Manhattan Beach Council okays bike street signs, but kicks sharrows down the road

The Manhattan Beach City Council tentatively embraced expanded infrastructure for cycling at its Tuesday night meeting, approving the designation of more than a dozen street segments as “bike routes.” It also asked city staff to return with more information about additional measures to aid cyclists.

The decision approves road signs designating particular streets as bike routes, but holds off on the approval of “sharrows,” painted marks that remind motorists that cyclists also use the roads. A large turnout in the council chambers, including members of the South Bay Bicycle Coalition, urged the council to more fully implement the South Bay Bicycle Master Plan, a seven-city connectivity plan Manhattan adopted in 2011.

Although sharrows do not change the legal obligation of cars or bike riders, who already have equivalent rights on most roads under California law, the council chose to wait to gather more public input on the matter, in part out of a concern that sharrows influence “cyclist behavior” by making them more assertive about occupying road space. City Traffic Engineer Eric Zandvliet said that the trend in California law was to increasingly treat cyclists and cars the same, out of a desire to encourage people to ride more and drive less. He pointed to a recently signed state law requiring motorists to maintain a distance of three feet from bike riders, as well as ongoing programs such as the Complete Streets Initiative.

The council’s action comes at a significant time for mobility issues in the city. Manhattan residents were among the leaders in the battle over lane closures on Vista Del Mar and in Playa del Rey this summer. Many opponents of the road reconfigurations characterized them as the handiwork of militant cyclists, and remain suspicious of plans promoting driving alternatives.

The city is also in the process of approving its own Mobility Plan. The mobility plan was originally to be approved along with the bicycle master plan. The mobility Plan is now expected to come to a vote this fiscal year. (A workshop on the mobility plan will be held Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers.)

Councilmembers said that the city has had a “mixed experience” with physical infrastructure to support cycling like sharrows and bike lanes. The city approved a bike lane on Manhattan Avenue several years ago, and although usage numbers remain modest, the lane has led to an increase in bike use of 10 to 20 percent on the street, Zandvliet said. But a proposal several years ago to put sharrows on a segment of Pacific Avenue produced deep divisions.

Mayor pro tem Amy Howorth recalled the Pacific debate, and said that it was characterized by misunderstanding of what sharrows did. She argued that the community now understood that they did not change the legal obligations of drivers, and added that in her experience, sharrows “absolutely” made her feel safer while riding a bike.

While a council majority seemed favorably disposed toward sharrows on Pacific and other streets near city schools, they were also sensitive to the fact that the decision came at the end of a long meeting, and  wanted to ensure adequate community input.

“Success is rolling this out in the least frustrating way possible. As much as we say that this is not changing things, if you’ve got emboldened cyclists, it can create frustration and blowback,” said Council member Steve Napolitano.


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