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.
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
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
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.