Stillwater News Press

January 31, 2013

Bicyclists aim for more safety when sharing road

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Many motorists have encountered bicyclists during their morning commutes and other travels in Stillwater. But are Stillwater residents aware of the rules of the road?

Bicyclist Keith Reed said sometimes the rules can be unclear to the average motorist who doesn’t have a connection to bicycling.

Many roads are designated with “sharrows,” a combination of the word share and arrows, that adorn some Stillwater streets, informing motorists that they are sharing the road with bicyclists.

Reed said he has had friends approach him to ask what the “sharrow” markings mean.

The same goes for bicyclist Kevin Mussett.

“It’s very new to Stillwater and to Oklahoma,” Mussett said. “It’s very common in more bike-friendly communities.”

Since the installation of these markings, both men agree that there has been a big improvement in travel between the motorist and bicyclist.

So, what are “sharrows,” and what are the rules? Mussett said motorists need to know.

“Bicyclists are charged with staying as far to the right as is safe,” Mussett said. “That puts the emphasis on the bicyclists to determine what ahead of them may be a hazard and to remain in the lane or use any portion of that lane necessary to avoid the hazard. The part of the motorist is to pass when it’s safe to pass.”

Mussett said the sharrows were established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

“They publish a green book that assists communities in developing safe ways to get other forms of transportation to and fro,” he said.

Mussett said the illustration of the bicyclist on the roadway with two arrows is a more informative manner in which to alert motorists of a possible bicyclist in their lane than signs.

Mussett said the first Oklahoma Bike Summit in Oklahoma City was held a year ago in November.

“It was designed both for engineers and city planners,” he said. “We had the city planner for the city of Chicago speak and he’s the founder of AASHTO. His name is Robert LaPlant.

“He addressed some of the same issues where we actually got on bicycles and put city planners and ODOT officials on bicycles and to intersections that could be problems and came back to design means or to effectively use those intersections for cars and bicycles.”

Stillwater engineer Jason Peek attended the conference.

“That’s one of the things that we are working with the Stillwater Bicycling Advisory Committee to look at ways that we can do things better and offers solutions to the city to implement those things,” Mussett said.

Reed said there are a diverse group of bicyclists.

“You have bicyclists that are not comfortable on any city street,” Reed said. “In other words, they will ride on the sidewalks because they don’t feel safe riding on the street.”

However, this is statistically more dangerous, according to both men.

“First of all, every driveway represents an intersection so someone coming off the street, someone backing out, represents a potential accident there,” Mussett said.

Motorists don’t expect to see a bicyclist on the sidewalk as opposed to a pedestrian.

Both men hope educational meetings partnered with the city of Stillwater may be possible in the future for both motorists and bicyclists to address markings and signs on the street.

“I think it should be incorporated into the testing system when a person is getting a driver’s license,” Mussett said. “We were just able to get a state law established to have at least one bicycling question on every exam.”

Mussett said until then, anyone who has a question as to the meaning and use of the signs can direct them to their local bike shop.

“The goal of the Stillwater bicycling community is to get to the point where bicyclists do have confidence and can safely ride on the city streets,” Reed said.