Bike Lane FAIL: Sharrows on the Edge in Los Altos

25 Sep

Sometimes a good plan becomes a FAIL when it hits the street. The Los Altos Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) clearly advised city staff that sharrows should be centered 5 feet from the curb in a narrow lane like this stretch of 1st Street. Somehow the sharrows got shoved to the gutter, just like the cyclists will be.

Location: 1st Street between Main and State Streets, Los Altos, California, USA.

City staff, listen to your BPACs! Sharrows should instruct bicyclists where to safely position themselves in standard travel lanes, not encourage them to hug the curb and invite cars to unsafely pass them.


Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Bike Lane FAIL


13 responses to “Bike Lane FAIL: Sharrows on the Edge in Los Altos

  1. im

    September 25, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Just found your blog…otoh sharrows can be placed very far into the lane, suggesting the rider take the entire thing and not to “ride as far right as practicable” as I believe states the CVC and which a lot of drivers believe intuitively which encourages some drivers to send a message, which just happened to me.

    So there’s that.

    • ladyfleur

      September 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      Hi, Thanks for reading and commenting. The sharrows in this case should have been in the middle of the lane as the BPAC recommended. When the lane is not wide enough to have a car and bike travel side-by-side safely, the rider is not obligated to ride on the edge of the lane.

      A lot of people don’t realize this, but it’s right there in point #3 in the CVC 21202:

      But maybe you knew that already? What do you mean by a driver “sending you a message”?

      • Katie Kelly

        September 25, 2012 at 6:22 pm

        I would say nobody knows this, even with sharrows in place. Well, I haven’t tested it. There is a narrow stretch of road with sharrows firmly right down the center, and I haven’t the guts to ride there.

        To work up the necessary fortitude, I quizzed many local cops about their usage. They all stopped me with confused expressions, saying, “Excuse me, what are ‘sharrows’?”

        I think people interpret them to mean that they’re likely to encounter cyclists on that stretch of road, not that cyclists are legally entitled to ride within the path outlined by the sharrows.

      • ladyfleur

        September 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm

        Hi Katie, why does it not surprise me that the cops don’t know the CVC either? Was it in Los Altos or in your neck of the woods?

        First Street is relatively low volume and in this area everyone drives/rides slow in general. When I first saw these sharrows I wondered if it was a response to resident complaints that the high volume of weekend roadies were “blocking” the street. I was actually relieved to read that the Los Altos BPAC didn’t agree with the placement of these sharrows. I would have preferred no sharrows to these misplaced ones.

  2. GRJim

    September 25, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Yes I knew. Since I’ve been riding a long time I just kind of wing it depending on the bike I’m riding.

    Driver passed me closely at high speed though I was on a sharrow well into the lane, despite there being another lane and being completely devoid of traffic but for us two. Time trialed to catch him/her but got away. Anyway opened up the legs a bit.

    • ladyfleur

      September 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      I hate it when drivers think you’re doing something wrong when they, in fact, are. There is very little driver education related to bikes beyond “watch out for them.” When I went for traffic school, the full 8 hour online course said nothing more than “bicyclists are unpredictable.” This needs to change.

  3. GRJim

    September 25, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Traffic school, bike bloggist = funny.

    Yeah, usually I give them the standard lecture if I make the catch, “You see that lane marking? I’m supposed to be there. The law states you need to give me 3 feet. Please do so next time you pass a cyclist.” The law may or may not be written in but hey what motorist knows that?

  4. GRJim

    September 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    car = beholden
    bike = beholder

  5. djconnel

    September 26, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Under SB1464, if the Governor ever signs it (he pocket veto’ed a similar bill last year, but his claimed reasons for opposition have been addressed by author Lowenthal in the new bill), would allow drivers to cross the double yellow to pass on roads like this, but only if there was clear line of sight that there was no conflicting traffic. The bill’s ironically fuzzy about whether it would actually require a 3-foot margin.

    I’m really glad Los Altos is painting sharrows, and I think it’s great your holding the city to a high standard.

    • ladyfleur

      September 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

      I just wish Los Altos had put the sharrows on the other part of 1st Street where there are parked cars. Just before I snapped that photo a family of three rode past in the door zone of the cars and weaving in toward the curb in the gaps between the cars. So scary, especially since the kid was really young.

  6. Martin

    September 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    If the roadway is to narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to safely travel side by side, then painting sharrows is NOT the solution. Too few people (motorists, cyclists, and apparently policemen too) understand their intent. (Also, after a year or two, they fade from the roadway.)

    The SHARE THE ROAD sign that you sometimes see is just as bad, but for another reason. Many motorists believe that sign tells them that the roadway is to be shared by riding side by side with the cyclist … exactly the wrong interpretation. Once, when biking down the center of the lane on a road with a SHARE THE ROAD, I had a drive pass me with about a foot to spare and shout at me “Can’t you read? SHARE the road, stupid!”

    The best approach when a lane is too narrow for both a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side, is to install BICYCLE MAY USE FULL LANE signs. These signs were authorized by the 2012 edition of the California Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. (See R4-11 in Chapter 9B). They are unambiguous, and give a clear set of directions to the cyclist as well as the motorist.

    That’s what the BPAC should advise Los Altos; not sharrows, and not SHARE THE ROAD either.

    • ladyfleur

      September 27, 2012 at 9:05 am

      I was surprised to see sharrows in this lane. They were originally intended for guiding people to ride out of the door zone. I agree that “share the road” signs are close to useless and “bicycle may use full lane” signs are much better. But even though they’re in the new MUTCD, I have yet to see them anywhere south of San Francisco. Have you?

      But regardless of what we think is the best solution, what bothers me most is that the BPAC’s guidance was ignored and a worse solution was implemented. Of course, there may be more to this story than what I’ve learned so far…


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