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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published November 10, 2011

 

You may have noticed the recent appearance of painted white bicycles under a double arrow on campus streets. They are sharrows, and they come with a message: It’s time to share the road.

These awesomely hip shared-lane markings are a nationally recognized symbol alerting road users that bicycles have a right to occupy the lane of traffic. In addition to alerting and slowing drivers, the arrows serve to indicate to cyclists the appropriate direction of travel.

Recognizing that many streets on campus are not able to accommodate a separate bike lane, the sharrows help tell both drivers and bikers that cyclists have a right to move into the center of the travel lane.

There are several scenarios in which we might acknowledge this to be safer than staying on the side of the road. For one, this helps to ensure safe passing of parked cars by cyclists and gives people exiting parked vehicles enough room to open doors. In addition, it also locates cyclists in a more visible position to cars approaching the roadway from side streets and driveways.

These sharrows play an important role in biking safety. The N.C. Department of Transportation’s data on bicycle crashes reported in North Carolina between 2005 and 2009 indicate that 7.8 percent of collisions involving a motor vehicle and a cyclist occurred when the motorist was overtaking the cyclist. Sharrows should help. Because bicycles move more slowly, vehicular traffic must adjust their speed accordingly. On campus, where the speed limits don’t exceed 25 mph, the sharrow effect may simply serve to reinforce this limit. That’s safer for everyone, including pedestrians, who always have the right of way!

One place you won’t find sharrows is on the paths and walkways around campus. Pedestrians have the right of way in these spaces and it is dangerous for cyclists to ride through these areas. A dismount policy, particularly for the heavily trafficked Main Quad and Bryan Center Plaza are appropriate and encouraged.

The introduction of the sharrow to campus streets is not intended to address the remaining need for a cross-campus, bike-friendly connection.

The sharrows compliment recent efforts to map bicycle infrastructure, including bike racks and shower facilities, and improve commuter incentives. This should result in the continued growth in popularity of cycling as a viable commuting option, despite the limitations of existing infrastructure.

Recently released statistics from Duke Parking and Transportation indicate that more than 520 people are registered as bike commuters, roughly 60 percent of whom are graduate students. These individuals are likely to live between two and five miles from campus. This makes the Duke-Durham connection to campus critical for heightened safety door-to-door. Duke should continue to partner with the city to make these connections a viable priority.

The sharrow program also enables the continued encouragement of undergraduate students to bring bikes to campus and to utilize the highly popular Duke Bikes program.

Another opportunity to expand the bike user base will continue to grow as bus and other transit options in Durham mature with the passage of the half-cent sales tax increase in Tuesday’s election. Continued pressure to prioritize bike-friendly connections with new transit options will augment the success of the future transit system.

Future harmony of the various transit modes in using the shared-road resource will require acknowledgement on the parts of all road users.

Ultimately, the sharrows can only do so much to keep everyone aware and safe. It’s up to bikers to clearly communicate their intentions to drivers and those around them. All parties must follow the law and obey traffic signals. Also, wear a helmet when you’re on your bike. A bad hair day is worth another bad hair day!

For more discussion of bike related issues and to find more information, I encourage the bike community at Duke to visit http://www.bikeduke.com to keep track of news and information about bike commuting at Duke.

 

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