Sharrows Do Nothing for Bicycle Safety

Always be cautious around angry driversSharrows, which are traffic lanes with markings painted on them to indicate a shared-lane, are everywhere these days. They supposedly remind drivers that bicyclists are allowed to use the road as well, and reportedly increase bicycle safety; but how true is that? A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver have found that sharrows actually do little more than cost the city money in wasted paint.

After comparing safety results for streets in Chicago that recently had bike lanes or sharrows created, or had no change at all, the study’s authors found that sharrows are often less effective than making no change at all. Over the course of two years, the study revealed some interesting information.

In streets that recently received bike lanes, researchers discovered that the route saw a 200 percent increase in bicycle traffic. Also, those lucky lanes reported a 42 percent decrease in the rate of bicycle accidents. These kinds of results show just how effective bike lanes are at preventing bike accidents while promoting cycling.

In the lanes that saw no change, there was actually a 43 percent increase in the number of bike commuters, while the streets with sharrows only increased by 27 percent. In addition, the decrease in number of bicycle accidents where sharrows were painted was 20 percent; 16 percent worse than lanes with no change.

In the Netherlands, a country well-known for their bicycle friendly infrastructure, they very rarely use sharrows. Only in circumstances where there is no other option will they paint sharrows, and only if the street in question has a speed limit of 20 mph or less.

“Mixing modes with higher speeds is deemed to unsafe and thus unethical,” says bike engineer Dick Van Deen. Using sharrows isn’t totally bad, and actually can remind drivers that they have to share the road, but using them on wide, fast-moving roads is extremely dangerous.

Until road mentality shifts from driver-centric thinking, riders are probably better off looking for alternate routes that have bike lanes instead of sharrows.