Meeting Tonight: Sharrows vs. Bike Lanes on University Avenue

If you are a person who rides a bicycle in Grand Forks, please consider coming to the Service Safety Committee meeting tonight (Feb 11) at 5:30 pm in Council Chambers, City Hall.  Item #11 on the agenda is a change made by the city Engineering Department to implement sharrows rather than bike lanes on University Avenue between Columbia Road and 3rd Street.  Apparently this is a change from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that was adopted by city council.

Please read through the staff report if you are interested in attending.  One selection reads:

On balance, we are concerned about sufficient lane widths, particularly with snow impacts, and our perceived safety concern that a bicyclist may have a false sense of security due to being in a “protected” location.

We feel the latest concept of sharrows is a reasonable compromise in identifying a bicycle
accommodation. The sharrows allow the bicyclist to orient themselves within the roadway,
while being aware that they are sharing the pavement, thus needing to maintain vigilance and hopefully not inducing a false sense of security.

Hopefully a compromise can be reached, even if it involves bike lanes only on those sections of roadway that are wide enough, and sharrows elsewhere.

UPDATE:  I asked about this type of thing over at Streetsblog, and got the following responses.  I expressed the clause about “needing to maintain vigilance” as “not zoning out.”

nona: I’d suggest being polite, but frankly that is ridiculous logic. Shouldn’t we then remove all road striping so that drivers don’t zone out?
Center and edge lines on rural highways make clear delineation where motorists should be, and help reduce crashes as a result. Bike lanes provide a clear understanding where each mode should be on urban streets. Including them can help reduce travel speeds, which is likely a goal of the street redesign. Sharrows will just keep the lanes wider and encourage faster driving.
Sharrows can be good for wayfinding and for connector segments of mixed traffic in between lanes. As a standalone facility they’re confusing (for all modes) and are certainly not a substitute for separated lanes.  

Kevin Love: If the bike lane is safe enough that a cyclist can zone out, then it is safe enough for a child to ride to school. 

Aunt Bike: Don’t know if your meeting is tonight or last night, but if I’m not too late, you can..

1) ask to have “zone out” defined,

2) state that they aren’t any more likely to make cyclists “zone out” than the typical street is likely to make car drivers do so, and

3) make a point that bike lanes don’t put people in a trance but rather allow them to ride with a reasonable expectation of safety.

Also, point out that bike lanes are as much about calming the car traffic as they are about safety for cyclists, and that sharrows merely alert drivers to watch out for others, which considering the number of drivers “zoning out” and the number of cyclists killed in this city, may not be strong enough medicine.

I’ll have to admit, the “zone out” criticism is a new one to me. It’s rather fascinating the excuses people come up with to oppose safety measures. I do observe that all you have to do to get uncaring people to suddenly become concerned about street safety is to actually do something about street safety…suddenly, a false sense of security or exposure to car traffic becomes a huge issue, those red light cameras are going to cause collisions, those painted lines in the roadway are going to confuse the drivers.

qrt145: There is _some_ truth to the zoning out argument; it’s risk compensation. It’s similar to the rationale behind many traffic calming interventions: by making driving difficult and seemingly more dangerous, you can actually make it safer because drivers pay more attention and drive more slowly and more carefully.
That said, I see two differences that outweigh the above argument: 1) cyclists are vulnerable risk users and motorists are not; 2) the risks posed by motorists in urban settings mostly fall on other people, while risks posed by cyclists mostly fall on themselves. 

Joe R.: The “zoning out” argument is very true but it doesn’t apply to cyclists. Back in the 1950s when they were building the Interstate highway system it was realized that long, straight stretches of highway actually caused some drivers to fall asleep. As a result, engineers sometimes put in curves, even where the terrain didn’t dictate them (

There really is no analogue to lengthy highway driving for cyclists. For one thing, nobody except the most hard core cyclists will ride for a duration equivalent to a long highway trip. For another, even totally separate bike paths by necessity have lots of curves just to route them around roads or other obstacles. Finally, cyclists aren’t in a sound-deadened, climate-controlled box which tends to make falling asleep very easy. They’re also exerting physical effort. This tends to keep one awake.

I think a better analogy is that safe bike lanes don’t cause cyclists to zone out, but rather permit them not to remain in the state of constant high-alertness which they must remain in when operating in proximity to motor vehicles. I certainly didn’t “zone out” the few times I rode the Belt Parkway Greenway. Rather, it was nice being able to just lay back and enjoy the ride rather than constantly looking around for motor vehicles.

The closest I could say I might come to “zoning out” on a bike is when I’m on NY25 heading back towards the city after about midnight. It’s a mostly dead straight road. The traffic signals are on sensors, so at that time of night I sometimes ride the entire 6.3 stretch outside city limits without needing to stop or slow down. It was recently repaved which means I don’t even need to worry about watching out for potholes. Even so, I wouldn’t call it zoning out. It’s more like I have to devote very little mental energy to piloting the bike. As a result, my mind might wander a bit. And those 6.3 miles go by very fast in that state.


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