FHWA cancels some green paint experiments – Opinion

[Below is the original piece. Here is the follow-up. Sorry for the incorrect link.]

The Federal Highway Administration has discontinued approval for two experimental treatments in growing use in California: the green-backed sharrow and the so-called “super sharrow” green lane in the middle of a regular shared traffic lane.

The “super sharrow” was first brought to California in 2009 by Long Beach. Another was recently installed in Oakland. The idea is to emphasize a bicycle rider’s right to the middle of the lane on streets where policymakers could not find a way to give bikes their own space. The treatment seemed to succeed in achieving its goal, but any visit to the sites showed some riders still hugging the edge of the lane in the door zone. Confusion definitely prevailed among drivers. “Is it a bike lane? Am I allowed to drive there?” Although confusion among drivers isn’t always a bad thing — it could cause them to pay attention — here it could lead to a problem if green paint becomes common in California as it probably should. We need lanes that clearly communicate to drivers to “stay out” and a continuous longitudinal green stripe that indicates a shared lane would interfere with that clear communication. Furthermore,  in Oakland the stripes are placed on busy streets with 35 mph traffic in conditions where best practice would call for a degree of separation. The FHWA was right to cancel experiments of these types of design.

The “green backed sharrow” presents no such potential confusion, however. The FHWA shoulud not have cancelled future experiments. San Francisco uses the green-backed sharrows on some of its residential streets where bikes outnumber cars to emphasize the street as a bicycle-priority street. They also help to serve as wayfinding guidance. Putting green paint behind a sharrow does not help much but it certainly does not hurt. In this era characterized by huge advances in U.S. bikeway design we need more experiments, not fewer.

The FHWA said “further analysis through these existing experiments are necessary in order to determine an final outcome of this treatment.” We look forward to seeing some details about the green-backed sharrows and hope that future editions of Caltrans’ bikeway design guidance does not simply follow the national lead.

[This article has been edited from the original version to indicate that Long Beach was the first city in California to implement the “super sharrow” and that its application is on a relatively low-speed street. The supersharrow was pioneered in the U.S. by Salt Lake City. Thanks Jason Patton of Oakland for the correction.]

[This opinion was written by Dave and reflects his views alone and not those of the organization.]


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2 thoughts on “FHWA cancels some green paint experiments – Opinion”

  1. pbgoldstein says:

    Although the green backed sharrow may need more experimentation, I feel that the proliferation of different street markings can be confusing to motorists. Confusion may cause someone to PAY ATTENTION, but perhaps to the wrong thing, and we don’t need any more distractions for drivers.

    The (now standard) sharrow is a new traffic control device, and perhaps we should let drivers come to understand what they mean before we confuse the situation with all sorts of variations (which actually all seem to mean about the same thing, as far as I can tell.)

    Another thing, and this is just my own perception: I do not see them as clearly as I see regular sharrows.

  2. Ryan Price says:

    For a list of the status of all current bicycle facilities, you can view the FHWA website: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/guidance/design_guidance/mutcd_bike.cfm