Santa Monica introduces ‘sharrows’ on 14th Street


Bicyclist Anthony Gianatasio has had many a memorable scrape with motorized vehicles over the years, as the scars on his arms, legs and face attest. Drivers have thrown things, gestured impolitely and shouted at him to move to the &*%@!* sidewalk.

As a result, Gianatasio welcomes the new “sharrows,” or “shared lane arrows,” that the city of Santa Monica has applied to a freshly paved section of 14th Street between Washington and Montana avenues.

“It’s a big relief,” Gianatasio, 39, said of the symbols, which feature a pictogram of a bicycle beneath two chevrons. The markings, which resemble those seen throughout some European cities, are intended to remind motorists that they are legally obligated to share the road.

“As cyclists, we can’t educate the motorists,” Gianatasio said. “When the city paints these markings, it goes a long way.”

With its first “sharrows,” Santa Monica joins a number of other U.S. cities attempting to make it easier for cyclist and motorist road warriors to coexist. Denver and San Francisco were among the earliest proponents to use the markings, but Los Angeles, Long Beach and other cities have also begun adopting them.

“They’re sort of popping up all around the L.A. area,” said Aurisha Smolarski, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.

The markings do not connote a separate bicycle lane per se but rather guide cyclists to travel outside the dreaded “car door zone” — the area of vulnerability where many cyclists have been “doored” by inattentive drivers climbing out of their vehicles.

Sharrows are one of many elements of a bike plan that Santa Monica will put together once a new development and traffic plan, now in draft form, has been adopted, said Michelle Glickert, senior transportation planner with the city. Other options, she said, will be bike lanes and bike boulevards, which would feature a painted biker and the word “boulevard” along with signage.

“Cyclists need safe, comfortable and convenient access to all streets,” said Matt Benjamin, senior associate with Alta Planning + Design, a consulting firm. “In some cases it will make sense to favor bike capacity over auto capacity, but in other cases peaceful coexistence may be the best option. That’s where shared lane markings are useful.”

Cyclist Marc Thomas, 46, who watched the new markings go in on 14th Street, said he now uses the road as his regular route to his favorite coffee place on Montana Avenue. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “You feel like you’re at home. It gives the impression that cyclists and walkers and drivers all need to and should get along well.”

The sharrows encourage cyclists to ride further to the left in the travel lane, something they are legally allowed to do even if it means blocking the lane at times. Gianatasio experienced the soothing effects one recent afternoon. Drivers following him gave him plenty of space and a wide berth as they passed.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation was recently criticized by cycling blogger Stephen Box, who said in a SoapBoxLA posting that engineers in late June had incorrectly placed some sharrows on Fountain Avenue. By his calculations, Box said, the markings steer cyclists too close to the door zone and encourage motorists to ride side by side with cyclists, even though the road is too narrow.

“All that money spent on research and planning and preparation and implementation and yet the LADOT Bikeways failed to accomplish the three goals of a sharrow,” he wrote. Those goals, he said, are to get cyclists out of the door zone, position cyclists in the center of a non-sharable lane and communicate clearly to motorists the correct position of a cyclist on a narrow lane.

In Santa Monica, Gianatasio has no complaints. With the sharrows in place, he said, “I’ll actually take my children down 14th Street.”