Sharrows are coming to Los Angeles! or are they?

What’s a sharrow
? Well, a sharrow is a lane marking that looks like a bicycle with a
chevron on top of it.  Sharrows are used to mark streets as places
where bicyclists and cars share the road.  The sharrow is painted where
that it’s most safe for cyclists to ride in the middle of the point of
the chevron, though, from this photo taken at UCLA, you can see that
bicyclists don’t necessarily know this.  Sharrows are one useful tool
in the planning toolkit to help bicyclists ride safely and to let
drivers know that bikes belong on the street.  The upside of sharrows
is that they are cheap and easy. 

The implementation cost is just paint, or actually thermoplastic, which is what the city of L.A. uses instead
of paint for nearly all road markings.  They don’t take away any space
from cars, so they’re relatively easily implemented.  The downside is
that they don’t really carve out much space on the road for cyclists,
so they’re best used on quieter shared streets, especially where a
street serves as a gap closure between other bike facilities, like bike
lanes, paths and/or routes…though technically a sharrowed street would
be a bike route.

Sharrows are one of the fully-approved bike amenities (like bicycle boulevards ) that appear all over from San Franciso to Pasadena to UCLA… but not yet on the city of Los Angeles’ streets.

the January meeting of the city of Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory
Committee (LA BAC), the Los Angeles Department of Transportation
(LADOT) announced that they were ready to implement a pilot project
that would include sharrows on a handful of Los Angeles streets. 5_8_09_SHARROWS.jpg They
would study how they work, make sure that they don’t, heaven forbid!,
slow car traffic or cause congestion and later sharrows
could be implemented where appropriate.  LADOT’s bicycle coordinator
stated that the sharrows would be on the road in March or April.

what’s the hold-up?  It’s a long story.  In 2005, the Los Angeles
County Bicycle Coalition began a campaign for sharrows in the city of
Los Angeles.  LACBC staff and volunteers met with council offices, and
this resulted in Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Ed
Reyes initiating council motion 08-1723 that instructed the LADOT to implement pilot sharrows on two streets.  That motion was introduced in June 2008 and lead to a November 2008 LADOT report stating that the LADOT would proceed with a sharrows pilot study,
and would report back to the council’s transportation committee in 120
days.  120 days from November would have been March 2009.

order to speed things up, Council president Eric Garcetti had planned
to obtain $10,000 in funding from a private foundation to help the
perennially-short-staffed LADOT bicycle staff pay for a Alta Planning
consultants to recommend streets that would be appropriate for
sharrows.  Apparently due to the economy, the private funding has been
delayed, and there seem to be no other resources within the city that
can cover this relatively cheap and highly visible project.

will step up to the plate and get sharrows moving again?  Will it be
the LACBC which plans to keep the pressure on the city?  Will the Los
Angeles City Council be able to find a few thousand dollars somewhere? 
Will Councilmember Wendy Greuel schedule the LADOT to report back to
her Transportation Committee?  Will the motion’s author Eric Garcetti
or its seconder Ed Reyes put pressure on for its implementation?  Will
Mayor Villaraigosa take the initiative to make L.A.’s streets safer? 
Will the LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson direct her staff to get
the project done – maybe she could take a couple days from one of those
engineers on the road-widening or the speed-limit-upping teams?  Will
LADOT Bicycle Program staff take the initiative to make good on their
statements? Or maybe will it just be those do-it-yourself bicyclists
who go out and paint more sharrows?  Stay tuned.

  • Been there, painted that – sharrows are nice, but they don’t do much to calm traffic on a street designed for 50 mph car speeds (with “35 mph” speed signs).

    Hopefully I’ll have a chance to have my closed mind opened to the effectiveness of sharrows, but if they aren’t coupled with more meaningful roadway design (to slow cars and reduce auto volumes) then I don’t see them as being very effective.

  • PaulCJr

    Ya sharrows are nice if we get nothing else, which we aren’t going to get anything else. Being that the city wants to eliminate traffic calming measures out in the westside, I wouldn’t be surprised if drivers complain and they’re removed too. When is LA going to get it. Even though I know it hurt a bunch of people that can’t afford to pay more, I secretly hope for gas prices to rise again to make Angelenos feel the pain of our poor planning decisions. Because unless Angelenos feel the pain in their wallets, the city will never act.

  • Erik

    Sharrows are good. Being yet another tool in the street engineers kit. I hope to see some in my city (Glendale). Fingers cross, but not holding my breath.

  • @Josef – I agree that sharrows are not the be-all end-all of bicycle facilities… definitely we could put sharrows all over LA and still have roadway design that favors cars, cars, cars and more cars.

    I expect that sharrows will help some. To me, their best function is like a sign in the middle of the road that says “bikes belong in the road” (versus the current semiotics of LA streets that read “drive all the time – cars own this place.”)

  • Write to the Mayor and let him and his deputies know that WE WANT SHARROWS NOW!! No more delays!

    Go to and copy/paste the letter and email/fax it to the contacts provided.

  • Also, sharrows, currently, are only used on lanes where car parking and street width doesn’t allow for wide enough bicycle lanes. That’s my current understanding of another “technical” restraint on using them more.

    I’d prefer 1) that car parking be removed more widely, and 2) that we be allowed to use sharrows much more widely.

  • PaulCJr

    I care to differ that the sharrows will make any difference to the LA car driver. I doubt a driver can even make them out when they’re driving 60mph down a 35mph street. What LA really needs is protected bike lanes and road diets. Since at this time neither of these two things I just mention would gain any traction from of our politicans, since they’re always concerned with winning election rather than doing public good. I’ll take the sharrows, there better than nothing.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @Nate. You wouldn’t want car parking to be removed..otherwise, then the street becomes another busy highway during the day. Walk along Wilshire when “anti-gridlock” zoning is in effect, compared to the middle of the day, when there is no anti-gridlock; and notice how much more pedestrian friendly the street becomes. I would feel safer riding a bike with cars parked than without.

  • As far as I’m concerned, the primary usefulness of sharrows is to remind drivers that cyclists are entitled to both use the road and to ride within the lane, and let less experienced riders know where to position themselves within the lane.

    They should never be used as a substitute for more superior infrastructure, such as Class 1 or 2 bikeways. However, they would be useful to designate a class 3 bikeway, or indicate a route to connect two bikeways.

    And I’d love to see sharrows on the Block of Death at the east end of the bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard, to show riders where to go once the bike lane abruptly ends — even though they’d have to stop at the border of bike-unfriendly Beverly Hills.

  • chriswnw

    I much prefer sharrows to overly restrictive bike lanes that fill up with gravel and debris while also leading you into various hazards (like the door zone). As far as promoting low-stress cycling on streets with few cars, bike boulevards are the way to go.

  • I agree with Paul and Bikinginla – I’d prefer road diets and bike lanes over just sharrows. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, though… let’s work on them all.

  • @LAA – I concede that currently we only get rid of parking to turn our streets into freeways for rush hour.

    What I really want is that whole right lane, as a full width bike lane, with big fat sharrows in it. In lieu of the parked cars / bike lane / auto lane squeeze. Cars could come in, but bikes would be overstatedly free to ride two abreast, etc. Grandma and kids would have overstatedly have the right of way at super low, turtle speeds. Cars could come in, but only very cautiously.

    That’d be some kind of road diet.

  • Sharrows, some buckets of paint and stencils. Not enough money.

    Repaving 3 miles of the 710 freeway with “hardier” concrete, only 72 million dollars, no problem.

  • angle

    See, you guys are all barking up the wrong tree. We don’t need to beg for teeny little stripes that wedge us into dangerous slivers of the road space. What we need are BIGGER BIKES.

  • Statsdude

    Nate, are you suggesting the combination bike lane/bus lane such as north bound Figueroa in Downtown L.A.? (from just north of Adams to 4th street)

  • Been there painted that is right Brayj.

    Big heavy hearted sigh, wish i lived in Portland.

    If you paint ’em, they will scrape ’em.

  • Сожалею, что не могу сейчас поучаствовать в обсуждении. Очень мало информации. Но с удовольствием буду следить за этой темой.

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