The Better Bike Lanes

In my last post, I groused about bike lanes that I thought were done poorly; that were actually, in some situations, dangerous to the folks who are supposed to use them. I thought it was only fair to bring attention to some bike lanes in Phoenix which I think are done well. My home town is dominated by automobiles. The phrase “good Phoenix bike lane” might seem to be a textbook example of an oxymoron, or an urban legend, but I can testify to their existence and I have photographic proof!

I’m not talking here about multiuse paths. Those facilities separate bikes, pedestrians and equestrians from automobiles completely. I’m talking about roadways which try to make it safer for bicycles to share the road with automobiles.

The most important components of this type of infrastructure are painted road elements called Shared Lane Markings (SLMs), or “sharrows.” The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has an excellent description of them in their Urban Bikeway Design Guide – Shared Lane Markings. The Complete Streets programs all over America include sharrows as an automatic characteristic of their planning.

A sharrow is a painted image of a bicycle topped with two chevrons indicating the direction the bicycle rider should go when traveling in that lane. Its purpose is to let motorists know they may encounter bikes in that lane, and bicycles have a right to be there.

A Sharrow

Evidence says the use of sharrows makes the roadways safer for bicyclists. I think when they are sometimes included in marked bike lanes, they make the bike lanes even safer. That is what I expected to see a little bit further on, when I saw the white lines:

Bike Lane Ahead of the Sharrow?

No, actually, these are on-street parking areas. If there are no cars parked there, in my opinion they function as an excellent bike lane.

Parking and Lane

The closed lane markings still make it somewhat of a no man’s land at the intersections, but at least these are side streets controlled by stop signs. Traveling up this road about another quarter of a mile, making a right and riding another half mile I come to a bike-lane-to-intersection-transition I think is the best idea short of a cycle track (a bike lane physically separated from the roadway using curbing or a change in elevation):

Bike Lane and Turn Lane

Even though the solid white bike lane markings have become dashed, it is still clearly a bike lane. And the use of sharrows makes it even safer.

Good Bike Lane Ending

Ironically, the only two times I have seen infrastructure like this not work so well is when irresponsible bike riders are going the wrong way down the bike lane or irresponsible drivers are parked in a clearly marked bike lanes!


BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He had problems with this post: his auto-correction kept substituting “shallow” for “sharrow”!

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5 thoughts on “The Better Bike Lanes”

  1. Augsburg says:

    Thanks for posting! This kind of discussion and education for drivers and cyclists is very necessary. Tucson has unfortunately become one of the worst places in the U.S. for our rate of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities – and that comes while the U.S. as a whole, is way up for bike/ped crashes.

    Thanks for talking about the sharrows, as many cities are now beginning to downplay their effectiveness. I think mostly because the sharrows went in on the cheap and now cities are looking at maintaining the sharrows. I ride about 100 miles a week around Tucson and find the sharrows are useful! I’ll even go further than you and say the sharrows REMIND the drivers of cars they must legally share the road with bicycles.

    As far as road markings, we ride the bike lanes on Mountain Ave. frequently and the inconsistent markings can make it dangerous for cyclists. Some intersections (e.g. Grant) have green boxes and pylons with signing telling drivers to yield to bikes (in the bike lane). Other intersections (e.g. Glenn) have some corners with green boxes and others without. What?! Green paint is that expensive? Then Ft Lowell, where a ghost bike resides, has no green boxes, no pylons and no signing. We regularly suffer near misses when we get “right-hooked” at Ft. Lowell.

    Our conclusion, road markings like the green boxes, pylons and signs work – again to remind drivers to look out and share the road.

    1. Clay Guinard says:

      The only way to keep cyclists safe on the road is to is you got to have a barrier between the automobile and the cyclist other than that the cyclist is going to be crowded there for a dangerous live for possible Fatality and it should be looked at as fatalities and I don’t know why that’s not pushed when communities and making these bike Lanes going to make them so that the cyclist is priority otherwise it’s not really a cycle path or roadway

  2. John says:

    Cycling Education is seriously lacking, and that is a significant part of the problem. Some cyclists seem to think that just because there is a bike lane or a Sharrow marking, it entitles them to use the road entirely to their own benefit. It’s like pedestrians dashing into the crosswalk without bothering to look up and look Left-Right-Left again. Doing so is at one’s own peril, first and foremost. There has to be more education to the rules of the road.
    I recently took a 1400mile bike trip from the Tucson Airport to San Diego and back and then on to El Paso. Tucson impressed me with its extensive bike trail and lane network yet not necessarily with the educational and informational on the usage of those bike lanes. And yes, lots of discontinued lanes where the transitions were not indicated. Lots of bike shops, but I stopped in at least 3 such bike shops where the young staff expressed marked ignorance about bike safety (sending customers out on a bike test ride without a helmet) as well as ignorance about the Tucson cycling network, not to speak of their total ignorance of equipment related to long distance cycling. So yes, prevention is about education of the cyclist as well as the drivers.

  3. John M. Hammer says:

    I agree with Augsburg: Sharrow markings are inexpensive to apply and have a significant effect on driver behavior – at least, once they know what they mean. If a segregated, protected lane for cyclists isn’t possible for any reason, including political will or lack of funds, sharrows are among the most effective alternatives. I’d rather ride on a road with sharrow markings than on a road with a painted narrow door-zone bike lane.

    BC, are there any parking-protected or otherwise full segregated cycling lanes in your area?

    1. BluesCat says:

      Not that I’m aware of, John. (Then again, I try to stay out of the more tony areas of Phoenix and Scottsdale; could be some stuff there.) As I recall, some of the communities adjacent to Phoenix have received public blow-back when they tried to re-stripe some three lane streets to provide for two lanes of motorized traffic and a bike lane on either side. That’s right in line with the concept that “Roads are for Cars” which dominates here.

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