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Boundary shear stress and flow variability due to its interaction with main flow and secondary currents were investigated under conditions that extend previous research on trapezoidal channels. Secondary currents that scale with the flow depth were found over the entire width in all experiments. These findings contradict the widespread perception that secondary currents die out at a distance of 2.5 times the flow depth from the bank, a perception which is largely based on experiments with smooth boundaries. The reported results indicate that a stable pattern of secondary currents over the entire channel width can only be sustained over a fixed horizontal bed if the bed's roughness is sufficient to provide the required transverse oscillations in the turbulent shear stresses. Contrary to laboratory flumes, alluvial river bed always provide sufficient roughness. The required external forcing of this hydrodynamic instability mechanism is provided by the turbulence-generated near-bank secondary currents. The pattern of near-bank secondary currents depends on the inclination and the roughness of the bank. In all configurations, secondary currents result in a reduction of the bed shear stress in the vicinity of the bank and a heterogeneous bank shear stress that reaches a maximum close to the toe of the bank. Moreover, these currents cause transverse variability of 10–15% for the streamwise velocities and 0.2u* 2–0.3u* 2 for the bed shear stress. These variations are insufficient to provide the flow variability required in river restoration projects, but nevertheless must be accounted for in the design of stable channels.