Sharrows

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Game of Groans.”

Sharrows: those helpful little road markings that terrify drivers while making bicyclists feel inappropriately secure.  The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has painted the cute double Vs onto numerous arterials and side streets in an effort to support bicycle commuting.

I am all in favor of giving bikes the road and telling cars to bug off already, and for the usual reasons:  cleaner air, healthier population, hipper culture, Busytown vibe.  Bike commuting is the bomb, and our hilly streets make it even more cool.  When we bike, we bike big!

But back to the sharrows.  The problem is that they provide little in the way of guidance and elicit much confusion.  They are not traffic signs but rather traffic suggestions.  They say to drivers:  Bikes will be joining you, and don’t worry–they’re just like cars! They say to cyclists:  This is a safe road to ride on, so enjoy!  

Neither statement is true.  Take 65th street between Ballard and Phinney, for instance–a sloping narrow thoroughfare lined with pubs and dive bars, bisected with multiple crosswalks and clogged with parked cars. Unless you’re Lance Armstrong, the eastbound incline precludes the possibility of ever reaching the 30 mph speed limit, and yet bikes are encouraged to chug along this bottleneck road with those chevron markings that look like happy eyebrows.  “You can do it!” the sharrows say.  “You belong here — take the road baby, it’s all yours!”

Bicyclists, don’t listen.  You can’t do it.  You will not reach that speed limit on your bike, and as a result you will create a line of cars behind you whose drivers are not sure whether to go around (is that allowed?) or hang back and stare at your rear end as you frantically pedal.

drivers pass a bicyclist on a sharrow-marked street

Cars veer around a ten-year-old bicyclist in a 30 mph zone on this San Diego street.

Also, because of those parked cars, you’d be advised to stay in the center of the lane to avoid collision with a suddenly-opened car door. That makes it doubly hard for drivers to go around you.  The sharrows, as the SDOT website helpfully acknowledges, are not bicycle lanes.  They are simply “a guide” suggesting where you might place yourself among the cars. They offer, in other words, nothing in the way of protection.

As for you, drivers: good luck. The bicycles you encounter will sometimes behave like cars, steering down the center of the lane, obeying traffic rules. Other times–for reasons physical, psychological, or mechanical–they will suddenly pull to the curb or hop up onto the sidewalk. Let them.  Give them room. We all want to live to see another day.

Poorly placed sharrow beneath parked cars

This sharrow in Boston is not even trying anymore.

Consulting the SDOT website once more, we find this mysterious juxtaposition of advice:

“Use the sharrows to guide where you ride . . . “

“Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows”

I understand the intent — rules of the road trump painted markings — but still the advice sounds a little vague, like “pay no attention to these strange markings.”  Or perhaps, “these are not the sharrows you are looking for.”

Conclusions: Painting up a road with bike icons, green lanes, and sharrows does not make it a safe road for bicyclists, any more than nailing a “no shaking” sign to the side of my house makes it earthquake-proof.  Yet, what we really need — designated bike lanes, separated from both traffic and parked cars — is crazy expensive to implement.

Until we get a bigger transportation budget or a forward-thinking benefactor (are you listening, Jeff Bezos?) I suppose we’ll have to live with the sharrows. They’re better than nothing, right?  Just remember to take note of them, and then ride and drive as if they’re not there at all.

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Lphbet

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Twenty-Five.”

In the beginning, there were 26 of them.

Them being the letters of course.

One by one, they dropped out.

The Zs were not missed–simple enough to exclude.

Xs, Qs, even Ks could be deleted without too much loss.

But when the vowels dispersed, things got tricky.

First to go: the first (the ordinl, the primry, the initl).

Now we’re left with only the lphbet.

La Bicyclette

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Study Abroad.”

As a college student, I spent a spring term in Avignon, learning basic French from my heavily-Italian-accented host family and studying art history–the Cubists and Impressionists mainly.  We read the expatriate writers of the 1920s–Hemingway, Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein–and discovered connections between the literary and artistic movements of the period. It’s an anachronism (this was the late 80’s), but it seems like the curriculum was right out of Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris.

I got a free bike rental as part of the deal:  a beat-up ten-speed that was too big for me.  I rode that bike to school and back, and on the weekends, I took off on the little tree-lined routes de campagne and explored the neighboring villages and vineyards, took in the lavender and poppy fields.

route de campagne

One weekend, a classmate and I rode from Avignon to St. Marie de la Mer, a distance of about 50 miles.  We were ill-equipped (change of clothes, travelers checks, a few snacks, a barely-functional bike pump) but made it to the youth hostel on the coast, and all the way home again the next day.

Avignon to St Marie de la Mer

I remember pedaling through the humid, marshy Camargue and finding, in the middle of big, flat nowhere, a tiny white stucco cafe run by a couple of Camargue cowboys.  We were desperately thirsty, and they sold us ice cold Coca-Cola in glass bottles.

If I could spend a year anywhere, I’d go back to the Provence region of France.  I’d bring my husband, my kids, my bicycle, and my improved common sense, and I’d explore like crazy.

The Wedding Gift

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Set It To Rights.”

The pottery, first of all.  For our wedding, one of my distant cousins sent us a lovely set of hand-made coffee cups, saucers, and plates, crafted by an artist he knew.  They were oyster-shell grey and detailed with deep blue swirls, rustic-looking but very well made, and each piece was signed.  Twenty-five years later, I still have them.  My daughter took one of the coffee cups with her to college.

I rack my brain trying to remember whether I ever sent him a thank you card.

I recall having trouble finding his address.  He lived in another country and was in the process of moving at the time.  But surely, my mother could have routed a thank you card through his mother–her first cousin?  Did I even try that?

These were the days before email, Google, and Facebook, so no help there.

As time went on, I kept coming back to it:  Did I send the card?  Did I not?  The more time passed, the more awkward it became to track down my cousin and clarify, much less rectify the matter.

The gist of it is this:  I like to believe that I persisted, that I did find that address and send that thank you.  But I was young, self-absorbed, probably a little lazy.  Odds are I never sent it.  I’m really sorry.  I love those dishes.