What's a sharrow?

Just got the following announcement from the Town of Chapel Hill:

[sharrow]The Town of Chapel Hill is installing a pilot sharrow project today (Tuesday, Aug. 19) through the week on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Estes Drive to North Street.   

The  sharrow, or shared-use pavement markings, is an experimental road treatment being evaluated as an  accommodation for bicyclists under certain roadway conditions.  A sharrow is a road marking to identify the shared use of a travel lane by bicyclists and passing motorists, indicating the legal and appropriate bicyclist line of travel; it cues motorists to pass bicyclists with sufficient clearance.

Didn't find the Town's press release very explanatory, so I looked it up and found the photo above.

Sharrows have been used in San Fransisco since 2004 and also in over a dozen other U.S. cities (according to Wikipedia). There are some mixed feelings, but they seems generally liked at Bike Hugger, BikePortland, and the Bike Commute Tips blog.

It seems like an affordable way to make the street safer for cyclists. If only they could make MLK not so dang steep.


My first thought is wishful.  MLK Blvd is a fine stretch to trot this out, steepness notwithstanding, but the Estes Drive Extension needs a place-holder for bike lanes until it's widened on the Carrboro end.  Once again, I wish our two towns could collaborate on mutally beneficial solutions even more often than they do. 

As regards the "experimental" sharrow painting, I wonder if it's meant to wash away in heavy rain or if this icon/art will stick around semi-permanently.  It looks good. I like the message it sends to drivers and cyclists alike.  

Last question: Is anybody measuring the sharrows' effectiveness?  Otherwise it doesn't qualify as an experiment.  

Estes Ext would indeed be a great place for sharrows.  I believe the upcoming Carrboro Bicycle Plan recommends sharrows on Weaver St in front of WSM where the road is too narrow for a bike lane.  I'd like to see sharrows on S. Greensboro too, as the steep hills make bike lanes inadvisable.

I believe the MLK sharrows have been referred to as a "pilot program" and I saw crews out there about six months ago with cameras and clipboards to observe and record traffic patterns before the sharrows were installed.  Presumably they will make further measurements and observations afterwards.

When it comes to equal treatment on the roads I am all for it. But when we have a perfectly good road right next to South Greensboro Street, which is Old PIttsboro, I cannot justify spending more tax dollars painting South Greensboro to let people know that bicycles have a right to be there.

Old Pittsboro starts and ends on S. Greensboro at points that cut out that steep hill. Plus Old Pittsboro is MUCH LESS traveled by automobiles. If anything put the Sharrows on that road. But even then I think that is a waste of money. Because, though it may not be widley known, cyclists have a right to ride both S. Greensboro and Old Pittsobor Streets with or without the sharrow signage. Let's spend the money educating those people who do not already know that fact.

We're talking about Paint here--not a significan expenditure.  And the point of sharrows goes beyond letting "people know that bicycles have a right to be there", e.g. making it clear to cyclists that they should be riding on the right.

Old Pittsboro runs less than half a mile, providing an alternate route up or down one hill (not cutting it out) and trading lighter traffic for an extra intersection and three extra turns.  Intersections are where most collisions occur.  Continuing south on S Greensboro serves many important cycling destinations including two public schools, Culbreth Rd, DOT mountains-to-Sea bike route, Southern Village, the future Morgan Creek Greenway, and Damascus Chhurch Rd.  The hill south of 54 (where the road is called Smith Level) needs sharrows too.

Wrong-way cycling on S Greensboro/Smith Level will increase if the Morgan Creek Greenway connects on only one side of the road.  The last plan I saw had connection on the west side only, putting northbound (toward downtown) traffic on the wrong side.  A simple, inexpensive sharrow would help.  Conections on both side would be much better.  The combination would be ideal.

Your points are good ones and I agree with them. But if a driver, in this case a cyclist, can avoid the intersections of Old Pittsboro and S. Greensboro then they will need to negotiate another one.

And if they are not able to negotiate those intersections in/on their vehicle then they have no buisiness creating a potential accident.

Now that I think about it the sharrows are educational. But I still cannot understand why we would change two paths that work fine for two different modes of transportation so that one path can accomodate both modes.


Do you have a link to information about the Morgan Creek Greenway?

As far as riding into Carrboro; I have stopped riding up Greensboro into town.  I take a right after Merrit Mill and ride into town using the streets around Purple Leaf Place (which I'm sure you know very well :-) )

 John Rees

I was hoping someone else would post a link to info on the proposed morgan creek greenway.  afaik, everything about the proposed morgan creek greenway on the web is vague, old or both.

i believe carrboro plans to connect their side of the greenway to university lake, which would be great (bike picnic anyone?) especially if the lake area is accessible until sundown in the summer.  i think the current access closes at 6pm, which doesn't work for folks who work until 5pm.

a greenway to the lake would be great for the disabled too.

heres (below) some links, but i do not think they include info on the lake or on the smith level / greensboro access:

  • http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/parks_&_rec/facilities_greenways_&_parks/greenways/plans/greenways_master_plan/08_stream_corridors_part_2.pdf
  • http://www.ci.chapel-hill.nc.us/common/modules/documentcenter2/documentview.asp?DID=125
  • http://www.townofchapelhill.org/DocumentView.asp?DID=822
  • http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2007/04/05/town-sets-up-greenways-commission/#more-86
  • http://southernvillage.blogspot.com/2008/02/morgan-creek-trail.html
  • http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/agendas/2007/05/21/4c/
  • http://townhall.townofchapelhill.org/parksrec/morgan_creek_trail.htm

yeah, i know about the neighborhood streets around purple leaf pl.  the closest two times i've ever come to being hit were climbing and descending red sunset:

while descending one day, a dog darted into the road really fast headed for the other side, then the dog "skidded" to a stop when he saw me about to hit him.

while climbing one morning, headed to work, a car emerged from a driveway to my right...and just.kept.coming.  i didn't realize that the driver was not paying attention until her bumper was inches from my pedal.  i swerved hard left and she braked.

cyclists need to avoid a false sense of safety on small neighborhood streets.  nobody, dog nor motorist, pulls out onto greensboro without looking (not more than once anyway!)

Will sharrows reduce the large difference in speed between bikes and cars and the tremendous difference in visibility between a car and a bike?  If  not then it's not going to do much good.

 I was out on Estes Dr. this weekend though and I was shocked and in a good way for a change.  I'm talking about the stretch of Estes Dr. that connects to MLK Road (I refuse to call it Boulevard) going westward towards Carrboro.  On the right (as you're going towards Carrboro) there is a wide shoulder and bikers were using it.  Has that always been there?  I don't get out that way too often.  If it is a new addition then it is a massive improvement.  Bikers can go as fast or as slow as they want without worrying about cars coming from behind.  And drivers can drive without their hearts in their throats out of fear of killing a biker.

  The parallel lines in center of the road and to the right of the car are the two strongest cues a driver will ever have because from the day you begin learning to drive the whole idea is to keep your car between those two lines.  Anything to the right of that right line on the road is much safer than anything to the left, regardless of sharrows.

On MLK Road (I refuse to call it Boulevard) coming south towards the Estes intersection there is a shoulder on the right, and I'm not crazy about bikers at all on a high speed road like that but at least there's a shoulder.  But anyway, as you get close to the interaction the shoulder gets quite narrow and I don't know if it's feasible to make it wider because there is a drain there.  I can see how that would be dicey for a biker and also perhaps harder for drivers to notice bikers since there are a lot of distractions for drivers at the intersection already.

 So instead of having the bikers staying on the roadway piece of concrete and then having to make a right angle turn at the intersection, how about having a strip of concrete veer off MLK Road  shortly before the intersection and then merge onto Estes?  Bikers wouldh't have to navigate the part of the road with the narrow shoulder right before the intersection.  And they could move more quickly because they'd be making a curve instead of a right angle. 

Such a curve wouldn't be relevant to bikes that were intent on going  straight through at that intersection but I think...I'm not sue but I think there is nowhere for them to go right now if they go straight through the intersection, ie, MLK Road continues southward with no shoulder or sidewalk in that stretch and few bikers would want to bike that stretch without those.

Those paved shoulders were put in last fall.  Though they were widely reported in the press as "bicycle lanes", they are officially not bicycle lanes, as bicycle lanes are required to be load bearing surfaces.  This creates difficulty when the town tried to get DOT to fix the intersection at Seawell School Rd where the "bike lane" put through bike traffic to the right of turning traffic.  DOT's response: not a bike lane.  Fortunately Mayor Chilton and the town were eventually able to convince DOT to restripe the intersection in a more sensible manner.

With UNC, Franklin St, the TTA stops between Rosemary & Columbia all south of the MLK & Estes intersection, I think you'll find quite a few continuing south from there.  Its two lanes in each direction, plus center turn, so there's plenty of room.

I saw the new MLK sharrows this weekend.  I would have preferred that they were about 2 feet to the left.  As they are, they seem to just indicate that "this is a bike lane."  Yet, with the drains, manhole covers and debris on the right side of the road, bikes cannot always use this narrow band of asphalt.

If they were farther left, cars would be forced to drive across them with their right tires.  That would send a better signal: "this lane carries both car and bike traffic, and you may not be able to pass a bike in this lane."

As they are currently placed, they may do more harm than good.


The photos in this link show sharrows in the center of the lane:


I agree with Ed that the sharrows would be better if placed either in the center of the lane or at least left-center.

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