What are Sharrows & Do They Help Protect Road Cyclists?

Video Transcription:

- Hi, so what are sharrows and are they really effective?

I'm Jim Dodson, The Florida Bike Guy. I'm a bicycle and personal injury lawyer in Clearwater, but representing clients throughout the state.

Sharrows. If you ride a bike, you see them on the road. I wanna go over three basic principles about sharrows. What they're supposed to do. The fact that they do probably more harm than good. And my view is they should be dumped. So dump the sharrow.

So what are they supposed to do? This came into existence from really, I think they started in Denver in the late '90s, and were ultimately adopted by the federal design manual in 2009. So they've been around a long time and they're a problem that now we face across the country.

What they're supposed to do is create an awareness between drivers and cyclists that they're sharing a particular position on the road. They do not create a safe space for cyclists. They do not create a protected bike lane. It is simply an awareness. Typically they're placed in a position, so that if you're following the sharrow, you're gonna be outside the dooring zone. You can be five or six feet off any on-street parking.

One thing to bear in mind is that some 40% of bicycle collisions in Florida, resulting from wrong-way riders. Some people riding on the road against traffic. So one of the theories behind sharrows is to remind cyclists the direction of travel that they're supposed to be in, hence the arrow. There's design standards that talk about where they could be placed and what they look like, why they all look alike and they all have the same size and configuration. They're supposed to encourage cyclists to be on the road and off the sidewalk. And they are to alert drivers, as I said, that we are on the road sharing the road with them. I think one of the benefits of what sharrows, from the studies that I've seen, are they tend to make cars pass a little bit further to your left. They tend to give you more room. But that's not a very strong correlation.

So what do they do in my view that is more harm than good? Sharrows are considered by people in the business, by many people to be the dregs of bicycle infrastructure, okay. What they do is they allow a municipality or an entity to act as though they're doing something for bike infrastructure without making any commitment to it, and without spending any money. They can slap these things down on the road. It doesn't cost any money. But the tendency to do that, has encouraged them to slap them down on roads where they have no business being. So you and I as recreational cyclist, if you're in a neighborhood and you see a quiet road, that doesn't have room for a bike lane, it's got a low speed limit. It's a quiet residential street, you already know it's a safe place to ride. But that may be a place that may be useful for a sharrow, it might have some place there, because it's already quieted and a safe place to ride. The danger we've had is that they've taken this same infrastructure and they've posted them on roads with a higher speed limit. Sharrows traditionally are not to be used with speed limits greater than 35 miles an hour, which is a lot of the arterial roads we ride have bike lanes and have 35 mile an hour speed limits. I'm pretty comfortable on those roads. I think everybody is. But they're not to be used on the higher speed limit roads, because they were not designed to encourage cyclists to be on those roads, number one.

There was a study that was done, there's a couple of studies that were done. One is really more famous than the others. They looked at what sharrows did in terms of reducing bike injuries on roads with sharrows. And they studied this on roads that they applied sharrows, roads they did another infrastructure on, and roads where they did nothing. And they actually found, where they did nothing, the safety increased more than it did on roads where they added the sharrows. I think they were pretty astonished to find that. This study is circulating through all the design circles and the people that are in the business of understanding this stuff.

The other thing is, so from a practical standpoint they may add some degree of comfort for us as riders to think that we have a little bit more safety when we're riding, when we're on the road, if it's the right kind of road and the right circumstance. But overall, they probably don't add to our safety, which is the whole reason to put them down. Cars don't need safety. We need safety, and we need to encourage cities to do the right thing, not just simply put some paint on the road. So my view, number three, is dump the sharrow. Because I think my concern is it's allowed the municipalities to pretend to put a bandaid on something, didn't cost anything, and wipe their hands and say, hey listen we've done bike infrastructure. What we need are protected bike lanes. Where there have been protected bike lanes added, the on-road commuting public goes up dramatically. In some areas they've had double the people commuting by bicycle on roads where there are protected bike lanes. I'm talkin' about raised lanes, divided lanes, separated by medians, curbed, anything that physically is a barrier against traffic of vehicles. So we need a commitment by our municipalities, or state and local governments to make protected bike lanes. That's the infrastructure of choice.

We need to stop using these things on the higher speed arterial roads, in particular, and we need really a commitment by the governmental entities to do something about protecting our interests and increase ridership on the road because, my daughter lived in San Francisco for ten years and I've studied what they've done out there on Market Street, which has been astonishing. I joined the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They really found that every year, San Francisco has taken their six lane, Market Street down to I think down to two lanes of travel. They have protected bus lanes, a couple of lanes of protected car lanes. They restrict cars turning, but every time they have restricted vehicles more and more, pedestrian and bicycle travel has escalated and business has escalated, because people have more access to the business, because it's easier to park your bike and then your car, and all those things. So if the business community would get it, I think we'd go a long way to dumping the sharrow, getting the infrastructure that we need. This is a long-term project, but that's what I'm arguing for.

So that's my thoughts on sharrows. I hope you find it helpful. I've got a resource for you today. The ever-present Jim Dodson jersey bin. I say it's waterproof. It's better than your sandwich bag. It's shamelessly logoed, with my information. It comes with a collision card inside as well as our business card, but I use this everywhere I go on my bike. Stick it in your jersey, right now. I'm using a heart rate monitor, so I've got my phone in this on holder on my handle bar, and I'm not concerned about running into a rainstorm while I'm out on my bike.

So I'm Jim Dodson, The Florida Bike Guy. I'm a bicycle injury and personal injury lawyer in Clearwater, but representing clients throughout Florida. If I can ever answer your question or do anything to help you, let me know. Otherwise, I'll look forward to talking to you the next time. Take care, bye.

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Jim Dodson
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A Florida injury lawyer, family man and avid cyclist who clients have trusted for over 25 years.