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Sharrows making life easier for Clarksville cyclists

The Leaf-Chronicle: Sharrows making life easier for Clarksville cyclists

Motorists, riders learn to share road

Feb. 9, 2012 

Sharrows, the new markings on roads around downtown Clarksville indicating that the right lane should be shared with bicyclists, initially caused confusion for motorists, said Daniel Binkley, Clarksville’s project manager.

“In the beginning ... people were concerned that when we placed the sharrows, that we were taking away the drive line, that it was solely a bike line,” he said. “It was more of an education on what a sharrow actually is, being a shared lane.”

The markings can be identified by two arrows on top of a bicycle and are located on 2nd, Kraft and College streets. Chris Cowan, streets traffic engineer for the city, said the important thing for motorists driving in a sharrows lane to remember is that bicycles are allowed in those lanes.

“It is a legal mode of transportation for someone to take,” he said. “What (the Tennessee Department of Transportation) was willing to do when we asked for it was to make some accommodations to make it a little bit safer and better for the bicycling public by adding a little bit wider lane.”

Binkley said he hasn’t seen a major increase in bicyclists, but he thinks as Austin Peay State University and downtown grows, people will begin to use them more.

“I think you’re seeing a lot more on the secondary and tertiary streets just because the university is continuing to grow at such a rapid pace,” he said. “So I don’t think we ever expected to just start to see bikes everywhere. I think it’s something that people will just start to grow more accustomed to and we’ll continue to do more of.”

There are now two bike shops within the relative vicinity of downtown, Binkley said, and he views the increase in popularity of using bicycles as an alternate mode of transpiration as a sign of the times.

“I think that you’re starting to see more of a just general outlook on alternate modes of transportation,” he said. “There’s a lot more need for it and it’s driven by a number of things, from the economy to just more people trying to live in a more urban environment.”

Neil Baggett, who owns Riverside Bicycle Shop with his father, Mark, said he hasn’t seen many bicyclists using the sharrows lanes because they were inaugurated right before winter, when people don’t use their bicycles as much. However, he said, he likes the idea.

“I think they’re great, anything that kind of helps ease traffic, and I think about traffic all the time, and get more bikes out,” he said. “It’s a good thing for us and it’s a good thing in general. As long as everybody knows how they work and what to expect, it’s a good thing for everyone.”

Baggett said some bicyclists would rather use a bike lane as opposed to sharing the lane with traffic, but he said that can create confusion for motorists when bicyclists cross the line to make a left turn.

“That’s the thing about the sharrows, it’s really nice to say ‘Hey there might be a bicycle in this lane, watch for it.’ If you’re riding a bicycle and using the sharrows, you should be to the right of that sharrow most of the time, unless you’re making a left-hand turn.

Mark Baggett said he thinks that some motorists don’t understand that it’s illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but he thinks this is a step in the right direction for Clarksville.

“Being a military town and university town, you get so many people from other parts of the country,” he said. “They come in and tell you the stories about where they lived ‘We had bike paths that run and you never had to get in your car, you could go across town and go shopping.’ ”

Baggett said he thinks bicycling is a growing trend nationally, but it’s harder in the south because drivers are not as accommodating and cities tend to be built out rather than up, making it harder to get to a desired destination.

“These sharrows, they’re nice, but they don’t go anywhere,” he said. “They still don’t go to a grocery store or an entertainment venue or really anywhere. It’s just kind of a loop around here, which I guess was designed for the students.”

Cowan said the sharrow concept has been introduced in other municipalities in the state by TDOT to make it easier for bicyclists to get around.

“I think the major thing about this project, and the whole sharrow concept itself, is to make the drivers aware that bicycles may be in the area and to keep them alert,” he said “There are signs present, there are markings on the ground keeping them aware.”