Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sharrows: Seen Any Yet? Do You Know What They Mean?

The title of this post is not a typo. Sharrows is an actual word.

A “sharrows” mark demarcates a roadway shared by motor vehicles and bicycles — a street too narrow to have a dedicated bike lane, but part of a designated travel route for cyclists. The arrow portion indicates the direction of the traffic, and the mark’s position on the road surface indicates where cyclists can ride on the street without being hit by a suddenly opened car door. The marks are prominently displayed, visible to both driver and cyclist.

The pictograph has gone through several metamorphoses. An early version was test-driven in Denver, CO in the 1990s. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) marked a number of streets in a 1998 pilot project, and later carried out further experiments on the effectiveness of several variants of the markings and their placement. The SFMTA presented a detailed report on the project’s outcomes at the Pro Walk Pro Bike Conference in Seattle in September 2008. You can read the complete report hereThis well-illustrated fact sheet explains the details of the marks’ recommended placement on the road surface. A number of cities have since incorporated such sharrows into their plans for safe streets.

The sharrow above appeared on Grove Street in downtown New Haven, CT late in the Summer of 2010 as part of the first phase of improvements recommended in a 2009 bicycle safety plan created by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates. The planners, hired by the City to find ways to make New Haven safer for cyclists, designated several bicycle routes to, through, and around the city to be marked with sharrows as a short-term improvement. As Jim Travers, head of the Department of Traffic stated in an article in the New Haven Independent“These are shared road spaces. The street is not solely designed for the automobile. We are promoting biking on this road.” 

Many cyclists (including me) prefer bike lanes, but these marks do seem to increase motor vehicle drivers’ awareness of cyclists. I have to admit I was dubious at first. But you can’t miss these marks from either a motor vehicle or a bike, and their general meaning is not too hard to decipher. 

Google “sharrows” and you will find that many places are considering their use. If these modern-day glyphs have not yet appeared on the streets in your city, the chances are pretty good that they will show up sometime soon.

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