Home > Tips & Tricks > Dude, Where’s My Sharrow?

Dude, Where’s My Sharrow?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Originally posted July 8, 2010. We still don’t have a sharrow in Traverse City, but there are some candidate streets.


After the 8th Street construction was completed, many have asked about the missing sharrows. As the MyWHaT walking audit mentioned, they weren’t allowed under current state guidelines. Sharrows are approved in the federal guidelines, called the Manual for Uniformed Traffic Control Devices and the  states have their own guidelines that they reevaluate when there is a new MUTCD and Michigan has yet to approve them. The basic understanding is because there was state money involved, the city wasn’t able to include them. If we chose to pay for our own projects, we’d have more flexibility.

A chalk sharrow for demonstration purposes on 8th St.

Sharrows in the future? Based on a couple of sources, there is a strong chance that sharrows will be adopted by the Michigan MUTCD when the state reviews and adopts the latest federal guideline, published in 2009. There are at least 3 cities with sharrows in Michigan: Ann Arbor, South Haven and Flint (yes, Flint) and a growing awareness of, and call for, their utilization. There’d be little reason not to approve them.

What exactly are they & why would we use them?

There are plenty of FAQ sheets online about the use of sharrows; the Bike Pittsburgh website is as good as any and the League of Michigan Bicyclists is another.

Here are the basics: sharrow is short for “shared lane pavement marking”. It is meant to communicate that bikes and cars have an equal right to the lane. They aren’t meant to replace bike lanes or the need for more separate bike paths. They are one tool in the tool-box for encouraging safe and convenient bicycling.

In some places, bike sharrows are used in the middle of the lane to clearly announce to both the cyclist and the motorist, that we share the entire road. Contrary to popular belief, as a bicyclist, you have a right to the entire lane. For safety and out of consideration, it’s suggested that cyclists ride to the right of the lane, but that isn’t always practicable nor the safest place to be as debris, poor pavement and parked cars may be present. Instead of weaving in & out around the obstacles, it’s safer to take the center of the lane and not weave; you are entitled to it by law. This should prevent cars from passing you at high speeds and too closely.

The city of San Francisco, which has led the way in using and studying the effectiveness of sharrows (PDF), uses them along streets with parking to delineate positioning for bicyclists to avoid opening of doors, as shown in the graphic to the right. Used in this instance, it is primarily placed to avoid parked car dangers.

Sharrows are also used within intersections to primarily remind drivers to continue to be aware that they share the road. This is particularly useful where only at the intersections is there less lane width and a disconnect exists for bike lanes. This use is very visible and could be used for wider educational measures at some of northern Michigan’s busiest intersections.

Sharrow use in a Montreal neighborhood within an intersection.

In Traverse City

Sharrows have a place in Traverse City if we want to create safer and more encouraging conditions for bicyclists of all levels. They effectively communicate proper road use for both bicyclists and motorists. A positive worth noting out of the San Francisco study is that the use of sharrows reduced the instances of riders riding the wrong-way.

I’m open to other suggestions, but having tossed this topic around a bit with people, there are a few places in Traverse City begging for a sharrow.

  • Washington St. (between Boardman & Cass St): An excellent candidate for the inaugural sharrow. It has both high numbers of motorized and bicycle traffic, and it has parking.
  • Front St. & State St. (downtown): Ever notice how the bike lanes downtown are right next to parked cars? Door collisions waiting to happen. There is a lot of traffic downtown, but the average speed is well below the speed limit and drivers already expect people. And, as long as these streets are one way streets, anything to cut down on wrong-way riding is a plus.
  • 8th Street (between Garfield and Barlow and between Lake St. and Union St.): The opportunity was missed in this round of construction to add bike lanes on this section of 8th St. Once the street reverts back to ‘city’ control, sharrows need to be re-considered for this section. On other parts of 8th St., there plenty of room for bike lanes, but that is a topic for another day.
  • Cass St. & Union St. (within the neighborhood sections): I contend that these streets are plenty wide enough for bike lanes, but if not, they are sharrow contenders. As main gateways into the city, they are used by both motorized and non-motorized traffic. They are corridors for a reason.
  • Intersections:  Garfield & 8th, Front & Division, 7th & Division…

Where have I missed? (Since this was originally published, an over-ambitious map of sharrow opportunities in Traverse City was created)

Until we get a few sharrows to consistently remind us, remember that cyclists do not have to hug as close to the curb or shoulder as possible. In fact, plenty of evidence suggests its more dangerous. Sharrows are not signifying anything that doesn’t already exist, but they may signify that a place takes sharing the road seriously.

Ride more, edge out into the lane more and be confident.

Next pavement marking to discuss, bike boxes.

Parting shot: A standard dimension of a sharrow.

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