Following Traffic Patterns, Not Paint

Why I am ignoring the new sharrows downtown (and why drivers are thanking me for it)

The City of Dallas is in the process of installing shared lane markings (often called “sharrows”) on a number of streets downtown. Unlike bike lanes, sharrows are paint markings placed in existing travel lanes intended to remind cyclists where in the lane to ride, and remind other drivers that cyclists are expected to be in the roadway, often occupying the full lane, and following the same rules as other drivers.

Sharrows on Victory Ave.

New shared lane markings on Victory Ave (Dallas, TX)

Shared lane markings are now down on many of the key “connector” streets which link the Katy Trail with the Central Business District, Arts District, DART stations, and the Santa Fe Trail. In many cases, the sharrows are accompanied by “Bikes May Use Full Lane” signs.

Dallas has done a great job of placing the sharrows within the lane. One common complaint when it comes to sharrows is that they are sometimes mistakenly installed too far to the right, encouraging cyclists to ride in the most dangerous part of the lane and increasing conflict with other drivers. I’m happy to report that’s not the case with the new sharrows on All Star Way, Victory Ave., Houston Street, and Lamar, all of which are part of my regular commute to work. They are all well-placed within the lane. So, it might come as a surprise to you that I often ignore the sharrows on Victory and ride in a completely different lane.

Q: When should a cyclist ignore painted markings and ride somewhere else on the road?
A: When safety requires it!

The sharrows on Victory present a perfect example of the limits of paint, and the importance of the choices that a cyclist makes. Any driver that makes bad choices is likely to expose themselves to conflict and risk. The same is true, perhaps doubly so, for cyclists. On the other hand, a mindful driver or cyclist who knows the rules of the road and makes good decisions will likely be rewarded with a safe and pleasant journey.

The sharrows move one lane to left

Just before Lamar, the sharrows shift one lane to the left as the right lane become right-turn-only.

Victory Ave between All Star Way and Continental Ave is a one-way street with four lanes. The left most lane has metered on-street parking much of the way, and so may or may not be useful as a travel lane. Sharrows have been placed in the center of the right lane until just before the intersection with Lamar, where the right lane becomes right-turn-only and the sharrows shift one lane to the left, which becomes the right-most through lane. It is a conventional design, and what one would expect based on the principles of slower moving traffic keeping to the right.

So why do I ignore them?
Traffic patterns.

I take Victory Ave at morning rush hour, and it only took me a couple of trips to realize that my choice of lanes on this stretch of road determined whether my experience would be pleasant and conflict-free or unpleasant and an ordeal of constant conflict with motorists.

During morning rush, most of the motorists on Victory Ave never make it to Continental. They turn off before they get there. The vast majority of them make the same right turn into an office parking lot. A few of the others make the next right turn on Lamar to access the highway. Very few are actually going straight through on Victory.

“So what,” you say? Well, this changes everything.

It means that most of the drivers are in the right lane, or need to get into the right lane to make that turn. As a cyclist and a slower moving road user, if I choose that lane I immediately become an obstacle between them and their destination. That’s not a place I want to be (and I won’t let the new sharrows trick me into being there)! It would be inconvenient for other drivers and unpleasant and potentially dangerous for me.

At morning rush, you will almost always find me in the second-to-the-left lane, with the lane to myself and and smile on my face. By choosing this lane, I am well away from the traffic in the right lane. I also avoid the traffic in the second-to-right lane which is looking to merge into the right lane for the turn into the parking lot or making the next right turn on Lamar. I also avoid the conflict in the far left lane — the few drivers who are turning left and the parked cars blocking the lane or presenting hazards with opening doors.

Don’t take my word for it. Here is an un-edited 3 minute video. Look at the traffic patterns in the various lanes. The camera is positioned just past the turn-in for the office parking lot. Notice that there is not a single vehicle that comes through in the second-to-left lane, which is why I typically have it to myself!

At other times of day, when the traffic patterns are different, it might make perfect sense to choose the right lane as the sharrows suggest, but at morning rush hour that would be an inconsiderate, unpleasant choice. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t like the sharrows, I’m simply highlighting the fact that no matter what facilities are present, there are times when you have to alter your behavior to suit the conditions.

Don’t let paint think for you. Be mindful and enjoy your ride!

 
 
 

About the author

I’ve been riding bikes since I could reach the pedals. These days, I’m the guy on the three-speed with the little girl on back. You might see me taking my 5-year-old to school, the park, the pool, the grocery store, or just out having fun. I ride to my office downtown when I can, which lately has been almost every day. (Yes, we do have a showers at work!) I grew up in Dallas but have also spent many years living and working in NYC and other points around the globe. I currently live in the Preston Hollow neighborhood with my wonderful wife and daughter.

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9 Comments

  • Nice job, Waco! It’s inspiring me to make a similar post about my choice of lane position through an interstate interchange we have here. I’ll think about that after my next class!

     
  • This perfectly illustrates the benefits of “local traffic knowledge” and how it can make things nicer for everyone.

     
  • When I ride this street it is evening rush hour and the traffic is similar. I typically use the 2nd right lane but I’ve often considered the 2nd left might be better. I make a left on Continental then immediately right on Houston and left on McKinney. The 2nd left lane would position me better for those turns but I haven’t found that motorists appreciate my using a turn/through lane when there is also a turn-only lane.

    BTW, did you catch the scofflaw pedestrians in the video? :-)

     
    • Waco Moore

      Hi Stuart, I am trying to understand your comment…

      As I approach Continental, if it is easy given the traffic conditions, I typically move right into far right lane as all lanes are left-turn-only. As I make the turn, the right lane puts me into the right-most through lane on Continental (which I think is the through/optional turn lane you are referencing above?).

      I would think that you would also want to be in the right lane at the Victory/Continental intersection so that as you make that turn, you could also make the move one more lane to the right into the turn-only lane.

      Man this is hard to explain without visuals! Here’s the Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/wgX2g You’ve got 3 lanes on Victory feeding into the 3 left most lanes on Continental, and there is one additional lane, the right lane, which is right-turn-only at Houston. The dashes in the intersection in this satellite view should make it clear.

      Hope this makes sense and that I am understanding your comment.

      Yes, scofflaw jaywalkers everywhere, LOL!

       
      • Stuart

        Hmm. You may be right. I guess I wasn’t following the dashes closely enough.

         
        • Waco Moore

          You were probably doing what the title of this post says–following traffic patterns, not paint! I’ve found that lots of drivers ignore the dashes, and essentially turn into whatever lane they want, assuming traffic conditions allow it. Regardless, I hear you about folks getting agitated when they don’t understand why you might be in the left of the two right-turn lanes. Since you are setting up for a left turn at McKinney, it still seems like the best option. Perhaps an early left turn signal or some other communication would help to smooth any ruffled feathers.

           
  • David Reed

    i found this sequence helpful, as I am trying to learn more from Cycling Savvy. But it is difficult without knowing the specifics of an intersection. One must use common sense, and always be respectful of “the other guy..”

     
  • Paul Brown

    Smart cycling, Sir… “ride defensively”