Birth of a Class III Bike Route

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Department of Transportation contractors put down the long-awaited Class III "Shared Lane" bicycle stencils on Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue this weekend. As I understand them, the markings are meant to do two things:

  • Inform cyclists that Fifth Avenue is a preferred bike route. The more people who bike on Fifth Avenue, the safer Fifth Avenue will be for biking.
  • Instruct motorists and bicyclists to SHARE THE ROAD along the narrower stretch of Fifth Avenue From Carroll to Dean Street.

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These Shared Lane stencils are an entirely new type of bike lane marking for New York City. They are modeled after San Francisco's "Sharrows." The State of California adopted the Sharrow design in September 2005 after some experimentation and a consultant's study of different types of Shared Lane markings (PDF file).  

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Fifth Avenue is my neighborhood shopping strip. I ride my bike here all the time and I have been personally invested in improving bicycling conditions here. Over the last two and a half years it has taken quite a bit of organizing and advocacy work to get the existing bike lane and these new shared lane markings installed. So, it was satisfying to see the work getting done this weekend. Of course, we can argue in the comments section about the value of this type of bike lane, other designs that might work better, and lots else. But it is nice to see tangible improvements coming out of DOT's recent citywide bike safety study.

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Design-wise, I was surprised to see the stencils placed along the side of the travel lane. My impression, based on conversations with DOT, was that the markings would be placed right in the middle of the travel lane. At first glance, it seems to me that this design still sends the message that cyclists are supposed to squeeze between parked and traveling vehicles rather than asserting a right to the middle of the lane. DOT tells me, however, that the stencils are placed so that if a cyclist is riding directly on top of them they will be just far enough out in the street to avoid being hit by the opened door of a parked car.

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I chatted with the contractors as they did their work. They said they were getting lots of thanks from cyclists, passersby and even a couple of police officers happy to see the new bike markings being installed. If you think New York City cyclists have grudges against motorists, talk to a road worker. Apparently, these guys work in one of the most dangerous professions in America today -- even more dangerous than being a police officer or fire fighter. They told me that hundreds of their colleagues get hurt and killed doing their jobs each year nationwide (if someone wants to Google around for the facts on this, I have not). Just recently, one of their co-workers was killed by a car on a job on I-78 in Pennsylvania. They are bitter about the lack of attention paid by the media and politicians to road workers' deaths and injuries.

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Let's hope their work leads to a safer, saner transportation system on Fifth Avenue.