Sharrows and Signs

27 Dec

Photo from Fan of the Fan community blog.

This will not come as news if you’ve been riding or driving around Richmond a bit recently, but just in case you haven’t stumbled upon them, Richmond has been getting more sharrows (shared lane markings) as well as bike route signs.  As far as the routes go, Fan of the Fan says this:

The R2 runs From Monroe Park up Floyd Ave through the Museum District and over to Grove Ave out to the University of Richmond. The R3 runs along the Boulevard north to Bryan Park and across the Boulevard Bridge toward Forest Hill Park. There will be more info and map routes online soon but keep an eye out for more bike traffic on these routes!

Sharrows have been installed mainly on the main north-south route so far, including on Forest Hill and Westover Hills Boulevard, as well as the Boulevard from Byrd Park to the Diamond, where they continue on Hermitage to the city line.

With still more sharrows being installed, you may hear questions from folks about what they really mean.  Here are some FAQs lifted from the City of San Carlos, California web site:

What is “Sharrow”?
A sharrow is an arrow-like design painted on a roadway to mark a bicycling route.

What is the purpose of this marking? This “Shared Lane Marking” is intended to inform cyclists and motorists where a travel lane is shared by both modes. It has been shown to be helpful in situations where motorists may squeeze cyclists against the curb, where it may not be obvious where cyclists should be riding, such as intersections with multiple turn lanes, or where cyclists commonly ride too close to parked cars. The idea is to keep cyclists away from parked cars while promoting awareness of their right to use the road.

If I see this marking in a lane, is the lane only for bikes? No. This marking is used for shared lanes; lanes that are used by bicyclists and motorists. Shared lanes are different than exclusive bike lanes which are set aside for bicyclists only and are marked by a solid white line and by a different symbol.

If I don’t see this marking, can I still use the travel lane? Yes, cyclists can ride on any street except for those with signs explicitly prohibiting cyclists.

I’ve never seen this marking before. Where and how did it originate? Cities such as Denver (where the marks were first used), San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Paris have some variation of sharrows on their streets. However, having pioneered in Denver in the mid-1990s, sharrows attracted the attention of transportation officials around the United States. The marking was considered controversial at its inception. Nonetheless, Boulder, Colorado became one of the few cities outside of California to install the shared-lane markings in June 1990.

Portland followed and decided to experiment with sharrows. After a study found the marking provided a statistically significant benefit to cyclists by encouraging them to move left and center. The study was commissioned in 2004 in an effort to improve cycling conditions on San Francisco’s crowded streets. Since then, the California Traffic Control Device Committee, an advisory body, has recommended that the marking be adopted by the entire state. Following that, San Francisco has stenciled approximately 2,500 sharrow markings on city streets.

The principle behind sharrows is simple: They reinforce existing rules of the road. In most states, cyclists are required to stay as far to the right as possible, except under unsafe conditions. One of these conditions is when the travel lane is too narrow for side-by-side passage of an automobile and a bicycle.

In addition, shared-lane markings have gained acceptance in some European and Australian cities. An Australian report published several years ago on “bicycle friendly zones” – the sharrow equivalent – suggested that shared-lane markings can be more effective than bike lanes in encouraging cyclists and motorists to pay attention to one another. The report also says the markings slow traffic and encourage all modes to share limited street space.


One Response to “Sharrows and Signs”

  1. Jonathan Goldberg December 28, 2012 at 9:38 PM #

    Despite being ‘better than nothing’ ( Richmond’s unofficial motto after Hard To Hate ) , I’m worried the sharrows will become a less expensive substitute to creating corridors of designated bike lanes ( which would be amazing if done properly ). I see way too many riders, even experienced ones, forced onto the sidewalks or even off the road entirely by poor roads or traffic conditions.

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