Dear Bike Sassy,
What’s with the crazy pictures of bicycles painted in the middle of the CAR lane? Last week, the weather was so nice; me and a bunch of my friends went for a joy ride. There are these weird bike lanes on Colonial Ave. We noticed more on Colley Ave. What is going on? These have got to be the stupidest bike lanes I’ve ever seen. If we rode on them, we figured somebody would run us over. What gives? – Spinning Kitty
Dear Spinning Kitty –
No need to get in a tizzy, Kitty. First, wrap your tail around this: every lane IS a bike lane. Doesn’t matter if it has white stripes or bright green fill or helmeted, bike riding penises painted on them.
But, if you’re talking bike lane – like the kind that official traffic engineering-types pitch pocket protector tents over – then no. Those are not bike lanes. Bike lanes are on-road infrastructure reserved for use by bicyclists. Well, mostly. Sometimes, it’s important to use them for photo shoots. Or making deliveries or parking cars. Or, in this area, bike lanes make fantastic debris-collecting devices! You would not believe what I find in those lanes. You could build a house, I’m tellin’ ya.
Colley Ave., Colonial Ave., Granby St., Ocean View Ave., Church St.? They’re just regular old travel lanes with markings called Shared Lane Markings — or sharrows. The word sharrow is a word mashup that stands for shared lane bicycle marking. The marking includes a chevron. Chevrons look like arrows. Hence, shared + arrows = sharrows. Clever, huh?
Of course, you wouldn’t be the first person to ask Bike Sassy about sharrows. Given Bike Sassy’s tendency to ride her bike all around this town, she gets a lot of pointed commentary about those “weird bike lanes.” Most people just think sharrows are yet another example of the City of Norfolk being cheap, pretending to be all bike-friendly with a few cheesy pictures painted on the road. I mean, paint? Really? How much could it possibly cost to build a bike lane? (A lot! Don’t get Bike Sassy started, mmmkay?)
Not a few people have felt like you do: “Is the city of Norfolk cracked? Do they actually expect me to ride my bike in the middle of the road like that?”
Yep, that’s what they expect. In fact, what those sharrows say is this: Don’t ride in the door zone, dummy. Don’t ride way over in the edge of the street. It’s too narrow to share here. Move closer to the middle of the lane. Hell, ride right smack in the middle of the lane. It’s safest.
Think about it. Let’s say you and your bike are about 30 inches wide. And let’s say you and your bike would like, oh, 12” of cushion to accommodate what they call wobble room or room to dodge road hazards. Adding it up, you need close to 5 feet to move around safely on the road.
Now consider how much room a typical car or truck needs. With a 1 – 2 foot space cushion on each side, that’s about 8 – 10 feet. If you want to stay out of the junk-filled gutter, add still another foot or two.
OK. Combine a conservative 5 feet for you and your bike with a conservative 8 feet for the car. That’s 13 feet. Add a conservative 1 foot to avoid tire-flatting debris in the gutter. Most lanes, especially in Norfolk, are a mere 10-12 feet wide. And yet, safely driving side-by-side requires a lane at least 15 feet wide.
Since it’s impossible to share side by side with a motor vehicle and stay in the same lane, Virginia’s Department of Transportation actually recommends that you DO RIDE in the middle of any lane that is too narrow to share side by side. Instead, the safest thing to do is share fore-to-aft.
That’s why they are called Shared Lane Markings: they remind everyone where the safest lane position is for the bicyclists. Meeow! Bike Sassy is betting that the sharrows make more sense now. The sharrows say to motorists: That bicyclists in the middle of the road? She is riding safely. That bicyclist is an accepted and expected part of street traffic. It’s ordinary.
So, let’s recap:
– 1. All traffic lanes are bike lanes.
– 2. The sharrows tell bicyclists and motorists the safest way to share a narrow lane is fore to aft instead of side by side.
– 3. The City of Norfolk isn’t being cheap. Instead, it put down sharrows to guide you to a safe lane position while they are busy conjuring up plans to build bikeways over the next thirty years.
Will motorists sometimes get mad at you for riding your bike in the middle of the lane like that? Sure, but those motorists were gonna be mad simply because you’re on the road at all.
Greasy chain lube hugs,