Monday, June 21, 2010

sharrows as wayfinders

the device over there on the right, with the silhouette of the bike and the two chevrons, is a "shared lane marking," or more colloquially, a "sharrow."

the 2009 manual on uniform traffic control devices includes the sharrow at section 9C.07 as an optional treatment on roads on which the outer travel lane is too narrow to share. the intended purpose of the device is to indicate "lateral lane positioning," that is,
(a) to tell cyclists they should move to the left, away from the curb or out of the door zone, and
(b) to tell motorists they should expect to see cyclists claiming the entire lane.
the device may be used in conjunction with signage indicating "bicycles may use full lane," though this is not required.

over the past several weeks, PBoT has been putting these down on some of the newly designated bike boulevards -- klickitat, holman, going, etc. but they are not being used to indicate lateral lane positioning. they are being used as wayfinders.

evidently, PBoT made this choice because there was stimulus money available, but they needed to use MUTCD compliant signage and pavement treatments to get the grant. they did snag close a million dollars for this project, but it seems to me the money would have been better spent putting sharrows where they are actually needed, for example on northeast 28th, or on southeast hawthorne, or on the couch/burnside couplet. evidently putting sharrows on those roads is not a priority for PBoT.

as wayfinders, the sharrows are quite visible. but something else on a similar scale would have served just as well, though the money would have had to come from some other source, maybe bioswales.

my objection is not only that we need sharrows elsewhere, but that they are inappropriate here. lane positioning is not really an issue on a bike boulevard, where there is hardly any motor traffic, relatively few cars parked on the street, and average speeds are in the teens and low twenties.

and to make matters worse, on the narrower streets, like klickitat and holman, these sharrows have been placed not just to the left of the door zone, as contemplated in the MUTCD, but right on the center line (sometimes, weirdly, slightly to the left of center). this completely negates the intended purpose of the sharrow, diluting its usefulness in situations where it is actually needed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


some weeks ago in "so is this a done deal," i described the first of two open houses at which PBoT rolled out its plans for the klickitat bike boulevard, um, neighborhood greenway. the subtext was the extent to which decisions might already have been made, and the open houses might have been a facade.

but something did actually happen on the way to the second forum.

at the first open house, the storyboards showed alternative intersection treatments at key crossings such as MLK, 15th, and (the focus of today's discussion) 33rd.

klickitat at 33rd is a pretty tricky situation even if you are not trying to put in a bikeway. just a block down a pretty steep hill from a signal at fremont. close to 10k cars each direction every day. posted thirty, but you know how people do.

there is a striped crosswalk on the north side of the intersection, with the yellow diamond signs, etc., but not on the south. in fact, on the south, there are signs warning pedestrians not to cross. there is a median strip to the north of the crosswalk which presumably is intended to slow the downhill traffic somewhat. and it provides something of a pedestrian refuge halfway across, albeit unprotected.

why anyone thought it would be better to put the crosswalk only on the uphill side of the intersection i don't know. possibly so that a northbound motorist wanting to turn left onto klickitat would not be left hanging in the intersection waiting for pedestrians to clear. though there is a center turn lane there. hard to say, really.

the existing design exposes a southbound motorist who condescends to respect the pedestrian crosswalk to the risk of being rear-ended.

anyway, the proposed treatment at this intersection, as presented at the first open house, was to extend the median through the entire intersection, with cut-throughs for bike traffic and another pedestrian crosswalk on the south, with both pedestrian refuges protected. the existing center left turn lane northbound on 33rd would be removed, and left turns would be forbidden (actually, physically prevented) from any direction.


this drew a response from at least one resident. a guy named jim knoble, who lives a few doors east of the intersection on klickitat, put up flyers around the neighborhood, urging people to contact kyle chesik at PBoT and voice objections to the proposed median extension. and show up at the second open house.

knoble's argument was that residents in that one block of klickitat would be forced to travel uphill either on 33rd or on klickitat itself to get out of the neighborhood, and that this would be especially troublesome when there was snow or ice on the streets. he also noted that the proposed treatment would do nothing to slow motor traffic pouring downhill from fremont, which is of course the actual problem.

what knoble proposed was to retain the existing configuration but add a pedestrian and cyclist activated crossing signal, synchronized with the signal at fremont.

the flyer did attract quite a number of fresh faces to the second open house, which was crowded into a space in the front end of the library in the alameda elementary school. not all of them agreed with knoble's analysis. some people felt that if you were going to leave the intersection at 33rd unregulated and then also turn some of the stop signs along klickitat west of 33rd around, you would defeat the purpose of discouraging cut-through traffic.

but the weird thing was, and this is the point i have been leading up to here, before the meeting even began, PBoT had taken the extended median idea completely off the table. no longer even an option. the new storyboards showed simply that the intersection remained a problem, and that maybe a hawk beacon (question mark) might be put there.

greg raisman was there at the second open house, along with an engineer whose name escapes me, providing backup to kyle. greg said it would cost too much to put in a pedestrian and cyclist activated crossing signal, etc., under more recent MUTCD standards -- a quarter mil or something --, and that the beacon actually has a higher compliance rate anyway.

he did not really respond to the objection that leaving the intersection unregulated while turning stop signs along klickitat would invite cut-through traffic, except to say that other calming measures several blocks away would somehow discourage this. he pointed repeatedly to a proposed pocket park at the alameda crossing, and to the closing of the block between 23rd and 24th at the magdalen school.

so that is what we are left with, subject to possible adjustment after monitoring the situation for a couple of years. the existing striped crosswalk, with maybe a hawk signal. kudos to knoble for effective advocacy, i guess, and a lesson to the rest of us.

in a followup posting to his webpage, knoble says PBoT has committed to "a pair of better-marked, more visible crosswalks," plus the hawk beacon (without the question mark). i think this somewhat overstates the actual commitment.

interestingly, an "evaluation goals" document released after the second open house mentions "curb extensions" at a number of intersections, to "reduce crossing distance and improve crossing visibility." 33rd is listed, though this may be an error.