Summer sharrows

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 122.

Over the summer, two-way cycling has been implemented in dozens of streets that were approved for conversion last year. A certain type of road marking has become a more common sighting.

(Left)In St. Andrew’s Street sharrows confirm your legitimacy in the game of facing off buses and other traffic. (Right) In Garden Walk three sharrows confirm contraflow cycling. But where the car parking changes sides the sharrows stop.
Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent

‘Sharrow’ is a North American name for a road marking showing a cycle symbol with an arrow indicating a permitted direction for cycling. One of the first places they were introduced in Cambridge was along the northern end of St. Andrew’s Street. Although not everyone thinks they are useful, in my experience they have helped to reinforce my claim to be legitimately cycling southbound there.

The sharrows are placed to confirm legitimacy and are not necessarily the most effective place to cycle

Sharrows have been added at the start of the contraflow section on all the streets that have been converted to two-way cycling. In some of the streets the sharrows have been repeated along much of the length.

One sharrow does not a summer make: this is the only one in Ross Street.
Image as described adjacent

Garden Walk has been a false one-way street for many years. Cars park informally in long blocks on one side of the road or the other for almost the whole length. There’s just enough room for other motor traffic to pass, but when a bicycle is coming the other way something has to give. The Campaign has heard reports of confrontations, with drivers claiming that bikes have no right to be going the other way. The sharrows help to clear up that misunderstanding.

But where the cars are parked on the same side of the road as the contraflow, the sharrows stop. This is probably because it would mean putting them outside the ‘parking lane’, which in this case would be over the centre-line and on the right hand side of the road. And this brings me to the point: the sharrows are placed to confirm legitimacy and are not necessarily the most effective place to cycle. As a result some sharrows appear to be very misleadingly placed.

If sharrows are going to become much more common, as seems likely, it surely makes sense to put them in the most sensible place to ride. One of the techniques encouraged by Bikeability training is to encourage riders to think about where they are most visible – and that is well away from the gutter and the car door lane.

Simon Nuttall