At the spring Traffic Hearing on Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen approved the proposal by Provincetown 365 to stripe a bike lane and paint sharrows on Shank Painter Road. This will be the first marked bike lane to be installed by the town.
Town staff recommended the proposal with some changes to the size and placement of the sharrows, citing the narrow road width and speed of traffic on the road as factors. Both the town Bicycle Committee and the Cape Cod Commission were in favor of the proposal.
A bike lane will be painted southbound from Route 6 to Province Road, sharrows will continue southbound to the second Stop & Shop entrance, and then the bike lane will continue to Bradford St. Sharrows will be painted along the entire road northbound from Bradford St. since the existing pavement, while wide in some places, is broken and unsafe for riding.
No budget was identified to pay for this improvement, so that puts into question when it will actually be executed. The selectmen didn’t specify a timeline for the project, either, but in the past the changes approved at the spring traffic hearings tend to get implemented before the summer tourist season begins.
You can watch the entire traffic hearing (including the Cape Cod Commission’s presentation of its Parking & Circulation Study) here on Provincetown Community Television:
The selectmen also approved sharrows in both directions on Conwell St. from Bradford St. to Cemetery Rd. where the planned bike lanes will continue to Route 6. They also directed the DPW staff to request permission from MassDOT to paint sharrows on the section of the road that is controlled by the state.
The study’s title is “The Relative (In)effectiveness of Bicycle Sharrows on Ridership and Safety Outcomes.” I was curious about the conditions that the study’s authors looked at and wanted to find out the road configurations (lane widths, number of lanes) and the speed limits on those streets. The blog post didn’t mention those details and didn’t link to the actual study, so I reached out to Nick Ferenchak — one of the study authors — to find out more about the study’s details.
I asked specifically about his perspective on putting sharrows on low-speed (25 MPH) two-lane roads with narrow travel lanes (11 ft), which are the conditions on Shank Painter Road, and he said: “If shared lane markings are used on bicyclist-friendly roads (it sounds like your narrow and slow roads may be bike-friendly) or as way-finding, they may very well be beneficial.”
In looking at the Chicago data used in the study, it was interesting to see that the rate of bike commuting here in Provincetown is 4x that of Chicago (we are at 8% and Chicago is at 1.6%).
I tracked down the study online for more details. In short, the study looked at wide, multi-lane urban roads with 35 MPH speed limits. And it compared sharrows to on-street bike lanes. Their analysis was based on census commuter data, not actual observed trip counts, and didn’t account for destinations or bicycle-friendly locations with bike parking.
The authors recognized the limits of their work and gave a caution about misinterpreting its conclusions. Here’s the section on page 15: “While the conclusions of this work may be misconstrued by some as primarily a call to reduce the number of sharrows, the true goal of this research is to instead ensure that resources are focused on providing more bike infrastructure that has been proven to be effective at meeting its goals. This will most likely translate into more bike lanes in many scenarios.”
The study didn’t say sharrows were unsafe. It said that they weren’t safer than bike lanes. That’s like saying walking in the street isn’t safer than walking on a sidewalk. Seems like common sense.
The sharrows and bike lanes proposed by Provincetown 365 are a tactical, interim solution until the road can be reconstructed with sidewalks and permanent separated bike lanes. (The town’s FY2017 Capital Improvement Plan has funds earmarked for this in 2021.) The Cape Cod Commission’s 2012 Shank Painter Road Corridor Study and the 2015 DART Report both recommend adding bike lanes and sidewalks, but those improvements are years – and millions of dollars – away.
It’s important to note that the current proposal isn’t just sharrows. It’s a combination of marked bike lanes, sharrows, and “bikes may use full lane” signs. It’s a baby step toward a goal of making town more bicycle-friendly through simple, inexpensive improvements that take our local context and experience into consideration.
Adding sharrows makes no change to the road’s current layout. All that sharrows do is help educate everyone to expect bicycles. The proposed bike lanes fit in the existing layout where the road’s fog lines were repainted a number of years ago. So adding bike lane markings helps reinforces the existing use.
I’ve discussed the idea of sharrows on our local roads with Lou Rabito (MassDOT’s Complete Streets Engineer), Glenn Cannon (Technical Services Director at the Cape Cod Commission), Barbara Jacobsen (Program Manager at MassBike), and Josh Zisson (a lawyer who specializes in bicycle law).
These experts all concur that sharrows are appropriate on our local roads where posted speed limits are 25 MPH or less. And from a technical standpoint, all current guidance from AASHTO, NACTO, and MassDOT indicates that sharrows should be placed in the center of the lane where lane widths are 12 ft or narrower.
Demand overrides conditions
I’ve been surprised at how people characterize some of our roads as “fast” or “highways” or “unsafe”. Shank Painter Road, where we proposed this combination of bike lanes, sharrows, and “bikes may use full lane” signs, is used by lots of people on bikes and on foot despite its current configuration. It’s not a comfortable street if you’re not in a car, but people use it anyway.
There are numerous destinations here with lots of bike parking — Stop & Shop alone has six bike racks for customers. The dog park has bike parking, as does the bank, church, the two housing developments, the gym, and most of the restaurants. (Oddly, the police station, fire station, and municipal pay parking lots are devoid of any public bike parking.) According to the property manager at Province Landing, the largest housing development on the street, residents own many more bikes than cars.
It seems that sharrows are an effective tool when used to remind everyone to expect bicycles on our streets. Most of our year-round residents took their drivers license exam decades ago before these treatments became common, so they seem foreign (they’re in the current Massachusetts Driver’s Manual). But to our hundreds of thousands of visitors from out of town, sharrows and bike lanes are part of the streetscapes they experience every day.
If town wants to increase biking and walking (which the Local Comprehensive Plan and town-wide policy goals do indicate) and educate everyone that biking is welcome here (which is an objective of the town’s Bicycle Committee), pavement markings are a cheap and easy way to get started while continuing to plan for more substantial and permanent road improvements.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) recently released a forward-looking design guide for bike infrastructure. It’s really a big deal, since MassDOT is in charge of lots of roads and intersections all over the state that have pretty meagre bike provisions.
Here in Provincetown, the biggest opportunity to apply the new guidelines are at the three crossings of Route 6, a 50-mph highway with one signalized crossing and two completely cross-your-fingers and run intersections. When Route 6 was cut through town in the 1950s, is was laid out as a 4-lane highway with a wide median. And little has changed since then. Even the single traffic light has no bicycle detector loop, so it’s easy to get stranded in the intersection at a red light (Note: Our intrepid deputy director of public works managed to include a bicycle detector in the upcoming Conwell St. Bicycle Improvements Project).