GetAbout Columbia expands use of shared lane markings

Thursday, October 9, 2008 | 6:45 p.m. CDT; updated 12:06 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 10, 2008
Many roads throughout Columbia will soon feature "sharrow" symbols to help motorists and cyclists travel more safely together.

COLUMBIA — In an effort to give both cyclists and motorists peace of mind in sharing the road, GetAbout Columbia is preparing to expand the use of shared lane markings on 30 miles of Columbia streets.


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The symbols, known as sharrows, will be painted in the middle of the lane on streets too narrow for a bike lane. The symbols are meant to be used as a guide to cyclists that rather than keeping to the far right, they should ride through the center of the symbol.

On streets with cars parked on the side, the marking can help prevent “dooring,” or accidents that occur when a cyclist rides too close to a parked car and a driver opens the car door. The symbols also alert motorists of the cyclist's possible presence.

The shared-lane symbols will also be painted at points where bike lanes end and a cyclist may be joining the flow of traffic.

To date, Columbia has painted the symbols at some bike lane end points and in the middle of Fifth Street.

Park Mark, a St. Louis firm contracted for the project, will begin painting the symbols on city streets Oct. 13, with an expected completion of fall 2009. Each symbol will cost about $300 and the total cost for the project is $400,519, according to Corrie Flaker of GetAbout Columbia.

Funding comes from a $21.5 million federal grant the city received in 2007 to promote non-motorized transportation.

Ian Thomas, executive director of PedNet,  said the symbols “bring awareness to all road users that these are recommended roads for cyclists and it gives confidence to cyclists that they are entitled to be there.”

Cyclist Dean Hargett said he actually prefers the markings to having a separate bike lane.

“I feel bike lanes add to the segregation between cars and bikers, and a lot of times there is debris like glass, trash or limbs, so it’s not safe,” Hargett said.

Cyclist Jane Godon said the sharrows make cycling safer for her children.

“I ride with my children quite a bit. They’re 5 and 8 and I’m teaching them to ride safely, and the sharrows are a clear indicator to them that it’s safe to step out of the bike lane to make a turn or go through an intersection,” Godon said.

The markings were pioneered in San Francisco and have just begun to spread around the country in recent years, according to Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.

The symbol is still considered experimental, but an amendment has been proposed by the Federal Highway Administration for the symbol to be included in the next Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which defines the standards used by road managers nationwide.  

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