BATAVIA – Bicycles and motor vehicles now share a stretch of roadway through the heart of downtown Batavia.
The city has painted pavement markings in the middle of the traffic lanes extending the entire length of Island and Shumway Avenues.
The shared lanes are called “sharrows,” and the purpose is to better define for bicyclists a key link between converging sections of the Fox River Trail.
Motorists should get used to the idea that they are now sharing the same vehicle lanes with bicyclists on an equal basis.
The two avenues are differently named portions of the same street, with Island extending for one block north of West Wilson Street and on Shumway for two blocks to the south.
The sharrows are designated with a simple pavement marking depicting a bicycle and a pair of arrows that resemble chevrons, or corporal stripes.
The term sharrow is what linguists call a portmanteau, or the blending of more than one word to create a new word.
In this case, “share” and “arrow” have been combined to reference both the concept of a shared lane and the arrows that are a part of the pavement marking imagery.
Steve Ericksen, an avid cyclist and a member of the Batavia Bicycle Commission, said the sharrows are important move ahead for bike-riders.
“There hasn’t been a good way to connect the trail systems,” Ericksen said. “The sharrows provide a visual cue to cyclists riding through downtown Batavia.”
Like an interstate highway interchange, downtown Batavia is the hub for four legs of the bike trail system, but cyclists often have difficulty navigating their way from one section to another.
The west side trail extending south from Fabyan Forest Preserve passes the Depot Museum just before turning east and leading cyclists to the intersection of Houston Street and Island Avenue in front of Batavia City Hall.
Riders can fairly easily follow the signs pointing them across the pedestrian bridge to the east side trail, but continuing along the west side of the river to the south presents many with difficulty.
With the sharrows, bicyclists have a clearly defined route south to the point where the designed bike trail system picks up again near the Batavia Wastewater Treatment Plant.
“This creates a thoroughfare for bicyclists,” Ericksen said. “It’s a good first step,” he added, explaining that members of the bike commission are hoping to have the city designate more shared lanes.
“It’s not like a dedicated bike lane,” Ericksen said, noting that bike lanes are separate lanes along the side of the roadway for bicycle use only.
The bike commission is made up of residents appointed by Mayor Jeff Schielke and confirmed by the Batavia City Council.
The group promotes bicycling in Batavia and makes recommendations to the council for improvements, including the location of bike lanes and bike route markers.
“The Fox River Trail is a spectacular resource,” Ericksen said. “In Batavia we have a great place for biking.”
On city streets, bicyclists must follow the same rules of the road as motorists, Ericksen said.
“Roadways are a shared resource, but some drivers don’t feel bikes belong there,” Ericksen said. “It really chafes some drivers to see bicyclists flouting the law.”
Ericksen is an active proponent of bike safety and etiquette. To that end he has made a series of informational videos to be featured on Batavia Public Access Television and the city’s website.
The videos have come just in time for the prime bike-riding season, and for National Bike Month, an observance held every May.
Meanwhile, the link for the two legs of the east side trail in Batavia continues to pose a perplexing problem for city officials.
For those riding south from Geneva, the trail brings them to the pedestrian bridge. They can cross the bridge and head north or south on the west side, but continuing south on the east side presents a problem.
To remain on the designated trail, cyclists must dismount and carry their bikes down a flight of concrete steps to a portion of the trail that is cantilevered out over the river.
Bicyclists coming from the south must lug their bikes up the stairway whether they want to continue north or take the bridge to the west side.
Either way, use of the stairway is not always an option.
From the pedestrian bridge, to a point just south of the Wilson Street bridge, under which the trail passes, the path is frequently flooded, as it has been much of this spring.
In that case, the southbound cyclist must continue along North River Street and cross at the busy intersection with East Wilson Street.
Schielke wants to eliminate the stairway problem by extending the southern leg to the north onto the Larsen-Becker property that the city acquired and turned into a parking lot a couple of years ago.