Paul Andrews

Are 1,200 sharrows better than none?

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes on January 15, 2010 at 1:01 am

Would 1,200 sharrows in downtown Portland be a good idea? A plan to do so is on the shelf, so put out the question to its readers.

Bike Intelligencer readers know we’re not fans of sharrows here. We feel they do little to increase safety, are an excuse to avoid real progress with actual bike lanes or separated paths, and represent the height of tokenism against cycling’s better interests.

Case in point: Seattle was set to add bike lanes on Stone Way N., a major north-south conduit for bike commuters. When a local business leader complained, the city put in sharrows instead. The cartoon bike-and-arrow graphics may signal that bikes have a right to be on the route, but they’re hardly as safe or effective as bike lanes. And in the case of Stone Way’s implementation, we feel they made the route more hazardous by siphoning bikes unprotected into potential right-hook accident scenarios.

How they do sharrows in Berkeley

Phat Sharrow makes the point in Berkeley

Still, if bike-friendly, bike-aware and bike-everything Portland has conceived a “sharrow white-out,” we felt compelled to re-examine our opposition. And after giving it some thought, we’ve come to the conclusion that 1,200 sharrows may possibly be better than a comparative handful here and there.

That’s right, plaster every open spot of pavement with the things, and maybe drivers will get the message that bikes belong on the road, any road, with cars.

Carpet-bombing. It’s worth a try. It certainly beats marginalizing cyclists with sharrows only on certain streets (implying bikes don’t belong on the rest of them).

Portland Bike Coordinator Roger Geller and other advocates “feel the sharrow project will hasten a ‘self-reinforcing behavior change’ — more people riding in the lanes and others realizing it’s legal to do so — that would result in more respect and sharing between all road users.”

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not caving here. Our preference would still be 1,200 bike lanes in Portland — and Seattle, Vancouver B.C., San Francisco and anywhere.

But this does represent something new in the bike-car traffic “relationship.” If it worked in Portland, it might open the door to a different approach — where sharrows would do more good than harm.

  1. I’ll take 1,200 sharrows over 1,200 bike lanes that put me in the door zone, which seems to be the current state of the art in Seattle. 2nd ave, dexter, etc.

  2. …they’re hardly as safe or effective as bike lanes…” — can you point to any evidence for this, Paul? Sharrows are very new, and I’m not aware of any studies showing how safe or dangerous they are. I don’t know if it’s been shown (either way) if it changes driver or cyclist behavior).

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