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« The Idaho Stop | Main | Removing a stuck seat post or handlebar stem »


Sharrows is a new buzz word I notice popping up in bicycle related news stories.

The word is short for “Shared Lane Arrows.”

These are already in place or are proposed in cities like LA and Long Beach, California and Portland, Oregon.

I have also read of proposals for using Sharrows in Yonkers, NY., and New Haven, Connecticut.

The picture (Left.) shows them already in use in Austin, Texas.

They are cheaper to install than a bike lane. When you designate space for a bike lane, it sometimes means car parking is lost, much to the chagrin of local businesses.

It also means all the other traffic lanes have to be moved over; in other words the whole road has to be restriped.

A Sharrow can be simply placed in an existing lane at appropriate intervals. It lets motorists know that cyclists have a right to share that lane, and as illustrated in the picture above, where there are parked cars cyclists can move to the center of the lane to avoid the real danger of opening car doors.

On the downside, when these arrows start appearing without adequate signage or public notification, it just confuses the hell out of car drivers, because they don’t know if they can use that lane or not. I heard this happened in Long Beach, California; drivers got confused, frustrated and angry.

Education is really the whole crux of the matter. Experienced cyclists already know they have a right to use the lane, and ride down the middle if for example, there are parked cars present; they don’t need a painted arrow to tell them. Sharrows are more to let motorists know that cyclists may be present.

Personally, I like the idea of a shared lane, rather than a bike lane. Bike lanes get parked in, all the debris, broken glass and crap, gets swept into a bike lane by passing traffic. You are in more danger of getting “Right Hooked” in a bike lane, or hit by a car pulling onto the road.

However, I wonder if the money spent on painting Sharrows, would be better spent on education. Local newspaper and TV ads, a few strategically placed billboards, throughout a city, like the one above.

What is your view on sharrows? 

Reader Comments (29)

It lets motorists know that cyclists have a right to share that lane

This might be a silly question, but don't cyclists have a right to use the lane anyway, even without the sharrows? Doesn't painting them on a lane start to give the impression that cyclists don't have a right to use lanes where they aren't painted? I'm unsure what benefit they are meant to provide...

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rumsby

Exactly my point. Education of the general public as to cyclist's rights on all roads. However, Joe Public thinks we shouldn't be there anyway, so as an often neglected minority, is it better we take what we can get?

February 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I ride (albeit occasionally - not on any of my regular routes) on the sharrowed lanes in Austin.

It was weird how they rolled them out in Austin. No explanations, no signage, nothing. One day they just showed up, along with some other changes, like bike boxes. City transportation dept. said this was an experiment to see what people do with them. Any explanation or education would taint that experiment.

As a cyclist tuned into the local bike news, I knew what they were and how to use them, both in a car and on a bike.

I'm all for science and experiments, but something about doing them where people have the potential to be killed* due to misunderstanding of new road markings leaves me uneasy.

[*killed is probably a remote chance, but possible, nevertheless. I can imagine a scenario where a cyclist assumes a sharrow means an exclusive, and large, bike lane and doesn't expect cars to be allowed there.]

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentereric

Forgive my ignorance - I'm on the wrong side of the Pond and we don't have sharrows over here:-) How exactly are drivers and cyclists supposed to behave differently in sharrowed lanes compared to non-sharrowed lanes?

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rumsby

Steve Rumsby,
Absolutly no different as far as I can see. It is just another form of "Share the Road" signage. And as Eric points out, very confusing when they suddenly appear overnight.

February 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

This sounds dangerous to me.
Will the use of normal roads by cyclists become phased out of legality in the long term thanks to this "initiative"?

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMax

This may be an event where the "solution" (i.e. sharrows) will have unintended consequences that are worse than the "cure".

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGene in Tacoma

Sharrows work.

San Francisco started placing them as a pilot project several years ago. The City did a pretty extensive study that found that on streets where sharrows were in place that motorists gave cyclists several more inches, on average, when passing. And this was without any real public education program. They just sent teams out to videotape motorists passing cyclists on streets with and without sharrows.

If you search for "Shared Lane Pavement Markings", the study in .pdf form is the first document that pops up.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertde

We have these all over close-in neighborhoods in Portland. There is no expected/mandated change in behavior, and roads with sharrows aren't any different than any other. But they Work As Advertised: they signal that bikes have full use of the lane (in Oregon, when travelling "at traffic speed," among other circumstances.)

Mr. Moulton, you're about 50% right about education. Drivers know to share the lane when the sharrows are there, but we need a broader campaign to remind them bikes always have a right to the full lane. I think it leads to situations where motorists think they have a "right" to the full lane when there's no sharrow.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Souders

Perhaps cheap paint is the first step in educating the public. Confusing? Of course and that is what concerns me. Local government officials typically choose the low cost alternative instead of costlier and more involved educational efforts.

Creating more conflicts via confusion between motorists' and cyclists' rights-responsibilities is not what we need. What happens when the sharrow is on the right side of a mulltiple laned, oneway street (like pictured) and the cyclist must leave the lane to make a left turn? Will motorists understand?

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I wouldn't care about sharrows at all, since they mean nothing at all, except they allow politicians to say that a job is done that isn't: protecting road users not in cars.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjamesmallon

The issue is one of inadequate or inappropriate policing, and sentencing. In Japan they have narrower roads, no sharrows and more cars per km, and a drivers is ^&%&ed if he hits a cyclist. I'd let my child ride on the road there; not here.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjamesmallon

My first impression was fairly negative, it seemed a rather half-hearted gesture (and locally there was a notorious bait and switch from a promised bike lane on one heavily cycled street to sharrows in response to local business pressure - the lane has since been put in).

However I find myself defending sharrows fairly frequently. The point isn't that they change the legal status of road use, it's that they change the awareness of motorists on those roads. And frankly given how indifferently "bicycle facilities" are actually executed by this city (slap a white stripe along the worst 10% of the most decrepidly paved streets in the city and call it a new bike lane? = no thank you), I'll take improved awareness any day.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJAT in Seattle

I've never felt that sharrows made any difference.

The San Francisco study -- a few inches! Big hairy.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRider

Sharrows aren't dedicated bike lanes, but on the other hand, dedicated bike lanes aren't swaddled in a forcefield that keeps motorized vehicles out. If you want a believable illusion of safety, you can try taking stock into solutions like MUPs and cycle tracks, but then you're relying on your local municipality to implement them usefully, and costs wind up resulting in limited benefit (if it's not on your route, it's less useful to you). Even then, you're still having to deal with re-integrating into regular traffic. There's no catch-all infrastructure solution, there's only convincing people that they're safer if everyone else is following the law.

That said - where sharrows make sense is along bike routes where a bike lane can't be implemented sensibly, due to things such as on-street parking or narrowing of the road due to traffic-calming devices. I'd gladly take a series of sharrows in such a place over a bike lane which lulls people into riding in the door zone.

Of course, nothing really ever makes up for people who don't understand how to use the road, so it's still on all of us to act sensibly.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN.I.K.

I have pointed this out before, That Colorado, due in part to the PRESENT GovnRitter an avid cyclist, has the Three feet for cyclist LAW, BUT to date I have yet to see ONE sign anywhere stating this, I have due to my old age and the quest for life MINE! avoided riding on the roads in Coloroado except on organized rides with groups. I do 90% of my riding on the well maintained combo, bike, hike walk, jog.Ride your bloody orse! (I did hit one three years ago!) paths. I do ride about 4miles down hill and then four miles UPHILL to get home from 5240F to 6450F and I am constantly been passed by motorist and even school busses, sheriifs cars,fire dept vehicles, ALL close enough to almost blow me of my bike, THREE FEET HUH! THREE INCHES maybe, SO UNTILL another cyclist gets hit(NOT ME I HOPE), and some one says "Oh we have a law about this NOW!" GOOD LUCK riding on the roads, EDUCATION IF the budgets allow, needed very badly, or AVOID riding on the roads, as we pay our taxes for. OUR rights RIGHT! Maybe if ENOUGH Bicycle riders make a fuss things will change.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Crump

I like the idea of sharrows for a few reasons:

1. Motorists cannot claim ignorance of the law. It isn't supposed to be an excuse, legally, but that doesn't stop people from misquoting and misinterpreting the laws regarding bicycles on the roads. At least the sharrows initiate a "bikes belong" consciousness among motorists. In that way, although they are not directly making unmarked roads safer, they are raising awareness somewhere.

2. It provides bicycle users more space to operate their vehicles on the road surface. In many areas, if there is a bike lane, bikes must use that lane whenever practicable. This means you get 4-5 feet, if the lane is clean (I'll get to that later). A regular traffic lane is closer to 10 feet wide.

3. In Austin (and San Marcos, 25 miles south of Austin) bike lanes get overlooked by street maintenance crews. This means more silt, gravel, glass, and wire to endanger bicycle users in bike lanes. I have crashed into the middle of a busy intersection as a result of a glass related puncture from an Austin bike lane. Sharrow-ed lanes are usually clean. Partly this is from street sweepers, but mostly it is due to car tires clearing the debris (which does not happen in bike lanes).

While not perfect, sharrows do serve some good to the bicycle community.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBo

They can be useful, I think. In the small towns where I live the streets are rather narrow, mostly made one-way in the interior of the towns with parking along one or both sides. There are usually 2 lanes of traffic, and putting in sharrows in the right-hand lane is a good way to educate drivers and provide some sort of welcome to cyclists. There is no way the streets will be widened enough for a bike lane.

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdave

"Lack of education for motorists" That is a huge problem that under the current system will probably never be overcome. In NC you take ~40 hours of total training with ~4 hours of that being hands on, then get turned loose on the roads never to be tested again if you keep your record clean. IMHO that should be 400 hours of training with retesting of skills every couple of years.

Sharrows work in the places they have been tried. I have some places where the sharrows were placed to far to the right, putting you in the door zone of cars, turns out the cars were illegally parked but they don't do anything about it.

Traffic education needs to start in kindergarten and continue until death.


February 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

On a flippant note, I've just been rereading Clockwork Orange and Sharrows sounds remarkably similar to sharries which is Nadsat for arse; perhaps there's some parallels here?
I'm definitely of the share the road school of thought rather than place cyclists away from cars and it sounds like these would be a gentle reminder to motorists they need to share the lane and would increase their awareness of cyclists' presence. Obviously drivers need to be told what they mean though otherwise it's pretty pointless.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I agree with the idea of shared lane rather than bike lane,too.

Here in Bangkok where there're a lot of people using motorbike,
and they often ride their motorbikes on the bikelane if available.
Frequently they are riding in the wrong direction heading to us.
They think this can save their time and fuel thantaking U-turn to
the opposite side of the road. Polices here also do the same thing.

Many cyclists in Bangkok prefer riding in the traffic rather than
on the bikelane. At least the road surface is better and smoother.
We also have many bikelanes on the footpaths, by just painting
parallel line on it. Which I don't think it is A good idea, because
cyclists may hit the pedestrian especial senior citizens.

I also think that educating the motorists is important. If they acknowledge
that cyclists have the right to share the road, and they should be
courteous and friendly toward cyclists.
It may take times, or until the next generations grow up.
Like what we had here 20 years ago, a TV Advertisement, education
the kids not to throw rubbish on the road. The advertisement had
a slogan like this " oh oh The magic eye see you" . I think it help,
comparing to the past, now we have a cleaner city.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBkk

Seems like a good idea to me, as long as car drivers are educated in what they signify.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

I let the advocates and self-appointed experts do the arguing. Me, I just like to ride my road bike as much as weather conditions and health allow, and I end up taking maximum advantage of everything the politicians and advocates provide, no matter what their motivations were, and no matter whether that is just plain roads, bike lanes, separated bike lanes, multi-use bike paths, or whatever. Cyclist and pedestrian safety come first in my book.

A "sharrow" seems to me to be not much different than other specialized or reserved lanes for various types of vehicles. It just depends on the circumstances and on the speed differential between the bikes and the motor vehicles. A person who knowingly drives in the slower lane on an expressway will probably understand a sharrow and so not develop road rage when following a bicycle while in it.

February 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

Boston and the metro area (particularly Cambridge) have been rolling out a lot of new bike lanes (which generally run into the typical problems of being on the side of the roadway with street parking) and here and there, some shared lanes...

The one I hit on my commute every day is by the Museum of Science, it has the Sharrow marking and there's text as well: "Bicyclists may use full lane."

Personally I try to stay out of the way of traffic when I can, but when it's slick out and I want to take the lane I appreciate the little textual reminder to motorists. People still get a little irritated, but everyone rolls along and, to be honest... it is significantly less daunting than it was in years past.

February 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

"The San Francisco study -- a few inches! Big hairy."

As someone who bike commuted up and down Market Street in San Francisco for year, I can say that few inches can make quite a difference in car/bicycle interactions.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertde

I like sharrows better than bike lanes because they often guide novices away from the door zone.

I think license renewals should come with retesting. Written test and road test. Americans get licensed for operating motor vehicles far too easily.
Yes pay for it and take it seriously, if you care to drive.

February 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay

As poster Ray commented, one of the benefits of sharrows is that they guide more novice riders to stay out of the door zone. The San Francisco study demonstrated this. I suspect they would also encourage marginal riders to get out on the street when they might otherwise be frightened to do so. I don't know that there is any specific data for this, but it is widely supported that increasing the number of cyclists has big immediate impacts on overall safety. So I'm up for anything that will encourage riders.

The worry that they won't build a bike lane because of sharrows is valid. The rebuttal is typically that the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good. One issue in many situations is that installing a bike lane would require removing a car lane. While that may be appropriate, in some cases it triggers the requirement for an Environmental Impact Report, a long and expensive process. (See: San Francisco bike plan). Because sharrows do not affect road capacity for cars, they can be implemented much faster and cheaper.

They are also pretty easy to make yourself for anyone out there interested in a little benevolent civil disobedience.

February 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMU

We haven't got any lanes like that in the UK yet but I bet it won't be long.

the real enemy here is on street parking, safety should take precedence over convenience.

November 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermark

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