The city of Oklahoma City is laying out the first of what will be approximately 200 miles of new bike routes around town.
The designated routes are individual bike lanes or lanes shared by cars and bicycles, known as "sharrow" lanes " named as such because of the combination of "share" and "arrow."
Designated by pavement markings and new signage along the routes, sharrow lanes are intended to remind motorists to share the road with cyclists, and convey that a specific street is a preferred bike route. They are marked with a bicycle symbol beneath two arrows.
The first phase of the project costs around $362,000, paid for through a 2007 bond, and designates about 70 miles around the city as bike routes. The work is expected to be completed by winter.
"Sharrows are being installed on streets like Hefner Road and N.W. 19th Street that are popular with bicyclists, but are too narrow for conventional bike lanes," said Randy Entz, city transportation planner. "When they are installed downtown as part of Project 180 renovations, they will also keep cyclists out of door-swing zones of parked cars."
The bike and sharrow lanes do not mean bicyclists cannot ride on other city streets, Entz said.
"Although we are designating bike routes and sharrow lanes, cyclists can still ride on any Oklahoma City street," Entz said.
The process of planning the routes began in 2008. After receiving input from cyclists, preliminary routes were weighed and examined for safety issues, Entz said. The routes scoring highest in terms of safety were selected to be the first designated routes rolled out by the city, he said.
With the new lanes, and more cycle enthusiasts in the city than before, Mayor Mick Cornett recently appointed nine members to a bicycle safety task force to provide legislative, educational and policy recommendations to the Oklahoma City Council this winter.
Chairing the task force is city councilor and bicycle enthusiast Sam Bowman.
"It's about time," Bowman said of the new bike and sharrow lanes. "These first 70 miles were all very well screened in respect to suitability, wideness of the road, safety of the road. That's where we're beginning to roll the first routes out."
Bowman said the first order of business is to begin a public education campaign promoting safety to both motorists and cyclists.
"That's going to be the first task for the safety committee and its recommendation to council ... because we have an enormous task ahead of us," he said.
The number of cyclists in the city has been growing steadily over the years, Bowman said, and that number probably won't be shrinking any time soon.
"The stage is set. This is really the visible part of the plan that begins to roll out in an official way. Biking is growing; it's here to stay," Bowman said. "We want this to be about connectivity. A lot are segments, and if they can connect with trails, they want to do that. To pick up corridors that encourage bike routes versus any city street. I think the marking is going to be a time of recognition for Oklahoma City that the age has come."
RULES OF THE ROAD
Besides educating motorists, cyclists must also be cognizant of the rules of the road, Bowman said.
"It's not just a matter of we bicyclists have a right to the road," he said. "We have a right to the road, but we have to understand the rules of the road and also respect common-sense courtesies as we expect vehicles to come to understand that this is not something that is going to go away. We're going to see more of it, and how do we together find a way to coexist?"
Entz said that the sharrow lanes will be the first of their kind in the state.
"This is the first time they've been used in Oklahoma," Entz said. "They're pretty popular on the West Coast, and they're getting more and more popular."
While it would be nice for all bike routes to have their own designated lanes, Entz said, it would be difficult to do so. There will be some locations, especially in downtown, where there will be separate bike lanes.
"Ideally, you would add five feet of pavement to the side and make an official bike lane," Entz said. "That's not feasible in our current situation to do that."
Having the designated bike lanes not only encourages people to be active and healthier, playing into Cornett's "This city is going on a diet" initiative, but also helps address air quality issues and an overuse of automobile transportation in the city, Entz said.
"We've heard the push from the mayor that we need to be a healthier city as a whole," Entz said. "We're very dependent on the automobile, and in the long run, that's just not sustainable."
View a map of the proposed routes.