This story is also posted on our Citizen blog, and there's a conversation going there...
The first roundabouts on Hillsborough Street are open and working as planned, moving the car traffic slowly but safely through what is now a pedestrian-friendly district at the front door of N.C. State University. Still unresolved, however, is the issue of bike lanes.
It's a metaphor for our times. Can we move forward together in Raleigh?
I believe we can with the aid of a unifying emblem that, with proper promotion, could also heal the nation.
On Tuesday, the City Council was expected to approve an experiment: It calls for a single 11-foot lane in each direction for the cars on Hillsborough Street (an earlier plan called for 10-foot car lanes); that leaves just 5 feet, not 6, between the car lanes and the marked parking spaces on each side of the street.
That's 5 feet, in other words, to be shared by bicycles and the open doors of any parked cars. Thus, the idea of having 4-foot bike lanes is out the window, at least temporarily. Bicyclists fear being "doored" almost as much as they fear being run into by a car; riding with just 12 inches of clearance, they'd be doored daily.
So the new scheme, suggested by the state Department of Transportation, is not to mark the bike lanes. Simply stripe the car lanes and let the bicyclists figure out where to ride within the remaining 5-foot area.
Because the DOT has the final say, Raleigh could do little but follow its lead, says Russ Stephenson, chairman of the council's public works committee. Thus, his committee went along, but with the proviso that the car lanes be striped at first with tape, not paint. That way, Stephenson says, Raleigh can see whether the 11/ 5 split is working before applying the finishing touches.
Good idea. A lot of people, including Stephenson, think 10 feet for cars is enough, but DOT didn't, and maybe they're right. The point is, we'll all learn how best to share the road and proceed from there. But to do so, I think we're going to need more than just some white tape to guide us. We're going to need a slew of sharrows.
Consider: Sharrows (it's a made-up word from Australia out of share and arrow) on the roadway tell motorists to give the bicyclist a fair shake. Give him his own lane where there's room for one. Share your lane where there isn't.
On Hillsborough Street, we're going to need lots of sharrows in the spaces between the car lanes and the parking spaces. We're also going to need them in the car lanes approaching the intersections and the roundabouts.
And it's not just on Hillsborough Street. In the coming year, Raleigh will roll out bike lanes across the city, which means that soon we'll be resplendent with the sharing symbol that can help us solve so many other big problems.
At the national level, too, the sharrow can be our guide.
We're just rusty when it comes to sharing, I think, too busy grabbing for ourselves to notice that things work better if and when we work together. Which is why it's so much fun watching the traffic move through the roundabouts. Because everyone's going in turn, no one has to stop for very long and we don't need any red lights. So by sharing the road, we all get there faster.