Karma's recent post along with his excellent photos of the new road markings in West Hartford got me wasting a perfectly good Monday evening scouring the intrawebz looking for some information on that pattern that I remember seeing sometime before. Rather than bury the results of my research in the comments section of his post, I thought this information would better serve the community as a separate post.
I've never seen such a thing actually implemented in person until they appeared in West Hartford, but the new markings aren't just a result of someone in the WH government smoking crack. They're called "Sharrows" (which I'm guessing is the result of some fan of mashing words together got when they looked at "shared" and "arrows") and they have become implemented in just the manner that we've seen in West Hartford in an increasing number of bike savvy cities: San Francisco, Portland, and Boulder, for example.
The brief history is that this particular design and use was started in Denver in the mid-90s. Generally, they were ignored elsewhere, until a 2004 study released by the city of San Francisco recommended sharrows be implemented to mark shared-use roads. Caltrans (the CA state DOT) adopted the markings that same year and use has expanded. In 2007, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices unanimously voted to endorse the marking in federal manuals of traffic control devices.
The two main purposes of these markings are: 1) to alert motorized traffic that the road is to be shared and 2) to correctly position cyclists outside of the "door zone" of parked cars. This also serves to correct the bad habit of bikes traveling on the wrong side of the road, as well as encourage not-so-experienced cyclists that it's OK to take the lane. We'd probably see fewer a-hole drivers screaming at us to get out of the road, too. It's important to point out that in general, they aren't preferred to a dedicated bike lane, but rather recommended in areas where the streets are too narrow or dangerous to have such a lane.
The only problems I see with the markings in West Hartford is the previous designation of the side stripes as being a "bike lane," and the absolute lack of communication about these markings. We've all seen how cars are often in that side lane, and we've complained about it a lot on this blog. I think someone somewhere made a mistake at calling those things on the sides of Boulevard "bike lanes" and it was decided to make these routes "shared roads," and the sharrows were eventually laid down. The sharrows are even defined in the West Hartford Master Bike Plan. (see page 19). However, the fact remains that there has been NO COMMUNICATION by the town or state government about these markings and how to use them. When some of the most experienced cyclists I know in the region seem confused by these markings, you would think that some form of public announcement, or press release, or some mention in the newspaper would be in order. At the MINIMUM, a mention on the town's website. Nothing. When SF implemented them, they put PSA signs on city buses as part of their educational campaign.
There's some great reading on the sharrow movement, and I'll throw a list of links down in order of usefulness:
- Christian Science Monitor 2005 article (interviews advocates and critics)
- Bike Pittsburgh Shared Lane Markings FAQ (brief & informative)
- Bike Commute Tips Blog
- SF's 2004 Shared Lane Markings Study (very interesting) - .pdf
- SF-MTA presentation on Sharrows (Sept. 2008) - .pdf
- Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams (mmmm, beer)
- Proposal for shared markings in Ithaca, NY (my college town! ITH represent!)