New markings on Lexington streets alert drivers, cyclists to watch out for each other when no bike lanes exist

agarau@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2014 

New shared lane markings have recently been painted on some busy Lexington streets to warn drivers to be aware of cyclists and avoid crowding bicycles when passing them.

The markings, called sharrows, are used to alert cyclists and drivers that the lanes are too narrow to accommodate both side by side, remind drivers to use caution when passing cyclists, and encourage cyclists to ride in the correct direction, according to the U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The sharrows also can help cyclists remember to look out for doors opening on parked cars.

Through a partnership with University of Kentucky, the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) placed about 75 of the sharrows around Lexington, according to Scott Thompson, an MPO senior transportation planner and Lexington's bike and pedestrian planner. The markings are made with materials more durable than paint so they'll last longer, and they are more reflective, he said.

The new symbols can be seen on Waller, Columbia and Woodland avenues; West Maxwell and Rose streets; and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

"Generally we put them in locations where we don't have the lane width to put in a bike lane," Thompson said. "We base it on traffic volume and traffic speed (typically 35 miles per hour and under)."

Thompson said the sharrows are often located in areas where bike lanes suddenly end. A recent UK student project on bike-vehicle collisions in Lexington found those locations among the most dangerous for bikers.

Though the map that students generated showed that the highest concentration of accidents involving bikes and cars occurred in the area around the university, UK Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder said the street markings were not added in response to biking injuries or accidents.

"This is more proactive than reactive," Tedder said. "We've got a goal of having a comprehensive and connected network of bike facilities on our campus that makes it safe for any member of our university to travel safely to any area of campus."

Thompson also said the addition of sharrows was more of a preventative measure than a response to dangerous conditions. He thinks the UK report may have exaggerated the dangers of biking in Lexington.

"Calling it (the map the students created) a study is a misrepresentation; it's a map that shows crash locations," he said. "It's not that we don't use that type of data, but it is a very small piece in determining whether or not conditions are safe."

Tedder said the university plans to educate students, faculty and staff about the meaning of the new signs when the fall term begins in August. He hopes the new symbols will encourage more people to get on their bikes by making the roads more bike-friendly.

"The signs make it clear that bicycles are vehicles," Tedder said. "It sends a message to cyclists saying that when they see these symbols, they're riding in the right place."

Annie Garau: (859)231-1685 agarau@herald-leader.com.

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