it’s also important to consider it from the perspective of people for whom it is a destination.

    Likewise, it would be nice if more people who lived, shopped, ate, and otherwise used the facilities that line Fountain gave up their cars, but it’s not realistic to eliminate parking altogether in an area as densely populated with working class and lower-middle class families as Hollywood around Fountain is.

  • Derek

    As a taxpayer and partial owner and maintainer of the land occupied by on-street parking, I don’t think free parking for other people is a very good return on my investment. Does anyone?

  • jim bledsoe

    Hey. Is it not the best that we have sanctioned paint on the street!!
    I road the line in the middle of the stencil. Perfect!!
    Out of the door zone and a little into the traffic.
    A few little steps and soon we will have the whole city.
    Not that it is not ours already, they just are too sleepy in there out modded transportation choices to see it.
    The new paint on Fountain is marvelous.

  • Erik G.

    I don’t have space in my place to store my boat. Should I be able to store it on public land for free?

    But cars are different? Sorry, what don’t I get?

    (And don’t tell me the registration or the gas tax pays for arterials like Fountain, because it doesn’t).

  • Erik G.

    I don’t have space in my place to store my boat. Should I be able to store it on public land for free?

    But cars are different? Sorry, what don’t I get?

    (And don’t tell me the registration or the gas tax pays for arterials like Fountain, because it doesn’t).

  • LAofAnaheim

    No parking = 50 mph street. Keep the parking and make sure the sharrows keep bicyclists away from the dreaded “car door zone”.

  • roadblock

    happy as EFF that we have FINALLY gotten paint on the EFFIN FUCKIN GROUND. But BOX is completely right. We need the sharrows to be placed to spec. Thankfully, there are a bunch more that can be done right.

    STEPHEN BOX. You need to make a storm the bastille ride that goes to the site of the next sharrow paintings. Bring your tape measure bring the crowd of cyclists and lets MAKE FUCKIN SURE that these sharrows are painted correctly. POst the ride, I and others will be there with a tape measure.

  • Yeah, whoever spots the next sharrows going down, twitter it and we will ll be there STAT with tape measures. I’ll start keeping one in my tool bag just to be safe!

  • Cory

    It is important to establish standards, unfortunately the CA MUTCD only sets a minimum standard (11 ft from curbface) for the placement of Shared lane Markings. The problem here is that travel lanes w/ parking on Fountain at 20 feet are not a minimum width. Standards should be established based on the lane width, not just some arbitrary minimum. Standards for any lane less than 13 feet wide should position the marking in the center of the travel lane, at 20 feet the centerline of the marking should be 14 feet from the curbface.

  • What Stephen Box fails to mention is that there are going to be Sharrows put down at six locations as part of a study by LADOT. All six locations will have the Sharrows placed at the same distance from the curb. In other words he is trying to tell LADOT that they are doing the test wrong without knowing how wide the other streets are or for that matter exactly how they are conducting the tests or what they are trying to measure.

    Stephen Box also chose not to help LADOT conduct these tests by volunteering his time as a participant. Instead he is attacking the LADOT for conducting this testing all wrong. Evidently they should have consulted Stephen Box about how to conduct the testing, after all he is a traffic engineer with a deep understanding of the proper methods, locations and what it is that they are trying to test.

  • Frank Blarkevich

    Amen Dennis. The MUTCD says “The shared roadway bicycle marking … may be used to assist bicyclists with positioning on a shared roadway with on-street parallel parking and to alert road users of the location a bicyclist may occupy within the traveled way.” The Sharrow is a static symbol while parking occupancy and vehicular volumes and behavior are dynamic. It is only a guide. The Sharrow is not meant to tell bicyclists to “take the lane”. While “taking the lane” is perfectly legal when “practicable” per the CVC, as a seasoned and avid cyclist, I don’t always “take the lane” simply because I can. There is absolutely no need to ride at 13′ feet from the curb on Fountain. And if you want to ride at that distance or any other distance for that matter, who’s stopping you?

  • Picking one sharrow on one side of a particular street block to demonstrate how the LADOT has blown it, Stephen Box is picking one sharrow out of perhaps one hundred or more that LADOT is putting on the streets for their study. Each of the six locations will have sharrows on both sides of the street and each of those lanes may have different widths from one another.

    Also within a city block a street will be a width at one point and then within a few yards it may reduce by a foot in width and then widen again a few yards away. To say that the middle point of the sharrows should be at least 13 feet on every one of the twelve lanes in this study is a guess without knowing the lane widths along both sides of all 6 streets in these tests. It may very well be that 13 feet places the sharrows in some instances to far to the left in a lane.

    Part of the reason for implementing sharrows is to encourage the bicyclists to move further out in the lane to avoid the parked car doors. Getting the bicyclist to move about another foot out from where they now ride to a distance of twelve feet from the curb should be a lot easier than trying to get them to travel another two feet out into the lane from where they typically ride.

    Perhaps Long Beach put down a wide swatch of paint with Sharrows on top to give bicyclists more confidence to move further out into the lane than if there were Sharrows only. Then again painting a wide swath of paint would more likely put it under the path of the tires of a car and that would make it wear out much faster as Stephen Box pointed out in his argument against the placement of LADOT’s Sharrows. Paint also wears much more quickly than the thermoplastic that LADOT is using for Sharrows. Perhaps Stephen Box will bring this to the attention of Charlie Gandy in Long Beach.

    Another example of trying to keep a certain distance from the curb to avoid hitting parked car doors was given to me by the Orange Line bus driver I now ride with at night. He told me he used to be a Metro supervisor and one of his responsibilities was to make sure that the distance from where the gutter meets the edge of the road to the outer edge of the right tires of the bus measured at least twelve feet so that the bus would not hit a parked car door. That would be about thirteen feet when adding the twelve or fourteen inches width of the gutter and thirteen feet is what Stephen Box is proposing for the Sharrows center line. However the side body of the bus sticks out several inches from the edge of the tires. The right side body of the bus to the edge of the curb would be closer to twelve feet at this minimum requirement.

    Metro is very interested in making sure that the bus will not hit a parked car door and considering that a bus has much less agility to avoid hitting something compared to a bicycle then at twelve feet from the curb the bicyclist is much less likely to hit a parked car door than the bus.

  • minibikebar

    What is wrong with you…? I rode the sharrows this weekend… I like them and I want more.
    I would rather have bike lanes but this will do for now.
    I decide we bicyclist are a bunch of ingrates…even when we get what we want you rip it down just because LADOT did something. I really, don’t get it. And Soap get over it you just hate LADOT.

    These sharrows will give greater acceptance of people bicycling on the road, as motorists are reminded that they are not the only roadway users.

    Plus 12 feet is more than enough buffer for parked cars, so bicyclists aren’t “doored.”

    I have written about the manner in which we discuss and debate our differences, about our opinions, and about how we use those opinions to guide our agenda/decision-making. I am disappointed that some in our bicycling community seem more comfortable engaging in confrontation than collaboration, and in closing channels of communication rather than opening them.

    At this juncture, we have two options. We can continue to amp up the rhetoric of outrage that is reverberating inside and outside our bicycling community. Or, rather than fortifying barriers, we can use this energy to build bridges across the spaces that divide us with the city.

    We can discuss our differences respectfully, moving first toward understanding, and perhaps eventually toward resolution with the city. And we can challenge ourselves to be better: What does it mean to be a part of a bicycling community? How do we engage each other in constructive dialog? How do we move forward?

    To that end, I am asking the bicycling community to join together with discussion not repeating the behavior of so many others and sinking backward, we will move forward the bicycle agenda in Los Angeles.

    I know that we can advance. As we do, we must remember that the collective energy of our diverse communities is among our greatest strengths, and one that clearly enhances our position among bicycling community and the City of Los Angeles.

    We will never be a great city to bicycling because we waste too much time on ripping LADOT down then supporting bicycle facilities.

    WE bicyclists are F…ed up!!!!!

    Off again to listen to Horseshoes and Handgrenades … and a nice long ride.

    PS I don’t drink anybodies cool aid NOT yours and NOT LADOT’s. I don’t need any old people to tell how to think or want!

    I want the new Bike Plan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • the weird part about sharrows, to me, is that they don’t seem to indicate where one should ride on the road. that may be their officially-declared primary function, but it never made sense to me — it just doesn’t send that meaning. it does serve to remind car/truck/bus drivers that bikes might be around a bit, and that’s good.

    and i finally witnessed the Gandy lanes for myself. i’m was overwhelmed with hopeful expectation for them, but seeing them in action, only a couple of bikers were brave enough to share the lane with the fifty zillion cars zooming thru. it’s just a horrific environment. and i figured out why there’s no room for bike lanes — the damn raised median. i’m hoping the bike community will come around to understanding that raised medians are really effing bad for bikes.

    i need to get back to Frosted, but yeah — the innovative bike lane design was definitely a bit disappointing. i still like it better than regular sharrows, no doubt, but it’s not fair that cyclists have to share the road with cars/trucks/buses. and many/most of the connector streets were very car-oriented — no bike lanes, or massive highways that would be toxic to anyone not in a car — so for 2nd street to develop any kind of real bike traffic, it’s going to need all sorts of additional improvements to allow bikes to ride in and around the area.

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