WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa asks bikes and cars to share ‘sharrows’ lane


Bicyclists and cars are always supposed to share the road.

But in Santa Rosa they’re being asked to take that advice literally on a stretch of Sonoma Avenue near Montgomery Village.

As part of its effort to make the busy road safer for cyclists, the city has installed “sharrows” on a three-block stretch of Sonoma Avenue east of Montgomery Village.

A sharrow — a combination of the words “shared lane” and “arrow” — identifies stretches of the road where vehicles and bicyclists may need to share the lane in a single file because there isn’t enough room for both to travel side-by-side.

“This is our first experience with sharrows, so we’re wanting to see how they’re going to operate out there,” said city traffic planner Nancy Adams.

Bicyclists contacted Thursday were skeptical of the concept.

Ophthalmologist David Lightfoot commutes by bike from his Bennett Valley home to his office downtown using Sonoma Avenue. On Thursday afternoon Lightfoot called the new roadway markings “useless symbols” that he doubted would have any impact on behavior.

“I don’t think anyone knows what they mean, bicyclists or drivers,” Lightfoot said.

He said he had no intention of centering himself over the arrows on the street — as the city suggests — because it would put him too far out in the lane. That would annoy drivers, whom he predicted were more likely to honk and angrily pass him than slow down and patiently travel behind.

“Share the street? What if they decide to not share? Who pays? Me!” said Lightfoot, wearing a bright yellow vest he called his only protection.

Bike riding Mormon missionaries James Miller and Mark McMullan, both 20, said they’d seen the new symbols on the road showing a bicycle with two arrows above it, but weren’t about to use them as guides.

“Usually we see cars driving right over them,” Miller said.

The sharrows are part of a larger city effort to turn Sonoma Avenue into the main east-west corridor for bicyclists. The project was approved by the council in 2007 and is funded with a $300,000 state grant. Most of the 2.5-mile stretch of road from Santa Rosa Avenue to Summerfield Road will be getting dedicated bicycle lanes. The Summerfield Road to Yulupa Avenue stretch got them last week, and Hahman to Santa Rosa Avenue is expected to see them over the summer.

Instead of two lanes of travel in each direction, the Hahman Avenue to Santa Rosa Avenue section will have vehicle lanes pared to one in each direction, with a two-way left-turn lane in the middle, and six-foot wide bike lanes.

In addition to making room for the bike lanes, the re-striping should help reduce the “lane friction” on Sonoma Avenue created when drivers stop to turn left across traffic, forcing drivers behind them to either come to a stop or switch lanes to go around them, said city traffic engineer Rob Sprinkle said.

“I think it’s going to be a really welcomed change to that roadway,” said Julia Gonzalez, outreach coordinator for public works.

The 42-foot-wide section of Sonoma Avenue between Hahman Avenue and Yulupa Avenue, however, is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes without removing on-street parking, Gonzalez said.

Since that wasn’t something the city council wanted to do, the decision was made to try to the sharrows, she said. When there are no parked cars, bicyclists are supposed to stay as far to the right as practical. But when there are several parked cars, bicyclists should position themselves over the arrows and cars should travel behind them until it is safe to pass, she said.

“You don’t want a cyclist having to weave in and out of parked cars,” Gonzalez said.

She said the rules of the road haven’t changed, and called the sharrows a “positioning tool, more than anything.”

The concept is similar to the one behind the controversial changes to Humboldt Street, dubbed Bicycle Boulevard, though it was the former traffic circles that created the bulk of the opposition.

Sharrows work well in other cities and serve as a reminder that bicyclists sometimes face obstacles — debris, glass, parked cars — that prevent them from always hugging the curb, said Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

“Having a sharrow out there helps people think about the fact that it’s OK for someone who is on a bike to move a little farther out in the lane,” Lupien said.

The sharrow is located a few feet left of parked cars because bicyclists also need space to avoid car doors swinging open, Lupien said.

“I am much more conscious about a car door opening than I am about the car coming up behind me,” she said.

Gonzalez said the city in the coming months will try to educate school kids, neighbors and others about what the sharrows are and how to use them.

13 Responses to “Santa Rosa asks bikes and cars to share ‘sharrows’ lane”

  1. Posit says:

    When is the last time you read that a person on a bicycle got drunk and killed someone, was texting and killed a little 2 year old, driving to fast and caused a pile up?

  2. Billy C says:

    I just road that stretch with a group of friends Sunday. ( by coincidence)on our bikes. Sonoma Ave seems like a great bike connector. Maybe they could drop the speed limit on that section of road.
    I didn’t feel comfortable riding on the “sharows” but I would interpret it as “a watch out for bikes” thing while in my car.

  3. akr says:

    In theory I guess it might make sense but on this particular stretch of road, I don’t think it’s going to work. The redesign for drivers requires a lot of weaving back and forth and you know half of them aren’t really paying attention and/or can’t handle the curves, and certainly aren’t looking out for people on bikes. I mean, maybe the drivers will adjust but I sure as heck wouldn’t count on it. And great, that fatal accident happens right in front of the junior high schoolers. (I do actually see a lot of bicyclists on that road, though, that part is correct.)

  4. Deja vu all over again says:

    Here we go again.The citizens scratch thier heads in dismay.Why would the City waste money on something like this? Nobody asked for it.What about the safety of the cyclists? This is a priority?

  5. Shelby says:

    Where are all the bikes ? I ride the bike lanes in East Santa Rosa and drive all over town for work. I have never seen more than a bike or two during the day. I can go weeks with out even seeing ONE in the bike lanes in front of my house. I must bee missing bike hour or there are simply not enough of them to make such a fuss.
    I am all for bikes and would ride every day if I could. I think the effort should be made to actually ride before we inconvenience the general population.
    “shut up and ride!”

  6. Demosthenes says:

    My understanding is that the road has not been substantially altered by this addition….how is adding another means of caution for drivers a bad thing that makes the city liable?

  7. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bike riders pay taxes just like everyone else does. People need to get off their high horse and realize bike riders do pay their way on the roads. Not only that, but bike riders help keep traffic congestion down, don’t pollute the air, and take less parking space.

    If you went to a country like Holland you would see tiered parking garages for bikes only. The garages are just full of hundreds of bikes, side by side. European cities encourage bike riders. Europeans have had to pay so much for gas (much more than we do even with today’s rates) that they have learned to make do with other transportation. It’s time Americans did too. You might find it’s quicker than driving in traffic, trying to find a parking space, still having to walk to your job AND IT’S CHEAPER.

  8. Hang Up and Drive says:

    To ask if bike riders are paying their ‘true cost’ is more than a bit ridiculous.
    Bikes have much greater positive impact and vastly reduced negative impact in comparison to automotive vehicles. So often I hear complaints about bicyclists but negligent drivers are the greatest problem on the roads today.
    That said, this idea of a ‘sharrow’ seems poorly planned and dangerous.

  9. Dan Delgado says:

    Vehicle Code Boy,

    You’ve got that wrong. The basic speed law is that you shall not drive faster than is safe for the conditions (CVC 22350). The posted speed limits are prima facie (i.e., “recommended,” if you will) limits under optimal conditions. The conditions can always change (rain, fog, heavy traffic, pedestrians, etc.). You can easily exceed the basic speed law while staying within the posted limits. Please don’t leave your common sense and judgment behind when you get in your car.

  10. Tom says:

    This is aperfect example of the city throwing money at a project with no regard about whether it makes sense or is safe. They got there money and now need to spend it, creating a dangerous situation. Hopefully someone will sue the city.

  11. Keep Up or Get Out of the Way says:

    Bicyclists need to be able to ride their bicyles at the posted road speed. If they can’t they need to be walking on the sidewalk or on another roadway where they can ride at the posted speed limit.

    Bicyclists cannot be blocking traffic or holding it up and expect to get away with it.

    Bicyclists don’t pay gas taxes or don’t anything to maintain and repair roads in Sonoma County. They should be considered pedestrians if they can’t keep up and get off the roads we drivers pay for.

    Bicyclists are not green, they are a nuisance and need to be ticketed by the police everytime they violate traffic laws. Enforce the laws and let’s clean up the streets for those of us who pay the bills.

  12. Has the California Vehicle Code changed??? says:

    Has the vehicle code changed on this stretch of road? It sounds to me like the city is setting itself up for a lawsuit. What exactly does the painted bicycle with arrows mean, legally, if anything? The fact that the new signs saying “Share the road” are yellow means that that a caution, but not the law. If it was a legal requirement, like a speed limit, it would be in black and white. That’s why when you go around a corner and there is a yellow sign cautioning you to drive slower than the speed limit it is just that, a caution, not a change to the speed limit. This has political correctness, and disaster, written all over it.

  13. Dave Madigan says:

    Regarding parking at the Santa Rosa Plaza, Gary Wysocky stated that cars would have to start paying their true cost (or words to that effect).

    Here we have special accomodations being put onto a city street for bikes. Are the bike riders paying for their true cost Mr. Wysocky?

    Aside from the cost, this is a BAD idea. There will be auto vs bike accidents. The City will get sued over this “sharrow” idea.