Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

2 minute read

January 26, 2023, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Saptashaw Chakraborty / Sharrow lane markings

Dave Snyder, senior director for infrastructure at PeopleForBikes and the former executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition, was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the sharrow, a lane marking designed to make drivers aware that they are sharing space with bikes and encourage people on bikes to claim the lane rather than riding in the dangerous ‘door zone.’ 

According to Snyder, “I thought the sharrow would educate bicyclists to stay out of the ‘door zone’ and usher in a new era of safer streets, one where motorists would patiently wait behind bicyclists ‘taking the lane’ because this painted symbol made it clear they had the right to do so.” But Snyder admits the markings are clearly not enough to change behavior. “Sharrow or no sharrow, most people on bikes dangerously hug the edge of the roadway, squeezing themselves into the door zone to avoid blocking car traffic.” Now, after two decades of data and lived experience, Snyder believes that sharrows “are great for navigation and, perhaps, concentrating riders on certain streets — that’s about it.” 

If anything, Snyder points out that sharrows have an unintended effect that is “insulting” to the bike-riding public: “They allow officials to take credit for doing something for bicycle safety without impacting car traffic, even though that something is next to nothing.”

Snyder emphasizes that bike advocates like him and his current organization, PeopleForBikes, now acknowledge the failures of sharrows and have stopped recommending them. “Today, we know so much more about what it takes to make our streets safer for bicycling. We need separate bike paths; we need protected bike lanes on busy roads; and where the lanes are shared, we need actual speeds reduced to 20 mph or slower.”

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