Sharrows: Panacea for Improving Bike Infrastructure or Placebo?

Cities across the country are embracing the sharrow as a quick and low-cost means of expanding their bicycle infrastructure, but in at least a couple of cities, bike enthusiasts are questioning their effectiveness.

Craig Chester looks at why Miami's boom in sharrows needs to evolve or go bust. He questions whether the proliferation of the humble sharrow in Miami, in which a marking is painted in the center of a travel lane to indicate that a bicyclist may use the full lane, is actually impeding the creation of more substantial bicycling infrastructure city-wide.

"One of the loudest gripes with Miami's current bicycle infrastructure is the lack of connectivity, where lanes seemingly begin and end at random, forming an incongruous network. It's obvious that the sharrow seems to be the answer du jour. But how effective is this treatment and are they coming at the expense of better, safer facilities?"

Citing a recent study of the sharrows on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach that demonstrates "sharrows are probably doing very little, if anything, to encourage would-be riders to take to the streets," Chester argues that Miami needs to move on to building what Janette Sadik-Khan calls "hard miles" -- "bicycle lanes in the densest, most contested parts of town to achieve connectivity with the lanes that were easier to complete."

Full Story: Miami’s Sharrow Boom Needs to Evolve or Go Bust



A timely discussion

As a transportation planner, I have also been skeptical recently of the effectiveness of sharrows and have heard from others in the field who share these views. It does seem that sharrows are used as a way out of making hard decisions about roadway design that would actually improve bicyclist and driver safety. I would like to see more discussion and research of this tool and alternative tools that are becoming available to deal with limited road space for bicycle facilities. Minneapolis is currently experimenting with "advisory bike lanes" on roads with little enough traffic to have no center line. These bike lanes only differ from regular bike lanes in that the line separating the bike lane from the travel lanes is dashed rather than solid, allowing cars to cross into the bike lane when necessary. I would like to see more cities experiment with these on busier roads as well where the vast majority of vehicles will easily fit within the narrower travel lane but the occasional truck or large vehicle would be allowed to encroach on the bike lane.

Shared lane markings of course are very appropriate on bike priority streets or bicycle boulevards but they leave drivers and cyclists confused about what to do with them on busier roads.

James A.

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