Sharrows – Need Careful Implementation



Sharrows – Need Careful Implementation

Source: next version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) is due out really soon now.  The MUTCD defines the standards used by road managers nationwide.  The next release will include sharrows, which we’ve talked about both online and in our monthly meetings.  They appear to be an attractive marking for older cities and towns that don’t have a lot of extra road real estate for dedicated bike lanes.  Sharrows show motorists that bicycles do belong in the roadway, in particular that they shouldn’t be riding in the door zone, the gutter, etc.

A recent article about sharrows in San Franciso was picked up by the New York Times.  The article serves as a reminder of how critical it is for the city and state governments to understand the needs of cyclists and the conditions under which they ride; it’s not enough to simply put down some paint on the roadway.  The city and state government will likely never employ enough cyclists to provide them with appropriate feedback on all projects.  This is why we need each and every one of you to join us and help provide productive feedback to our municipalities and help them understand what it’s like to be a transportational cyclist.


  • Victor Martelle
    Jan 30, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Whats a bicycle sharrow? and what is going to happen?

  • Labann
    Jan 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Sharrows are okay, but the the most important road feature for bicyclists is an adequate shoulder. A shoulder is the escape zone for when motorists just won't share travel lane.

    Now, it isn't always the motorist's fault that streets are improperly designed or striped. Cities, state and towns routinely multiply lanes from 1 in each direction to 2 or 3, or with a center turning lane, without widening roadbed but by STEALING shoulders, which increases accidents of all types 4-fold and violates complete streets compliance. It's surprising that more victims don't sue government for maintaining this public health hazard.

    Nobody is supposed to move along shoulder, neither bicyclist nor motorist. It is for parking or pulling over in emergencies. Without a shoulder, what's a motorist to do when vehicle is disabled? When are they going to enforce laws against motorists passing on right?

  • jack
    Jan 31, 2011 at 6:13 am

    I think the point with sharrows is that they are effective where adequate shoulders are not possible. It sounds like the San Francisco situation is that they were placed down the center of the multi lane road in order to avoid the bus lane. It seems to me that a bus lane and cyclists can coexist. The article says that most of the cyclists defying the sharrows were naturally gravitating to the right side where the bus lane is , or avoiding it all together. Also keep in mind that San Francisco is grid with long avenues, regular crossings and timed lighting. Nothing like that exists in our streetscape.

  • Barry
    Jan 31, 2011 at 9:31 am

    The bad use of sharrows in SF has little to do with us here in RI, as Jack says, high-speed one-way streets with 3 lanes barely exist here and I don't think anyone in RI would suggest a middle lane where they do. But sharrows, properly placed, might help reinforce the message that bikes are entitled to use the roads. I'd like to hear suggestions as to where in RI they might be a good idea.

    We don't have bus lanes either, but I saw in Paris lanes dedicated to buses and bikes that seemed to work out, in part because neither had traffic that was all that heavy, and sometimes they were separated from nearby lanes by a raised curb, and perhaps because Paris bus drivers are very professional. I did think it might be a problem before intersections where cars might be turning right.

  • Jan 31, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    @Barry, you make a good point… I've updated the title of this article to be more in line with what I wrote in the body. My "intent" was to reinforce the importance of advocates and cyclists being involved in DOT discussions, because we need to ensure that such mistakes aren't made here in RI. I think sharrows hold a lot of promise in Providence particularly, where there is never going to be enough real estate to put down full bike lanes everywhere we would like to see them.

  • Labann
    Jan 31, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Sorry, Jack. Shoulders are almost always possible, just a bucket of paint, although you don't need them on tertiary streets with little traffic. 4-lane, shoulderless, undivided roads are to blame for a high percentage of accidents, and there's no need for them. Single lane in each direction with a shoulder would be far safer, but RIDOT and towns cater to motorist impatience. Sharrows solve nothing when there's no shoulder. Bike/bus lanes do work, but there's not many opportunities here. Bike route signage draws attention, better, signs that warn motorist of fines for violating Colin's or Frank's laws.

    Barry, can't think of one place in Rhode Island that would be enhanced by sharrows. Can think of hundreds of places where reverting to only 1 lane in each direction with a shoulder would enable cycling where it's not currently bike friendly.

  • Dennis
    Feb 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm


    Expecting Rhode Island drivers to understand and use sharrows would seem like expecting your two year old to understand and use the toilet. In some special cases it might happen. They have trouble understanding basics like turn signals, parking and driving on the right side of the road. Sharrows might be a bit advanced for this population.


  • Feb 3, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Expecting Rhode Island drivers to understand and use sharrows…

    Some drivers will see them and respect them, but I think these drivers would respect a bicycle anyways. Where I see their real strength is during those conversations we've all had with motorists. You know the type I'm talking about who roll down their window or shout from their convertible about getting on the sidewalk. Having some paint on a road, that clearly depicts a bicycle and then being able to explain to the motorist what it means, this is where I see the value.

  • Feb 3, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Bike route signage draws attention, better, signs that warn motorist of fines for violating Colin’s or Frank’s laws.

    Personally, I think pavement markings would stand out better than yet another sign. There are already so many signs for motorists to take note and most of them just focus on what's ahead of their car anyways.

    I for one think we should make a big push when sharrows become official. It's bound to be much cheaper than other methods of accommodating bicycles, i.e. bike lanes. Who knows… perhaps a certain group of people could end up with the appropriate stencil. Ebay?

  • Victor Martelle
    Feb 4, 2011 at 3:48 am

    I agree with mark here, with these, it just screams "bikes are allowed on the road!!!"

  • Labann
    Feb 4, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Mark, paint IN THE LANE disappears quickly. Signs last a lot longer. I don't care about sharrows; give me shoulders. Laws in place fine motorists for riding in shoulders. Sharrow violations, if any, are unenforceable.

    A good example of bike friendliness with minimal fuss that works is the stretch from Caster's to East Greenwich line. It is no parking, one travel lane in each direction, relatively flat, signed as a bike route, with wide shoulders. If only this would extend from Meshanticut through Apponaug to Wickford, you'd have a legitimate example of "Complete Streets" compliance. But shoulder disappears too often for multiple lanes to recommend this direct route, which I frequently used until a few years ago.

    During the Lowe/S&S stores install, RIDOT had my input and the opportunity to make Lambert Lind Hwy and Greenwich Ave bike friendlier and decided to go the other way… eliminate cycling. This severed the last viable NS route through Warwick. RIBIKE missed the boat; should have laid in front of the bulldozers myself.

    There is no "complete" bicycling route that traverses RI from any compass direction, which violates FWHA guidelines. To start, complete at least a EW and NS route. Obviously, Providence lies smack dab in center of it all. Rt 6 could be adapted, although in Johnston Central Pike (repaved/widened) would serve better. NW-SE would be fairly easy (EBBP) if not for Mt Hope Bridge, Newport, and Sakonnet Bridge. NE-SW has some stretches in place (Blackstone Bikeway, WSBP) but there are major obstacles in connecting those segments. However, certain side streets through neighborhoods could work.

  • Victor Martelle
    Feb 5, 2011 at 6:43 am

    I still like this idea. It shows we can ride in the lane. Bike lanes in providence are built very poorly and I'm sure you all know that. Painting doesn't cost that much for the city, so even if they have to re-coat it once a year, its fine.

    I feel building shoulders says "bikes aren't real traffic and should yield and stay out of the way to motorists"

    It's time to take action cyclists, we should have signs and paintings saying we can ride right in the middle of the road. Cars always go over the speed limit, and countries like the Netherlands, its perfectly fine for a cyclist to ride right in front of a car.

    I'm all for sharrows, you have my support.

  • Amy B.
    Aug 10, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I just wanted to say that i was able to ride the new conncector for the Blackstone River bike path and I will have to say the city made great use of the sidewalk clearly marked for walking and biking. Also, the bike markings on the road in the residential area was fantastic! I live near Power Road and Smithfield Ave in North Providence and these are very busy roads that could also benefit from sharrows.