Oak Street officially became the city's first 'shared roadway' this week when crews laid thermoplastic signs on the pavement between Lithia Way and Nevada Street.

Oak Street officially became the city's first "shared roadway" this week when crews laid thermoplastic signs on the pavement between Lithia Way and Nevada Street.

The "sharrows," as the signs are called, show a standard bicycle symbol with two chevrons above it pointing in the direction of travel. They're designed to let motorists and pedestrians know they're sharing a busy roadway with cyclists.

"I've never seen the symbol before today," Merrill Hayes, owner of Ashland Cycle Sport at 191 Oak St., said Tuesday. "Bicyclists will know what they mean, but I have my doubts if drivers will.

"I hope the city, in its wisdom, will explain them to motorists, maybe with a note in the utility newsletter."

"I assumed it meant the street doesn't have a bike lane but is a bike way," said Marie Uhtoff, co-owner of Northwest Nature Shop at 154 Oak St.

The Ashland Transportation Commission gave Oak Street its designation in September. It has no bike path, but is the most direct route connecting the Bear Creek Greenway with the Ashland bicycle path, which runs along A Street from Fourth Street to Tolman Creek Road.

"I never heard of (sharrows), but as a bicyclist, I agree with having them on Oak," said Andy Baxter of Baxter Fitness Solutions at 330 Oak St. "It's usually not as safe as bike lanes."

Sharrows are used throughout North America and Europe to remind motorists that bicyclists can be expected in traffic and to prevent "dooring" — opening a car door in front of a passing bicyclist.

"Anything that enhances access for cyclists is a plus," said John Baxter, administrator of United Bicycle Institute on Williamson Way near Oak Street. "I'm still concerned, though. Absent education of drivers " it still leaves me wondering how safe it is."

Egon Dubois, Southern Oregon representative of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, which provides bicycling education programs for pre-teens, said Oak is a good street on which to initiate the shared roadway program because of its heavy use and speed bumps.

Sharrows are more visible than roadside signs, which can sometimes be obstructed by tree branches, he said.

Roadside signs are required by law, however, and will be part of the $5,250 project, said City Engineer Jim Olson.

Transportation commissioners suggested applying sharrows in other areas of town where roads are narrow and bicyclists plentiful. One road under discussion is Grandview Drive, said Dubois.

The commission's discussion of the plan is available at http://www.ashland.or.us/Agendas.asp?Display=Minutes&AMID=3888.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.