New Debate: Can Cyclists Fix Sharrows Pilot without Killing It

7_7_10_lacbc.jpgThe first Sharrows on Fountain in Hollywood...Photo: LACBC/Flickr

Last month, when the City of Los Angeles finally began placing Sharrows on the streets of L.A., there were a chorus of cheers from the biking community.  The Los Angeles County Bike Coalition has fought hard, for years, for these Shared Lane Markings to be placed on the streets tweeted the news immediately and cyclists throughout the city celebrated.  But almost as quickly, complaints about the program began surfacing.  First at the blog Soap Box, written by activist Stephen Box, and then other places.  The charge?  That by placing the Sharrows a consistent 12 feet from the curb, instead of placing the Sharrows an equi-distance from the center-line, that the Sharrows are mis-placed and perhaps more dangerous than helpful.

As issues with the placement of the Sharrows has become accepted one within the community.  Even the LACBC, who has been the chief supporters of the project, have written to the LADOT asking for better care in placing these markings so as not to direct cyclists to drive in an uneven pattern or even to ride within the "door zone."

But this realization has led to a new debate: is criticizing the Sharrows project going to lead to LADOT scrapping the entire endeavor.  Remember, these six streets that have been selected for Sharrows are part of a pilot program.  In other words, if the LADOT decides the project is a failure, it could mean not only that more Sharrows aren't painted, but that the current ones are removed.  In other words, negative feedback from cyclists, even if it's just related to the city's failure to place the Sharrows correctly, could end up being a determining factor in the cancellation of the program.  Of course, given that the guerrilla Sharrows in Northeast L.A. are still there, five months after LADOT promised they would be removed; it's unlikely any paint is actually going to be taken off the road anytime soon.

As you would expect, the position that a bungled Sharrows program is worse than no program at all has been championed by Box.  Last week he attended the National Committee of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) and he quotes the chair of their bicycle committee as saying:

"...the unintended consequences of an ill-advised and poorly executed Sharrows campaign are costly and dangerous."

7_7_10_lacm.jpgBy placing Sharrows from the curb, LADOT is actually asking cyclists to merge in and out of traffic as seen on 4th Street. Photo: LosAngelesCM/twitter

According to Box, the conference took a dim view of the implementation of L.A.'s Sharrows program in general.  Given that LADOT Assistant General Manager John Fisher attended the conference, it will be interesting to see if any of the complaints made by Box and echoed at the NCUTCD Conference make their way to the streets for the rest of the Sharrows in the pilot program.  Six streets are part of the program.  Three have been painted.

The other position, that while cyclists should work to improve the program they should also be careful to not wound the program was best written by former LACBC Board Member Alex Kenefik at the LACBC Blog's comments section.

This is the first time I’ve seen a thank you. As much as I feel that LADOT is trying to kill me out there when I’m riding on the roads, I want to thank them for the sharrows. Placement problems aside, I really do like riding down 4SBB and feeling those cars give me extra room.

One final thought. With a bicycle network as underdeveloped as the one in Los Angeles, we don’t need to be careful. LADOT doesn’t need to be careful. We all need to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. We are finally into the Petri dish stage; let’s run some experiments.

So what say you?  Is now the time to push the LADOT to do the Sharrows according to national standards or not-at-all, or should cyclists just push the LADOT to do something, ANYTHING, to make the streets safer?  Leave your comments below.  I'll post my thoughts later in the day.