L.A. City Sharrows List: A Few Things That Bother Me

LADOT says sharrows are coming into the ground on a street near you

Earlier this week, the city of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation (LADOT) did a really awesome thing! They finished striping the first 2.2 miles of the 7th Street bike lanes. I figured it would be a good week, a week to celebrate bike facility progress in L.A. … but then LADOT published an article called Sharrows are good. So lets [sic] do them. It includes a list of 20 miles of L.A. streets where sharrows “will be going into [sic] the ground before the year’s end.”

I haven’t had the time to do a thorough analysis of the list. In the LADOT list, in addition to the grammatical errors (and LADOT publish and defend attitude – paraphrased as “we’re doing this by the end of the year, let us know what you think”), there are lots of things that bother me about the content of the list. Though I think that a few of these may be worthwhile projects, the majority of them are troubling for a few different reasons. 

I will begin with some background:

Sharrows on 4th Street

Background 1: What’s a sharrow and what’s not so good about them? Sharrows are a “shared lane marking” where bicycles and cars share the same lane. I explained sharrows here – including my explanation of how sharrows are wimpy. They’re ok… one tool in the tool box of what can make a city safe and comfortable for bicycling… but, in my opinion, pretty much the least worthwhile tool available. In my opinion, bike lanes are way better. I see sharrows as sort of the bike facility of last resort – when you’ve considered all the options, and you really can’t squeeze in something good, then put down sharrows.

Background 2: What was the city planning? After a long process, the city of L.A. recently, in March 2011, approved its new 2010 Bike Plan. The city Bike Plan includes a Five-Year Implementation Strategy. The 5-year document lists 253.2 miles that the city planned/plans to implement in the first six years of the plan (year zero 2010 through year 5 2015.)

Total mileage from the city of L.A. Five-Year Implementation Strategy

The 5-year document includes 183.5 miles of Bike Lanes, 7.7 miles of Bike Routes, and 62 miles of what the city calls Bicycle Friendly Streets (though in many cities these are called Bicycle Boulevards.) These three add up to just over 40 miles per year of the six years (year zero through five) of the Five-Year document.

In the course of approving the bike plan, the mayor pledged implementation of 40 miles of bikeway per year… which, when it was pointed out that the city was behind on year zero and not on track for year one, was clarified to mean 40 miles of bikeway per fiscal year, starting July 1st 2011.

Now… you might assume that those 40 miles of bikeway being implemented would be… hmmm… the 40 miles/year in the Five-Year Implementation Strategy, right? Well… I suppose that’s still possible. The LADOT could be dutifully implementing actual planned mileage from the 5-year document, plus these 20 miles of sharrows as, perhaps, some sort of special bonus token of good faith to cyclists… for all we’ve put up with. But somehow, something tells me that the motivation for all those sharrows isn’t so generous. It seems to me like the city is more likely hell-bent on giving cyclists as little as possible, while still delivering 40 miles… of something bikey… er… have some sharrows… instead of what we approved in March.

Though LADOT announced 20 miles of sharrows this year, sharrows, by themselves, total only 7.7 miles of the 5-Year Strategy - which is to say that what the city approved in March was to do 7.7 miles of sharrows over 6 years. See for yourself – they’re the 7.7 miles of bike route in the chart above. Sharrows can also be a part of the “Bike Friendly Streets,” but here’s the definition, from page 119 of the approved Bike Plan: (italics added)

Bicycle Friendly Street (BFS) – A new Class III facility introduced by this Plan a BFS will include at least two engineering street calming treatments in addition to signage and shared lane markings.

So… just sharrows does not a Bicycle Friendly Street make. The minimum interventions for a Bicycle Friendly Street was a contentious point in the final stages of Bike Plan approval. If the city is backing away from its plan, then it is more-or-less affirming cyclists’ concerns that Bike Friendly Streets were indeed too vague, too non-committal, and would be implemented poorly and ineffectively. It’s possible that the city will be, perhaps starting in January 2012, adding plenty of traffic calming to go with the sharrows, so it can honestly count some of these as completed Bike Friendly Streets projects.

I hope that LADOT proves me wrong. I hope that they’re doing these sharrows in addition to facilities that are actually in the Five-Year Implementation Strategy… otherwise, why on earth did we negotiate and approve a Five-Year Implementation Strategy? Unfortunately, my hunch is that LADOT is under pressure to get 40 miles of facilities on the ground this fiscal year, and so they’re looking at the crappiest, cheapest, least-safe, least-effective way to get to 40 miles. Please prove my suspicions wrong, Mayor Villaraigosa.

So… that’s the background… now on to the list itself. Most of this research is via streets I’ve biked a while back that I’ve looked more recently on Google maps… and if there are any volunteers out there who want to help proof this on the ground… let me know.

So (aside from the global issue that LADOT is focusing on sharrows at all when they weren’t prominent in the plan) here are the specific concerns I have about the facilities they’ve listed:

1. Not following the Five-Year Implementation Strategy. So… one might think that the city might start putting their sharrows down in a way that gets started on implementing those 250 miles listed in the 5-Year document, right? Out of twenty-two facilities on LADOT’s sharrow list, turns out that only one actually matches the city’s 5-Year list: Astoria Street (from San Fernando to Foothill – designated as a Bike Friendly Street.) By doing only one actual planned sharrowed facility from the 5-Year list, this means that the city appears to be committing to playing catch-up in future years, so that they actually get the 5-Year list implemented in 5 years.

Of the other twenty-one facilities: fourteen do not appear at all on the 5-Year list. The other seven appear on the 5-Year list, but are designated for bike lanes, not sharrows… hence, this means that the city is apparently planning to paint sharrows this year, then scrape off the sharrows and repaint actual bike lanes within five years (which also means playing catch-up regarding mileage.) Or, maybe, are they not planning to do bike lanes, as approved… which brings me to my next point:

2. Extensive downgrading from bike lanes to sharrows. There are thirteen out of twenty-two sharrow list facilities that are designated in the Bike Plan as “future bike lanes.” This means that they don’t get sharrows, they get lanes. Changing these from lanes to sharrows represents a serious downgrade from what was approved in March.

Seven on the sharrow list are Bike Plan designated as Bike Friendly Streets – so they get sharrows, plus traffic calming. Only two on the sharrow list (Venice Blvd and State Street) are designated as bike routes, so they just get sharrows (and signage, though I am not worried about that) and can be considered complete with just sharrows implemented.

3. Sharrows where there may be room for bike lanes: Many of the streets listed for sharrows appear to have sufficient width for bike lanes – without any removal of traffic lanes – for, at least, large portions of the segments listed. Based on my very preliminary, very quick overview, I think this may be the case for:

  1. Arden Place
  2. Arden Blvd (especially southern end)
  3. Yucca Street
  4. McConnell Avenue
  5. State Street (especially northern end)
  6. Mott Street (especially northern end)
  7. 51st Street (especially eastern end)
  8. Colden Avenue (especially eastern end)
This is my guess, so I bet I am wrong on some of these but not all, but I frankly hate to see the city implementing sharrows anywhere there’s sufficient width for bike lanes. In some cases, these could be mixed facilities – bike lanes, that drop down to sharrows for a few blocks where the street narrows. At this point, LADOT hasn’t shared road width data on these… so I don’t know conclusively where lanes will fit and where they won’t.

LADOT's awesome new road diet bike lanes on 7th Street

4. Sharrows where a road diet would be more appropriate: A few of the sharrow list streets would greatly benefit from road diets: removing a traffic lane to create bike lanes. Portions of Hoover (MLK to roughly 88th) and Motor (from National to Culver City) appear perfectly ripe for an easy road diet. If the traffic volumes permit, like they did on 7th Street, the road diet might not adversely impact the city’s car-centric impact thresholds, so the projects could likely be done easily without extensive studies. The other listed streets that could possibly use a lane reduction are Vine and Laurel Canyon… though I suspect that those might need more study. The upper portion of Motor may be able to be reconfigured, too, re-allocating the central median space… but that may not be simple, either (due to the need to make the project palatable to adjacent homeowners – who may or may not be amenable to the change.) At this point, LADOT hasn’t shared traffic volume data, so it’s not clear which of these road diets and lane reductions will be easy or difficult.

So… that’s pretty much what I find frustrating on LADOT’s sharrows list.

I don’t think that we should slavishly follow the Five-Year Implementation Strategy or the Bike Plan. There are some errors in those documents; there are straight-out errors and also places where it aims too low and perhaps somewhere it aims too high… but the sort of excessive downgrading embodied in the sharrows list, is, frankly disrespectful and off-putting. The city spent 5+ years negotiating the Bike Plan, it was approved March 1st 2011, and now, less than six months later,  it feels like it’s being tossed out the window, downgraded to a point that’s not what was approved. It’s as if the city just wants to crank out 40 miles of something… whether it’s appropriate or not… without performing much in the way of analysis (or, perhaps, they’ve done this analysis and just not shared it?)

At this point, I think that LADOT should share their analysis on why better treatments (designated in the city plan) are not feasible, before they downgrade to cheap crappy ineffective facilities. Please, LADOT, share your street width information and your traffic volume data.

I thought that the 40 mile promise was meant to respect cyclists’ safety, cyclists’ needs… Frankly, I’d rather see 20-30 miles of really good, well-thought-out, appropriate, effective, safe bike facilities – like the 7th Street lanes (let’s continue them to Soto – as approved)… not 40 miles of fast-tracked, ill-considered, cranked-out sharrowed streets.

I don’t mean to categorically reject all sharrows. In some cases, it makes sense to start with an easier, imperfect initial phase, then improve later. I think that Sharrows make sense as a first phase for Bike Friendly Street projects… but only when it’s made clear that we’re not counting a partial project as complete. LADOT should clearly state that sharrows are the first phase and that there’s a commitment to finishing what’s approved in the Bike Plan.

Not all the sharrow facilities listed are inappropriate; some should proceed. In my preliminary analysis, it looks like Venice and Breed are probably good to go. Possibly Fountain and La Mirada, too, though they do differ from the approved Bike Plan (I think that the Bike Plan’s lane designation is probably in error for some of the length specified for Fountain… but would like to see actual width measurements to confirm.) There are probably stretches of other streets listed where sharrows would be appropriate (Hoover from around 88th to 96th, and probably most of Astoria, too, I think – again I’d like to see the width measurements.)

I cranked this one out quickly, so I can get back to work that I actually get paid to do. Please consider it preliminary… it may contain errors… I probably missed something important… but, after seeing the LADOT sharrow list, it kinda got stuck in my craw, so I figured it made sense to get my analysis out there into the discussion. Here’s my working preliminary spreadsheet, in case anyone wants to follow my work. 

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23 thoughts on “L.A. City Sharrows List: A Few Things That Bother Me

  1. Thank you for the information. By all means a sharrow does not a bike lane make. I too hope they are not trying to include this effort in the original plan for bike lanes. I agree it is a useful tool the easiest and last resort but not in place of intended bike lanes.

  2. The downgrading from a bike lane to a sharrow is definitely worrisome. Would like to hear the LADOT Bike Blog respond to that.

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  4. I looked briefly at the sharrow list and map yesterday. What really bothered me what one sharrow that is only 1 single block long. seriously.

  5. @Mary C – Though the listed one-block items (Arden Place, Bronson, Van Ness) seem odd, I think that they do make sense – not as isolated pieces, but as a small part of a longer facility. Arden Place is part of Vine-ArdenPl-ArdenBlvd. Bronson and Van Ness are part of Fountain-Bronson-LaMirada-VanNess-Fountain.

  6. We should not walk away from sharrows when LA hasn’t even really begun implementing them toward any significant effort, while San Francisco and Portland excel at their use of sharrows. It’s not worth tossing a legitimate method without putting it into real practice. Sharrows are cost effective and they work.

    Yes, I understand that we do need more bike lanes and other infrastructure, but sharrows are an excellent first step to get more cyclists out on the streets! I embrace that LADOT is finally acknowledging their usefulness. I am a huge sharrow fan and I want to see them all over.

    On the down side, the 4th street test sharrows have become so worn you can hardly see them anymore. What we need is what they did in Long Beach – http://la.streetsblog.org/2009/07/15/lets-name-the-long-beach-shared-lanes/.

    If the city would let me, I would go out there and paint the sharrows myself! just give me the paint and i can have my posse get it done in no time flat.

    Sharrows are our friends. Let’s get them out there and use them!

    O’, Captain Sharrow, where art thou? …

  7. I made a poorly written and long winded defense of sharrows that didnt seem to get posted… So, i’m just going to say this -

    Sharrows should be considered to be used in conjunction with bike lanes if the opportunity is there for them to be used. I do not like it when people want to trash the sharrow concept completely. (I’m not saying that you are.) I just think sharrows need a little more attention and respect in LA. They are being used in many other cities and are effective. Let’s not discount that fact. Cost effective measures to make streets safer gets my vote, as it encourages more cyclists on the streets.

    Thanks.

  8. Sharrows should be considered to be used in conjunction with bike lanes if the opportunity is there for them to be used. I do not like it when people want to trash the sharrow concept completely. (I’m not saying that you are.) I just think sharrows need a little more attention and respect in LA. They are being used in many other cities and are effective. Let’s not discount that fact. Cost effective measures to make streets safer gets my vote if it encourages more cyclists to take to the streets.

  9. @Michael – thanks for the comment and link – I think that the report is ok. Saying sharrows are good – and better than no bike facility – is true… I don’t think that the report makes the case for sharrows as better than bike lanes, and definitely not better than road diets. The line I agree with most: “sharrows would be most effective on two-lane streets with a dotted line dividing traffic.”

    I agree that a broad trashing of all sharrows is wrong, bad, unhelpful. But what’s happening here is the opposite – LADOT is broadly trashing bike lanes in favor of sharrows. Sharrows (like bike lanes, road diets, parking, etc.) need to be studied and implemented only where appropriate… not indiscriminately, because they’re cheap and easy. I think that there are probably 5-10 good miles of good sharrow facilities in the DOT’s 20 miles list… If I was a complete sharrows trasheur, my estimate would probably be zero.

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  11. Michael,

    Who has trashed sharrows? No one has done that – you’re attacking a strawman. What people have trashed:

    1) the absurd notion that LADOT needed to study sharrows before widespread implementation, when sharrows have been studied in so many other locales
    2) the shoddy door zone, crooked, pointing into the curb implementation that sharrows have received thus far from LADOT
    3) LADOT using sharrows to fulfill a commitment that primarily consists of bike lanes, not sharrows.
    4) The substitution of LADOT-quality sharrows for genuine Bicycle Friendly Streets.
    5) The substitution of a new fake standard w/ no engineering mandate – Bicycle Friendly Streets – for a nationally accepted standard w/ a strong engineering mandate – Bicycle Boulevards.

  12. I agree with Alex here – I think that the biggest breach of trust is the item Alex mentions third: the bait and switch in LA’s 40-mile commitment. The commitment was only 7.7 miles of sharrows in 6 years… and for the first half of the first year, LADOT says they’re doing 20 miles of sharrows. Exasperating.

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