Friday, January 22, 2010

America, it’s time to meet the Sharrow. (Be brave)

After five years of sanctioned experimentation in American cities—large and small--the Federal Highway Administration has officially adopted Shared Use Lane Markings, or “Sharrows,” into the latest version of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

America Codifies Shared Use Lane Markings (Sharrows)

While the MUTCD is not everyday reading for many livable streets advocates, its contents largely dictate how America’s roadways are detailed, signed, and controlled, and therefore controls the widespread application of sustainable transport innovations.
Image Credit, Mike Lydon

Sharrows are comprised of a bicycle and chevron symbol, which communicate that bicycles and automobiles must share travel lanes equally. First used in the City of Denver, sharrows became more widely recognized following a 2004 study demonstrating that their application in San Francisco improved lane positioning for bicyclists and increased the amount of passing distance given by motorists overtaking bicyclists.

The study also reported that the marking helped cut down on the number of sidewalk bicyclists and reduced the number of people traveling illegally against traffic.

To be sure, Sharrows are no substitute for more substantial bicycle infrastructure, yet may be used in specific contexts where more robust bikeways are difficult to implement.

According to the National Associations of Transportation Officials (NACTO) and their Cycling for Cities initiative, more than 76 American municipalities are now utilizing Shared Use Lane Markings to accomplish the following:

- Help bicyclists position themselves safely in lanes too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane

- Mimics the effect of bicycle lanes on streets with constrained rights of way and alerts road users of the lateral location bicyclists may occupy

- Move bicyclists out of the “door zone” of parked cars

- Encourage safe passing by motorists

- Require no additional roadway space

- Alert all road users to the presence of bicycles

Sharrows may also improve the overall visibility of the bikeway network, especially along those thoroughfares where bicycle lanes end abruptly, but the need for visible bicycle accommodation surely continues.

Image credit, Peter Furth

In general, Sharrows should be applied to streets with moderate motor vehicle traffic volume, and where right-of-way space is constrained as to not allow the necessary width for bicycle lanes. Some locations, such as Long Beach, CA and Salt Lake City, UT have taken the concept further by experimenting with a type of marking that may be best described as a hybrid between a sharrow and bicycle lane.

With such markings now fully included in the MUTCD, it is likely that those American cities that tentatively experimented with the marking will now expand their use. Likewise, those municipalities who have either been waiting for their official inclusion in the MUTCD, or who are not familiar with facility type can now pursue sharrows as an inexpensive means of improving the overall safety ad visibility of the bicycle network.

For car-happy American, this indicates a step in the right direction.

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About the author:
Mike Lydon is the founding Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative. Before launching TSPC in 2009, Lydon worked for Smart Growth Vermont, the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, and Ann Arbor’s GetDowntown Program. From 2006 - 2009 Lydon worked for Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, an international leader in the practice of smart growth planning, design, and research techniques. Along with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, Mike co-authored The Smart Growth Manual.

The Street Plans Collaborative
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Brooklyn, NY 11201

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  1. Montreal has been using sharrows for a few years now. I find them particulary effective for formalizing situations which do not quite fit into the standard 'traffic code'.

    For example, the case of bicyclists going against traffic on one-way streets. Obviously this is not something which should be encouraged, but sometimes there are certain situations where going the wrong-way on a one-way street is the natural thing for a cyclist to do (Montreal uses one-way streets to intentionally make car access difficult). The city now uses sharrows combined with a bike-lane marker to indicate certain streets where reverse-direction bicycle traffic is permitted.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Zvi. Interesting, I did not know sharrows were being used in a counter-flow situation...


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