You may notice new markings on some Arlington streets, such the one on Walter Reed Drive. These markings – along with new “Bikes may use full lane” signs – remind drivers that bicyclists have the right to ride on all traffic lanes.
The pavement markings, called “shared-lane markings” or “sharrows,” are intended to help motorists and cyclists safely share and navigate streets. The sharrows show cyclists where to be in the road (aligned with the middle of the chevron markings), and they remind drivers that the presence of bicyclists is to be expected. Sharrows are different from bike lanes, which are reserved exclusively for bicyclists and are marked by a solid white line and a bicycle symbol.
Sharrows were federally approved and adopted after research by the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed that sharrows significantly increase the passing space between motor vehicles and bicyclists and reduce improper bicycle behavior, such as riding on the sidewalk or riding the wrong way on a street. Sharrows are expected to be officially adopted in Virginia by the end of 2010. Arlington however is following the lead of neighboring Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, and other bike-friendly cities such as Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and New York. The County is placing sharrows in locations that are popular with bicyclists and where streets form part of the bicycle network promoted on the County’s official bike map. The County’s Traffic Engineering & Operations Bureau evaluates the need for sharrows as part of pavement marking review, and this year is installing a number of new sharrows in conjunction with paving projects. The newest sharrows can be found on Walter Reed Drive between South Glebe Road and Columbia Pike.
The addition of sharrows is part of Arlington’s ongoing commitment to make the County a bike-friendly community where cycling is a safe, convenient and enjoyable form of transportation and recreation.
Q. I've seen these new street markings of a bike with two chevrons/arrows. What do they mean?
A. These are "shared-lane markings" or “sharrows.” Shared-lane markings are intended to remind drivers that they should expect to share the lane with cyclists, and to remind cyclists that they can ride in mixed traffic where there is no bicycle lane. They also show where cyclists can ride on the street without being hit by a suddenly-opened car door. Although it is the responsibility of the motorist to check before opening their door, riding too close to parked cars (in the "door zone") is still a common mistake bicyclists make that can lead to serious injury.
Q. Do these markings really have an effect on driver and cyclist behavior?
A. Yes. Research shows that shared-lane markings significantly increase the passing space between motor vehicles and cyclists and reduce improper bicycling behavior.
Q. On some streets, cyclists riding over this marking will take the entire lane. Aren't they supposed to move to the right?
A. Not always. According to Virginia law, cyclists are to stay to the right except to pass another vehicle traveling in the same direction, to prepare to make a left turn, to avoid riding in a lane that turns or diverges to the right, to avoid unsafe conditions, or when the lane width is too narrow to safely share with a motor vehicle. It should be noted that the minimum lane width for a motor vehicle and bicycle to share side-by-side is 14 feet (AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities).
Q. If I see these markings in a lane, is the lane only for bikes?
A. No. These markings can be used in any lane that is used by bicyclists and motorists. Bicycle lanes, which are set aside for bicyclists, are marked by a solid white line and a different symbol.
Q. So, if I don't see these markings, then it's not a shared lane and bicyclists aren't supposed to be there?
A. No, cyclists can ride on any street in Arlington except for limited access freeways with signs explicitly prohibiting cyclists (such as Interstate 66). Just as every street in Arlington has a 25 mph speed limit unless stated otherwise (even if there is no speed limit sign), cyclists are allowed on every street regardless of whether there is a marking or sign for them, unless stated otherwise. Shared-lane markings are intended to reinforce that cyclists are allowed to use the traffic lanes, not to define a special condition.
Q. Are these markings going to be on every street that does not have a bike lane?
A. No, these markings will be used primarily on streets designated as part of Arlington’s bicycle route network. They may also be used where there is a significant number of cyclists or to note a connection between common cycling routes.
Q. I've never seen these markings before. Why are they being used now?
A. These markings were recently approved by the Federal Highway Administration for use nationwide. Now that they are included in the national set of standard pavement markings, you can expect to see shared-lane markings more frequently in Arlington as well as in neighboring jurisdictions like Alexandria and the District of Columbia.