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Front and Center

New street marking will test idea of shared bike lanes.



The newly repaved and repainted Front St. now features "sharrows," the most recent device used in the push to make Memphis streets more bike-friendly.

Sharrows, or shared lane markings, are the familiar bicycle icon painted in dedicated bike lanes but are instead placed within the automobile lane. And while the markings were approved nationally in 2009, this is their first appearance here. For Memphis, the Front St. sharrows will serve as an acid test for the future.

"There are two big benefits to using sharrows," said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city's bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. "They give cyclists traveling in shared lanes greater visibility to motorists, and it helps position cyclists by telling them exactly where to ride in the street: directly on top of the markings."

Front St. was the obvious choice for the first sharrow markings, Wagenschutz said. "[Front] is far too narrow for a dedicated bike lane, and residents and business owners [along Front] expressed their need to maintain on-street parking."

The markings along Front have been placed near the center of the lane — far enough from cars parked along the curb so bicyclists can avoid any opening doors but not too close to the median, allowing motorists ample room to pass.

The city has no immediate plans for sharrows on other Memphis streets, and their placement will be decided on a case-by-case basis, Wagenschutz said. "Front was ideal in that it has low traffic speed and volume, which is what we'll look for in the future. We want to use sharrows where there's a transition between street conditions."

Wagenschutz said sharrows will be most helpful where a street with a dedicated bike lane narrows to the point where that bike lane couldn't feasibly continue, as on Front, and cyclists are forced into a shared lane with motorists.

Tennessee law requires motorists to allow at least three feet when passing cyclists. Penalties for violating that law were increased this summer, and though there is no additional fine for violations on roads with sharrows, the markings leave negligent motorists with few excuses.

Since the pedestrian/cyclist coordinator position was created less than a year ago, Wagenschutz, with the help of the cycling community, has established nearly 25 miles of dedicated bike lanes around town, and he's been working to educate the community on bicycle safety.

In addition to the popular weekly safety classes led by Wagenschutz in locations around the city, he has worked with groups like Livable Memphis, among others, to distribute safety information to cyclists along bike lanes and greenlines.

"There's definitely a market for [bike safety classes], and we're always trying to make improvements on what we've got. We're trying to avoid another tragedy with these programs, bike lanes, and sharrows," Wagenschutz said, referring to the recent hit-and-run death of cyclist Chris Davidson. Davidson was struck by a vehicle near Cooper and Madison earlier this month.

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