COAST CITIES — A strange new symbol that looks like a bike under a roof is being added with more frequency to local streets.
The symbol denotes sharrows, or lanes that can be shared by cyclists and motorists.
They were installed along Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas in 2012 and more recently on the same roadway in Solana Beach.
Sheriff Capt. Robert Haley said sharrows are a great concept but there has been some confusion on the proper way to use them.
According to the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which is used by the U.S. Department of Transportation and law enforcement, sharrows alert motorists that a bike rider may use the lane. They also help cyclists on roads with on-street parallel parking.
Comments Haley made about the lanes during a community gathering in Solana Beach last month drew the ire of a handful of bicyclists.
“Some people think it’s a giant bike lane,” he said, adding that, according to the law, cyclists are always supposed to ride as far to the right as possible anytime they are on a roadway, even in a sharrow or bike lane.
He said the major complaints his station has received have been when cyclists ride in groups rather than a single file, as they are legally obligated to do.
Bill Davidson accused Haley in an online comment of being “fundamentally ignorant about the law and bicycle safety. Serge Issakov said the captain got “so much wrong … it’s just incredible.”
Haley praised local city officials for their forward thinking when it comes to bicycle safety, but he said it wasn’t their intent to allow cyclists to ride any way other than in a single file. He said that’s the biggest issue he has with the lanes.
The motor vehicle code states, “Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway” except under a few conditions, including when it’s “reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that make it unsafe.”
Those unsafe conditions include a car door opening into the path of the cyclist, a likely occurrence on a roadway with parallel parking.
In that case, “they may have to ride in the middle of the sharrow for as long as it’s unsafe,” Haley said. “We’re not going to write anyone up for riding in the middle of a sharrow.
“If a person is riding to the left of someone else, he isn’t as far to the right as possible,” he added.
Haley said he verified the law with Traffic Commissioner Larry Jones, who confirmed that cyclists must ride in a single line while on a street.
Haley acknowledged cycling is a social event. “We’re not targeting them,” he said. “But to keep people safe, we will give tickets in high-pedestrian areas where there have been complaints.”
However, Haley said he isn’t aware of any citations being given to cyclists by deputies from his Encinitas station, even for running stop signs and red lights, complaints that have been on the rise.
Responding to comments that law enforcement officers should be out catching burglars rather than focusing on bicyclists, Haley said the majority of calls into his station are traffic related, so much so that each city has a deputy assigned to traffic, although that officer would be redirected if there is a burglary.
“Our goal is to protect life and property — life first — and keep people from getting injured or killed,” he said. “When that happens it’s traumatic for everyone involved as well as the whole community.”
Haley said cyclists who don’t like the laws can work to get legislation enacted to change them.