A coupla weeks ago, somebody asked me about sharrows (or ‘shared lane markings,’ as the Queen prefers). The first thing that sprung to mind was the money quote on sharrows from Tales From the Sharrows (coincidentally enough) – “Sharrows might be the American flag pin of bike infrastructure.” I then remembered that I said basically the same thing a couple of years ago, except that it took me 19 pages of run-on sentences, inconsistent references, and specious conclusions to say it. I have posted that magnum opus here.
Besides the overall craptacular quality, that paper is now rather dated by two things. The first is the subsequent completion of the cicada-like spawning cycle of the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 4th Ed. The AASHTO Bike Guide reportedly includes some recommendations and guidelines on how and where your road agency might best deploy the flag pi– er, shared lane markings (I say “reportedly,” because my zest for knowledge cannot afford $144 for a copy. However, you can get the high points, AND a 20% discount, by attending one of the PBIC’s great series of webinars).
The second cause for obsolescence is the many creative ways that sharrows are being put into use, far beyond the original narrow purpose of guiding bicyclists out of the door zone. Think of that ubiquitous American flag pin being used as a tongue stud. In San Francisco, The Wiggle route uses “super sharrows” backlit with green for wayfinding. Portland is monkeying around with creative “Shared-lanedia” installations. And here in DC, the 15th St Cycletrack uses sharrows to help reduce intersection conflicts. There’s probably many more that I’m missing.
When sharrows were new, I think a lot of folks conflated “new” and “good.” Now, we are hopefully seeing sharrows applied creatively and appropriately, with recognition of what they do (shout ‘Bike here!’ at everyone), and what they don’t do (encourage more biking, ward off hitty cars).
But the process by which they entered mainstream use, and the ongoing experiments to use them in new and creative ways, is fascinating to me (in a bureaucratic processy sort of way). It is almost the photo-negative of the sequence and challenges faced in the ongoing efforts to get separated cycletracks into wider use. I’ll explore that mental fart in a future post.