Sharrows have their place

3D concepts of shared lane markings. Source:  NACTO's Urban Bikeways Design Guide  

3D concepts of shared lane markings. Source: NACTO's Urban Bikeways Design Guide 

These days, sharrows can’t get no respect. And cyclists who have been grumbling about them for years have some new ammo in a recently published research study, which concludes that sharrows are relatively ineffective at encouraging bicycling and keeping cyclists safe. But are they really the dregs of bike infrastructure—the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling”? Because wow! That’s… something…! So let’s take a closer look at what sharrows are, interrogate the hate and come to some sort of reasoned understanding of their place (or not) in a traffic engineer’s bag of tricks. First:

What (the heck!?) are sharrows? 

To fanfare from bicycle advocates nationwide, the FHWA added Shared Lane Markings (aka “Sharrows”, or “share the road + arrows”) to its 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devises (MUTCD). By providing specific guidance regarding these markings, sharrows became a legit option for traffic engineers seeking to design roadways more accommodating of cyclists—particularly where there was no space for separated infrastructure. The use of sharrows soon exploded in cities throughout the United States; Columbus received its first sharrow on High Street near OSU in May 2010. There are now approximately 81 miles of sharrows in the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission's Metropolitan Planning Organization area.

The unveiling of Columbus' first sharrow, in 2010. Source:

The unveiling of Columbus' first sharrow, in 2010. Source:

According to the MUTCD, sharrows are intended to:

A 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,

B 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,

C Alert road users of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way,

D Encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists, and

E Reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

NACTO's Urban Bikeway Design Guide provides a more in-depth take on sharrows and how they are to be used. 

Sharrow hate: what’s up with that?

Point taken: a cyclist who clearly does not understand what that sharrow is for (i.e., to help him position himself correctly in the lane). Source: . 

Point taken: a cyclist who clearly does not understand what that sharrow is for (i.e., to help him position himself correctly in the lane). Source:

Six years on, some very vocal cyclists nationwide are disgusted by the sharrow (like, seriously). Complaints include that no one seems to know what they mean, that they've often been poorly placed, that they offer no real protection from cars, that they may suggest to drivers that roads without them aren't meant for cyclists, that they seduce inexperienced cyclists onto roads too challenging for them... in a nutshell: sharrows suck because they're not protected bike lanes. And further: government officials suck because they wuss out and install sharrows instead of protected bike lanes

A place for sharrows?

The sharrow, or “Shared Lane Marking”, as defined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 

The sharrow, or “Shared Lane Marking”, as defined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. 

We at Yay Bikes! tend to go all side-eyed on anything that smacks of a we-should-have-protected-bike-lanes-from-my-doorstep-to-infinity argument. Because seriously guys—we're bright-eyed dreamers as much as anyone, but it's NOT HAPPENING and probably shouldn't. Still, is it responsible for a bicycle advocacy organization to bless sharrows? Or, given the critiques above, should we always hold out for more? 

The research on sharrows is not so bleak as the new study would suggest. Sharrows have been found to reduce the incidence of sidewalk riding, encourage cyclists to ride in the proper lane position, increase the distance between cyclists and parked cars, encourage safe passing and reduce the incidence of wrong-way riding (click the link and scroll to Shared Lane Marking Benefits for research supporting these findings). The impact isn't as significant as it is with bike lanes, but it's not nothing either. Certainly sharrows aren't more dangerous than nothing at all

In the study referenced above, called "Relative (In)Effectiveness of Bicycle Sharrows on Ridership and Safety Outcomes", researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall of the University of Colorado Denver compared rates of bike commuting and cycling injuries within census blocks in Chicago before and after bike lanes and sharrows were added, as well as blocks where nothing was done to the streets. What they found was that: 1) rates of bike commuting increased more than 109% on streets with bike lanes, 43% on streets with no change and just 27% on streets with sharrows, and that 2) rates of cycling injury decreased 42% on streets with bike lanes, 37% on streets with no change and 20% on streets with sharrows. They conclude: "It is imperative that the appropriate infrastructure and treatments are in place to ensure the safety of all users on our roadways, and it may be that sharrows do not have a role to play in this pursuit." Yikes!

But again—are sharrows really worse than nothing?!?! Doubtful. The study authors reveal assumptions that should give us serious pause. In particular, because their analysis takes place on the census block group level, they admit that they can’t account for how much infrastructure was installed, or where (i.e., was it on one corridor or throughout?). In fact, we have no information about the types of streets under consideration or the extent of the accommodations. It stands to reason that if lots of very busy streets with high rates of crashes get bike lanes, there will be a more dramatic decrease in injuries than there would be on slower streets that receive sharrows. Further, the authors admit that the presence of bicycle commuters living in a census group does not translate to bicycle exposure (i.e., how often these bicycle commuters actually ride the roads, or where). We don't know the actual number of cyclists who were riding on these streets during the timeframe for analysis. At all. Which would seem to be a critical detail if you're seeking the overall rate of cycling, yeah?! So, not to knock the study altogether, but unless we see something rather more convincing...

Our bottom line re: sharrows

You can count on Yay Bikes! to advocate context sensitive solutions that make the best of the roads we've got today, always with an eye towards making them better tomorrow. And we strongly believe that, while sharrows aren't perfect (what bike infrastructure is?), they have an important role to play in (literally and figuratively) moving us from here to there. So where it makes sense, we will bless them, yes, and absolve traffic engineers who decide they're the best possible option given the constraints at hand. Because sometimes they really are the best possible solution for a particular roadway—like when they're placed in the center of lanes too narrow to share or accommodate bike lanes. Of course, regardless of whether it’s sharrows or protected lanes or something else, we advocates must help engineers ensure it is carefully installed. And we must help both cyclists and motorists understand a cyclist's proper lane position relative to the new road design. This is what Yay Bikes! promises to do, with your help.  

How advocacy gets done, Yay Bikes!-style

During the past 6 weeks we have led more than 40 transportation planning and design professionals -- via the Connect Columbus project and MORPC-funded professional development rides with Columbus Public Service, MORPC and ODOT employees -- on educational rides throughout the city, in groups of 1 to 5 people You read that right. MORE THAN 40 TRANSPORTATION PROFESSIONALS.

And over and over, we've heard how the experience of riding with us has helped participants reconsider their approach to infrastructure design, as well as how they've been inspired to make these rides standard operating procedure for all transportation professionals, both locally and throughout the state. Here's just a taste of the feedback we received:

"[My favorite part of the ride was]...being able to see the integration between the designs on paper, the cyclist themselves, and the driver interaction and how it all comes together. There are definitely eye opening things when riding out on the streets first hand and I would recommend all designers/operations people experience it to have that background knowledge."

Wow.  See THIS is how infrastructure advocacy is done, folks. One intimate ride at a time, with the teams who determine what is designed and what is funded. Getting professionals out on bikes, making connections between designs on paper and the lived experience of bicycling -- well, it just makes all the difference. So this is what we do at Yay Bikes!. It's why we're unique.

It's also why we ask for your support. Because teaching people well takes something more than a brochure or a video or a list of tips. It takes a thoughtful, meaningful interaction that fosters learning and growth. Which is, admittedly, quite the investment of organizational resource -- but one that we can already see will prove long on returns for Ohio's bicycling community.

Follow the links to read more about our Connect Columbus and ODOT rides.


YB! leads professional development ride with ODOT safety team

ODOT ride
ODOT ride

On July 21, 2015, Yay Bikes! ride leaders Catherine Girves and Meredith Joy, along with trusty sweeps Steve Puhl Jr and Julie Walcoff, led a group of 8 Ohio Department of Transportation professionals on a tour of bicycle facilities on Columbus' South and East sides. This group represented the Safety Team, aka the folks determining which safety projects -- including bicycle infrastructure projects -- throughout the state will receive funding. Most of them had ridden trails but not roads, and a couple hadn't ridden a bike since childhood, so this ride proved the first urban riding experience for our group.


Split into 2 groups of 4, the cyclists rode a challenging 10-mile (or 12-mile, if they were in the accidental wrong-way group!) route beginning at the Grange Audubon Center and hitting the following streets: Front, Main, Grant, Town, Parsons, Livingston, Ohio and Champion, Oak, Washington, Gay, Broad, 3rd, Fulton, High and Whittier. Along the way, they got to experience sharrows, bike lanes to nowhere, bike lanes in door zones, unmarked narrow lanes, freeway on- and off-ramps, multi-lane one-ways and more. As well as the overwhelming heat of the day and, of course, the typical sights, smells & sounds that make bicycling so damn lovely. Everyone was heroic! Everyone was also very very hungry when we sat down to share our delicious post-ride meal at El Arepazo.

Here's some of our early feedback from the ride:

What was your favorite part of the ride?

Trying the different bicycle treatments like the sharrows, the bike lanes and bike boulevard to see how each performed.

...being able to see the integration between the designs on paper, the cyclist themselves, and the driver interaction and how it all comes together. There are definitely eye opening things when riding out on the streets first hand and would recommend all designers/operations people to experience it first hand to have that background knowledge.

Stopping periodically to discuss various aspects of the ride. It helped solidify or reinforce important design and riding concepts in my mind.

What did you learn?

I learned there is a huge difference between a good designed bike lane or facility and one that is just thrown in last minute to a project to make it a complete street ... The narrow bike lanes, especially next to parked cars, was a huge eye opener. Also, understanding why the rider must own the lane for their safety was an eye opener on the City streets. Most of my bike riding experience has come on the bike trails or residential streets.

Was there anything different than what you expected?

 I felt way more comfortable riding through downtown and the various other streets than I thought that I would.

It was a lot less scary than I thought it would be.

I didn't expect to feel so comfortable riding downtown streets. I think it helped that we rode as a group with a calm, experienced ride leader.

We at Yay Bikes! are honored to have hosted such a thoughtful group of professionals on this ride, and look forward to more such rides with professionals throughout the state. Thanks to ODOT (and let's not forget MORPC!) for investing in these training opportunities.

Connect Columbus process includes bicycle tour of NE Columbus

One of four groups prior to the ride.

One of four groups prior to the ride.

Twenty-six people gathered to explore and learn to ride the roads of the Northland neighborhoods by bike on Friday, July 17, 2015, as part of the third Connect Columbus public input process. Some were transportation planners and engineers. Some were members of the general public. Some were experienced bicyclists learning to navigate roads they have not felt safe navigating on their own. Some were well trained Yay Bikes! leaders and sweeps, there to facilitate a moment of experiential learning. It was a blast!

We started at the Franklin County Board of Elections at 1700 Morse Road where our eight ride leaders and sweeps divided everyone into small groups. Each team of Yay Bikes! How We Roll ride leaders started by sharing rules of the road for bicyclists and teaching participants the importance of being visible and predictable when riding roads. Team leaders explained that in How We Roll rides participants travel single file in small groups riding the roads silently. Our goal is to help create an experience where small group instruction happens, and participants encounter something similar to riding roads alone.

Each How We Roll ride teaches participants to ride roads safely, but also includes an additional component that is of interest to the group. Our secondary focus on this ride was bicycle infrastructure, what works, what doesn't work, and why. We traveled over well placed bicycle infrastructure, confusing bicycle infrastructure, and well intended but dangerous infrastructure. We traveled roads that had no bike infrastructure that were perfectly pleasant ones that were a bit more scary. We traveled well paved roads with clear markings and roads that desperately needed resurfacing – experiencing first hand that a good road surface is an absolutely key component of a bike friendly community.

While traveling we heard bird song and children playing. While stopped at a red light, we saw and talked to giggling young adults in a car with a baby kitten in a basket. We smelled pizza cooking and the body lotion of a pedestrian passing us. We felt air temperature fall on Maize Road as the trees breathed and the creek flowed, and felt it raise on Morse Road where nine lanes of asphalt baked in the afternoon sun.

At each of our six stops (one at the beginning, four on the road, and one at the end), well trained Yay Bikes! leaders and sweeps encouraged participants to describe what they noticed and how they felt. Our leaders shared resources and helped folks figure out how to have the best experience possible on any type of road. Our sweeps corrected people engaging in dangerous behaviors and watched as riders competence increased.


In 8.5 miles, we traveled through neighborhood streets, neighborhood arterials, and major arterials. We passed three Interstate 71 exit ramps and one entrance ramp. We needed to merge with car traffic several times on Karl, on Maize, and on Morse to get to our destination. We traveled a section of road that was nine travel lanes wide and included cars, trucks, motorcycles, COTA buses and people on bikes. On Morse Road, we left the bike lane and crossed four travel lanes to make a left to reach our final destination. We were bad asses!

Bad asses, just like every other person who lives in that neighborhood that doesn't own a car and has to figure out how to get to employment, school, the library, the grocer, the laundry mat, the recreation center, all the places people go in their daily lives.

We want thank the City of Columbus and the consults at Nelson Nygaurd who prioritized and resourced this experience, and CoGo for providing bikes to participants who did not have one. Yay Everyone!

Riding north on 4th Street, and approaching I 670? We have good news for you!

"Drivers and bicyclists who use 4th Street leaving Downtown likely are familiar with what some have called a head-scratching conflict point for commuters. planning"Just before the entrance ramp for westbound I-670 on the left of the street, the dedicated bike lane crosses a lane of vehicle traffic that is merging left to enter the ramp.

"Both lanes are set up for continuous flow, and there is no clear instruction on which lane should yield. Yay Bikes Executive Director Catherine Girves calls it the “teleport zone. The city, though, is planning a fix"...Get it here!

Everything you should know about the changes being proposed on Summit and 4th Streets.


Columbus Underground reports: "A protected bike lane is planned for a 1.4-mile portion of Summit Street in the University District. The new lane will be ten feet wide and will run from Hudson Street to 11th Avenue, providing both north- and south-bound travel lanes that are separated from car traffic by a two-foot buffer and an eight-foot parking lane. "South of 11th, a single, unprotected bike lane will continue through Weinland Park, Italian Village, and Downtown (on Third Street). A similar, unprotected, bike lane would be added to Fourth Street, from Hudson to the southern edge of Downtown."

"Other new bike infrastructure – “bus bulbs” that provide bus boarding areas that don’t conflict with bike-lane traffic, “queue boxes” that make it easier for cyclists to turn left on busy streets, and a new strategy for getting cyclists safely past cars merging onto freeway ramps – will also be part of the project..."    - Read more here.

Our public input methodology & how to get involved

Yay Bikes! members reviewing the proposed bicycle accommodations on 4th Street Downtown. Photo credit: MJ Reed

Yay Bikes! members reviewing the proposed bicycle accommodations on 4th Street Downtown. Photo credit: MJ Reed

Of course anyone may feel free to provide their own feedback directly to the city, whether in writing or at their public input meetings! But when Yay Bikes! generates an official feedback on proposed infrastructure projects, this is how it'll go—because although our leadership is comprised of some damn impressive bicycle experts (ahem... if we do say so...!), we refuse to decide our advocacy positions from within a board room. We believe the process described below is more robust and participatory than you will find anywhere in the country, and we hope you will become a member so you can have your voice heard.

Notification of opportunities

Yay Bikes! will announce opportunities to provide input on proposed plans on this blog, on our Facebook page and in our newsletter. Link to us in several ways to ensure you get the message!

Review of proposed plan

Yay Bikes! staff and volunteer leadership review and discuss project design maps,  drafting notes for and planning a group ride of the corridor(s).

Group ride for Yay Bikes! members

All Yay Bikes! members are invited to a group ride on which we evaluate the proposed bicycle accommodations. Staff will review maps with the group one hour before we ride, then catalog input from participants during the ride.

Follow-up research

Yay Bikes! staff and volunteer leadership conduct follow-up research based on input from the larger group, from which a written draft of feedback and recommendations for city staff will be prepared. This report will include:

  • What works well in the proposed design
  • Specific areas of concern with the proposed design
  • Potential solutions or mitigations

Engineers/city staff ride

Yay Bikes! staff present the report in a short presentation to engineers and city prior to a group ride of the corridors' proposed changes.

Final revision & submission

Yay Bikes! staff and volunteer leadership again revise their report based on  information from project staff and additional research, then formally submit it for consideration.

Publishing & promoting feedback

Yay Bikes! publishes its feedback to this blog and promotes both the process and its outcomes to various media outlets.

Participation in public discourse

Yay Bikes! staff and volunteer leadership participate, and organize others to participate, in the public discourse about the corridor being touched. This might include: providing testimony at public hearings, speaking to the press, writing letters to the editor, writing blog posts on the Yay Bikes! web site, posting items on Yay Bikes! social media outlets, encouraging communication from other bike friendly groups to their constituencies, attending public meetings, etc.

Rinse + Repeat

Become a GOOBI on the inaugural infrastructure commentary ride with Yay Bikes!

GOOBI: one who likes to Geek Out On Bicycle Infrastructure
Yay Bikes! has been asked by the City of Columbus, Department of Public Service to provide feedback regarding bicycle infrastructure proposed for 3rd and 4th Streets in downtown Columbus. To provide Public Service Director Davies and Deputy Director Gallagher with productive input on the designs, we are launching a new infrastructure ride crit series for our fellow GOOBIes,  through which we will ride the streets, imagine how the proposed changes will affect us as cyclists and deliver our commentary on a future ride with project staff. Here's how it will work this time around:


October 15, 6–7:30pm -- Interested Yay Bikes! members* are welcome ride with us to evaluate the proposed design and offer their thoughts about it. Registration is limited to 20 people, so let us know by Oct 14 that you'll be joining us!

Later in October -- Yay Bikes! leadership will again ride the route, this time with project staff, including engineers, and communicate the larger groups' feedback.

Sometime thereafter -- Yay Bikes! will publish a blog post about the experience and any outcomes from it.

Your patience is appreciated as we flesh out our infrastructure advocacy methodology. We hope to have fun with it, of course, and also to involve as many people in on-bike design commentary as possible. Our board and staff aren't the only bike experts in town, and we aren't going to act like we are. Our job is to coordinate the community's response to proposed infrastructure, not dictate it. Please join us!

*This opportunity is a benefit of Yay Bikes! membership, and is open exclusively to our members. Please join today to ride with us on the 15th!