Sharrows. Chevrons. Shared lane markings. Little painted bicycles on the street.
Like fungi after a spring rainfall, Miami has seen a rapid proliferation of these markings on her streets, designed to remind motorists to be aware of cyclists and their right to the lane. While the markings are a welcome improvement to our otherwise naked, auto-dominated streetscape, the sharrow boom is raising some concerns in Miami’s cycling community and beyond.
Has the sharrow obsession come at the expense of more substantial bicycling infrastructure?
The author also quotes Bike San Diego:
In the last year, San Diegans have seen an increasing number of shared-lane markings, also called “sharrows”. Sharrows are appearing everywhere: Adams Avenue, Park Boulevard, Broadway, El Cajon Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Voltaire Street, Chatsworth Boulevard, Hotel Circle South, Pacific Highway and more. However, these sharrows are being used as a cheap band-aid instead of implementing real change on our roadways that would increase the number of people riding their bicycle for transportation or recreation.
I echo these two authors. Shared lane markings are quickly becoming the default solution selected by agencies any time roadways don’t already have ample excess space to be used as dedicated bike lanes. Since roads with an extra 10′ (minimum) of unused space are rare (or if it does, it’s more a reflection that the roadway serves few useful destinations), shared lane markings are enjoying rapid popularity. It’s easy to see why shared lane markings are popular with agencies. Sharrows allow City Councils, engineers, and planners to implement bike infrastructure while avoiding the hard decisions (like removing trees, widening roadways, prohibiting parking, or removing lanes).
I don’t oppose the use of shared lane markings. They are a valuable and useful tool that agencies should consider, and sometimes shared lane markings are the right decision and the best alternative. However, they will never accomplish the goal of encouraging new cyclists in any substantial way. I wrote a post at Streets.mn about how I view shared lane markings more as educational tools or “training wheels” that may effectively teach cyclists how or where to ride on a roads without any bike infrastructure. I also think they potentially play an important role as wayfinding devices (though that is not really their intended purpose).
I feel similarly about bike boulevards (a.k.a. Neighborhood Greenways or “Bike Walk Streets” as the local advocacy group calls them). These types of facilities also have an important role to play in a complete and well-rounded bike network, and they should be developed. However, I am concerned that we are becoming over-reliant on this strategy, and that they can be a distraction from efforts to implement more substantial cycling infrastructure elsewhere.
Of course it is a judgement call that a bike lane on a major through route is “more substantial” than a bike boulevard or sharrows, and I’m sure some will disagree with this characterization. Even so, I would argue that even the most complete network of bike boulevards or sharrows can not be effective at encouraging cycling unless it is supported by a backbone of traditional bike lanes or off-street trails.