Political will and courage is necessary to step Miami’s bicycle network up a notch.
Sharrows. Chevrons. Shared lane markings. Little painted bicycles on the street.
Like fungi after a spring rainfall, Miami has seen a rapid proliferation of these markings on her streets, designed to remind motorists to be aware of cyclists and their right to the lane. While the markings are a welcomed improvement to our otherwise naked, auto-dominated streetscape, the sharrow boom is raising some concerns in Miami’s cycling community and beyond.
Has the the sharrow obsession come at the expense of more substantial bicycling infrastructure?
Sam Ollinger at Bike San Diego argues that her city has fallen into this trap, using sharrows as copout to real change.
“In the last year, San Diegans have seen the increasing number of shared-lane markings, also called “sharrows.” Sharrows are appearing everywhere: Adams Avenue, Park Boulevard, Broadway, El Cajon Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Voltaire Street, Chatsworth Boulevard, Hotel Circle South, Pacific Highway and more. However, these sharrows are being used as a cheap band-aid instead of implementing real change on our roadways that would increase the number of people riding their bicycle for transportation or recreation.
For starters, San Diego’s Bicycle Master Plan recommends sharrows on roadways that are too narrow for bike lanes. Sharrows are recommended on roads that have a minimum width of 14 feet. Bike lanes are recommended on roads that have a minimum of 15-17 feet. El Cajon Boulevard, for example, has three travel lanes in each direction – it has more than enough room for a bike lane.”
The same argument can be made for Miami. When I take a look at our current bicycle lanes, I cannot imagine a single one that required the removal of a vehicle travel lane or parking. It seems that Miami’s current bicycle lane striping, like on S. Miami Avenue in Brickell, NW 1st Avenue in Overtown, on Coral Way through the Roads for example, was the “low-hanging fruit”, meaning that the existing pavement was wide enough to add bicycle lanes without a significant alteration of the existing street configuration, save perhaps narrowing the travel lanes a foot or two. It’s a commendable feat, but what needs to come next are the “hard miles” of lanes to achieve connectivity and encourage ridership.
What are “hard miles”? New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan used the term in a November article for the New York Times. Hard miles, Ms. Sadik-Khan puts it, are bicycle lanes in the densest, most contested parts of town to achieve connectivity with the lanes that were easier to complete. Many of the 280 miles of bicycle lanes NYC has built in the last four years have been of the “hard mile” variety.
Miami’s answer for the “hard miles” seems to be the cheap sharrow. And it ‘aint cutting it anymore.
One of the loudest gripes with Miami’s current bicycle infrastructure is the lack of connectivity, where lanes seemingly begin and end at random, forming an incongruous network. It’s obvious that the sharrow seems to be the answer du jour. But how effective is this treatment and are they coming at the expense of better, safer facilities?
A recent study of the sharrows on Washington Avenue (.pdf) in Miami Beach showed that before sharrow implantation, 55% of bicycle riders were on the sidewalk. After the sharrows, that number reduced to 45%. Clearly, many riders still feel safer on the sidewalk, despite the painted bicycle in the middle of the road. The sharrows are probably doing very little, if anything, to encourage would-be riders to take to the streets.
From the Bike San Diego piece:
A recent report from the Mineta Transportation Institute, an institute that was established by Congress to research “multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues”, concluded that in order to attract a wide segment of the population, a bicycle network’s most fundamental attribute should be low-stress connectivity, that is, providing routes between people’s origins and destinations that do not require cyclists to use links that exceed their tolerance for traffic stress, and that do not involve an undue level of detour.
Conventional sharrows are not accomplishing the “low-stress connectivity” emphasized in the report. The infographic above is from a study in Portland, OR that found 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in cycling, but concerned for their safety. The “1% strong & fearless” and the “7% enthused & confident” are the ones most likely to appreciate the sharrow. But what about about the biggest chunk of prospective riders? To encourage more people on bikes, we need safe, dedicated infrastructure. And that almost always requires some sacrifice at the altar of the automobile.
In early 2012, I wrote a piece called The Year in Bicycles where I wondered if this would be the year Miami saw it’s first protected bicycle lane. As we approach the annual halfway mark, that question still remains unanswered.
The real question is, when will we see the “hard miles” of bicycle lanes in Miami to enhance and connect our network? Because conventional sharrows aren’t cutting it.
Additional Traffic Calming Needed ahead of Park Opening
Over the past few weeks, Miami-Dade County Public Works has begun to upgrade the streetscape on South Miami Avenue through the heart of Brickell, specifically from Broadway to SW 8th St. As reported earlier on TransitMiami, these upgrades include ‘zebra’ crosswalks, additional signage and lane striping.
Recently, a bicycle lane and ‘sharrows’ were added to South Miami Avenue on this segment, as well as ‘sharrows’ on Brickell Plaza and through Mary Brickell Village. Additionally, the chaotic and confusing intersection at SW 12th St. and S. Miami Avenue has been slightly reconfigured with bollards to prevent ‘soft left’ turns.
As the new Triangle Park nears it’s completion, a need for additional traffic calming in the area is painfully obvious to allow residents a safe way to access the park. Presently, with a green light at the intersection of SW 13th Street and S. Miami Avenue, it is possible for a motorist to continue unimpeded from the Broadway roundabout all the way to SW 10th street. Such a long stretch with no stop signs allows motorists to gain unsafe rates of speed through Brickell. There are no traffic calming mechanisms (raised crosswalks, stop signs, sidewalk bulb-outs, etc.) to alert drivers that they are entering an area with dense pedestrian traffic and speeds of 45mph+ are dangerous and unacceptable.
Just a block down S. Miami Ave from the park, in Mary Brickell Village, no mid-block crosswalk exists to connect the two sides of the street. Understandably, pedestrians frequently weave through parked (and moving) cars to cross the street. The need for a safely marked midblock crossing is so obvious it’s almost comical that it does not exist.
I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for Brickell’s new ‘Flatiron Park’ in October. During Commissioner Sarnoff’s speech, cars were flying down S. Miami Avenue at ridiculous speeds, completely inappropriate for a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. No motorists were yielding to pedestrians. Mothers with strollers, people walking their pets, individuals in wheelchairs were all having difficulty crossing the street. Watching SUV’s hurl themselves at the intersection outside Baru Urbano and aggressively brake just in time for the crosswalk was unnerving. Unfortunately, this is an everyday occurrence.
This hazardous situation could be mitigated with a stop sign at SW 11th street, pictured below. As reported earlier on TransitMiami, the manager of Rosinella has personally witnessed an average of 5 accidents a year at this intersection.
This only scratches the surface of the improvements to make the area truly ‘pedestrian-friendly’. A walk down SE 1st Avenue by the busy MetroRail and bus stations will show you that. (No pavement marking, no crosswalks, no stop signs - only speeding vehicles) Currently, there is a plan for a complete streetscape overhaul of South Miami Ave. that is scheduled for 2014.
How many more accidents and close calls will we see before then?
Widening lanes to add sharrows is like narrowing sidewalks to attract pedestrians.
- urban planner Kenneth Garcia, commenting on FDOT’s latest plans to accomodate sharrows on Brickell
The Miami Herald is reporting that FDOT has begun a resurfacing project on Bird Road. According to the article:
Workers will repave and restripe the road; widen the bridge and road shoulder; build a new sidewalk on the north side of Bird Road as well as upgrade sidewalks and curb ramps.
Crews will also make drainage improvements to alleviate water buildup in the swale area. Landscaping will improved. Lighting will be improved and new traffic and pedestrian signs and signals installed.
A pedestrian bridge will be built. Workers will remove existing guardrail and installing new guardrail at various locations.
There is no mention of new bicycle facilities. I have contacted Transit Miami sources within the City of Miami and the County and they are unaware of any bicycle infrastructure improvements. The $2.5 million improvement project on Bird Road will occur between Red Road and Southwest 38th Avenue. Coral Gables High School happens to be on this stretch of roadway. Connecting a high school with bicycling infrastructure would be the smart thing to do; it encourages students to bike to school. Also, there is a bridge that crosses a canal on this stretch of roadway. Bridges are often the most dangerous areas for cyclists; they must converge on bridges to cross any body of water. I’m glad to see a pedestrian bridge will be incorporated in the design plans, but the transition should also be seamless for cyclists too.
For the record, FDOT has recently completed 2 resurfacing projects which are second-rate (MacArthur Causeway, Coral Way). FDOT seems very hesitant to accommodate cyclists on Sunset Drive and now it appears that cyclists were not considered in the Bird Road project at all. This is not a pretty track record. Please contact Transit Miami ally Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera and FDOT District 6 Secretary Gus Pego and ask them why provisions for bicyclists were not made to this very important route.
The Transit Miami eye is watching every FDOT project closely.
It is time to meet the Sharrow Miami. The what? The sharrow, a relatively new bicycle awareness/safety/wayfinding/bicycle lane-esque design tool quickly making its way across the country.
In short, sharrows are an on-pavement marking comprised of a directional arrow or “chevron,” and a bicycle symbol identical to those seen in bicycle lanes. Sharrows demonstrate that bicyclists should “take the lane” by directing them into safe, shared lane positioning. The sharrow is designed to reduce bicyclist/motorist conflict along medium-speed thoroughfares and help bicyclists safely avoid the door-zone. Sharrows are appropriate wherever unmarked travel lanes are too dangerous to share safely (think Biscayne Boulevard or Calle Ocho) and when bicycle lanes are not feasible due to available street width. Sharrows are also a great tool for mixed-use pedestrian-oriented districts as the continuation of an existing bicycle lane (I happen to think this will be the best solution for the Design District portion of the planned Northeast Second Avenue bicycle lane, as such a marking will not take away any precious retail parking spaces. Ditto for Alton Road.)
Born in Denver, and applied earnestly in San Francisco, several cities are now part of a Federal experiment to apply sharrows, including Miami Beach (apparently on Washington Avenue, but not yet implemented. We here at Transit Miami will keep our eyes on this one)
Studies in San Francisco, which began implementing sharrows in 2004, demonstrate improved lane positioning for cyclists and an improved amount of passing distance by motorists overtaking bicyclists. By virtue of their clear pavement marking sharrows also cut down on the number of sidewalk cyclists and riders traveling illegally against traffic. The official 2009 Manual on Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a guiding federal policy document for municipalities, will apparently include sharrows as an approved traffic control device. Thus, expect sharrows to become widespread in the not to distant future.
Presenting at the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico this week, I was able to observe the sharrow in action. Santa Fe is one of America’s oldest urban settlements, dating back to the 11th century. This means the city existed for eight centuries before the rise of the automobile and the chaos that wrought on most American cities and towns. Fortunately, the powers that be have respected this history by not bastardizing the city’s excellent thoroughfare network. Thus, streets remain narrow and very pedestrian-friendly. But because the streets are proportioned correctly, most do not have the right-of-way space available for bicycle lanes.
Enter the sharrow. Most of the principle streets in Santa Fe use the sharrow to increase safety and awareness, as well as direct cyclists to the best routes through the city. They work beautifully. Cars, never able to move quickly due to the narrow lanes, not only expect to share the lane with bicyclists, they also yield to them.
Sharrows have not made their way to the City of Miami yet. However, it seems we will soon have a model in Miami Beach. Regardless, I can guarantee that they will be a recommended, and essential part of the Miami Bicycle Master Plan.
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