Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lawyer throws cold water on guerilla sharrows

Several months ago I criticized anonymous activists for painting guerilla "sharrows" on Hillside Ave. in Victoria. I said that it was irresponsilbe and now a U.S. lawyer is laying out some of the legal rationale that informed my reaction.

I didn't ask, but the opinion piece just came up on the news service of the Sightline Institute, a web news service that covers environmental issues around "Cascadia", the colloquial name for the pacific northwest of Canada and U.S.

"Sharrows" or shared-use arrows are a new road marking treatment that has been appearing on streets around North America; we even have a few legal ones in the Victoria area. They have been implemented by municipal engineers after careful study and consultation with cycling advocates. The projects are endorsed by the respective councils in those municipalities where they are in use, just like those in the many other cities in North America that are test driving the idea.

The "sharrow" looks like a riderless bike with two "chevrons" (or a couple of roof peaks if you like), that suggest a direction of travel. They are typically used in situations where marked bicycle lanes won't fit in a narrow travel lane, or in some spots where a transition or conflict exists. The suggest good road position in situations where they are used, and remind drivers where they should expect to see cyclists in the traffic flow.

Soon they will be approved by the Transporation Association of Canada, an organization responsible for developing guidelines and standards for all manner of road markings and signage for traffic control, management, information etc. Professional engineers and municipal practitioners run the show and they study and test models at home or from abroad (usually the U.S.) to confirm their applicability in Canada.

Sharrows have been accepted by a TAC committee, but we are still waiting for official endorsement or gazetting to give them the stamp of authority needed to make them routinely available for cities and their engineering departments. Once that is done, they will likely start appearing along many roads around the county, and many projects have, at least conceptually, been planned for the capital region.

In the meatime, some of those frustrated with the slow process of evolutionary engineering and public consultation (the guerillas) have gone out to paint their own. *Nearly every municipal bicycle project in Victoria and beyond goes through some thorough and useful engagement with the actual users of all those facilities, (cyclists themselves).

I talked about the design issues at length, and nothing is as simple as it seems. It's not just "slapping some paint on the road" (a familiar, if simplistic solution also proposed by saviours of the Johnson St. bridge), but as complex and technical as any other traffic control device.

Engineering issues aside, the legal framework has always been relevant to the "cause", and "do it yourself" bike facilities are still a bad idea. Check out the short, concise summary of arguments from U.S. attorney Kenny Ching and you'll get at least the legal part of the picture. It couldn't be more clear.

See some sharrows at:

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