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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Beyond Shared Lane Markings
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Beyond Shared Lane Markings

Some streets in Alexandria are marked with a bicycle symbol with two chevron markings above the bicycle (called shared lane markings or sharrows) and these same streets often include “Bikes May Use Full Lanes” (BMUFL) signs. Why use these markings and signs on some streets and not others? What is their purpose?

Some people may mistakenly believe that shared lane markings and BMUFL signs designate specific streets where bicycle riding is allowed.

Remarks to City Council on July 9 by one resident suggested as much when the speaker indicated that a recommendation to provide shared lane markings on a particular street “is also maybe good news for the biking community ... now they can have a posted shared lane in which they have a right to ride.”

It is important to note though that shared lane markings do not provide new rights to people on bicycles; rights and responsibilities of people bicycling on public streets are granted by Virginia code, not by local ordinance or signage.

Per the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), BMUFL signs are “used in locations where it is important to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.” The FHWA similarly lists reasons to use shared lane markings — for example, to “Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way.” In other words, bicycles already have a right to ride on these roads — the signs are simply there to remind other road users of this fact.

Although shared lane markings may have operational benefits, there is no evidence they improve safety. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) notes that a shared lane marking “should not be considered a substitute for bike lanes, cycle tracks, or other separation treatments.” A recent study, “Why cities with high bicycling rates are safer for all road users,” confirmed that “Better safety outcomes are instead associated with a greater prevalence of bike facilities — particularly protected and separated bike facilities.”

Protected bike facilities make roads safer for both drivers and cyclists. A Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research study, “Cities with protected bike lanes are safer for everyone, including drivers,” concluded “When a street’s design is diversified to include protected bike lanes, the safety of both drivers and bikers increases.”

In summary, shared lane markings do not provide new rights to people on bicycles; the rights and responsibilities of people bicycling on public streets are granted by Virginia code.

Erin Meter

Treasurer, Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, a 501(c)3 volunteer organization that promotes walking and biking in Alexandria.