Sharrows: Sorrow and Consternation?

My oh my, that something simple as sharrows can cause so much grumbling on all sides is perhaps a symptom of how fractured Los Angeles is as a civic culture.

Before the (often deservedly) beleaguered LADOT began its pilot program of sharrows on three streets, for testing, many, including sometimes myself, complained that they had taken so long to move from “considering” sharrows to actually painting some of them–and then it was only a “pilot program.”

Now suddenly sharrows are appearing on many roads, and…many are complaining. Perhaps more than complained about LADOT not doing them.

Sharrow on San Francisco's Octavia Blvd.
Sharrow on San Francisco’s Octavia Boulevard
Some drivers complain that they are “confused” by the sharrows.

Well, all I can say to that is that if sharrows confuse you, perhaps you shouldn’t be driving. There have been press releases and articles in the newspapers about sharrows for months, even years, starting well before any thermoplastic hit the ground. They are also in the California MUTCD (“Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices”). If you drive, you have agreed to keep yourself current as to the laws and regulations affecting driving in the state. You can’t just pass California’s already far too easy driving exam once as a teenager and then put all present and future developments in road rules out of your mind. With great horsepower comes great responsibility. You entered into a covenant with the state agreeing to learn and know the rules of the road. Don’t like that? Easy problem to solve: don’t drive, then.

Some residents complain too–I heard from a couple of them at a community meeting recently, saying that they didn’t understand why sharrows appeared on “their” roads–namely Arden and Fourth in Mid-City–without anyone consulting them.

Well, as it happens, sharrows simply highlight the longstanding right that cyclists have to use all roads and streets in the state for two-wheeled travel–a right that has been codified in California law for well over seventy years, and that has been acknowledged worldwide for a century and half. Sharrows are no more radical than centerline stripes. And in fact the two streets about which I heard specific complaints have been signed bike routes for forty years.

Furthermore, simply living on a street does not make it “yours.” If it does, then I say keep your damn cars off my residential street, where outsiders routinely zoom through at double the speed limit.

Oh, wait, these are public streets….

But now, I hear complaints from fellow cyclists that the city is putting in sharrows instead of “real” bicycle facilities such as door-zone bike lanes, and using them to pad the mileage promised under the 2010 bike plan.

This may actually be true. It may also be irrelevant. Why? Because instead of spending a few hundred thousand of taxpayer money on a hunch, assumption, or intuition, the LADOT actually tested the efficacy of sharrows!

Yep, they first sent riders down the test streets pre-sharrows and filmed their intereactions with motorists. Then they placed sharrows on the streets, waited a bit for drivers to get used to them, and sent the riders down the streets again, with the hidden cameras watching. And they saw that drivers actually and in real life gave more room to cyclists on the sharrowed roads. (Read the details here.)

In other words, the sharrows worked.

That being the case, I have no beef with sharrows. My eyeball estimate suggests more riders on sharrowed streets as well.

Maybe the sharrows themselves were the direct cause of improved driver behavior, or maybe they just drew more cyclists onto those roads and invoked the “safety in numbers” effect. Either way, the sharrows did what we all said we wanted: brought us safer roads with more cyclists on them.

You can’t have only sharrows, of course–they’re not even legal for all streets. But to complain about them, whether you’re cyclist or motorist, is a bit disingenuous.

I do note that they are all over the Bay Area, which I visited recently, as a prominent part of its broad mix of bicycle infrastructure, and they’re all over Portland as well.

They are perfectly appropriate as part of the Bike Plan’s “Neighborhood Greenways,” and may well be the best way to get the “interested but concerned” 60-percenters to roll out of their driveways on a bike instead of in a car.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fine with that.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    For those readers hoping to get a definition/explanation of the word sharrow. It is a portmanteau of “share” and “arrow.”

    shared lane + arrow = sharrow

    The education campaign has to continue. There are many people who do not know what what a sharrow is or the even about the word “sharrow”. As they say, just when you think you have finally made progress on an educational campaign–that is when you have reached the end of the beginning.

    We need video/art that summarizes what you have in this post: see this symbol painted on the road? It is called a sharrow. Sharrows are there to do a, b and c. Research by x has shown that sharrows are effective. Show that shit to people in a DMV waiting line.

    Like this, but shorter and set in LA.

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