Contact Street Smarts
A better, more specific way, to share the road
This week, the Street Smarts Blog will feature articles written by guest bloggers from local transportation-related agencies and organizations. Topics include safety information about sidewalks and pedestrian issues from the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportations Commission, “Sharrows” and cycling issues from Ecology Action and child passenger programs by the Community Traffic Safety Coalition. Today’s blog is from Piet Canin, director of Ecology Action’s (EA) Transportation Division. EA runs some eleven sustainable transportation programs many of which focus on encouraging and educating school students to safely bike and walk to school. Local public works departments are utilizing a relatively new traffic symbol to improve road safety for bicyclists, which will also make the roads more predictable and safer for motorists. These symbols are white pavement markings called, “Shared Roadway Markings,” or more commonly called, “Sharrows.” Sharrows where first used on roads too narrow to install bike lanes to show cyclists where to ride to avoid being hit by suddenly opening doors from parked cars. The best way for cyclists to avoid inattentive motorists who open their car door without checking is to not ride too close to parked cars. When biking along side parked cars leave at least 4-feet between you and the side of the car. Four feet is roughly a distance of two arm lengths. Besides keeping cyclists away from the harm of the “door zone,” Sharrows also point to the safest position cyclists should occupy on roads too narrow for cars to pass safely. Sharrows also serve to educate motorists to the space bicycle riders may occupy on a roadway. Sharrows’ main attribute is to keep cyclists from being too far to the right of the roadway. In the case of narrow roads, motorists sometimes try and pass cyclist too closely, which, in some cases, causes the person on the bike to veer into the curb, ditch, and side of road or a motorist actually hits the cyclist causing the cyclist to crash. A fatal bike crashed prompted the City of Santa Cruz to employ additional safety means along San Lorenzo Bouleverd. Sharrows provided the City of Santa Cruz with a useful tool to make this narrow, speedy downhill stretch of road safer for bicyclists. There are currently several Sharrows on San Lorenzo Boulevard. The City of Santa Cruz has also painted Sharrows on King Street to improve bike travel for the Mission Hill Middle School students, as well as UCSC students and those biking to and from the Westside to downtown. The Sharrows on King Street make the road safer as the markings keep cyclist out of the dangerous door zone along this narrow street. But not all are happy with the changes, as some regular drivers on King Street are frustrated by cyclists who follow the Sharrows even when there are no parked cars on the street. When I bike down King Street, and there is a long enough gap in parked cars, I move further to the right allowing cars to pass me to without crossing the center line. But I’m very careful to reposition myself back into the traffic lane and Sharrow line of travel when a parked car is several car lengths ahead of me. The key is to look back before moving left into car traffic and use your left hand and/or arm to signal if there is a car behind you. Don’t move to the left if a moving car is too close. The biggest danger of moving in and out of the middle of the travel lane is appearing to be unpredictable and therefore confusing motorist to your intentions. Hand signals, eye contact and planning ahead are all good ways to be predictable to motorists. For motorists, it is important to remember that King Street is a neighborhood street with students and young kids. A cyclist in the travel lane will only slow you down a few minutes at most, please be patient and wait to pass when there is at least 3-feet between your car and the cyclist. Sharrow pavement markings can be found on several other streets in the City of Santa Cruz, on many streets in the City of Capitola, as well as one location in the unincorporated county area. Enjoy the journey and look out for everyone’s safety on the road. For more information visit: http://ecoact.org/Programs/Transportation/index.htm.