A meditation on sharrows and door zones

In search of the Great White Sharrow.

Last week, I found out exactly where the door zone is.

Not that I didn’t know before.

Though now I doubt I’ll ever question it again.

Last month I mentioned that I’d ended up riding the now nearly four week-old sharrows on 4th Street the day they first appeared. And found them not quite to my liking, placing me a little further out into the lane than I felt comfortable with.

After reading that, Gary Kavanagh reminded me about the sharrows that had been placed on Hermosa Avenue in Hermosa Beach since I’d last been down that way.

So I set off to check them out, plotting a route that would take me to the Redondo Pier, then back up to check out Santa Monica’s newly extended bike lanes on Arizona Ave and the new sharrows on 14th Street. And figured I might as well visit the site of the soon-to-come sharrows on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice while I was at it.

Call it my own personal Tour de Sharrows.

As I rode up Abbot Kinney, I took my usual position just inside the lane and just outside the door zone.

A short line of cars passed safely around me, moving across the yellow line to leave a comfortable margin of three to five feet. All except the last car in the line, which failed to follow the example the others had set — and instead buzzed me less than a foot from my left elbow.

At that exact moment, as a car zoomed by just inches to my left, a driver unlocked his parked car and — without ever gazing behind him — threw open his door, missing me by just inches.

That’s when the real meaning of door zone sank in.

If I’d positioned myself even a few inches to the right, I would have been knocked into the car on my left. And where I would have pinballed from there I have no idea.

And no desire to find out.

But it reconfirmed my own instincts, and provided exactly the experience I needed evaluate the sharrows for myself.

When I made it to Hermosa, I paused to take a couple of quick photos. And watched as the drivers zoomed down the street jockeying for position on a busy beach day — despite what it looks like in the photo below — and convincing me that I would have to struggle to hold my lane position. Sharrows or not.

Yet my experience was exactly the opposite.

The start of the Hermosa sharrows, which extend down Hermosa Ave from the bike path.

The sharrows were positioned dead center in the right lane, just as they’d been on 4th Street. But here they were on a four lane street, rather than two. And as I rode down the center of the lane, drivers either followed patiently behind me, or simply moved into the other lane to go around me.

No one honked. No one pressured me or passed too close. And the only driver who followed closer than I liked went around me once he realized I wasn’t going to get out of his way.

In other words, it was probably the most enjoyable experience I’d ever had taking the lane.

I can’t say I felt that way in Santa Monica.

When is a bike lane not a bike lane? When it's a work zone in Santa Monica.

First up was the bike lane on Arizona, in which I rode safely for exactly one block before being forced into the traffic lane by a city work crew. So I took my place in the lane, riding squarely down the middle and holding my place in a line cars until I could move safely back into the bike lane and leave them in my lurch.

As I was for the light to change, I noticed not everyone in Santa Monica like bikes.

When I got to 14th Street, I turned left and resumed my usual place just outside the door zone. For the first few blocks, the lane was wide enough that cars could pass easily on my left. Once it narrowed, I moved a little further into the lane, yet still far enough to the right that drivers could pass with just a little patience by briefly moving onto the other side of the road.

Sharrows on 14th Street are placed exactly in the center of the traffic lane/

That ended once the sharrows started.

Just as on Hermosa Avenue, the sharrows were placed directly in the middle of the traffic lane. But here it was on a two lane street, where drivers would be forced to go all the way onto the other side of the road to go around me.

The drivers behind me clearly had no intention of doing that. And I can’t say I blamed them.

So after awhile, I ignored the markings on the asphalt, and moved back to where I felt more comfortable on the right third of the lane — allowing the drivers behind to go around by briefly crossing over the center of the road, much to their relief. And mine.

It was then that I discovered my own personal sharrow comfort level.

UCLA's sharrows are placed in the right third of the traffic lane.

On roads with two lanes in each direction, I’m perfectly comfortable in the center of the lane, where anyone who wants to pass can simply take the other lane. I don’t have to worry about impatient drivers behind me, or feel like I’m not sharing the road myself.

Even though I’m quite comfortable riding in the center of the lane for short distances or when I’m moving at or near the speed of traffic, I prefer sharrows placed on the right third of the lane when there’s just one lane in each direction. Like the ones that I’ve used when riding through the UCLA campus the past few years.

This marking either means that a sharrow goes here, or your money went that way.

And judging by the placement markings that recently appeared on the street, exactly where it looks like LADOT is planning to place them on Westholme Ave.

It may not be the placement preferred by everyone.

But it keeps me out of the door zone while putting me in control of the lane — without blocking it completely.

And it’s the one I’m most comfortable with.

14 comments

  1. danceralamode says:

    Well, I’m definitely more comfortable taking the lane, but I’m MOST comfortable with sharrows that maintain a consistent, predictable path without weaving in and out of traffic, as they do on 4th Street. I’m surprised you feel they push you too far into traffic. Most of them aren’t far enough into traffic (they side right in the door zone). Only a few actually control the lane. (And of course, they weave all over the lane, forcing the cyclist to merge in and out of traffic.)

    To tell the truth, while I usually have issues on drivers who don’t stop or right hook on 4th Street, I can always predict it. I feel it was a bad street for a pilot study of this nature, particularly the section they chose. I don’t normally have issues on that section, it’s the section west of that where drivers use it as a short cut and speed through not stopping. Where the sharrows are is in the K-town section where EVERYONE is on a bike and most of the drivers are used to seeing lots of cyclists, and the cyclists are pretty good about negotiating space in the lane. I actually feel the sharrows have made it worse there. I have faithfully taken the sharrows (or controlled the lanes) in that section since their appearance, and I will say that it’s made the ride more stressful.

    • bikinginla says:

      I haven’t ridden 4th St. since the first day, when they only had a few sharrows in place, so I can’t speak for the way the way they turned out after the final installation — I should have noted that when I wrote this.

      The few that were in place when I rode it were in the middle of the lane. As you note, reports are that they are all over the place, which I agree is worse than none at all.

  2. peteathome says:

    Isn’t it amazing that people will walk out to their cars and fling the door open without even looking? I’ve had more close encounters with doors from people doing that than from people inside of cars opening the door.

    In all the sharrows you showed, I’d probably be more comfortable riding on the right edge of the sharrow symbol. That’s just where I find myself naturally.

    But I might need to recalibrate that based on true door widths. A 2-door car has much wider doors than a 4-door. I suspect I sometimes ride too close to car doors to fully escape a 2-door. I feel I need to ride at least a foot out from the widest door so I don’t get startled into adjacent traffic when the door is opened.

    It’s a shame so much road space has to be wasted because people won’t check before opening doors. But if you’ve ride a bike long enough you know it is never safe to trust people on this matter.

  3. Any thoughts on the measurement of sharrows from the curb as opposed to measuring from the center lane.

    There is an example on 4th and 1 on fountain where the sharrow is pointing rider to go straight ahead even as the lane closes, and the sharrow that is up ahead basically forces you suddenly merge with traffic.

    It looks like they were placed by an automaton that simply measured from the curb, and took no consideration where the road is headed, this seems like a ancient waiting to happen.

    I also think it is important that sharrows be placed with the biggest cars & trucks in mind. We do have military grade hummers in the road we have to consider their width & door swing, not just the Smart Cars, fits and yari.

    Do you have any sense what the outcome of your near miss might have been if your were passing a bigger car, with a bigger wing span?

    • bikinginla says:

      It definitely makes sense to me to measure from the center line, so you don’t have the problems you and Danceralamode described with the sharrows moving in and out of the lane, depending on road width.

      As I recall, it was a mid-size SUV, so the door was pretty good sized as it was. But normally as I ride, I closely scan the vehicles on the right for any sign of life; normally, I would have just moved a little further out into the lane when I saw the driver, but the car that buzzed me eliminated that option. And I try to do the same thing when I pass a bigger vehicle, like a Hummer or Escalade.

  4. Eric Weinstein says:

    I use all painted lines as guidelines. Not any sort of final word on where to place my wheel. I approch this differently:

    The new Sharrows are a great step forward to educate both cyclists (on when to take more of the lane) and motorists (that there are cyclists). A Sharrows barely influences my looking at cars for occupants, I assume all will pop out the door as I get near, so I always move over to the left if I see anyone in the car. Bigger truck or a bus – further to the left. Not enough room for a SUV to pass – take the lane.

    Had a very memorable event by being too close to the curb when a SUV mirror just clipped my left bar a few years back – only shook the wheel and I recovered. Even got to catch them at the light and explain how they almost killed me to the nice girl on the cell phone. Now, I don’t let that happen again, by taking the lane if there isn’t room to pass. The new Sharrows pretty much show you where to take the lane.

    Hey, sometimes I’m the one crossing the center line to ovoid obstacles, like the many unpredictable construction guys. I try to stay as Zen as possible, and give the lane back to cars as soon as practical. Usually, a head shake will give them the idea that I’m looking to go right and let them pass.

    Like the idea of a tour de sharrow (and many other bike lane improvements). Let me know when if you do it again and I’ll go with you.

    EricW

    • bikinginla says:

      I know what you mean about the center line. My rule of thumb is whatever gets me down the road in one piece.

  5. Jim Lyle says:

    In Hermosa Beach, did you notice the signs that say “Bicycles may take full lane?” Sharrows have made a huge difference in how motorists treat the cyclists – much more polite and patient. Now, if the city would just post “Bicycles Yield” on the stop signs…

  6. danceralamode says:

    Part of the problem I think is that 4th Street through most of that section is actually pretty wide. If it were up to me, I would not have elected to put sharrows there. I just don’t think they are necessary on that particular road on that particular place.

    Just 30 minutes ago, when following the sharrows, a woman decided to pass me, so she pulls into oncoming traffic, and up next to me, but I’m approaching a stop sign and on the sharrow. Instead of looking in her mirrors to make sure she had passed me, she starts to veer right and almost runs me over/off the road. I yelled and she stopped her car. I was 2 inches from the rear passenger door. She said, oh I didn’t see you. And I thought, you saw me clearly enough to try and pass me, but you didn’t see me now because you didn’t bother looking. (Yes, I know off topic but I’m ticked.)

    I think 4th Street is a bad idea for a sharrows pilot because it, in particular, needs a lot of work…it would be better to just implement a full bike boulevard pilot on it.

  7. Sam says:

    In Santa Monica, we placed the sharrows in the center of 14th Street to indicate to all roadway users that bikes have equal access to the lane. This is consistent with the California Vehicle Code. Reading your post, it appears that you are perfectly adhering to CVC regulations when you moved to the right to allow vehicles to pass, because you felt more comfortable. I am interested to hear your opinion regarding locating the sharrows on a street with one lane in either direction closer to the “door zone,” rather than leaving them in the center of the lane and allowing bikes to decide for themselves when to yield right-of-way for faster moving vehicles by moving to the right (per CVC regs.).

    Thanks for the detailed post!

    • bikinginla says:

      Maybe it’s just a question of getting used to them. I think most cyclists understand that the sharrows indicate where we’re supposed to position ourselves in the lane, rather than just indicating that we’re allowed full use of the lane.

  8. PlebisPower says:

    This is an important discussion to have now, as sharrows are becoming a more oft-used tool in the toolkit. And I agree with Eric: “as guidelines…Not any sort of final word…A Sharrows barely influences my looking at cars for occupants…” And particularly that they mark space for both cyclists an motorists. For that reason I appreciate that SM located them in the center.

    Contrast with Fountain, in Hollywood. That’s an example of two travel lanes and parking. Not only do the sharrows there vary in distance from the centerline, but they are seemingly irregularly placed, and too few to indicate to a cyclist (even as I was looking for them) that they mean anything at all.

    SM’s 14th street at least demonstrates commitment, and for that reason I find that the centerline is the best placement. So I too use them only as a guide, but if executed well, without ambiguity or insufficient commitment, they can suggest to both cyclist and driver that that lane, or even that portion, is reserved. One of the biggest challenges cyclists face (after safety) is encouraging drivers to remember that when they overtake, we have the right-of-way, and that in any case, we are entitled to expect that they will respect our safety.

    For me, sharrows serve more as consciousness reinforcement for all, rather than as some specific direction as to how to ride the lane. I’ll take it all if there’s only one lane in my direction, and cars or roadside hazards compromise my safety.

  9. [...] on Santa Monica Boulevard. Its northern end at Hilgard and Westholme are in close proximity to the Sharrows UCLA placed on their campus years ago. Continuing the educational trend, the Sharrows also go right by the Fairburn Avenue [...]

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