Birth of a Class III Bike Route


Department of Transportation contractors put down the long-awaited Class III "Shared Lane" bicycle stencils on Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue this weekend. As I understand them, the markings are meant to do two things:

  • Inform cyclists that Fifth Avenue is a preferred bike route. The more people who bike on Fifth Avenue, the safer Fifth Avenue will be for biking.
  • Instruct motorists and bicyclists to SHARE THE ROAD along the narrower stretch of Fifth Avenue From Carroll to Dean Street.


These Shared Lane stencils are an entirely new type of bike lane marking for New York City. They are modeled after San Francisco’s "Sharrows." The State of California adopted the Sharrow design in September 2005 after some experimentation and a consultant’s study of different types of Shared Lane markings (PDF file).  


Fifth Avenue is my neighborhood shopping strip. I ride my bike here all the time and I have been personally invested in improving bicycling conditions here. Over the last two and a half years it has taken quite a bit of organizing and advocacy work to get the existing bike lane and these new shared lane markings installed. So, it was satisfying to see the work getting done this weekend. Of course, we can argue in the comments section about the value of this type of bike lane, other designs that might work better, and lots else. But it is nice to see tangible improvements coming out of DOT’s recent citywide bike safety study.


Design-wise, I was surprised to see the stencils placed along the side of the travel lane. My impression, based on conversations with DOT, was that the markings would be placed right in the middle of the travel lane. At first glance, it seems to me that this design still sends the message that cyclists are supposed to squeeze between parked and traveling vehicles rather than asserting a right to the middle of the lane. DOT tells me, however, that the stencils are placed so that if a cyclist is riding directly on top of them they will be just far enough out in the street to avoid being hit by the opened door of a parked car.


I chatted with the contractors as they did their work. They said they were getting lots of thanks from cyclists, passersby and even a couple of police officers happy to see the new bike markings being installed. If you think New York City cyclists have grudges against motorists, talk to a road worker. Apparently, these guys work in one of the most dangerous professions in America today — even more dangerous than being a police officer or fire fighter. They told me that hundreds of their colleagues get hurt and killed doing their jobs each year nationwide (if someone wants to Google around for the facts on this, I have not). Just recently, one of their co-workers was killed by a car on a job on I-78 in Pennsylvania. They are bitter about the lack of attention paid by the media and politicians to road workers’ deaths and injuries.


Let’s hope their work leads to a safer, saner transportation system on Fifth Avenue.

  • Clarence

    Wow, I really like these now actually seeing them in my nabe!

    It would appear that there are three stencils per block (at least from one of the photos?) If so, that’s pretty darn good! Leading up to this, I would have only expected one or two. Kudos to the DOT!


    PS: For reference, here is a 1 min. video of “Sharrows” being painted in SF.

  • It’s definitely better than nothing and in some ways it does look a bit better than some of the class II lanes that are only 3-5 feet wide. Despite being on the side of the road, people should be encouraged to take up the whole lane, if only to slow traffic down. Eventually perhaps drivers will learn to avoid that street, creating a defacto “Bike Boulevard”

  • mfs

    I am really really happy to see these. I hope they start integrating these into a bike navigation system, where the arrows point left or right where there is another bike route to turn onto. I also hope they put these on greenways, particularly in brooklyn and queens, where it’s really easy to miss a turn.

  • The stencils on Delancey st. that connect to the east side greenway bend to the right where they want the bikes to go over the walkway that crosses the FDR. Its very visible and leads you right onto the walkway, I use it all the time.

  • Dowd

    Regarding the dangers faced by workers on the street – I seem to recall a ConEd worker being killed by a motorist sometime in the last few of weeks.

  • da

    I particularly love the “bike fags/elitists” essay from 2004 (see pointer above). One of your classics, Aaron!

  • NSJ

    Hopefully this will encourage cyclists to share the road and the responsibilities of riding on the road. I ride on 5th Ave almost every day and often find myself being passed at a red light by another cyclist who blows through the intersection at speed. The roads in NYC are already extremely aggressive and as cyclists we should be working to decrease that aggression for our own benefit. I love Glenn’s comment about hoping the avenue becoming so bike friendly that it becomes car unfriendly. Let’s make it so through responsibility rather than just stepping up the lunacy.

  • totally serial

    it is a crime to disobey road laws on a bike

  • Tony

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!  This information is wonderful.  My daughter & her roomie are avid bikers – they swear they will never own a car.  I used to do projects with Transportation Alternatives years ago and am currently volunteering in an effort to create a BID (Business Improvement District) on 5th from 23rd to Dean St.  The BID would be a wonderful "vehicle" (pun intended) to educate the community about bikers and biker rights (and responsibilities of motor vehicle operators & pedestrians, well…ok, bikers too).
    If you have some time available – I need help convincing the property owners to vote yes for a BID.  I can be reached at  tony

  • Dan Bridge

    Thanks for this bit of info. The town of Glendora, CA. has multiple class 3 bike routes. These stencils would help out.

  • Dan Gutierrez

    Those markings are NOT sharrows, they are a Frankenstein’s monster
    combination of a bike lane marking and two chevrons. This is what
    happens when amateurs pretend to be professionals, or professionals don’t know their own standards. Look in the MUTCD and you will find this figure:

    ^ That’s a bare bike marking (not a bike rider, bike lane marking) with two chevrons.

    Here is the bike lane marking (middle image) that is being misused:

    To local NYC advocates, in the future, please urge the city engineers to go on line and look at part 9 of the MUTCD, and paint real sharrows:

    It is just a click away.

  • John Brooking

    So what DOT is saying is that they’re willing to encourage cyclists to ride far enough out to avoid opening doors, but not far enough to give any impression of cyclists having any right to control the lane to prevent unsafe passing. Typical disconnect between giving us a little of what we need to be safe, but not so much as to make us appear actually equal.

  • OrionElectra

    Great.. already congested lanes bogged down further by bike f@gs.

  • Eric Cramer

    The lanes won’t be as congested as your arteries fatty.

  • Eric Cramer

    If only the cyclists who broke the law and the motorists who broke law could just kill each other.


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