Monday Morning Head-Shaker

Just in case anyone needs a laugh (even a “seriously?!?” one) this Monday afternoon as much as I do, here’s a picture that ran on the website of the leading newspaper of my homestate (The Birmingham News) today.

photo by Hal Yeager, Birmingham News

The caption:

Distinctive new road markings, or “€œsharrows,”€ on 14th Street South between UAB and Southside in Birmingham alert drivers that they are sharing the road with bicycles.

But what about this picture does not fit that caption? Oh yeah, the bicycles riding on the SIDEWALK. Seems an odd choice to put with a story like this one, since it in no way illustrates what the sharrows are. Not to shame those riders for making the choice that makes them feel safe, but this photo sends some mixed messages to say the least.

Dear B’ham News: Please call the women at BikeSkirt the next time you want to take a photo to illustrate a story about cycling.

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25 thoughts on “Monday Morning Head-Shaker

  1. Blithe says:

    At least the cyclists are not salmoning on the sharrows. The picture doesn’t show if there are safe sharrows on the opposite side of the road.

  2. Steve A says:

    “The sharrows don’t change the rules of the road. On all roads, whether marked or not, cyclists and motorists are expected to share the road.”

    Unless, of course, they’re riding on the sidewalk against traffic, in which case we’ll just hope nobody’s looking towards any direction from which traffic would LOGICALLY come…

  3. EB says:

    I can’t see the people in the photo clearly, but in many places it’s legal for those under 16 to ride on the sidewalk. So although their presence is somewhat ironic and will almost certainly attract snarky comments from the anti-bike crowd, there may be nothing wrong here.

  4. RobW says:

    This action of “bicycle acceptance” is actually a sellout and a waste of paint by the Dept of Transportation. The curbs are straight up, not allowing bailout by bicyclists if confronted by impatient/aggressive drivers. The speed of the “shared” lane is not reduced for the safety of cyclists. If you look further ahead in the photo, there is a car overlapping the edge of the lane, unsafe for car or bike. These paintings on the road will do nothing to change the mindset of drivers towards cyclists, which in the south is just similar to skeet shooting, but with cars. I fear this will get more cyclists killed than encouraged, as southerners will figure we shouldnt be on that road anyhow, “its a fourlane”

  5. Justin Moore says:

    Here in Texas we often hear the same mantra – things like Southern drivers are out on the hunt to pursue and intimidate hapless cyclists that are riding on the road. The reality is often quite different. In over 4,000 miles of commuting in San Antonio, TX I’ve found that most drivers are very accommodating and patient with cyclists that ride on the road behaving predictably (e.g., using hand signals to communicate intentions) and legally (e.g., stopping at stop signs and red lights, etc).

    • Trisha says:

      I’ve had mostly the same experience here in Nashville — on the less trafficked neighborhood streets, anyway.

    • RobW says:

      I’m glad your ‘reality’ is better than that of my Ga bicycling where defense is the key. I’ve also ridden in Texarkana TX, where bicycle culture is evolving, but one still has to watch. I prefer Texas riding to Ga.
      Ga is also one of those places where anyone over 14 cannot legally bicycle on the sidewalks (pedestrians are safe)

  6. SM says:

    I agree Trisha this photo and the caption does send out mixed messages. One lazy photographer – they could have at least asked the cyclist if they wanted to be in the photo shoot to demonstrate the markings… If only for a second. As far as the markings are concerned, whether if helps, or not, hey, it’s better than nothing. I would love to see these markings where I live.

  7. Anna says:

    Oh Birmingham, so confused. Looks like the (probably collage age) kids are riding Regions bikes, which is even more depressing considering how horrible those bikes are. I actually am glad they are not riding those particular bikes on the street!
    But as far as “is a sharrow the best solution?” I think in Birmingham it is absolutely an improvement, considering up to now we ride on streets that have no notice to drivers that cyclists might be present. I appreciate every “watch for cyclist” sign, and a sharrow is something for us to celebrate!
    It is next to impossible to get a bike lane on most streets. I understand that painting a bike lane requires a change in the way the traffic lights are positioned and other major traffic engineering is involved. One commenter mentioned that the sidewalk should be divided for ped/bike, but there is nothing like that existing in the city at present, and I feel our best option is to encourage cyclists on the street only. A lot of places in our city don’t have sidewalks at all, and many don’t have accessible ramps.

  8. kt says:

    well, the cyclists in the picture are children, no? it would have been nice to illustrate the story with some adult cyclists using the sharrows, but i can understand kids riding on the sidewalks on their own.

  9. Maureen says:

    Yes, definitely not the best photo for the article. Too bad they missed a chance to show others the benefits of sharing the road!

  10. Luke says:

    All that space left some starving guy in Ethio- uhm New York would use those sharrows ;)

  11. Elisa M says:

    I say kudos to Birmingham for putting this in, at this point, anything that says that cyclists are allowed (MAYBE even encouraged?) on our roads is one step forward.
    The really great thing is that this is on the road that runs beside Railroad Park, so it makes it even easier to ride to your favorite park then cross over to the north side of town or take the park through to 18th st.
    Stay tuned for a post on Bike Skirt about this…I was just loading up my photos for it.
    Thanks Trisha, for the shout out!

  12. [...] Want to see another (hilarious) photo?  Check out Let’s Go Ride a Bike’s post! [...]

  13. Julia says:

    Yeah, this is totally ridiculous. But I feel like it doesn’t shame the bikers on the sidewalk (in my home of Boston, I would never fit on the narrow sidewalk, so these guys are lucky!), instead, it highlights how unhelpful the sharrows can be. For example, they seem to direct bikers to bike to the left of the lane, which always makes me (a pretty brave biker) nervous.

    I know it’s a debate — should bikes really “share” the road, or should they stay to the right — but I think the trouble with the sharrows is that their meaning is so vague. They look like directions for bikers, not reminders for drivers!

  14. Ashley says:

    I live in Birmingham. I think this is a step in the right direction. I wouldn’t want to criticize any effort they are making to make the city a bit more progressive, even if it is not really the best solution over all. Also, I do not think I would be brave enough to ride my bike in the roads around the soutside of the city (where I work). Cyclists tend to ride on the sidewalks around here. I walk all the time for my job, and I have almost been hit by a car more times than I can count. At times, I’m close enough to have the car brush my clothing. It seems drivers around here are just not used to people or bikes along the roadways. This could be because UAB attracts many people from rural areas who are not used to having to deal with high traffic and pedestrian volume. It’s really unfortunate. But at least this is some attempt to make drivers more aware. There are also “Share the Road” signs on all traffic lights at the intersections. So they are trying.

  15. Joseph E says:

    This shows the limitation of Sharrows. You aren’t going to get kids riding there bikes on a 4-lane, high-speed road just because there are some sharrows there.

    It’s interesting that the city was not willing to put in a bike lane. Look that that street: hardly any cars in sight, parked or driving, yet there are two travel lanes for cars.

    With 46 to 50 feet of road width on this street (measured from Google Maps), there could be 5 to 8 foot bike lanes each way, a travel lane, and a center turn lane. The road diet involved (Going from 4 lanes to 3 lanes) would hardly reduce capacity for cars, but would improve safety, make left turns easier for cars, and provide wide bike lanes (which could even be made into buffered bike lanes or cycletracks on the north side). Ironically, 14th st already is 3 lanes north of 1st ave and south of 10th, only around the campus is it 2 lanes each way.

    Instead, with the current design, bikes are expected to share a street which is designed for high-speed thru-traffic

  16. Bettina says:

    I guess the problem with these ‘sharrows’ is that as long as drivers aren’t used to bikes sharing the road, it’s quite dangerous for cyclists to ride with car traffic. It might get better with time, as long as there are enough brave cyclists breaking drivers into the habit… but that’s not the point, for the safety of everyone involved a bike lane would have been the way to go here I think. Actually, in Europe it’s also quite common to have a ‘shared sidewalk’ for bikes and pedestrians. From the picture it looks like the sidewalk might be just wide enough to split it into two lanes, which would probably be the best solution.

  17. Jessica says:

    Joseph, that street view in the photograph is deceptive. Like downtown streets in a lot of places, it’s dead on weekends and very busy on weekdays. From what I remember (I haven’t lived in Birmingham for several years, so I might have my streets mixed up) the speed limit is low and there are plenty of traffic lights. It isn’t what I would consider a “high speed through street.” More importantly, Birmingham has an intense car-culture. Narrowing the roads or reducing car lanes for bike lanes is likely to cause severe anti-bike sentiment.

    Anna, I agree. Every tiny step toward being cycle-friendly is so much better than anything Birmingham has had. I left Birmingham in 2003, and when I go back now I’m amazed at the progress the city has made since then. I’m not sure it would feel so amazing to anyone who hasn’t lived there.

  18. CP says:

    Not to endorse this photo, or the logic behind the bike sharrows, but your argument is very flawed. Busy streets are not always busy, so simply because a photo was taken without cars doesn’t mean the road has more lanes than needed.

    And “The road diet involved (Going from 4 lanes to 3 lanes) would hardly reduce capacity for cars”, this simply makes no sense. Turns lanes may very well be safer for cars turning left, but that configuration would reduce car capacity in half. That in no way can be stated as ‘hardly reduced.’

    To make headway with the general public, arguments should be honest and logical, even if they don’t sound as convincing.

  19. Stephen says:

    This is at least a minor collector, and probably a major collector. The total pavement width for the travel lanes appears to be 48 feet, giving four 12′ lanes, which are very wide for urban streets. To be charitable, I’m not sure what the state standards for bike lanes are, but my guess is that they were installed because the municipal road department didn’t have the money or the stomach (or both) to do a full repaving and restriping.

    Shared ROW markings are appropriate for low-speed streets (e.g., 35MPH or less), but this being a four-lane collector, I imagine the speeds probably average 40 and above depending on the lights. Putting this street on a diet is not an inappropriate solution, given the fact that it is embedded in a perfectly fine grid system. There are a few areas where the grid is interrupted by a railroad yard, but I’ve driven many times in downtown B’ham. The traffic is fast, and the travel lanes are wide. The infrastructure of the city (and the whole state for that matter) is several decades behind other states, which reflects its conservatism and general cheapness. There are people in Alabama who are working to make the cities more liveable, but they are fighting an immense headwind. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.

    Thanks for pointing this out, Trisha. We southerners have to make a stink or we’ll never get anywhere, eh?

  20. Stephen says:

    “not” installed (oops)

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