Much ado about “Sharrows”

Sharrows are a sham solution for bike lanes — Crosscut (Seattle)

The word “sharrow” is derived from the words “share” and “arrow.”  It’s task is to remind drivers that cyclists may share the road with automobiles.

Vancouver has a few examples of sharrows, as well.  Main Street is full of them.  I saw a lot on some of my photo walks along Main. and so is West Broadway.  Seattle seems to also have it’s fair share of sharrows, or shared lane markings.  Crosscut, however, is taking issue with these new markings.

The problem with sharrows is that they are a poor solution. Their meaning is not intuitive. Is the space they mark intended for a bike or a car — or both? Why is this one set out in the lane and that one over on the side? Who has priority?

They are easy to implement but a confusing waste of paint compared to a proper bike lane. Other than serving as a way for politicans to attempt to spray-paint their way to reelection, sharrows don’t really work very well.

I have the same questions in mind when I see sharrows in Vancouver.  When I ride the B-Line along West Broadway, you can sometimes see the sharrows painted within the lane.  The bus lane signs above say that the curb lanes are for the use of buses and bikes only.  I can’t think of worse combination.  I for one am faint of heart and value my life too much to actually ride alongside B-Line articulated buses along West Broadway.

I think the funniest part of the article is the end when the author, Matt Fikse, points out a blurb from the City of Seattle site about sharrows.

Perhaps the ultimate word on sharrows comes from the City of Seattle’s own website, which today answers the question “What do sharrows mean for motorists and bicyclists?” with this damning bit of faint praise: “Motorists: Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows… Bicyclists: Follow the rules of the road as if there were no sharrows.”

Exactly the point — so why waste the paint?

I, for one, deplore riding on any major thoroughfare.  I actually carpool to work in mornings along parts of Kingsway.  My hats off to those willing to ride along Kingsway, but I would never ride along that street.  I feel the price is too high if I make a mistake or a driver makes a mistake.  I’m not afraid of some guy in an SUV purposely bowling me over.  I’m afraid of the more likely slip of mind and hand that results in something fatal.

Sharrows to me are not useful.  They are on roads I don’t think most potential cyclists would use.  I’d like more separation from vehicular traffic.

Sharrow on Main - sharing space with traffic?
Sharrow on Main - sharing space with traffic?

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