In our modern age of healthy communities, complete streets, walkability, road diets, safe routes to school, and bicycle-friendly communities, one would think that adding appropriate and applicable sharrow images along public streets and multi-use trails would be a no-brainer. Well, there must be some loose marbles rolling about, because more often than not, sharrows are not being included along streets, roadways, and trails. This is despite bicyclists and pedestrians having just as much right to be on the public roads as do the motorized vehicles. Yes, they cost money to install and maintain, but a whole lot less than just one human life and the accompanying lawsuit.
- Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle,
- Assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane,
- Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,
- Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and
- Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.
Source: League of Michigan Bicyclists.
This is not to say that every community has been dismissing sharrows as a safety enhancement – I have seen both Lansing and Ann Arbor employ them to some degree. Nor is it to say that sharrows are needed on every stitch of asphalt and concrete. The problem arises when only a few (or some) communities utilize sharrows, they are too often interpreted by the general driving public as the exception rather than the rule. All public streets and roadways except limited-access expressways are supposed to be designed and built for use and travel by bicyclists and pedestrians just as much as cars and trucks. Sadly, we can all attest to the fact that they are rarely designed for anything other than for the ease and use of automobiles.
Similarly, I have seen fewer multi-use trails with sharrows than those without. Aside from a center line and appropriately placed stop signs, sharrows are one of the best methods for enhancing safety on multi-use trails while also reminding everyone on the trail that it is not just there for walkers, hikers, joggers, cyclists, or roller-bladers, but for the use and enjoyment of all the above and then some.
I believe it is time for a concerted national effort to coordinate the use and installation of sharrows, especially along primary corridors for non-motorized transportation, streets where road diets are being employed, and along multi-use trails. If these sharrows save just one life, the time and expense would have been well worth the effort.