In case you missed them -- and we sincerely hope you haven't because seeing them IS the point -- now dotting a number of Quad-Cities streets are stenciled images of a bicycle topped by arrows.|
They're called sharrows and their purpose is to help cars and trucks share our roadways more safely with the growing number of Quad-Citians who are opting to bicycle their way around town.
Count our cycling columnist Chuck Oestreich among the fans of the white pavement paintings. "As a citizen of Rock Island, I'm happy my city is the first of the Quad-Cities to extensively use sharrows," he wrote. "It is joining a new wave of progressive cities around America that have found them helpful in motivating bicyclists to bike through their cities with a renewed sense of comfort and safety."
Rock Island was first, but it won't be the last. Indeed, just last week, a letter writer complimented East Moline leaders for joining the sharrowing safety movement by installing the symbols on that city's streets. (Sharrow routes aren't intended to replace bike lanes, but are invaluable in areas where streets are too narrow to accommodate dedicated bike paths.)
Sharrows are intended to do exactly what their name implies -- remind vehicle drivers and bicyclists that they are sharing the roadway. Though some drivers might not like it, bicycles can legally travel city streets unless they are expressly prohibited from doing so which is, and should, be rare. It's not only polite to remember that point and act accordingly, it is also crucial to public safety.
Sharrows are designed to show cyclists where they should go when traveling on a roadway. They also signal to motorized vehicle drivers to cede right of way to the bikes in their path. If you can't get over, slow down until you can.
In a press release announcing the installation of sharrows last year, the City of Rock Island quoted Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, who explained the new symbols this way:
"Sharrows let motorists know that they may see bicyclists more often on a particular road. Sharrows also tell cyclists where best to position themselves on the road. Sharrow markings are on the right side of the road, since wrong-way riding, against the flow of traffic, is both illegal and unsafe.
Bicyclists on the right side are better seen at intersections, which is critical for bike safety. Sharrows are placed a few feet from parked cars, to prevent car doors from opening into the path of a bicyclist. If there's no parking, sharrows are a few feet from the road edge, since riding on the edge encourages cars to unsafely 'squeeze by' in the same lane, with less than the legal minimum three feet of passing clearance."
Remember, too, that a growing number of cyclists are sharing our roadways despite the winter weather outside so it's wise to be prepared to encounter them year-round. Sharrows should help.
"Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live," Mark Twain wryly wrote in his essay about learning how to ride a bike.
We salute forward-thinking Quad-Cities leaders who are helping to make that possible, one bike route at a time.
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