New Study Finds Sharrows Don’t Improve Cyclists’ safety

In the continuing debate over W. Main St., opponents of bicycle lanes claim sharrows would be just fine.

“Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

“A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.”

3 thoughts on “New Study Finds Sharrows Don’t Improve Cyclists’ safety

  1. …In some cases and based on neighborhood-level data rather than data from the actual streets with sharrows or bike lanes, is the caveat I’d add to that title. Sharrows are useful in some circumstances – see South Street eastbound, for example, where the combination of a sharp curve, a slight downhill, and a speed hump makes it unlikely that cars will travel much faster than bikes. But sharrows as the only bike accommodation on West Main? Only if you also lower the auto speeds and volumes somehow.


    • I agree with Peter that in some circumstances sharrows may be useful and effective. I don’t think they would do much on West Main.

      Sharrows on West Main were a part of ‘Option 2’ presented by Rhodeside & Harwell last Thursday at the West Main Steering Committee meeting. If ‘Option 2’ were to be chosen, traffic would be slowed down regardless of any posted speed limit, because bicycles would necessarily be taking the lane for a few blocks.

      Due to the advantage to emergency vehicles which the bike lanes provide – for this reason, and others – I cannot imagine the City Council choosing ‘Option 2’ … even though it would provide more on-street parking spaces.

      What was noteworthy to me during the meeting was that no one raised the issue of the beneficial effect on on-street parking if the currently available spaces were well-managed. If you haven’t read Shoup and/or Speck (who basically repeats what he’s read in Shoup) I think you can’t appreciate the possibilities. Good management of physical on-street parking spaces increases the “effective” number of on-street spaces by a factor of between 3 and 5 according to the Congress for the New Urbanism. To quote one of the recommendations in the recent study on the West Main parking situation, “Meter both on-and off-street public parking, accommodating free very short term parking (15 minutes or less). Metering parking can more than triple parking turn-over rates effectively increasing parking access even with a decrease in parking supply.”

      Of the city councilors, Bob Fenwick and Kathy Galvin attended the whole meeting. The mayor came late and left early and seemed quite distracted by a gizmo he was holding in his hand. The other two councilors were absent.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I agree Peter. There is one specific instance where sharrows are good: on a downhill on a city street not wide enough for a proper bicycle lane where people riding bicycles stand little chance of being run-over from behind because they can approach the speed limit and people driving cars can’t speed. The upper Water St. sharrows are a poor substitute for a proper bike lane on a wide road (higher speeds). The only other benefit I see to sharrows is that it does communicate to all where people should be riding bikes if properly placed.

      Liked by 1 person

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