Sharrows are coming to Los Angeles! or are they?

What’s a sharrow
? Well, a sharrow is a lane marking that looks like a bicycle with a
chevron on top of it.  Sharrows are used to mark streets as places
where bicyclists and cars share the road.  The sharrow is painted where
that it’s most safe for cyclists to ride in the middle of the point of
the chevron, though, from this photo taken at UCLA, you can see that
bicyclists don’t necessarily know this.  Sharrows are one useful tool
in the planning toolkit to help bicyclists ride safely and to let
drivers know that bikes belong on the street.  The upside of sharrows
is that they are cheap and easy. 

The implementation cost is just paint, or actually thermoplastic, which is what the city of L.A. uses instead
of paint for nearly all road markings.  They don’t take away any space
from cars, so they’re relatively easily implemented.  The downside is
that they don’t really carve out much space on the road for cyclists,
so they’re best used on quieter shared streets, especially where a
street serves as a gap closure between other bike facilities, like bike
lanes, paths and/or routes…though technically a sharrowed street would
be a bike route.

Sharrows are one of the fully-approved bike amenities (like bicycle boulevards ) that appear all over from San Franciso to Pasadena to UCLA… but not yet on the city of Los Angeles’ streets.

At
the January meeting of the city of Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory
Committee (LA BAC), the Los Angeles Department of Transportation
(LADOT) announced that they were ready to implement a pilot project
that would include sharrows on a handful of Los Angeles streets. 5_8_09_SHARROWS.jpg They
would study how they work, make sure that they don’t, heaven forbid!,
slow car traffic or cause congestion and later sharrows
could be implemented where appropriate.  LADOT’s bicycle coordinator
stated that the sharrows would be on the road in March or April.

So
what’s the hold-up?  It’s a long story.  In 2005, the Los Angeles
County Bicycle Coalition began a campaign for sharrows in the city of
Los Angeles.  LACBC staff and volunteers met with council offices, and
this resulted in Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Ed
Reyes initiating council motion 08-1723 that instructed the LADOT to implement pilot sharrows on two streets.  That motion was introduced in June 2008 and lead to a November 2008 LADOT report stating that the LADOT would proceed with a sharrows pilot study,
and would report back to the council’s transportation committee in 120
days.  120 days from November would have been March 2009.

In
order to speed things up, Council president Eric Garcetti had planned
to obtain $10,000 in funding from a private foundation to help the
perennially-short-staffed LADOT bicycle staff pay for a Alta Planning
consultants to recommend streets that would be appropriate for
sharrows.  Apparently due to the economy, the private funding has been
delayed, and there seem to be no other resources within the city that
can cover this relatively cheap and highly visible project.

Who
will step up to the plate and get sharrows moving again?  Will it be
the LACBC which plans to keep the pressure on the city?  Will the Los
Angeles City Council be able to find a few thousand dollars somewhere? 
Will Councilmember Wendy Greuel schedule the LADOT to report back to
her Transportation Committee?  Will the motion’s author Eric Garcetti
or its seconder Ed Reyes put pressure on for its implementation?  Will
Mayor Villaraigosa take the initiative to make L.A.’s streets safer? 
Will the LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson direct her staff to get
the project done – maybe she could take a couple days from one of those
engineers on the road-widening or the speed-limit-upping teams?  Will
LADOT Bicycle Program staff take the initiative to make good on their
statements? Or maybe will it just be those do-it-yourself bicyclists
who go out and paint more sharrows?  Stay tuned.

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