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story.lead_photo.caption A car enters the intersection of Texas Boulevard and West Fourth Street on Friday in Texarkana, Texas. The bicycle symbol painted on the pavement is called a sharrow. It signals that drivers and cyclists should share the road. It does not indicate a lane dedicated only to bike traffic. Photo by Karl Richter

Symbols recently painted on downtown Texarkana, Texas, streets do not indicate dedicated bike lanes but instead signal that drivers and cyclists should share the road.

Called sharrows—a play on "share" and "arrows"—the symbols added during recent street work have caused confusion among some drivers unfamiliar with them. But the city and local cycling enthusiasts say sharrows better Texarkana by making it more bike-friendly.

Sharrows do not change anything about traffic, said Lisa Thompson, city communications and economic development manager.

"Bike riders have the same rights as the motoring public, so the sharrows are simply meant to remind auto drivers that the lane is to be shared with cyclists," she said.

Terry Berridge, owner of Berridge Bikes downtown, agreed and added that sharrows serve a more practical purpose, as well.

"I think it reminds cars that we are there, and you don't always see us, but we are there, and we want you to pay attention because we have the right to be on the road also," he said. "And also it lets the cyclists know that they are in the right spot, going the right direction."

Many drivers do not understand the law regarding bikes, Berridge said.

"We (cyclists) can be on the road, but we need to be sure that we are giving drivers room to go by if there is room. If there is not room for a car to pass, then we have the right to the road, and sometimes people don't understand that," he said.

Texarkana has more bike riders than many realize, and they rarely match the stereotypical image of the middle-age road cyclist who rides for fitness dressed in tight, brightly colored clothes, Berridge said. Instead, most use bicycles as their main form of transportation, and sharrows and other accommodations benefit them directly.

"We have a culture of cyclists that we in the cycling industry call the invisible cyclist. And it is not the person who is getting dressed up in Lycra, throwing their legs over a multi-thousand-dollar bike. It's the person that's riding the used bike, the department store bike, that is riding across town to get to the restaurant to wait the tables," he said.

Sharrows also appeal to those more well-to-do cyclists, Berridge Bikes employee Dee Bell said.

"When people are traveling to visit this town, those 40-something-year-olds who have the expensive bicycles, the majority of them are very successful professional people who are going to spend a crap-ton of money in our town.

"When they come down and they see (sharrows), they instantly associate us with a healthy lifestyle and a bike-friendly town. So it raises our image instantly with that demographic. And that's the demographic we want downtown. They don't care if they go to Verona's and spend a hundred bucks for dinner," Bell said.

Berridge's advice to drivers is to be patient and remember cyclists are human.

"The most important thing is for them to understand that we have the right to be on the roads and that millisecond or two that they have to slow down to wait for an opportunity to pass a cyclist is just a millisecond or two. It's not worth risking someone's life," he said. "And that is a person; it's not an object."

On Twitter: @RealKarlRichter

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