Someone smart once told me that a good relationship wasn’t 50/50; it was actually 60/60, requiring both sides to come past halfway to make it work. The Sharrow seems like someone trying desperately to remind drivers they’re actually in a relationship with cyclists via a greeting card featuring a stick figure and arrows pointing to a potential hit-and-run victim. It’s a long way from 60/60.
If the medium is the message, the message is that a cyclist is worth about half a rattle can of spray paint.
“Hmmm, what’s this?” wonders the motorist as s/he turns the volume up on the satellite radio and hits the morning’s second mocha latte. With no cyclist present to create some neural connection between, let’s be honest, a bit of graffiti and a human life, whatever Taylor-Swift-of-the-month the SiriusXM is serving up is likely to overwhelm the circuits. This scenario assumes the aforementioned driver has even noticed the strange hieroglyph, too quickly disappearing beneath the wheels of their vehicle.
This is maybe not the symbolism we were going for.
Once I was speaking at a state transportation conference (yes, I know how absurd that sounds.), and someone in the room announced that the city had added some hundred or so miles of bike lanes over the preceding decade, and I replied, “Yeah, but paint isn’t infrastructure. It’s a suggestion that you shouldn’t run people over.” Things got quiet for a second, for two seconds, for three. Then nervous laughter broke out, the kind you hear after someone suggests skinny dipping at a church picnic.
I was not the most popular person in the room that day, and many serious civic-minded people came to tell me how I was wrong about things and stuff. I nodded. “Yes,” I wanted to say, “I already know.”
The truth, like a Sharrow, is sometimes hard to decipher, or else it sounds like an accusation. “You have not been sharing the road, and you really have to,” says the Sharrow. “I won’t,” says the driver, “but only because you told me I had to, and because I’m late for a waxing appointment, and because this new Taylor Swift song really slaps.”
From a traffic-planning point-of-view, a Sharrow is a sign that someone has decided there’s not even room for a sad little bike lane despite there being plenty of room for two traffic lanes and car parking on both sides (I make that four total car lanes. Check my math.) And anyway, how much paint do you think we have in this year’s budget?
The money all went to not fixing potholes.
At the end of the day, the Sharrow’s truest value may be in reminding drivers that they really shouldn’t be honking their horns at cyclists. Like it’s not cool. Like legally cyclists can exist, even if we can all agree that it’s rude for them to do so.
In the city, bike lanes are clogged with delivery trucks and people picking up takeout. I have been hit by cars twice while riding along inside these narrow strips of paint. A Sharrow is a terrible solution for making cyclists safer, but maybe it is more honest than a bike lane. The bike lane suggests that space belongs to you as a rider of bikes. The Sharrow at least acknowledges you’re only part owner, like I am part owner of Apple (Thanks for that share Grampa!).
A Sharrow feels like someone went to city hall and asked for a protected bike lane, and the powers-that-are said, “Protected from what?” And then someone said, “Well, what about a lane, we could paint it, and that’s where bikes could go?” And the local wise folk said, “Hang on, I have to go pick up some take out.” And then someone said, “Can you do anything for us?”
And from on high, the word came that they’d received a stencil in the mail from the Auto Manufacturers of America, a nifty little thing they could get someone from Public Works to spray around town, and “Honestly, why are you standing here with a helmet on? And why are you people always so sweaty?”
Thanks for reading another Useless Review here at The Cycling Independent. If you enjoyed it and/or have a beating heart in your chest, please consider subscribing to our little community weekly here, so we can upgrade from the ramen that comes in its own cup, to the one you have to use your own bowl for.