Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharrows, sadly

When we got back from Costa Rica in November there were inexplicably bicycle icons painted up and down the streets of Seattle. Since they aren't in bike lanes, the purpose was unclear to me. I started asking around and nobody really knew. One person thought they were bike lanes, but they're not. Someone else thought they indicated where some bike rider had been killed, then another one thought they are to show a biker where to stop. That theory went out the window when it was pointed out that some of the icons were in the middle of the street, and some blocks had three so that wouldn't make sense.

I've gotten some information from the City of Seattle, which in turn causes more questions. I am noticing that the responses I'm getting are downright perky. These people are giddy over their bike policy.

The pictures of bikes that the City has been painting all across Seattle have a name. Sharrows. I'm not even kidding. It's like share the road arrows, get it? The function briefly is: bike riders are supposed to ride on the sharrows. Thank you City of Seattle.

This is the city response to my inquiry:

"It is the city’s goal, as stated in the Bicycle Master Plan, to triple the amount of bicycling in Seattle 'between 2007 and 2017, and to also reduce the rate of crashed by one third during the same time period.Starting a year ago, we’ve added shared lane markings (sharrows) to provide a visual cue to both cyclists and motorists that bicycles are expected and welcomed on the roadway. We want people to share the road. We have typically used them on arterial roads where there is not enough space for standard width bicycle lanes. We have used them to connect gaps between road segments that have bicycle lanes. The painting of the sharrows has been incorporated into our regular contract for street markings, so the additional cost is relatively modest. Thanks for your inquiry and let me know if you need any additional information."

I officially refuse to call them sharrow, I will however call them churros.

Some of the additional information I would like, and requested (no answer) is about the cost. Because I don't believe there was no additional cost, of course there was. If they were dragging the stencil around when they re-stripped lanes and did the churros then, maybe there was a small cost. I could live with that, but these were done independently of other work and I don't believe for one minute that the cost is minimal. Unless it was done by volunteers it cost too much.

Outside our condo the sharrows are in the right side of the lane, and the bike riders are advised to ride far enough away from the parked cars so that they won't be cold cocked by an opening car door. I don't know why we can't continue to use the natural selection method of solving that problem, but as my son once said "I'm a liberal just not a bleeding heart liberal".

One of the most interesting things I think, besides the fact that there is a bike policy in the first place, is that as part of the bike policy there is an avowed goal to increase the bike ridership to three times the number of bikes on the streets downtown. I couldn't have been more surprised if the city council was devoted to tripling the number of squirrels in the city by 2017.

As part of this plan I would seriously, seriously suggest the City of Seattle contact a bike club and get some volunteers to pump up the number of bikes downtown by three times for an entire work week and see what happens. I predict carnage. An interesting part of the bike policy is the cutting down the percentage of bikes being run over, however ending the "crashes" clearly isn't a realistic goal. No kidding.

The problem is twofold. The streets were built for cars. The official response states there isn't enough room for a bike lane, that's just a fact. Spending a bunch of dough on goddamn pictures of bikes isn't going to make the cars go away at least in numbers that matter. If we could get in the Way Back Machine and make room for bikes I would be all for it, but what with the parked cars and buses and pedestrians and the occasional crazy guy wandering in the street focusing on bike riding safety seems kind of pie in the sky. The part of the official statement that says bikes are expected on the streets has a certain reality, but they are not welcome. It may be good manners to say so, but they aren't welcome at all.

I would vote for putting the financial expenditure toward jet pack technology. It seems overdue.

So to finish my thought about the two fold part of the problem, (ADD shows up when it shows up) the people who ride bikes downtown and (I'm not saying all of them, but enough to cause a stereotype) ignore traffic laws. They weave in and out of traffic and run red lights like a bunch of lunatics, and then when they ride in front of a car, or turn right from the left lane and get run over they don't care for it. Well who does, they are like freaking mice, you usually just have to hope they don't run up your pant leg until you can get away from them.

If the goal is to get cars off the streets how about this?

I once heard a guest on a radio show who was an expert on traffic and whatnot and he said that if we took some of the money earmarked for roads and used it on free public transportation it would be a financial wash. That part is a little hazy. I don't actually remember any numbers, but it does make sense. So how about the city buys some natural gas or solar or wind powered or french fry grease or some sort of hippie vans and paint them bright green and have them run up and down the streets like buses, but more frequently and free. So you hop on one for 6 or 10 blocks and hop off and then why would you fire up your car? I'm only talking about downtown now, and the busier neighborhoods so it wouldn't be that expensive.

Public transit works for distances, but it's incredibly inconvenient for short trips. Some focus on that would be nice.

And while we're here, who's brother-in-law got the contract on those stupid parking meter machines. Did it seriously not occur to anybody that taking dollar bills would have been a good idea. And I don't want to hear a bunch of crap about how the technology wouldn't work. Yes it would.

What We Have Learned. I am a liberal Democrat, but apparently there is a point when Democrats go so far off the rails that we get a peek at what Republicans are about. Seriously, this is not money well spent. We are in an economic situation where decisions are being made about people having to to go without life saving public services. This isn't the time for painting on the streets.
I appreciate you all reading this, my own daughter didn't like it, but to be fair she has heard this before. A couple of times. Her name in the blog will be January. She's worried about backlash.

Has anyone gotten in touch with Bud Lite or Paula Deen yet? I haven't heard anything from either camp, but it's been a busy week. Also you need to sign up as a follower so Bud Lite and Paula Deen will know that this isn't some fly by night untrustworthy blog.

Next week I will try to find more common ground if you live in, I don't know, Miami.

I am now 0 for 3 on the good news. I'm keeping track don't you worry. It's mostly a technical problem, I have some saved up.