In Defense of Sharrows

Streetsblog USA recently released a story panning sharrows.  Although I like my own space as much as the next cyclist, I found this article disappointing.   I think it’s a step backward.

Intelligent design.  Main Street in Salt Lake City was once clogged with car traffic.  Now there's one lane with sharrows each direction.  This is an elegant solution.  It works.

Intelligent design. Main Street in Salt Lake City was once clogged with car traffic. Now there’s one lane with sharrows each direction and light rail down the middle. This is an elegant multimodal solution.

There’s nothing wrong with sharrows.  There’s a lot wrong with how they are sometimes implemented.  They don’t belong on high speed arterials with heavy traffic flows, but they’re perfect for low speed collector streets.  Cities and towns often don’t distinguish between the two.

As a cyclist who covers a lot of miles, I like sharrows.  Here are three reasons why.

Sharrows Make It Easier to Take the Lane

Most motorists, when they see this in their lane, slow down.  Slowing down is good for cyclists.

Sharrows aren’t all that different than painted school zone warnings.  Ironically, this street would be better served with sharrows than the present curbside “bike lanes” that are covered with snow and also serve as parking for residents and visitors.

When motorists see a bicycle painted in the middle of “their” lane, it sends a powerful message to slow down and exercise extra care like in a school zone, for example.  Motorists give me more space and bully me less when there are sharrows on the road.  It’s not much, but it’s something. It matters.

Sharrows Use Scarce Resources More Efficiently

When you carve up a road and reserve parts of it for different classes of users, you lower overall utilization rates for that road.  Bike lanes often sit empty.  So do lanes reserved for automobiles.  It is much more efficient to let both users share the same space.  It increases utilization and allows government to do more with less.

Sharrows Lead Towards Living Streets

Walnut Street is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, but cars are welcome on this stretch.  It's a living street and one of my favorite places to walk in Indiana's capital city.

Walnut Street is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, but note the “no parking” sign. Cars are welcome on this stretch of road. It’s a true living street and one of my favorite places to walk in Indiana’s capital city.

Not surprisingly, the people who most prefer high speed streets often live farthest from where they need to go each day. They live on leafy, low speed, cul-de-sacs where  kids play in the middle of the street. There’s a mix of motor vehicle, pedestrian and other traffic in these places.  Sharrows are often the first step towards repurposing car-only streets and creating living streets in the heart of the city…urban cul-de-sacs, so to speak.

I appreciate the work that the people at Streetsblog do, but I want them to keep their hands off of my sharrows.  Bicyclist safety is about a lot more than infrastructure.   It’s about education and enforcement of existing traffic laws.  It’s about creating a culture of respect for all road users…especially the non-motorized.  Sharing is a big part of that, and nothing reminds us to share like sharrows.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “In Defense of Sharrows

  1. Pingback: Morning Links: Bicyclists help make a better world, and York Blvd is thriving |

    • Thanks for your comment, Erik. I understand, but calling sharrows “the dregs of bicycle infrastructure” and “scraps” is a bit snarky and suggests bias and an agenda. At Bike 5, we believe that infrastructure is only one small piece of cyclist safety. Education and enforcement of existing laws do more to keep cyclists safe. Thanks again.

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