Originally designed as a low-cost way to encourage safer road sharing between bikes and cars, the sharrow has become a symbol of the lack of commitment to protected bike infrastructure in many cities.
Many cyclists hate them. Most drivers don’t see or understand them. So why are sharrows—the painted symbols also known as lane-share markers—so popular with local governments and departments of transportation?
As Kyle Harris points out in a piece for Denverite, the answer is simple: cost. “Thrifty urban planners, disinterested in building significant bike infrastructure, have embraced them. Sharrows give city officials a cheap way to say they’re doing something for cyclists’ safety — even if it’s undermining it.” Indeed, “According to a 2016 University of Colorado, Denver study of bike infrastructure conducted over ten years and on 2,000 blocks in Chicago, sharrows might actually be more dangerous than no infrastructure at all.”
Harris outlines the history of the sharrow symbol, which was created by now-retired Denver bicycle traffic engineer James Mackay in the early 1990s, when the city resisted any efforts to make changes or invest in bike infrastructure. Mackay developed the symbol as an inexpensive way to encourage drivers and cyclists to share the road, but acknowledges that “Given funding and political will, Mackay knows Denver could have done more, such as cities like Copenhagen and Utrecht, to actively discourage driving and encourage biking.”
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Sun City Center Community Association, Inc
City of Mesa
Town of Gilbert, Arizona
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