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LETTER: Sharrows are not bike lanes

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 | 2:12 p.m. CDT; updated 4:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 1, 2009

COLUMBIA — When the sharrows first appeared on Stewart Road, my first thought was: Oh no, some bicyclists will probably perceive these as marking the space allowed for their use, similar to that indicated by bike lanes. GetAbout Columbia’s language in its “Neighbors on the Go” pamphlet indicates that the sharrow’s purpose is to inform bicyclists and motorists that the roadway must be shared. This phrasing is too vague, I believe, to provide a usable guideline for safe traveling. I’ll explain my concern:

Whether because I’ve been noticing more or because it’s happening more frequently, I’ve observed more side-by-side bicycling along the sharrow-marked stretch of this street during the past several months. Whereas riding side by side is permissible when traveling at the same speed as drivers, it is unlikely that most cyclists would be doing so. Additionally, it seems reasonable to assume that riders traveling in such a manner are doing so in order to visit, presumably difficult to do while riding at 30 to 35 mph. Taken directly from another GetAbout publication, “A Guide to Your Ride,” “Bicyclists can ride side by side as long as they don’t impede the normal movement of traffic.”

The reader may well be thinking that I must be another driver frustrated with irresponsible bicyclists. Actually, that is true. Additionally and more importantly, though, as a commuting bicyclist myself, I am thereby more aware of and more irritated by irresponsible cyclists. I expect I’ll be the first arrest made for violating the new city ordinance on bicyclist harassment, since I’ve found myself on several occasions shouting at cyclists riding in this manner — not from the window of my car, but from my bicycle, walking on the sidewalk and from my yard.

My most recent offense with “harassing” bicyclists occurred the other weekend while mowing my lawn. I noticed, with growing irritation, two side-by-side riders chatting and pedaling at a leisurely pace along Stewart Road.  While on a recreational trail, this type of activity could work nicely; in this situation a driver was compelled to crawl along behind them for a full block until she or he could safely pull around them. Drivers slowing down and waiting to safely pass bicyclists is not objectionable, and is indeed necessary from time to time — unless the cyclists are unnecessarily impeding vehicular flow, as this instance exemplifies. By the time I’d observed this scene, shut off my mower and yelled “Single file!” at my top volume, the participants were a block away and out of earshot. If I’d startled them and caused an accident, apart from feeling horribly guilty, I suppose I’d have violated the harassment ordinance and been subject to a fine or possibly jail time.

That being said, I must state that I firmly support the purpose and the work of GetAbout Columbia as well as the harassment ordinance. Bicyclists are and will continue to be using the streets alongside drivers. Bicycling, however, and by virtue of greater vulnerability, should not be considered a recreational activity on the streets of Columbia; it is a mode of transport, one that needs to be accommodated and to be accommodating.

It’s smart to ride a bike — smart for your health, smart for the environment, smart financially. Using sharrows as bike lanes is a misinterpretation of a not-well-defined intent, and just not smart.


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Comments

Charles Dudley Jr September 2, 2009 | 7:56 p.m.

Great letter and good points made.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 2, 2009 | 8:18 p.m.

What's all this hub-bub about sparrows?
Why in my day, Model T drivers would never think of plastering sparrows all over the road.
Sparrows were meant to be free, flying where they choose, sailing in the breeze, singing their merry tune.
Generally, they tend to be small, plump brown-grey critters with short tails and stubby, powerful beaks.
Some might say their beak's worse then their bite.
A few scavenge for food around cities and will happily eat virtually anything in small quantities.
And back then, we never got any flack for calling them "house sparrows."
And now we have sparrows on bicycles, being treated special with special privileges and made into some kind of special protected class.
What a changing world we live in.
And...Oh, I'm sorry--it's sharrow.....
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3FnpaWQJ...

(Report Comment)
Phillip Berrong September 2, 2009 | 11:37 p.m.

Some good points made, Jodie, and I'm sure you know many of us responsible bikers support your position here. Cyclists do need to acknowledge traffic laws to be taken seriously on the road.
The point of contention, however, arises from another of our myriad vaguely-worded laws. Am I breaking the law for impeding the flow of traffic if I'm traveling the speed limit on Broadway? Thanks to the permanent speed displays set up there, I know I can easily do the speed limit when I head toward downtown. Because I'm surpassing the speed limit already, I take the middle of the lane, rather than be relegated to the bike-laneless, shrapnel covered shoulder. Do motorists have a right to do 35 mph in a 20 mph zone? Common sense suggests not.
Even if I'm going under the speed limit (I can't usually get up to 20 mph on the way back uphill), if traffic is approaching a red light or stop sign so that everyone ends up waiting at the same intersection, am I still impeding traffic? If so, I can't imagine how.
Not trying to make a straw man here, but these are typically the situations in which I'm harassed.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr September 3, 2009 | 4:12 a.m.

With all of the college kids back I see more bicyclists breaking all of the traffic laws in this city than ever before.

Where are all of those educational programs SpendAboutColumbia has been blowing that $22 million on?

(Report Comment)

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