Why We Need to Watchdog Sharrow Placement

Four years ago, I wrote a post about the unconscionable MUTCD minimum placement guidelines for sharrows. At the end, I said:

“This doesn’t just fail in respect for cyclists as vehicle drivers, it fails in basic respect for us as human beings.

I guess if there’s a lesson in here, it’s never trust paint. And a heads-up to cycling advocates to pay attention to the process of sharrow placement wherever on-street parking is involved.”

It’s taken a while for sharrows to be used in Central Florida, but it has begun. Many upcoming projects in the metro area will be incorporating sharrows. We hope that our dogged reminders at BPAC of how to use them properly will result in good placement without too much need for vigilance. Nonetheless, please keep your eyes open and let us know how the paint is going down.

Fred U. did that this week in Ormond Beach. Here’s what he found:

ormond sharrow cropped

The travel lane is 11ft wide from the parking line to the left lane line. As you know, 11ft is not wide enough to share without the door zone. And that’s not all…

sharrows with truck 43 inches

I guess I need to amend my instructions to “pay attention to the process of sharrow placement everywhere they are used.” This travel lane is 12ft from the curb face to the left lane line. Though the actual lane width does not include the 15-inch gutter pan.

change-lanes-01As if the MUTCD minimums were not bad enough, these installations don’t even meet them. The intent seems to be to keep the bicyclists as far right as possible, as if that will minimize their impact on the important traffic. Of course, it’s going have a different impact on the bicyclist who is sideswiped, or doored then run over. It certainly won’t reduce the impact on the motorist who misjudges the space needed to pass and hits a bicyclist—that’s going to cause a whole lot more delay than waiting a few seconds to change lanes. Oh for that critical moment back where you could have just changed lanes… but it looked so inviting.

Below are illustrations I’ve sent, along with Fred’s photos, to a contact at FDOT.


The Effective Lane is the usable lane space outside the door zone (or the gutter). It is identified by the car tire tracks. Motorists always center themselves in the effective lane—outside the door zone, away from the gutter or pavement hazards. The best sharrow placement is on the oil stain because that is in the center of the effective lane, and it will last longer because it won’t get worn down by tire tracks.

Bicyclist Width and Operating Space per AASHTO is shown in more detail in this graphic. It does not include clearance from fixed objects or passing cars. It also does not take into account the diversity of bicycle, tricycle and cargo widths.


definitions_exclusionExclusion Zones can be fixed or dynamic. They include the door zone, the edge hazard zone (gutter seams, debris and bad pavement), the conflict zone at every intersection and driveway (where the bicyclist is vulnerable to turning crash conflicts) and the close-passing zone. The close passing zone is the distance from the centerline where a motorist thinks he can squeeze by without changing lanes. If there is not enough space in the lane for a bicyclist, a car and (at least) the minimum passing clearance, the close passing zone is all of the space to the right of six feet from the center line or lane line. Both sharrow placements on SR 40 are in the close-passing zone.

They must be moved ASAP.

I’ll let you know what happens.

24 replies
  1. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    And that is why, after studying them for a few years, I finally came down against SLMs (sharrows). They are at best an on-road version of the old MUTCD yellow diamond warning sign “Watch For Bicycles On Road,” while in actual usage are meant as a psychological crutch for bicyclists, replacing bike lanes as designating a semi-segregated path of travel for bicyclists to obey.

    Even when placed correctly, their secondary messages are injurious to bicyclists’ rights (i.e., “Bicycles only belong on streets with bike lanes, SLMs, or parallel paths”), or they are potentially physically injurious, as the examples you have shown.

    Have a nice day.

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      But couldn’t you say the same about wayfinding signage, which is definitely a positive for non-local cyclists to find their way around?

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Is anyone anywhere actually compelled to ride relative to the sharrow points? Most cyclists I observe pay no attention to them and ride well right of the points even when they are placed too far to the right. Myself, I pay no attention to them and ride in the lane where it is safe.

    In both cases, these are far better than facilities where cyclist use is mandated by law even if unsafe. Respectfully, sharrows will, IMO, never be more than a tempest in a teapot compared to the larger cycling issues out there.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Fred has already paid hundreds of dollars in legal fees to get unwarranted citations from area PDs, including Ormond, dismissed. I’m sure they’ll see these improper markings as yet another excuse to harass him some more.

      • fred_dot_u
        fred_dot_u says:

        I’m happy to suggest that Ormond Beach PD may not be inclined to harass me further. My last communication with the PD was an interaction with either a patrol supervisor or training officer (I can’t recall) and I have since observed OBPD officers seeing me and continuing on their merry way.

        I would not expect to be stopped again, especially on this stretch in the photos, and would be uncomfortable to have a motorcycle pass me in my lane in this area. Sometimes narrow is good.

        One observation I see lacking too often in discussions of this nature is the need to educate cyclists, although for most of the blog users, contributors and followers, it’s pretty much a known consideration. I don’t see any signs or paint marking as being a suitable form of education for cyclists who need it the most.

        Cycling Savvy is unquestionably the best approach to a solution, but it’s not easy to present such useful information to the ones who need it the most. Just today, I observed a “cyclist” performing a salmon run in a bike lane, on a roadway where right hooks are far too common to use the bike lane even in the correct direction. That rider isn’t the kind who would avail himself of the value of something like Cycling Savvy and apparently could not read the arrows on the icons in the bike lane either!

  3. Dan Gutierrez
    Dan Gutierrez says:

    The MUTCD defines sharrows as lane positioning guides, so their placement IS extremely important, whether a cyclist chooses to ride over them or not, since their intent IS to be ridden over by bicyclists and to also tell motorists where bicyclists can and (some, even many) will ride, in the center of the effective lane. Thus Keri’s call for good placements is essential, and is advocacy for bicyclists acting as drivers, augmented by BMUFL signage that tells motorists and especially police that they have this right.

  4. Ian Brett Cooper
    Ian Brett Cooper says:

    I’ve given up on trying to get sharrows placed correctly here in Silver Spring. The closest designated bike route to my home has sharrows marked too far right. When I brought this to the attention of my local government’s traffic engineer, he first claimed that the sharrows were properly placed. I responded that they were not, and sent him the relevant placement guidelines, including a diagram. I never heard back from him, even after a few attempts to get a response.

    In my neck of the woods, the powers that be just don’t want to know.

  5. InvisibleHand
    InvisibleHand says:

    Sorry to read about the problems in Silver Spring, Ian. After a few dismal attempts, SHARROWs have been consistently done well here in Arlington.


    In reference to Steve, there may be no legal mandate to ride inside the SHARROW; but if we think that the point of the SHARROW is educational and abuse reducing, then we’re much better off getting it right in the first place.

  6. JT
    JT says:

    They’ve started putting them in here in Dallas. The trouble is that in downtown, the far right or left striped lane can often be used for parking. So realizing this, the city wisely put the sharrows in the center of the next lane over. However, when cars are not parked there, it is a striped lane available for travel and we have to ride as far to the right (except on one way roads) as practicable, so sharrows are actually in the wrong place. They’ve also put in these goofy green lanes to move cyclist from the far right lane to the next one over to avoid an on street parking zone that I think is just confusing and/or alarming to drivers and cyclists alike.

    Fred is right, education is still a must in spite of these indicators of where a cyclist should ride…

  7. angelo Dolce
    angelo Dolce says:

    Your photos raise the perverse question of whether the sharrows in Baltimore do less damage, since they are so obviously useless that everyone ignores them.

    There was a study at Johns Hopkins of passing distances
    that found sharrows had no impact. Of course, the authors noted

    “Sharrow road markers in this [Baltimore] study were placed on the right edge of the travel lane and in some cases partially hidden underneath parked vehicles.”

    This fit my observation of sharrows in Baltimore 2 years ago – a few were within inches of storm drains, while some were in the left tire track of parked cars. The study authors wrote that they did not find a change in Baltimore traffic behavior similar to changes reported elsewhere. This sounds like the sharrows were so clearly useless that they were universally ignored.

    I did get a chance to ask a state traffic official about them; he mentioned that they were supposed to be installed in the lane but mentioned another city where they were also put in the door zone. Evidently the contractor (incorrectly) assumed bicycles should be where a bike lane would be expected, and could not having bicyclists ride in the traffic lane.

    Despite clear admission that these installations were not done correctly, he implied there were no plans to correct them

    From my observation and Ian’s comments on Silver Springs, it sounds like sharrows in Maryland ARE intended to keep bicyclists from disrupting significant traffic.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      When bicycle-specific paint markings are put down, it is nearly impossible to get them fixed. We have bike lanes on the right of right turn lanes that have been there for years. The attitude is “meh, it’s only bicycles, we’ll fix it when we repave.”

      A reminder that American bike infrastructure is implemented by a culture that does not give a shit about us other than the get us out of the way.

  8. Dwight
    Dwight says:

    According to the information in the graphics, the SLMs are centered even less than the MUTCD-recommended minimum distances from the curb (11 ft min. where parallel parking is accommodated, and 4 ft min. in an outside travel lane less than 14 ft wide without parking; http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part9/part9c.htm#section9C07).

    If minimum placements were used, a cyclist who tracked along the line of SLM centers could still be exposed to dooring or edge hazards. If car-symbol sharrows were also marked in such lanes, how closely would motorists be expected to track along their line?

  9. Dwight
    Dwight says:

    My reference to “centered” placement was a poor choice of words. I just meant the placement of the center of the marking, relative to the curb. MUTCD section 9C.07, at the link I gave, describes the minimum distance of the “centers of the markings” from the curb.

    As this is a state road it would be relevant to observe that the placement of the SLMs indicated in the graphic is inconsistent with FDOT’s own Design Standards.

    For example, per Standard Index 17347 (sheet 1 at http://www.dot.state.fl.us/rddesign/DS/13/IDx/17347.pdf), in an outside lane less than 13 ft wide, but at least 11 ft wide, the center of the shared lane marking is to be 5½ ft from the curb, and if the lane width is less than 11 ft, then the SLM is “centered in the lane”.

    What the second SR 40 cross-section graphic calls a “12′ lane” actually has a lane width less than 11′, if the 12′ measurement includes a 15″ gutter pan, as stated in Kiri’s text.

    If the agency comes back and centers the markings in the lanes, no point in mentioning this. If the placement is not changed, though, and the lane dimensions reported above are correct, it might be helpful to bring the apparent inconsistencies with Index 17347 to their attention.

    • Dan Gutierrez
      Dan Gutierrez says:

      Ok Dwight, now I understand what you mean. What I have been doing in CA is to teach the designers to subtract the gutter and what remains is the effective lane for a road with no street parking, and center the sharrow in the effective lane. The key point is that designers have to know how the effective lane is defined for streets with and without parking and then center the sharrows in the effective lane. Sadly, not enough professionals are familiar with the concepts we are discussing, but we are making progress, and Keri’s info-graphics are helpful.

  10. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Unfortunately, the spread of ignorance continues. The Ormond Beach Bike Shop owner has contributed his own lack of understanding to an article published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, just this morning.


    “City officials say they will try to divert cyclists off Granada to designated bicycle lanes on Tomoka and Lincoln avenues, to the north and south of Granada. Commissioner Kent said he likes the idea.”

    If they think that passing a local ordinance will prevent me from using that roadway, I may have another round of legal battles with the city!

    I’m not really surprised that the “reporter” did no real research for this article.

  11. Keri
    Keri says:

    Update: http://bit.ly/11ZeajE
    FDOT is going to remove the sharrows… at least until “the public has a chance to be educated” about them.

    I will give the FDOT spokesman the benefit of the doubt that he did not say the sharrows will be placed in the inside lanes. That sounds like a reporter screw up. If they are reapplied, they will (hopefully) be placed properly in the center of the effective lane.

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