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.