WOONSOCKET – Say so long to curved arrows and double-striped lines. Kiss the crosswalk goodbye. There’s a new traffic marker in town and it’s got a name so strange it’s bound to make you pay attention.
Meet the “sharrow.” If your travels have taken you through the center of the city lately, you probably already have.
The images of a bicycle positioned beneath a couplet of lines bent like a boomerang have been stenciled in white paint onto the pavement of Hamlet Avenue, Front Street, Bernon Street, Main Street and River Street for about two weeks, prompting quizzical reactions from motorists who wonder what they’re supposed to mean.
First off, says City Planner Jennifer Siciliano, a sharrow is a compressed version of two phrases from the traditional lexicon on traffic symbols. One is the shared lane; the other is the arrow. The sharrow indicates that the lane in which it appears is supposed to be shared by both motorists and bicycles.
“It’s designed to show where a bicyclist should be positioned when traveling in the lane and to let both motorists and bicyclists know that they’re traveling in a shared lane and they have to be aware of each other,” said Siciliano. “It’s a safety marker that’s intended to prevent accidents.”
The debut of the sharrow on downtown streets marks a transitional phase in the continuing construction of the Blackstone River Bikeway, and some see them as cause for celebration.
“They’re an intermediary step promoting the healthier lifestyles and increased economic development that are going to spin off the growth of the Blackstone River Bikeway,” says Rebekah Greenwald Speck, director of RiverzEdge Arts.
The first annual Riverfest, billed as “a celebration of life and bicycles on the Blackstone River,” will pay tribute to the sharrows this weekend with a parade of bicycles along the newly marked route. The sponsors of the bike-themed festival, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at River Island Park, include one of most ambitious proponents of bikeway development in the nation, East Coast Greenway, which envisions 3,000 miles of dedicated bike routes from Key West to Kennebunk.
Getting the sharrows painted was a joint venture of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. The former administered the project while the latter secured most of the funding, including a $10,000 grant. RiverzEdge Arts and the city’s planning department also provided resources.
The route for the newfangled traffic symbols didn’t come about by chance. It’s the quickest, safest way for the two-wheel traveler to get from the existing terminus of the Blackstone River Bikeway to the next point where bicyclists will be able to pick up a section of the path that’s off limits to motor vehicles. The new section is already under construction near Canal and St. Paul streets in Blackstone, Mass.
It is on track to be finished in early 2015 and will be about 3.5 miles long, stretching from the state line to Uxbridge, Mass., according to Megan DiPrete, a community planner with the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.
But the sharrows are more than just a roadmap to the next onramp for the long-planned bikeway, which two states have been slowly piecing together for some two decades.
“For us we like them because they’re an indicator that the Blackstone River Bikeway is going to happen, and this shows that even though the actual bikeway is not constructed in this particular area yet you can already get there from here,” says Jan Reitsma, executive director of BRVNHC. “It’s good that people don’t forget about the bikeway and other parts of the corridor where we already have a beautiful bikeway and in Woonsocket it’s only a matter of a year or a couple of years before we have it here, too.”
In addition to the sharrows, new road signs marking the route are expected to be erected any day, according to DiPrete. “It’ll be exciting to see the signs go up because that will provide a lot of guidance through the route.”
When finished, the Blackstone River Bikeway will be a 52-mile route hugging the Blackstone River, from Providence to Worcester. Between Massachusetts and Rhode Island, about 20 miles of the bikeway are already complete, but they’re not all connected yet. One of the longest contiguous stretches, about 10.5 miles, runs from Davison Avenue in Woonsocket to Front Street in Lincoln. Most of the balance cuts through portions of Worcester and Millbury, Mass.
All that remains to be finished before the Rhode Island portion of the bikeway is complete are three more sections in Woonsocket comprising about 3.5 miles. The planned route will take the path from its existing terminus on Davison Avenue, across Hamlet Avenue, roughly following the Blackstone River all the way to Blackstone. The route includes two new bridges that will span the Blackstone River, one near Kennedy Manor and another near Singleton Street, according to DiPrete.
Much of the remaining Woonsocket-based work will result in a bicycle-dedicated, off-road path, except for a small portion in Market Square.
“Right now we anticipate construction will begin in 2014,” says DiPrete. “It’s still in design, it needs to go through permitting, but that’s the schedule we’re looking at right now.”