Well, they don’t mean that harried motorists have to turn over more of the road to bicyclists. Neither do the silhouettes, known as “sharrows,” indicate that bikes now have more of their own lanes on busy streets.
Rather, the sharrows are reminders to drivers that they need to share the roads that don’t have dedicated bike lanes with bicyclists. Similarly, sharrows remind bicyclists they belong in the street, heading down the same side of the road as motorists traveling in the same direction — at a safe distance from parked-car doors — and not on sidewalks alongside pedestrians.
Sharrows emphasize that “Bikes May Use the Full Lane,” as new signs along Ocean Beach streets indicate. Cars can also use the lanes.
“We need to adapt to one another and be respectful of one another,” said Bill Harris, spokesman for the city’s Transportation & Storm Water Department, which installed the markers.
The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition has worked closely with the city to initiate the process in the beach area, according to coalition executive director Andy Hanshaw. The organization’s mission is “to advocate for, and protect the rights of, all people who ride bicycles.”
“We promote bicycling as a mainstream, safe and enjoyable form of transportation and recreation,” Hanshaw said.
He said sharrows, located on streets that include Mission Boulevard and Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach and Voltaire Street and Chatsworth Boulevard in Ocean Beach, are “effective communication and educational tools to let bicyclists know where it’s best to ride to be safest, including avoiding the ‘door zone’ where cars are parked and car doors can open at any moment and be very dangerous.”
The sharrows do not change or add to existing vehicle regulations but, rather, emphasize them, according to Hanshaw.
“Legally, bicycle riders have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists,” Hanshaw said. “We’re not creating any new laws here … We encourage bicyclists and motorists to be more aware and less distracted when driving or bicycling.”
He said the California vehicle code states that people bicycling slower than other traffic are supposed to ride as far to the right-hand side of the lane as practicable, but are not required to do so under many situations, such as when a lane is of substandard width, or too narrow to share side by side with motor vehicles.
In addition to using their bikes for recreation, an increasing number of bicyclists are riding to work today, Harris said.
He added that the desire to be more “green” is one reason; another is increasing gas prices.
Adding to the frustrations of both motorists and cyclists, according to Harris, “San Diego was not designed to be a bicycle-friendly city. It’s going to take us years and years to catch up. Sharrows are just one step.” He said San Diego is trying to create contiguous bike routes from east to west and has installed sharrows in several neighborhoods, including downtown, Hillcrest and North Park.
Though they resemble stencils, sharrows are really thermal plastic permanent markers affixed to the asphalt, Harris said.
There are 70 sharrows in the beach area and 65 more pending at a cost of $200 each, Harris said. He said that from the 2000 to 2006 fiscal years, the budget included only $47 million for road maintenance. From 2007 to 2012, he said, that figure increased to $170 million. And the 2013 fiscal budget alone includes $50 million for road maintenance.
Lest residents think the new sharrows are enough to satisfy vocal bicyclists, Hanshaw is quick to add: “While they are a tool for education and awareness, people who ride bikes throughout the county would like to have more places to ride where they feel safer and more connected to where they are pedaling. Ideally, this means more bike paths and bike lanes that serve their destinations.”
For more information, visit sdcbc.org/index.html.