A Sharrowing Experience

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As a bike-commuting pastor my job takes me all over the city of Kingston on a regular basis as I travel to the Church building and visit church members in hospitals, nursing homes, and in their homes. Kingston is a very bike-able city. A little over three weeks ago some new road markings appeared on the roads (Cornell, Ten Broeck, Foxhall, and Jansen) that I travel to get to Redeemer Lutheran Church: sharrows, or Shared Lane Marking as Section 9C.07 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) calls them. I was so excited I put a picture of one of them up on Instagram. I’ve lived in Kingston and served Redeemer Lutheran Church for six years now and because of my family’s commitment to being a single car family mostly for ecological reasons I do a lot of biking year round. Currently, I bike commute Sunday through Wednesday the 1.5 miles between our home and the Church building.

In these six years, I’ve had some unique interactions with fellow bicyclists and drivers; a bicyclist going against traffic instead of with it; a driver telling me to use the sidewalk because “that’s what they are there for.” I’ve had some close calls with the distracted driver or two and the occasional door opening into my path but for the most part my commuting has been safe. And I’ve also seen an increase in bike commuting. The range of people commuting by bike these days is impressive considering where it was when I moved here. People bike commute for various reasons ranging from the sheer love of riding a bike to the financial reason of not being able to afford car insurance because of their income.

That’s where investing in bike infrastructure comes in. For me, investing in bike infrastructure is  not just about my safety but about creating complete streets for everyone who uses them. One of the easiest ways for a community to invest in bike infrastructure is through sharrows. According to the MUTCD sharrows alert bicyclists and motorists to a shared lane environment; help bicyclist navigate through a municipality in a safer manner, reduces the incidents of sidewalk and wrong way bicycle riding; and advertises the presence of bike-way routes to all users. Anecdotally, over the past three weeks I have seen safety improvements on my bike commute.

Although sharrows are an investment in making our streets safe for all who use them, there is at least one recent study that suggests sharrows do not increase bicycle safety. Although sharrows are not perfect they do play a role in raising awareness about the presence of bicyclists and moving a community toward a more comprehensive complete streets plan. But of course, still the most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings as a bicyclist and a driver. Bike and drive defensively, safely, and graciously.

Jim Rowe is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kingston, NY and an avid biker, commuting most days and enjoying long rides into the Catskills on his days off. He starting biking 17 years ago as a freshman in college because of a young woman who later became his wife and hasn’t stopped biking since. He hopes to pass his love of biking onto his young daughter.

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