Drivers hitting a street in North Raleigh this week should start seeing a 9-foot-long reminder to share the road.
Maintenance crews are scheduled to begin applying road markings for shared bicycle lanes, called “sharrows,” this week on Northclift Drive if weather permits. The sharrows, slated for the street from Six Forks Road to Beardsley Court, are just one part of a decades-long plan to make the city more bicycle friendly.
"Part of the comprehensive plan is to make Raleigh a greener city,” said Alan Wiggs, a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. “It's time to turn that corner."
Although the city’s comprehensive plan stretches out over more than 30 years, Jennifer Baldwin, Raleigh’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the city identified a list of 25 bicycle projects to complete over the next few years. She said the city has allocated funding for each of these “low-hanging fruit” from a combination of state, federal and city money – a total of about $1.2 million.
In all, the city has identified 40 miles of roads for the sharrows, which cost about $250 each to apply.
"It really gives a sense of sharing the roadway, which is how it should be," Baldwin said.
Shared lanes are just a small part of Raleigh’s long-term bicycle plan, especially since sharrows can only be used on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Another 400 miles of city roadways are slated for dedicated bike lanes and wider outside lanes. Baldwin said those changes will be phased in gradually as regular maintenance projects cycle through.
"We're talking about retrofitting 400 miles of traffic lanes,” she said. “That's a lot of work."
Raleigh residents like Victor Lytvinenko say it’s a great investment. A cycling enthusiast, he began organizing a bike tour of city art venues to coincide with First Friday about two-and-a-half years ago. The monthly gathering has grown to about 200 members who ride en masse around the city.
"There are so many people that do ride and will ride when it's safer,” he said. "It just makes sense. It's the best way to get around town."
Lytvinenko has also advocated at city council meetings for dedicated bike lanes, securing a temporary one on Hillsborough Street in front of N.C. State. Baldwin expects crews to paint the lanes in the next few months.
"Once they get a few bike lanes down and see results, it will grow more quickly,” Lytvinenko said. “Right now, our city is way behind."
Baldwin agrees, and said the city has to work hard to catch up to more bicycle-friendly peer cities.
"Raleigh has one of the best greenway systems in the state, and probably the country,” she said. “It's really important to provide connectivity to those greenways so you can leave your house on your bike and get there."
But that transition won’t come without challenges.
Wiggs said the hope for the future is "to be up to Portland-style."
“It's a little ambitious," he said.
He points out that the installation of dedicated bike lanes can mean the elimination of on-street parking, which might not be popular with nearby residents.
"That's the fun the commission's going to have; there's going to be some give and take,” Wiggs said. “I'm not sure people are ready for that."
Although sharrows wouldn’t pose the parking problem, Lytvinenko says the lack of a dedicated lane compromises safety.
"The reality is it needs to be safe for everyone,” he said. “Grandmas need to be able to ride their bikes to the grocery store and ride back with their groceries."
Even if they aren’t perfect, Lytvinenko said he recognizes sharrows are the only option on some roads. Plus, Wiggs points out the 9-by-3-foot road markings provide a valuable educational tool for drivers and cyclists alike.
"That's some pretty good-size graffiti,” Wiggs said. “If you're driving down the street at 35 mph, you'll see one every five seconds."
CLARIFICATION: Alan Wiggs' comment about Raleigh catching up to Portland was clarified to reflect the statement as a general goal, not an official timeline.