Ever see a white symbol on the pavement that looks like an alligator chowing down on a bicycle? Ever wonder what it means? I used to say “nothing”, but it turns out even less than that.
These symbols — formally called “shared use markings” and informally “sharrows” — were added to national standards a few years ago.
The intended meaning is to say “the City Council loves bicycles!” A meaningless gesture can still win votes. Used that way they’re mostly harmless. They have no actual legal meaning, so you can still drive over a sharrow (unless there happens to be a real bicycle on it). And if you see a bicyclist not following the sharrows, that could be legal too.
Some news came out recently suggesting that sharrows are not just symbolic gestures. In Chicago they were associated with increased accident rates compared to unmarked roads. (The paper is not open access so you’ll have to pay $25 to read it, but there is plenty of discussion online.)
Another study, in Toronto, found drivers didn’t understand the difference between shared lane and bicycle lane. Confusing drivers is a bad idea. Confused drivers are much more likely to crash.
Reminds me of nuisance stop signs. The City Council says they’re making traffic safer but the reality is they’re making us less safe.
The underlying problem is, it costs less than $1,000 to mess up traffic and compared to fixing traffic that’s a bargain.
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