JANUARY 25, 2010
The latest tool for helping drivers and bicyclists share the road has begun to make its appearance in Westchester County.
This particular tool is a stencil-created image of a bicycle with two chevrons pointing in the direction that traffic travels. It’s called a “shared lane marker” or sometimes a “sharrow” for “shared lane arrow,” and they’re already on the pavement on Rumsey Road in Yonkers. Eastchester has a stencil and plans to use it when the weather warms, and New Rochelle is looking at the idea, too.
It may not sound like much, but relations between drivers and cyclists are often testy, and the marker can help make it clear, first, that cyclists are allowed on roads used by cars and, second, where in the lane cyclists should be.
“It really alerts the motorists that cyclists have a right to the road and that motorists can expect to see cyclists on the road,” said David Wilson, president of the Westchester Cycle Club and co-founder of the Westchester Biking and Walking Alliance. “It’s a very low-cost way for a town to become more bike-friendly.”
Ed Welsh, a spokesman for AAA New York, said the markings were a good safety tool, but only if both motorists and cyclists respected them.
“You have plenty of messenger-type people going through traffic without paying attention to what they’re doing,” he said.
The markings sometimes go where you might not expect. They don’t go on bicycle lanes or shoulders. Rather, they’re painted on streets where cars and bicycles must share the same lanes. In general, cyclists are supposed to stay to the right. But in some cases, such as along roads where cars are parked at the curb, sharrows can be placed a bit to the left, more in the middle of the lanes, to prevent cyclists from being knocked to the ground by an opening car door. That can create congestion if cars have to wait behind a bicycle, but those who use them say they’ll have to get along.
“The cyclist does have a right to utilize the street, and motorists need to be respectful of that right,” said Jeffrey Coleman, New Rochelle’s public works commissioner.
The sharrows are coming now because the Federal Highway Administration included them in the list of roadway devices that took effect this month. Before that, they were allowed only when specifically approved by the FHA for experimental use. Nonetheless, they had been painted in cities, such as New York City, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Ithaca, N.Y.
They still cannot be used on state-owned roads in New York without the approval of the state Department of Transportation, until that agency draws up its own policies based on the new highway administration rules, said Dave Woodin, director of the traffic operations bureau in the DOT’s Office of Traffic Safety and Mobility.
For a place such as Eastchester, that is little hinderance. The only state road is Route 22 — White Plains Road — and the town doesn’t plan to paint them there, Supervisor Anthony Colavita said. They’ll more likely appear on a street such as California Road, he said. The town Environmental Committee is putting together recommendations for which streets should be marked, and the Police and Highway departments will be asked to look over the plan, he said.
Coleman said New Rochelle would look to develop its own policy toward the end of spring, coordinating with neighboring communities so the markings are used similarly from place to place.