We need more experiments not fewer

The strong response to our post about the FHWA’s cancellation of a couple of green paint experiments shows how important these experiments are. We need more experiments, many more. I got great feedback from the Oakland and Long Beach bicycle program staff who first of all had me correct a couple errors.

The Long Beach “supersharrow” was the first in California but not the first in the U.S. That was in Salt Lake City. It also works much better than I implied because despite the high volumes, traffic on Second Street in Long Beach is usually slow-paced. Collisions of all kinds are way down. They work, as Charlie Gandy says, because “the authority figure communicates right use of the road [and] it changes drivers’ behavior. When the authority figure is silent on that and the lane is unmarked, motorists make their own rules. Where are cyclists supposed to be according to law? In the middle of the street.” The supersharrows make that abundantly clear.

I’m personally familiar with the supersharrows in Oakland on 40th Street, where traffic speeds are typically faster than 35 mph. It is most definitely not a solution for the typical 8- or 80-year old, but still the green stripe makes me feel a little better riding down the center of the right lane. When the hard data is in, I suspect they will show a reduction in collisions. As I told Jason Patton the Oakland bicycle coordinator, they are unequivocally an improvement. They may be an appeasement to politicians unwilling to impact car traffic as necessary but they do not delay the day when politicians find the strength to do the right thing. To the contrary, they bolster the case for a better treatment by showing the need.

The problem, as I wrote, is that it muddles the meaning of solid green paint. The promise of future bikeway networks is that people riding bikes won’t have to deal with traffic except when all traffic is going bike speed. Regular bike lanes are often blocked with cars waiting for parking or turning right or double parked. We need bikeways that are truly exclusive and sometimes we’re going to want to indicate that exclusivity with green paint.


I fear that a solid green stripe in the middle of a shared lane muddles that message, which is why I was content with approved more other experiments. If the goal is to create a sense of belonging for bike riders in a busy shared lane, let’s try sharrows twice the current size. Let’s try sharrows with dashed lines on each side like they’re trying in Boston.  Let’s try an intermittent stripe of green. Let’s experiment with two of each, right away, and compare them to the two “supersharrows” already in place.

I happen to agree with the critics who don’t like the use of solid green to indicate a bicycle’s right to a shared lane but I don’t agree with the FHWA’s slow and passive experimental process.

Unfortunately Caltrans doesn’t seem very interested in evaluating and approving new designs either. This is an intolerable status quo for those of us in California, who care about redesigning our streets for everyone who wants to ride a bicycle and are doing something about it, like the visionary bike planners in Long Beach and Oakland.

I think we give Caltrans two choices: take a leadership role, or get out of the way and let NACTO be the agency we rely on. Or both. But not neither.


-Dave Snyder
Executive Director, CalBike


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