Episode 4: A Brief History Of The American Sharrow

It may come as a surprise, but in some circles of the bike world, sharrows are a source of passionate debate. Are they a lip service from cities hoping to appease cyclists without spending any money or political capital? Are they a viable form of safe infrastructure? In this episode, we trace the origins of sharrows back to their inventor James Mackay, P.E., a former Denver bike planner and talk to bike advocate Noah Budnick and University of Denver, Colorado professor Wes Marshall to look at the evolution of biking and bike infrastructure in America over the last 25 years.

“Bicycle,” “Night Cave,” “Finding the Balance”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

7 Responses to Episode 4: A Brief History Of The American Sharrow

  1. That study claiming sharrows are worse than nothing … does any city really assign bicycle infrastructure at random, with a dart board? Because that’s the only way its findings would be valid.

    In the real world, with limited budgets, engineers put bike lanes on streets with high bicycle traffic *and* significant hazards or crash histories.

    They put sharrows on streets that have good bicycle traffic *without* high crash histories or hazards.

    The papers own data show that streets where sharrows were installed were already safer before any bike infrastructure was installed, while streets where bike lanes were installed were more hazardous.

    After the infrastructure was installed, areas with sharrows were *still* safer than areas with bike lanes. Not because sharrows are more or less effective than bike lanes, but because they’re used in different situations.

    If a doctor tells you to take an aspirin and call back in the morning, you’re less likely to see a big improvement than if he tells you to take a massive dose of antibiotics. That’s not because aspirin doesn’t work, it’s because it works for different things, and if the doctor prescribes a more aggressive intervention, it’s because you’re starting from a worse situation.

    The paper makes no effort to control for the “before” condition, so it simply can’t make any meaningful comparison of the “after” conditions. All it can really do is confirm that sharrows increase ridership and decrease collisions on the sort of streets where sharrows are chosen, while bike lanes increase ridership and decrease collisions on the sort of streets where bike lanes are chosen. But it simply lacks the data to compare the relative efficacy of either treatment.

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  4. The big problem with sharrows is that most people don’t know how to use them properly and even a lot that do are afraid to use them properly. They only help you if you use the full lane. It does not help that law enforcement is often just as clueless. Here are a few videos of League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors being harassed by police for using the full lane in sharrows. One of them also has a BMUFL sign. Even that doesn’t deter the ignorant incompetent officer much.



  5. As much as I wanted to listen to this, I found it difficult. Why? No RSS feed for the audio!

    Soundcloud may be convenient for you, but for those of us who listen to a wide variety of podcasts, you’ll get more listeners if you add a pure audio RSS feed (as opposed to an RSS feed of this blog – which appears as a TEXT feed with a soundcloud link in most podcast apps.)

    Additionally, I’ve had to restart this episode twice because I needed to hit “pause” – which acted more like a “stop and reset to start”. I’ve seen this behavior with other Soundcloud channels.

    So much as I’d like to listen to you, I won’t continue until you have an RSS feed.

    • Sorry you’re having trouble, Steven. The podcast is available through the Podcast app on iphone or Podkicker and Podcast Addict on Android as well as through iTunes. Is there another app you use that I should try to get the podcast on or another method you’re using to listen to podcasts?


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