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commuters: are sharrows more than a waste of paint?

Old 08-24-10, 09:36 PM
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mtalinm
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commuters: are sharrows more than a waste of paint?

maybe this belongs in A&S, but I am more interested in what commuters think.

I commute ~400 miles per month into downtown Boston. we have here a hodgepodge of commuting infrastructure including multi-use paths, right-hand door-zone bike lanes, left-hand bike lanes, cycletracks, and ... sharrows.

Sharrows I don't understand. They seem like a waste of paint. In the 8 months I've been commuting, I can't say that I've ever noticed a motorist doing anything different because there was a sharrow in the road.

Bike lanes, by comparison, definitely have an effect. Cars stay out of the lane (for the most part) and give me space, even when I hug the left-hand side of the bike lane to avoid getting doored.

I've been on so many sharrowed roads where I get honked at, something that has never happened where there is a bike lane. I of course understand the benefits of "taking the lane" and do so when advisable, but a sharrow doesn't make me any more confident in my ability to do so.

The difference I think is that a bike lane stripe is a constant reminder that a motorist needs to leave room for a cyclist, whereas a sharrow is easy to miss. even this oft-touted SF study (https://www.industrializedcyclist.com/SFsharrows.pdf) admits that most motorists did not notice the markings. this certainly squares with my experience.

of course I understand the risks of DZBLs when people ride on the right-hand side of the lane, and I also know that every street cannot accommodate a bike lane. I just don't see the point of painting sharrows in those instances.

has anyone had more positive experiences with sharrows?
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Old 08-24-10, 10:55 PM
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I like sharrows. Not because of any changes in car behavior, but because it shows me the route through the back streets. Throw in some traffic calming measures like roundabouts and speed humps (I love the divided ones) and I can ride almost car free! MUPs are too crowded and bike lanes are full of broken glass and debris, never mind doors and the occasional driver that thinks he's the exception to the no car rule.
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Old 08-25-10, 05:46 AM
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if you're going to be riding in a lane anyways, why does it hurt to have a sharrow there?
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Old 08-25-10, 06:06 AM
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I think there is a disconnect with sharrows and drivers. There needs to be better education about what they should mean to the drivers. Getting honked at while in a sharrows area? driver clearly did not understand what was going on there. I suggest bike lanes are more clearly understood. They are getting ready to install sharrows on a very heavily travelled (60K plus cars/day) road through Emory University Campus her in Atlanta. 4 lane road narrows significantly over a rail road bridge where the sharrows will be used. scares me to death thinking about the bad planning on this one. drivers are very aggressive here with all the congestion and poor road design. i commute 10 miles into work every day but avoid these bad roads like the plague. my route is back streets through quiet neighborhoods thankfully.
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Old 08-25-10, 07:59 AM
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Bike lanes are good as far as they go but they can become bike ghettos. Wander outside of the 'bike lane' and you'll find motorists are much less likely to be courteous towards the cyclists. Stay inside the bike lane and you'll likely run across all kinds of debris that gets swept into the lane. And they can end rather abruptly with no place for the cyclist to go.

The idea behind sharrows and the 'bike in the house' markings is to say to the motorists "expect a bicycle on this road". That was the intent of the first markings that were developed in Denver. Unfortunately, the road crews don't always understand where the markings should go and they don't position them properly. Even the first ones on 47th Ave in west Denver were placed improperly by the paint crew. They weren't out in the lane but were up against the curb.

Here is an example of good...and proper...placement:




This is typical of some badly placed ones



I've seen this placement with and without the lane markings.


And here's one that is both good and bad



And one that is just...well...wrong



The sharrows can work well but they need to be big and not placed on the side of the road. The message to the driver should be to expect cyclists on the road but it should be to expect cyclists no further over than the edge of the sharrow.
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Old 08-25-10, 08:32 AM
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Don't get met started.

There's a shared lane in Minneapolis that I've discussed before. It's actually a shared bus/bike/right turn lane but cars are in that lane whether turning or not and I've never seen anyone pulled over for it.

The city is trying to make it better, the most recent addition being a painted green path down the right hand portion of the lane where the bikes are supposed to be. Cars are still in that lane but I don't get honked at, and aside from one incident I have never really had a problem with drivers though they might be fuming quietly behind me, I don't know.



I feel like I'm riding on a little strip of astroturf when I'm using it. The sharrow markings have mostly worn off but they're supposed to re do them.

Last edited by tjspiel; 08-25-10 at 08:36 AM.
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Old 08-25-10, 08:36 AM
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I like them. Do the solve everything? No. Do they help? Yes.
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Old 08-25-10, 09:27 AM
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I think what needs to go along with them, and bike lanes is public service announcements. Billboards, TV commercials, something to let the general population (motorists, and cyclists included) know what's going on. How to use a sharrow, or a bike lane; where a cyclist can, and can't be; what a motorists should do when encountering a cyclist; why a cyclist may choose to take the lane; how a cyclist should be following the rules of the road, etc. Just from talking to my own group of friends I get the feeling that most people just don't know (where it's legal anyway) that cyclists are allowed in the road. Heck, until I started bike commuting I didn't know either, and I didn't know why a cyclist would even want to be in the middle of the road except to be a D bag.
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Old 08-25-10, 09:40 AM
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I think sharrows should be used in the center of the usable lane width, not the side.

Sharrows are typically used for marginal lane widths where drivers are tempted to pass too closely and cyclists are often safer riding in the center of the lane, but it's up to the cyclist to choose their preferred position. Putting the sharrow on the right side of the lane implies that cyclists shouldn't control the lane.

If the lane is so wide that drivers can pass cyclists at abundant distance within the lane, and it's safe for cyclists to ride to the right, there's really no point in bicycle markings because there are no real operational problems to be addressed.

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Old 08-25-10, 09:45 AM
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Originally Posted by buffalo_cody View Post
...Heck, until I started bike commuting I didn't know either, and I didn't know why a cyclist would even want to be in the middle of the road except to be a D bag.
Prior to the green carpet, I often road towards middle of the lane. Why? Primarily to be seen and to make taking left turns less of an awkward dance. Cars aren't supposed to be in that lane anyway unless they're turning right and busses frequently pull to the right to make stops. There's a lot of contention for the right part of the lane.
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Old 08-25-10, 09:50 AM
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Sharrows is a means to notify all road users that the street is often used by cyclists. Basically expect bicycles around. Don't know if it is better or not. But I like 'em. Kinda like a Inukshuk.
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Old 08-25-10, 10:02 AM
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What I find confusing about them is that apparently the cyclist is still supposed to stay the right. How does this make them different than any other street?

It's nice that there are markings to indicate that cyclists have a right to be there but what's the message to drivers? To expect cyclists on that street but not the one a block over?
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Old 08-25-10, 10:34 AM
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I definitely think they're a good reminder.
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Old 08-25-10, 11:25 AM
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Oh, yeah... sharrows:



Insulting?

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Old 08-25-10, 11:37 AM
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I've actually considered rigging up an old van with a pavement sprayer and driving around at night laying down sharrows.
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Old 08-25-10, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by electrik View Post
Oh, yeah... sharrows:

Those are prime examples of the paint crew and/or a traffic engineer not understanding how they are supposed to be used. Not malice but only ordinary stupidity. If they were positioned like the ones in the first picture I posted, they'd be effective and useful.

It's likely that you'll end up with something like the 3rd picture I posted.
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Old 08-25-10, 12:04 PM
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Properly done, I think they are great. Even if they don't do much in the short term, they are a way for a municipality to start marking infrastructure for cyclist. Progress, not perfection.
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Old 08-25-10, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by mtalinm View Post
Sharrows I don't understand. They seem like a waste of paint. In the 8 months I've been commuting, I can't say that I've ever noticed a motorist doing anything different because there was a sharrow in the road.
My little brother told me that running a car's lights during the day was stupid and completely pointless, because the sun is so bright that the driver can't even see whether the headlights are on or not. "It's so that other drivers can see you easily" changed his mind. A thing can be helpful ( or hurtful, or just have an effect ) in a way other than the one that seems obvious.

With sharrows, I'd say they help cyclists who aren't terribly comfortable in traffic understand where they should be, and also help those same people realize that it's ok for them to be riding in the lane. More cyclists on the roads make us all safer.

Plus, they give you a power boost for something like 100 yards or meters after you go over one ... but only the double chevron sharrows.
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Old 08-25-10, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
With sharrows, I'd say they help cyclists who aren't terribly comfortable in traffic understand where they should be, and also help those same people realize that it's ok for them to be riding in the lane. More cyclists on the roads make us all safer.
Another side effect; we see a lot of "cop told me to get on the sidewalk" stories here, and while one might hope for police to get worthwhile instruction in the road rules, pavement markings and signs might be the only way they're going to get educated.
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Old 08-25-10, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post

Cool! Bust out the trick bike and ride that rail!
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Old 08-25-10, 02:37 PM
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IMO, done properly, sharrows serve as a reminder to drivers and cops that bikes have a right to be on the road. Most of the ones I ride on are near the right wheel track of cars, so it's helpful for them to see where we can and should be positioned. By the same token, they can help to suggest a place for novice cyclists to position themselves (again, assuming they're done properly).

They're not a panacea, but they can be/are helpful in their own way.
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Old 08-25-10, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by electrik View Post
Oh, yeah... sharrows:



Insulting?

While I'm not totally supporting these sharrows (they look like the dundas or college ones to me) - it should be pointed out that parking is not permitted in the right lane at rush hour, and that the sharrows suggest to cyclists that they should take a more central position (compared to what the average cyclist does on these streets).

I've taken Dundas at rush hour before, riding on the sharrows - I did not feel invincible or anything, but I got the warm, fuzzy feeling that someone on city council was trying to legitimize my presence in the middle of the lane.
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Old 08-25-10, 02:50 PM
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I've only gone on the sharrows in Long Beach numerous times and NEVER had any issues with anything, it's all on driver education IMHO and Long Beach let's everyone know how important the biking community is.

I even got my 56yo mom to ride it with me
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Old 08-25-10, 02:53 PM
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The problem I have with sharrows is that they give some drivers the idea that bikes are only allowed on sharrow streets. Now they see a cyclist on a street with no sharrow, and they think "If they need to be marked on another road, they obviously don't belong in the lane in this road!"

On the other hand, when you are riding in an unfamiliar area, following a sharrow route can sometimes be the best way to make sure you don't get lost. And, on the off chance that a driver sees them and realizes they mean a cyclist is allowed in the lane, I can't say I disagree with giving drivers the occasional reminder.
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Old 08-25-10, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by kire View Post
The problem I have with sharrows is that they give some drivers the idea that bikes are only allowed on sharrow streets.
I think the drivers bring that idea to the table all on their own. The sharrows ( or "bikes allowed full use of lane [it's the law]" ) signs don't deserve any blame in this.
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