Make Sharrows Better

I think it’s important in writing not to get complacent and confortable and shy away from weighty topics, and there surely there is no topic weightier than sharrows. So today I am going to tackle this all-important issue. What are sharrows? They are those fast-forward bike signs that you see sometimes when biking. As a long-bearded, Biblically-named, card-playing individual I met once and have forgotten the name of remarked, you often see ’em biking, but you don’t see ’em much driving. Now what is the purpose of these things? You might think that the purpose would be to advise bikers which streets are good to use for biking, even though they don’t have bike lanes. That is what I thought they meant, at least. But actually, that is very far from the case. Biking on some streets with sharrows, you come to realise this fact. You begin to think that sharrow painters must not know shit from shinola if they thought this was a good street to bike on. Strangely enough, that’s not the root of the problem at all. The root of the problem is that sharrows are not intended to point out places that are good for biking. In fact, it’s kind of close to being the opposite.

Sharrows are meant to serve two purposes. The first being to alert cars that bikes are around and might impinge on their lanespace. The second being to orient bikers where to most safely stay in a lane that is too narrow (that, is too narrow to share. Too shnarrow, if you will. So there is a kind of a weird euphemism here – the sharrows are actually for lanes that CAN’T be shared safely). Do they serve these purposes? I would say that the answer is no. First, drivers don’t notice them very much (see testimony of aformentioned long-bearded, Biblically-named, card-playing individual), and even if they did, what are drivers to do about it? This is the kind of awareness-building crap that is like changing your facebook profile picture to prevent child abuse. Kind of ironic, since here you’re not trying to achieve anything other than exactly that: making drivers aware of bikers. And yet even here, the “awareness-building” tactic is doomed to failure – you can’t be aware of bikers unless they’re there! – and so the sharrow, if noticed, is easily and rightly dismissed by the driver.

What about the biker? To a biker, bike signs usually mean “this is a good place for biking” (see bike lanes, trails, etc.). Whereas here that is not what you want to convey at all. What’s more, it’s not too clear that the sharrow is giving positioning guidance (anecdotal evidence suggests some bikers will refuse to believe that this is the case even after being told of the fact). So, to sum up, sharrows are totally useless, and partly counterproductive as they lead you into biking in places where you shouldn’t and are more likely to come into conflict with cars, ruining everything for everyone.

How do we improve them? The best way would be to get rid of them entirely and use the money for other bike signage instead. For instance, streets that now have sharrows on the pavement would greatly benefit from road signs advising bikers where to go to get to a more biking-conducive street.

After all, despite what it may seem like to drivers, most bikers enjoy being in car-heavy, unshareable lanes about as much as drivers enjoy having bikers there. The second best thing to do would be to make the signs in a way that at least their purpose is immediately obvious (see picture). While this would still be a rather useless waste of bike money, it would maybe be less useless than what is being done now.

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