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How to drive, ride through Bellingham’s new bicycle markings

New road markings on bicycle routes have left some riders and drivers confused. Here’s what people need to know:

What is a green sharrow? A symbol with two arrows and a bicycle on a green background has been installed in intersections where bike routes meet streets with more vehicle traffic: Ellis and Sunset, Illinois and James, Texas and Woburn, and three streets along Ohio by Bellingham High School. More green sharrows are coming, to Alabama Street and elsewhere.

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When bicyclists see a green sharrow: Bicyclists must obey the stop sign or traffic light at intersections with green sharrows.

Several people reported seeing bicyclists ride through stop signs to cross busy streets, possibly because they thought the green arrow gave them the right of way.

“Ride your bike just like you drive your car. Follow the rules of the road and be safe,” said Mary Anderson, outreach coordinator for Whatcom Smart Trips.

When drivers see a green sharrow: Drivers have the right of way in intersections with green sharrows but should watch for bicyclists crossing.

“Drivers typically slow down and allow a pedestrian or a bicyclist to cross,” city transportation planner Chris Comeau said. “Our drivers, a lot of them, are very, very courteous.”

Why green? Some people have suggested that the sharrows should be yellow or orange instead of green, which implies “go” or “you have the right of way” to some people.

Bellingham wasn’t able to shop for colors, Comeau said.

“Green is the federally approved color for these facilities, and we are absolutely following the lead of other cities that have already done these things,” he said.

What is a regular sharrow? The two-arrows-and-bicycle symbol with no background color lets bicylists know they are on a street with light vehicle traffic designated as a bike route. They remind drivers to watch for bicyclists and to keep a safe distance away from them.

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What is a bike box? The green “L” shapes at Cornwall and Ohio streets allow bicyclists to pass cars on the right to get to the front of the line at a red light. Marked bike detectors trigger the light to change even if no cars are waiting. Vehicles must wait behind the green paint.

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No right on red: The city installed “no turn on red” signs at Cornwall and Ohio, to make clear that drivers can’t make what some call a “free right turn” through the bike boxes. Regular right turns at green lights are allowed.

The city has produced a video explaining the new street markings. It can be viewed at cob.org/bike along with other information on bike markings. Click on the “Bike Boxes & Beyond video.”

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