Thursday Cycling Soapbox: Sharrows - The Best Option?

The Columbus bike plan calls for the installation of sharrows on key routes throughout the city, most notably on High Street. For those who don't know, sharrows are basically nothing more than paint on the streets to let people know that cyclists have the right to full use of the lane in that location. You'll see stuff that looks like this:

This is a sharrow from Los Angeles. You'll notice the bike and chevrons/lines indicating direction.

Though I most certainly applaud any bicycle improvement efforts from our city, which is certainly doing an admirable job of trying to make things better for the non-motorized set, I do have some concerns about things like sharrows. It's no secret that cyclists are a very small minority in Columbus, and that tends to drive the mindset of both motorists and cyclists. The message I think sharrows and similar bike improvements send to the motorist who doesn't know the city traffic code as it pertains to bikes is "this is where the bikes belong."

So let's say I'm riding up High Street in the Short North, and I need to make a left (for those of you outside of Columbus, High Street is a five-lane road with central left-turn lane). And let's say we have sharrows in the curb lanes of High Street at that point. What the motorist is going to see is that big bike painted in the sharrow, and any time a bike tries to leave that lane (to turn left onto a cross street, perhaps) the bike will then be "trespassing" in the cars' lanes.

Now you and I both know that's not the case, but to a motorist who hasn't checked out the traffic code as pertains to bikes (and why would they?) we're the ones who are "slowing them down." And that's only going to make motorists' impressions of cyclists worse.

As I've mentioned many times before, the traffic code in this city already supports the rights and responsibilities of cyclists. And technically, sharrows are just a visual reminder that cyclists have the right to the whole lane. But if the intention is to let people know that we DO have that right, then putting the sharrows in one lane of traffic only is doing us a disservice by unintentionally indicating that we only have that right in ONE lane.

So instead of slapping paint onto the streets and telling everyone they're a reminder to share the road, I'd prefer to see a public education campaign.

  1. Billboards, flyers, local newspaper and TV ads, etc. could all be used to remind people that cyclists have the right to the road. PERIOD.

  2. New and renewing drivers' examinations could be mandated to include cycling questions, including issues of speed, or "holding up traffic," and lane positioning from cyclists.

  3. Using the sudden preponderence of new League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructors to teach the League's Motorist Education course as part of drivers' education.

  4. Most important of all, and I am almost getting tired of continuing to bring this up: actual enforcement of the traffic code as it's written. No ifs, ands, or buts. Enforce it fairly and evenly for ALL road users.
But the key thing to get across to motorists and cyclists alike is not that cars and bikes deserve separate facilities, but rather that we all use the same facilities in concert with each other; as well as making safety, not speed, the most important factor in using the road.

People, not speed.


  1. The "Sharrow" image above is a experimental adaptation from Long Beach. Typically "sharrows" are applied directly on the road not over a green painted lane.

    I'm with you on the education of cyclists, law enforcement and govt officials.

  2. Very true. I was just looking for the best picture and that's the one I found.

  3. I read that some cities install sharrows in the middle of the lane and other install them to the right side. But I suspect if they just paid some instructors what they spend on paint and decals, they could offer Smart Cycling free to every resident who wanted it.


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