Green carpet of super bike sharrows – a new type of bike lane?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

I never did like bike sharrows on wide streets that have more than two lanes in any city. I have seen them a lot where the roads have no space for bike lanes. Then not too long ago, I started seeing green-backed bike sharrows, called super sharrows which can be spotted on the Wiggle and Market Street in San Francisco. Now they have taken it up another notch with these carpets of green super sharrows in Long Beach, Salt Lake City, and recently in Oakland. It just reminds me of vehicular cycling (where you ride your bike like a motorist) which has failed miserably to get more people to bike. I hope this doesn’t become a norm.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA. Does it make you want to ride on it?

The first time I drove my car in a car lane that had a green sharrow bike path painted on it, although there were no cyclists there,  I felt like I was running over all the cyclists that had ridden there before, in a spiritual sense. – Nellie, Scion IQ driver and bicyclist

A carpet of green sharrow bikeway was put down on 40th Street in September of last year to give bicyclists a safe passage to the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland from Emeryville in the west or Oakland’s Piedmont Ave. in the east. It was said that this was a compromise between having a protected bike lane or doing nothing. Yep, bicyclists always get the bad end of the stick. (I guess they can at least claim they are rolling out the red green carpet for us bicyclists.)

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

We went to Long Beach in 2012 to check out their bike infrastructure and we experienced this type of bikeway. We didn’t like it at first. I thought it was stupid because again, bicyclists have to share a lane with drivers and it seemed like having green paint there was supposed to trick cyclists into thinking they have the lane. After some analysis, I understand now why they did this. The auto traffic through there moved slow at around 8-15 mph (12.9-24 kmh) which is bike speed, with many traffic lights on 2nd St. and it’s on a commercial corridor. In this situation, this type of bikeway may work better than a conventional bike lane because you are away from car door zone. You won’t have to swerve out of the bike lane because of idling cars blocking it, and you can avoid right hooks at intersections.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

However, I think that the one on Oakland’s 40th St. is a bad idea. I did not feel safe at all going through there because motorists were going as fast as 40 mph (64.4 kmh). You can hear the roaring engine noise from trucks coming from behind, and cars passing you to change into your lane at 3 times your speed and merge into your right of way at any time. I felt vulnerable. Maybe during commute times things may be different (I was there on a late Sunday afternoon and very few cyclists were on it). Still, I can never trust distracted or angry drivers and I see plenty of them on the streets at all hours.

Also, if adding a protected bike lane was going to be so expensive (again, the green sharrow lanes that are there now are a compromise between protected bike lanes and none at all), I don’t understand why street parking couldn’t have been removed to create a buffered bike lane instead, which is cheaper and easier to do. Since this is a residential area with homes that have garages and it is not a commercial area with shops, they do not need the parking. Also, adding a buffered bike lane wouldn’t impede traffic flow.

Note the lack of traffic lights and long distance before each intersection suggests bikes and cars shouldn't be mixed.

Note the lack of traffic lights and the long distances between intersections. That type of environment does not allow for the safe mixing of bikes and cars. There should have been a buffered bike lane instead.

Fortunately, according to this EastBayExpress.com article, this will not be the final design for that street and this is a pilot study. I hope it will not be permanent.

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8 comments

  1. Robert Prinz

    Thanks for your write up on the 40th Street green sharrows, which most people agree are not ideal. However, after working for over 7 years to get bike lanes installed here but being blocked from doing so repeatedly by the neighbors and AC Transit, the options were to implement the green sharrows as a “plan B” or do nothing (protected bike lanes would have been great but were never part of the original proposal). As such I appreciate the city staff’s diligence in following up on this to make something happen which at the very least brings attention to the corridor, and hopefully will get some number of additional cyclists riding there which will help make the case for better facilities later on. When that time comes I hope you’ll be out there with us knocking on doors and trying to solicit the support of residents in that area, as changes like this never seem to come without a fight.

    Also, it’s worth noting that on W MacArthur Blvd, the east-west street on the other side of MacArthur BART, the city is moving forward on a road diet plan to take the street down from 3 lanes each way to 2 so they can install buffered bike lanes extending the existing lanes which end at Telegraph Ave all the way west to the Emeryville border. Once that is completed anyone who doesn’t care for the 40th Street implementation will likely just use parallel W MacArthur instead.

    • Chris

      Thanks for the thorough comment.

      I don’t know why AC transit would be against bike lanes. They complement each other very well. When I was in SF, many times that I can’t bike to certain destinations I would bike and bus.

      Regarding MacArthur BART and 40th St., which street is more frequented by bicyclists? The reason I ask that is because bicyclists like the most direct route.

      In any case, I am happy to hear good news on future projects.

      • Robert Prinz

        AC Transit isn’t against bike lanes, per se, as they understand that moving bikes to a segregated space means less time-consuming lane changes for bus operators when passing bicyclists. Bike East Bay is currently working with them on a number of projects which improve service and safety for both buses and bikes. What they were concerned about on 40th was that taking the street down to one lane for vehicles in each direction might (they say) cause traffic back ups and delays for their buses, and since they have some funding tied to on-time performance metrics they sometimes let the schedule overrule what seems to be obvious safety concerns. A proposed, alternate solution was then to remove the planted median so as to not reduce the number of lanes while still allowing for bike lanes, but then the neighbors who had been planting and tending the median for years opposed that plan. Therefore, the “supersharrows” were developed as an idea which could actually be built with little to no opposition.

        As for W MacArthur, it indeed gets a lot less bike traffic than 40th Street now, in terms of people accessing the BART station. However, the parking lot redevelopment project will change all this and make access to the station just as easy for bikes from both sides, so once the road diet and bike lanes are installed all the way from Emeryville to Broadway (with a planned extension further east past Piedmont Ave and over Hwy 580 to Vernon St) I see 40th Street getting less bike traffic and W Macarthur becoming the preferred route for most people (myself included).

        That’s not to say that 40th shouldn’t still get attention and eventually be upgraded to a separated, non-shared facility, but considering how many years of work have been gone into the street with little to show besides a green stripe I would rather the city prioritize a route with more potential.

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