Year-long LADOT study of “sharrows” finds safety benefits

If you’ve traveled along Fountain Ave. in Hollywood or Reseda Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley in the last year, you may have caught a glimpse of an LADOT trial “sharrow.” Also known as a shared lane marking, these painted road icons are designed to help Angelenos in cars share the road more safely with Angelenos on bikes.

City of Los Angeles transportation officials wanted to study how and where sharrows were most effective at improving safe conditions for bicyclists before making the decision to expand their use. After a year of studying the effects of sharrows on six streets, the results are in and they look promising, according to the city.

Here’s the gist from the LADOT Bike Blog:

Sharrows improved the interactions between drivers and bicyclists in a number of ways: drivers passed bicyclists at greater distances, drivers allowed a greater tailing distance when following behind a bicyclist, tailgated a bicyclist far less often, took fewer aggressive actions, and were less abusive towards bicyclists.

The LADOT Bike Program will now begin implementing sharrows throughout the city. They will be used primarily on narrower streets with lighter vehicle traffic and to close gaps in the city’s network of bike lanes and paths. LADOT staff is also recommending that sharrows always be accompanied by signs that read “bicycles may use full lane” — as soon as they’re added to the California Manual for Traffic Control Devices.

To clarify: cyclists are by law entitled to use a full lane of traffic — i.e. a cyclist doesn’t have to scoot over to the right or left of the lane to allow traffic to pass. One reason that sharrows are used is to put cyclists in the part of the lane where they are most likely to be visible to motorists and to keep cyclists out of the way of doors of vehicles in adjacent parking lanes.

It’s worth noting that Metro has its own bike program, too, that is seeking to add bike infrastructure help bicyclists get to and from transit. Additionally, LADOT’s study could provide helpful info for other cities working with Metro to make that bike-to-transit connection.

You can read the full LADOT report here [PDF].

What do you think of sharrows? Discuss!

6 replies

  1. I’ll begin the discussion.

    I don’t think sharrows are a bad thing — i.e. I don’t think there’s any harm in putting them on roadways. But I’m yet to be persuaded they really help matters.

    This is based almost entirely on my experience cycling on Lake Avenue in Pasadena, where there are sharrows. I never noticed them as a driver — only as a cyclist. I don’t think other drivers really notice either.

    I don’t feel any safer on Lake than I would without sharrows. Some motorists are still very respectful of my presence on the road, others don’t seem to notice and a small minority whiz by at close quarters.

    Lake is two lanes in each direction plus a parking lane on both sides of the streets. The most helpful thing to cycling would be a bike lane. Since that means giving up a lane for cars, it’s probably not going to happen. In the meantime, the sharrows on Lake lead me to believe it’s a way for the city to feel like it’s doing something and that’s about it.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

    • Steve,

      I think the key is that, while personal experiences will vary, the study found that sharrows had a strongly positive impact overall. For instance: a 28% increase in passing distance on Fountain Ave. and a reduction in the number of drivers who passed unsafely from 50% of all drivers to 25%. That seems to suggest to me that on some streets — and the key is figuring out which ones — drivers really do take cues from the presence of sharrows on the road.

      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source

  2. I use the 4th street sharrow all the time. The reason it works is that the lanes are wide enough to actually share.

    On rare occasion, I’ve been on fountain, but it is NOT a low-traffic street:

    1) it’s really narrow
    2) drivers use it as a bypass for SM Blvd or Sunset

    I felt far less safe on Fountain than on 4th. In addition to sharrow signage, there needs to be more stop signs or other traffic mitigation actions to prevent the road’s use for through traffic (of cars).

    I’d take Willoughby over Fountain any and every day to get to WEHO from the east side.

  3. I tend to agree with Steve; the width of the street is more important than the presence of sharrows. On the other hand, I think the “May Use Full Lane” signs will be very helpful in educating drivers.

    I think additional driver education is also necessary: an “how to share the road” section in the California Driver Manual, and a bicycle-themed addition to study for any license updates.

  4. * Make Sharrows AS WIDE AS A CAR. This will make them noticeable to drivers and emphasize SHARED use.

    * Center Sharrows COLLINEARLY with the PATH OF AUTO TRAFFIC. This emphasizes the FULLY SHARED use of lane ( as has been noted by a well-known cycling advocate ) between autos and bikes — SAME PATH, SAME LANE, SAME RIGHTS and RESPONSIBILITIES

    * Put the Sharrow symbol on the new sign. Shows what the symbol means.

    * Long Beach has painted their Sharrowed lanes green their full width. Too much for Los Angeles?

    * Everywhere a BIKE LANE SHAMEFULLY PETERS OUT TO NOTHING mid-block is a PLACE TO START SHARROWS. I’m thinking Sherman Way, both ways, just West of Topanga Canyon — where a frightening door zone exists amidst drivers frequently reluctant to the point of drivers’ obscene words or “get off the road” gestures — and there are lots of very-short-term parking (bank with streetside ATMs, a post office, clubs with pick-up and drop-off traffic — a lot of door zone and traffic entry hazards)

    * Start PAINTING. A YEAR should be enough studying. What is the PERFORMANCE requirement for street-miles-painted per year?