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Bikes Allowed in the Middle of the Road

Multiple streets in Menlo Park to have sharrows installed.

Move over cars, bikes ARE allowed in the middle of the lane.

A pilot sharrow program is being launched in both east and west Menlo Park to remind both drivers and bicyclists of this law and keep bike riders safe, says Scott Lohmann, vice chair of Menlo Park’s Bicycle Commission, perhaps by the end of the year. 

El Camino Real, University and Santa Cruz avenues and Valparaiso are first on the list of streets in town to have them installed.  

Sharrows are markings painted on the street that indicate cars and bikes are supposed to share the lane. They look like two chevrons, or arrows, floating atop of a bike. (See photo to the right of these words.)

The launch date for the program has not yet been set. 

But, the Bike Commission’s top five priorities for the next two years have been:

1. Be a Gold Medal Bicycle Friendly Community, as defined by the League of American Bicyclists.

2. Increase education about safety in both children and adults through
additional outreach. They will be attending the Menlo Park Summer .

3. Replace broken, missing, or hard to read Safe Routes to School signs. Add some on Valparaiso.

4. Launch pilot sharrow program by painting them in trial locations.

5. Install new wayfinding signs, and replace broken, missing, or hard to read ones.

Editors note: The first two paragraphs of this story were changed for clarity.

Andrew Boone January 18, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Vanessa, Your opening line "Move over cars, bikes will soon be allowed in the middle of the road." is both unnecessarily provocative and incorrect. When sharrows are someday installed in Menlo Park, they will not require cars to "move over" or for motorists to change the way they drive in any way whatsoever. Nor will the sharrows allow bicyclists to ride anywhere they are not already allowed to, as David has commented. California Vehicle Code Section 21202 has long stated that bicyclists are not required to ride along the right edge of the roadway "When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions... that make it unsafe..." (http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21202.htm) The purpose of sharrows, according to the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) Section 9C.07, is to indicate to both bicyclists and motorists the safest position for bicyclists to ride on the road. In the case of El Camino Real, University Dr, Santa Cruz Ave, and Valparaiso Ave, this is in the middle of the vehicle lane, because these lanes are "...too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane." (http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/signtech/mutcdsupp/pdf/camutcd2011draftrev/9C.pdf) I think that placing sharrows on streets where more adults are seen riding on sidewalks is a great idea. Now who wants to help me collect that data?
David Huntsman January 18, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Vanessa, regarding safety and children riding on the streets, it of course depends on the child and the street traffic the kid would have to deal with. The answer is a parent's call.
commuter January 18, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Menlo Park has a "safe routes to school" program that encourages children to ride their bicycles to school. The city has maps of recommended bicycle routes for children. I think more than 25% of kids bike or walk to some local schools. Some streets, like El Camino Real, may not be appropriate for certain ages without parent supervision, though.
Andrew Boone January 18, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Some streets, such as El Camino Real, are definitely not safe for most children to ride on, and they should be allowed to bike on the sidewalks next to those streets. Unfortunately, Menlo Park's Municipal Code does not allow this. Section 11.56.120 states "It is unlawful for any person to ride or operate a bicycle on any sidewalk within any business or commercial districts and zones within the city." An exception should be made to allow children to ride on sidewalks everywhere in the city, including in business and commercial districts.
Mike Swire January 18, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I, too, am disappointed in the opening line of this article. The author obviously didn't do her homework. It gives drivers the impression that cyclists are limited in their rights to the road. This could lead to trouble and potential harm. I suggest that Patch amend the article ASAP so that readers don't get the wrong impression and no one potentially gets hurt due to this incorrect information.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 19, 2012 at 12:05 AM
@andrew and mike The opening line was designed to get attention...The law is great in theory. But in practice it's more common to see a cyclist move over than a car. Correct me if I'm wrong here: cyclists expect car drivers to not share the road. @david and commuter true. If I had kids, I'd probably tell them to stay off ECR. I'm game to pound the pavement and get more data. Talk to me about what you'd like to see collected. I wonder how many car drivers would admit to being aggressive on the road.
Andrew Boone January 19, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Vanessa, I see. Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue. It's true that many (maybe even most) bicyclists and motorists don't know that the safest place for bicyclists to ride on narrow streets is in the middle of the lane. The result is that many bicyclists ride in an unpredictable manner by attempting to ride as close to the curb as possible on every street - this isn't safe because it means they're suddenly swerving around parked cars and into the path of vehicles. It's safer (and more courteous to motorists) to always ride in a consistent and predictable manner. On narrow streets this means riding in the middle of the lane, and the purpose of sharrows is to get bicyclists to do exactly that. When will Menlo Park's sharrows be installed? Data we should collect is counting the number of cyclists riding on the sidewalks vs on the streets where sharrows are proposed to be installed. Then doing those counts again after the sharrows are installed to see if cyclist behavior has changed. I'd also like to count the number of cyclists using the existing Ringwood Ave bike bridge and then count them again after the new bridge that's replacing it is opened in the Spring. The new bridge design is supposed to be much better.
billdsd January 19, 2012 at 04:29 PM
As others have stated, shared lane markers (sharrows) do not grant bicyclists any rights that they did not already have. Their ONLY purpose is to inform people that bicyclists have a right to ride in the middle of the lane. They had that right before the markers were put in. The California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) does not allow them to be placed where bicyclists do not already have the right to use the full traffic lane. In fact, it doesn't even allow them in all places where bicyclists are allowed to use the full lane. For example, bicyclist's right to use the full lane is not in any way contingent upon the posted speed limit. However, the MUTCD only allows shared lane markers on roads with posted speed limits of 35mph or less. CVC 21202 has several exceptions to the keep right rule for bicycles and the exceptions in 21202(a)(3) and (a)(4) effectively exempt bicyclists from the requirement to keep right on most roads most of the time. Most outside lanes are not wide enough for a bicycle and a car to travel safely side by side within the lane (anything less than 14 feet if there are no parked cars; more if there are parked cars) ((a)(3)) and in most urban and suburban areas, one is almost always approaching a driveway or a cross street which is a place where a right turn is authorized ((a)(4)). Bicyclists ride in the middle of the lane for safety. It makes them more visible and discourages close passes. Learn to move over.
Sandy B January 19, 2012 at 08:40 PM
We sure have a lot of legal beagles in town.
randy albin January 19, 2012 at 09:03 PM
i graduated from Menlo College. menlo park is pretty classy. don't let the bike riders get you down!
billdsd January 20, 2012 at 03:32 AM
@Sandy B: Cycling advocates have to be experts in the laws governing bicycles in the road because anti-cyclists consistently do NOT know the rules and constantly accuse us of breaking the law when we are not. We have a right to ride in the middle of the lane and we can cite the letter of the law that says so.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 07:35 AM
@ sandy It's true. A LOT of lawyers live in town. @bill It's a shame it has to be an us vs. them scenario. @ andrew How many days of collection are we talking about here?
billdsd January 20, 2012 at 04:18 PM
@Vanessa Castañeda: You're right. It is a shame. However, we aren't given a lot of choice. We just want to ride our bicycles and some people refuse to accept that. They act like having to move over to pass a bicyclist is a violation of their basic human rights. On several occasions in the last 25 years I have had motorists deliberately endanger me while I was riding in full compliance with the law and while adhering to the safety practices taught by the leading bicycle safety experts in the world. All of these incidents occurred on roads with multiple lanes in the given direction where the motorist could have easily just changed lanes. They assaulted me not because of impatience but merely on principle. They were only trying to prove a point. The only point that they proved is that they are ignorant psychopaths who don't know the rules of the road and have zero regard for the safety of others. I regularly get honked at and yelled at to get out of the road by people who clearly don't know the rules of the road. I obey the rules. Unlike them, I know the rules. I argue them regularly which requires me to have studied them heavily. Some people wonder what makes many bicyclists so angry. It's having our lives threatened and our right to use the road threatened. How would you feel if someone threatened your life or right to do something that you loved to do?
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 08:14 PM
@bill I'd retaliate with vigor, that much is clear. Assaults by car drivers may be related to how fast a vehicle can go while behind a bicycle.
billdsd January 20, 2012 at 08:22 PM
"Assaults by car drivers may be related to how fast a vehicle can go while behind a bicycle." - I don't understand what you are trying to day here and I don't want to misinterpret you. Are you saying that there's some rational reason why they would commit assault?
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Not at all. I'm saying that I've seen a person in a car look furiously at the cyclist in front of them and pump their fist in the air, as though they needed to be somewhere super important five minutes ago.
commuter January 20, 2012 at 09:07 PM
While car vs. bicycle assaults may occur from time to time in Menlo Park, I'm guessing that is a relatively minor problem. Much more dangerous are incompetent driving (e.g. a car driver trying to squeeze by a bicyclist) or distracted driving (e.g. a car driver running down a bicyclist from behind or pulling out of a driveway into a bicyclist). If bicyclists are taught to ride closer to the center of narrower lanes, they become more visible, and both of these risks are reduced.
billdsd January 20, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Like I said, I always seem to get these assaults and threats on road with multiple lanes in the same direction. If they changed lanes as soon as they saw me, they wouldn't even have to slow down. It happened to me this morning. I was on a road with two lanes in the same direction. There was no bike lane or shoulder and the right lane was too narrow for a bicycle and a car to travel safely side by side within the lane. That means that CVC 21202(a)(3) exempted me from the requirement to keep far right within the lane. I was about 100 feet from a freeway off ramp which meant I was approaching a place where a right turn is authorized, which means that 21202(a)(4) also exempted me from the requirement to keep far right. Some woman in a Volvo station wagon followed close and then passed within a foot of me. She violated CVC 21703 by following closer than is reasonable and prudent. She violated CVC 21750 by not maintaining a safe passing distance. She violated CVC 21858 by driving in two lanes at once on a road with more than one lane in the same direction. She violated CVC 23103 by showing a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. I would argue that she also violated California Penal Code 245, Assault with a Deadly Weapon. It was no different than firing a warning shot over someone's head. I caught her at the light and she yelled at me that I had to stay to the far right.
Sam January 20, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Hey Bill, That sounds terrible! Did you take her license plate and reported the incident to the police?
randy albin January 20, 2012 at 10:29 PM
what an issue this is! the menlo velo bike store has been there many years. how many bikes are there around the stanford campus? again, when someone is badly injured by a wayward bicyclist, maybe people will wake up and smell the coffee. you're taking your life into your own hands!
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 10:48 PM
@commuter, I don't have the data for this past year on bike vs. car incidents yet. @Sam, you took the words right out of my mouth. This leads me to wonder how police handle cases like this.
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 20, 2012 at 11:23 PM
@randy. It's hard to get accurate data, as bike registration isn't enforced. It's safe to say the number is large.
billdsd January 21, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Without proof, it's my word against hers. The police won't do anything. I told her at the light which laws she broke. She insisted that she did not endanger me and the she broke no laws and that I was the one breaking the law. I told her that she didn't know the law. She insisted that she did and that I didn't know the law. Typical.
billdsd January 21, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Whoops. I said "freeway off ramp". I meant "freeway on ramp". Years ago when I used to try to keep far right on this road, I used to get lots of dangerous close passes from drivers trying to stay in the lane and I used to have lots of close "right hooks" from people trying to get on the freeway crossing my path. After I learned bicycle safety and started riding in the middle of the lane, those right hooks at the ramp ended entirely and the close passes became rare, but all are like the one this morning: some psychopath endangering me on purpose to prove a point.
randy albin January 23, 2012 at 10:11 PM
wow, this article has legs to just go on and on. somebody please get the word out that bike-riders who continue to ride on the sidewalks are endangering lots of people. let's try to use common sense, but then, usually that is asking too much
David Huntsman January 23, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Sorry randy, your logic just doesn't add up!
randy albin January 24, 2012 at 09:55 PM
hey, let's go on commenting on this forever. everyday i am almost run over by a bicyclist who almost hits me on the sidewalk. physical fitness is good, but try to be considerate of pedestrians. i am not a pedestrian because i want to be one
billdsd January 24, 2012 at 10:16 PM
It is possible for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk without endangering pedestrians. I don't ride on the sidewalk much and when I do, it's usually for short distances at low speed. Bicyclists should slow down around pedestrians. If they don't, then they are jerks.
randy albin January 24, 2012 at 10:20 PM
what an invention the bicycle is. let's get people out of their vehicles and riding around on bikes. i'm all for it
Vanessa Castañeda (Editor) January 24, 2012 at 11:20 PM
+1 Are you going on the ride Friday?

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