Friday, October 17, 2014

sharrows tell drivers to share the road with cyclists, except when that road is a state highway

Sharrows are great for streets where there isn't room for a traditional bike lane. But sometimes, they're used as a way to avoid putting in a bike lane, which is bad for bicyclists and drivers alike.
New sharrows on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Photo by Paul Meyer.
Last week, sharrows appeared on Georgia Avenue between Sligo and Wayne avenues in downtown Silver Spring. It's one of eighteen state highways in Maryland where cyclists are allowed to ride in the right lane, and the sharrows let drivers know to look out for them.

Reader Paul Meyer tweeted this photo of the lane markings and wrote, "Sharrows on Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring?!? A start."

Sharrows are a start for Montgomery County, which has embraced bicycling without always committing to the infrastructure needed to support it, like bike lanes. The county has had Capital Bikeshare for just over a year, including in downtown Silver Spring, but due to a lack of safe places to bike, it's gotten off to a slow start.

Georgia Avenue is a big, wide street, with six lanes of traffic, turn lanes, and parking lanes. Though the signed speed limit is 30 mph, the lanes are wide, which encourages speeding. This is the kind of street that only the hardiest cyclists would ride on, and sharrows won't change that. Cyclists will continue riding on the sidewalks where they feel safer, but they're already barely wide enough to accommodate pedestrians in some areas.

Sharrows are ideal for streets that are too narrow for a bike lane. Because of the amount and speed of traffic on Georgia, cyclists need their own space. This street would be a good candidate for bike lanes with a buffer or even cycletracks, where a physical buffer would give cyclists additional separation from vehicle traffic, which benefits drivers too.

Obviously, that would require taking lanes from cars, and in the case of cycle tracks, redesigning or even removing parking spaces. County and state transportation officials have traditionally been reluctant to do that, most recently with Old Georgetown Road in White Flint. And so sharrows are sometimes used as a substitute for a bike lane where the political will to build one isn't there.

Bike Lanes come to Illinois Avenue NW in Petworth
Sharrows are great for narrow streets like Illinois Avenue in Petworth. Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.

But if there's any community that should have the will to give cyclists a place on its streets, it should be downtown Silver Spring, where a majority of residents walk, bike, or take transit to work. Nearly a third of all households don't even have cars, and 40% of its public parking spaces are usually vacant.

The new sharrows on Georgia Avenue tell drivers to pay attention to cyclists. But as long as Georgia remains a big, fast street that prioritizes driving over everything else, drivers won't have many cyclists to watch for.


Jonathan Bernstein said...

Dan, I was just talking about this the other day. So do you know how wide are the Georgia Ave lanes where the pix was taken? A more modest ask of the State Highway folks would be to narrow lanes rather than eliminate, if that would make room for more ped/cycle activity?

DCFD Retired after 34 years said...

FYI: The pic wasn't taken of Georgia Ave NW. There also is not a State Highway Dept for DC, just a DC one.

Dan Reed said...


You're totally right. That's not a photo of Georgia Avenue in DC, nor is there a State Highway Department in DC. In fact, it's a photo of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, which is why we're talking about the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Unknown said...

what about both norwood road [county] and route 108 in olney [state]...speed limits of 40 and 50 respectively...which have the same sign - bicycles have the right to ride in the lane [paraphrase - both are one lane in each direction roads]... what cyclists can keep up with traffic with these speed limits...both have solid yellow do not pass lines...this is an invitation to disaster...head-on collisions?...cyclists hit by cars?...political correctness run amuck...and both signs near fatal or near fatal crashes in the not too distant past...absolutely ridiculous...