Sharrows: it’s official



Sharrows: it’s official

The 2009 edition of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD, for those who enjoy alphabet soup) is finally out after a v-e-r-y lengthy delay.  The MUTCD is the national guidebook published by the Federal Highway Administration that defines and regulates all traffic control devices, traffic signs, traffic signals, and pavement markings in the United States.  For instance, a stop sign is a red octagon no matter where you go in the US because the MUTCD says so.

Shared-lane markings, or sharrows, are in the guide for the first time.


For years, many agencies have justified their decision not to apply sharrow markings to their streets by simply stating that, as sharrows are not in the MUTCD, using them would open the agency up to liability in case of accidents.  Now that sharrows are “official”, that excuse no longer holds water, and we should see an explosion in the use of these markings, which are already in use in many locations around the country.

Why should we be glad for this?  The sharrow, as defined in the Manual, serves 5 purposes:

A. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle,

B. Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane,

C. Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,

D. Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and

E. Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

Essentially, the sharrow guides cyclists out of the door zone of parked cars, serves as a pavement-bound “share the road” reminder for motorists, and will hopefully lead to minimized “bike salmoning” – that is, biking on the wrong side of the street, or the wrong way on a one-way.

Just because sharrows are now in the MUTCD doesn’t mean that agencies must begin using them – but it does remove one potential impediment.  The reconstruction plan for Broadway (that project should be underway in spring 2010) includes sharrows – these will be the first in Rhode Island.  We should be glad for this, and we should advocate for greater use of sharrows in the Ocean State.

One last thing: in case you’re wondering what a state’s obligation is regarding when they need to start following these new regulations, here’s the skinny:

Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations requires all States to do one of these three things within two years after a new national MUTCD edition is issued or any national MUTCD amendments are made:
1) Adopt the new or revised national MUTCD as the standard for traffic control devices in the State.
2) Adopt the national MUTCD with a State Supplement that is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD.
3) Adopt a State MUTCD that is in substantial conformance with the new or revised national MUTCD.

(It’s unlikely that any agency will actually take 2 years to adopt these standards.)


  • Dec 16, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Eric, great post!

    I think sharrows could really help around this area. Many of the streets, unless we start taking away significant amounts of parking, are simply too narrow to support bike lanes. That's not to say it wouldn't be great to some day be in a situation where parking is reduced in favor of supporting better alternative modes of transportation, I just don't think your average Rhode Island resident can swallow that yet. Also, the cost of laying down some paint is significantly less than putting in bike lanes, so perhaps it will be an easier sell to politicians and DOT decision makers.

  • Dec 17, 2009 at 8:26 am

    The "saleability" of sharrows should be the least consideration.

    Equal biking/walking infrastructure was called for by FWHA and USDOT in 1999, and further mandated in a Complete Streets initiatives national bill introduced Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

    Your attempts to ease RIDOT's transition into compliance after a decade of negligence is comical. A class action lawsuit is long past due, but have they already beat one out on a statute of limitations? Where's the list of RIDOT engineers fired for incompetence?

    Anyway, they ought to update commercial and state building codes to avoid the imposition of driving/parking infrastructure over biking/walking at such places as industrial complexes, mall parking lots, and uncrossable highways and railroad corridors. There must be bridges and underpasses at reasonable intervals, and, with RI bridge renovation underway, biking infrastructure ought to be in the forefront.

  • Barry
    Dec 19, 2009 at 8:25 am

    While I think Alan is far too critical of RIDOT engineers, I do appreciate his comment on parking codes. In my town, North Providence, there was just a case where a proposed use of a building for 3 apartments required 2.5 parking spots/apartment, thus needing 7.5 parking spots. This is in an area of relatively "affordable" housing on 2 bus lines. Alan mentions bike infrastructure needs, but we also should be more oriented to transit (recall all our bus lines provide bike racks to supplement what a bike can do)

    State law does "direct" RIDOT to accomodate bikes and pedestrians on most of their projects, but that doesn't apply to RIDOT's big priorities of the I-195 relocation (and expansion) and the Quonset freeway that have sopped up much of the money. I think the bike community has the opportunity and responsibility to try to work with RIDOT on the few local projects they actually do, especially on the grid after the old I-195 is removed, in Warwick at Apponaug and the train station being developed, and whatever is going to be done in the Newport area where there is a big transportation study underway. This should certainly include use of "sharrows" where we think appropriate.

  • Jan 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I am looking for more information on the 80% grant that RI is giving to towns to put these in. How do we go about getting the grant in our town? What do i need to do?

    Warm regards,

    Nancy McBride

    HABS Organization

    Helmet awareness & Bicycle Safety

    • Jan 22, 2010 at 7:58 am

      I haven't heard anything about 80% grant for sharrows and would, frankly, be surprised if such a beast existed. Do you have any more information?