Sharrows are a type of pavement marking that are placed on streets with relatively heavy and/or high motor vehicle speeds, where there is not sufficient space to put a bike lane, and where bikes and cars share the same travel lane (for more on sharrows, see this fact sheet published by PBOT).
Michelle Poyourow, an advocate with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) floated the idea to City engineers last fall. Like many in the community, Poyourow is concerned that the configuration of lanes in the new transit mall — bikes and cars will share one, narrow lane, directly adjacent to light rail and buses — might present safety issues.
“Even things that used to be considered ‘cheap’ and could be paid for out of the margins of the budget, like sharrows, look pricey this year.”
— Michelle Poyourow, BTA
Poyourow told us that both PBOT and TriMet liked the idea but concerns have surfaced over funding.
City traffic engineer Rob Burchfield confirmed yesterday that they are “discussing” the idea. In response to questions about it, Burchfield said that the “concept has merit” and that the transit mall, “would be an appropriate place to use sharrows”.
According to Burchfield, the sharrows would not be installed as part of the mall project. This is because they are not in the official plans, they have no identified funding source (more on that below), and they are still considered “experimental” by the FHWA (although they are expected to shed that label when/if they are included in the all-important Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009).
City bike coordinator Roger Geller has also been involved with the discussion. He says the plan would be to place sharrows on the entire length of the mall. On SW 6th Avenue, they’d go from Irving to Jackson Streets, and on SW 5th, they’d go from Irving to Jefferson.
Unfortunately, it seems like severe budget woes at PBOT have stymied the plan for now. Several sources at PBOT have expressed that the budget situation (a shortfall of $6.4 million and growing) is the worst they’ve ever seen.
The estimated cost of the sharrows is a paltry $20,000, but apparently even that amount is a potential deal-breaker at PBOT these days. Poyourow says the Bureau is under “serious budget constraints at the moment, so that even things that used to be considered ‘cheap’ and could be paid for out of the margins of the budget, like sharrows, look pricey this year.”
The discussion seems to have stalled for the moment, but the sharrows could be installed in the future. Poyourow is hopeful; “I hope that PBOT can find the money this year to put them down and make it a complete street.”
She points out that sharrows are already in the plans for a Bureau of Environmental Services project on SE Clay Street (PBOT has been piggy-backing on BES “green street” projects for a while now). However, she says the inclusion of sharrows in that project is also “pending PBOT approval”.
— As TriMet gets closer to opening the new transit mall, we will be reporting on this and a number of other issues (many people have crashed when their bike tires catch rail lines). The mall is slated to open in the fall.