Sharrows, a mini-review

Seattle 2011


In the vein of my as-if-they-were-rock-albums bike route mini-reviews of last year, here is a general and biased, yet heartfelt, review of sharrows.

Sharrows are the Jordan Catalano of bike infrastructure. Remember how you gazed at them across the classroom for hours, drawn to them, longing for them? And then it turned out that they were way easier to get than you ever expected or perhaps, in your heart, wanted — all you had to do was make the first move.

Once you’re together, though, you don’t have much to talk about. He’s either leading you astray, taking you places you aren’t ready to go and way too fast, or your paths are diverging in such painfully slow motion that you can’t help but notice, even through the haze of all that kissing, that you were never really coming from or going to the same place anyway.

Later, years later, replaying these events as an adult, you realize that you forgot to ask yourself why you wanted him. You see that you never really even knew what he was all about, or knew how he felt about being poor or about being popular or about being the foil for your confused sense of self-worth. Maybe he aspired to be a fancy Dutch woonerf or that curly-haired upper middle class nerd that you actually had things in common with. But all you could ever see in him was that one string that had come loose from the collar of his plaid flannel shirt.

Meanwhile a little voice in the back of your head cries “go now, go!” Listen to it, experiment, find out how it all works. At this point it’s still just paint.

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10 Responses to “Sharrows, a mini-review”

  1. Jeff September 7, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Sharrows absolutely have utility: Bridging gaps in a bike route composed otherwise of more robust facilities–for example, a bike lane that passes through a few narrow blocks where continuing the full bike lane is not phyiscally or politically feasible through said blocks. They should serve notice to cyclists, “Bike lane continues ahead.” Where sharrows fail is when they are used as the primary infrastructure for an entire bike route. I would say that as a general rule, sharrows should never be used for more than a handful of blocks, and they should always connect more robust facilities.

    • Barb Chamberlain September 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

      Jeff nailed it. OK as fill-in linkage, not good for primary route creation.

      My additional objection is that overuse of sharrows in a way may suggest that streets that lack them are NOT “bike streets” and thus bikes are supposed to stay off those unmarked streets. People on bikes can use any street that doesn’t explicitly ban them.

      As for the placement of this one, it’s bad both for the door zone and for the extra wear and tear from motorized vehicle tires. When I was on the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board they put a bunch in using this positioning that wore down in no time. I think most street crews are placing them with the “bikes keep farthest to the right as possible” mindset that prevails.

      We asked that when they repainted they put them in the middle of the lane. This both preserves them longer and sends a stronger signal that the rider is entitled to take the whole lane as needed for safe positioning.

  2. Craig Harlow September 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    Where that one in the photo located? It seems a dubious invitation to shift my line of travel into the “door zone”.

  3. Brock September 7, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Jeff, so what you’re saying is the the sharrow can be a good rebound boyfriend?

  4. grrlyrida September 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Sharrows in LA are the worse. They’re usually on heavily trafficked streets, most motorist don’t respect them and many cyclist don’t even know what they mean. They go on for miles and they don’t make the street any safer. The city could paint anything on the road and you’ll get the same result. I find them a waste of paint.

    • Nikki! September 13, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      Yes, better than nothing, but not much better. At the very least they give me something to gesture to dramatically when a roadraging driver starts crazily screaming at me. Was taking the bike route with sharrows the other day you’d think I was in the middle of a highway… but this IS LA. It’s pretty bad.

  5. Rob B. September 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    Our state DOT doesn’t like them either, but for the bizarre reason that they are hard to maintain.

  6. Travis Fulton September 10, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    I’ve been in a car with someone that turned down a bike boulevard and said, “Oh, this is kind of the bike street.” I don’t think it would be as apparent to people driving cars that they should expect a bunch of bikes on that road and that they’d be able to go faster down another road without the sharrows. I think they validate bikes on the road in a small way.

  7. Brock September 11, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Seattle DOT often puts the sharrows on the right when the lane is wide, but not wide enough for a bike lane. I heard from Portland BOT staff that they’re starting to use “suggested bike lanes” that are dashed instead of fully striped in such situations. I think that’s the way to go.

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