The City of Baltimore was one of the early adopters of sharrows, lanes shared by cyclists and drivers and marked with a bike-and-chevron design. Some of the original sharrows along University Parkway and Roland Avenue have since been repainted or were replaced with designated bike lanes, as shown in a video from 2009. The City’s website explains the different types of bike infrastructure, which is currently limited to paint and signage of modern design but nearly obsolete engineering.
Baltimore has squeezed bike lanes and sharrows in what’s known as the “door zone,” though Federal guidelines recommend sharrows be at least eleven feet from the curb. Some, if not all of Baltimore’s designated bike lanes, are in the door zone. Designated lanes create a physical space for cyclists, safe from traveling cars, while sharrows simply provide an attitude adjustment. In addition to the door zone, City Paper’s bike route map notes an abundance of hazards to look out for in Baltimore: “smash and grabs,” grates intersecting bike lanes, nonexistent shoulders, multiple potholes, “technically illegal” routes (in the most popular areas), and narrow, high-traffic streets.
Chris Merriam of Baltimore’s bike advocacy group, Bikemore, welcomes all bike infrastructure but “in the right context, on the right kind of street.” An ineffective use of a sharrow would be on a major arterial, high-speed road, says Merriam. Baltimore’s Belair Road is an example of a major arterial, high-speed road that does in fact have sharrows instead of bike lanes.
Too often logic is ignored for political reasons, and sometimes to save money, even if the more expensive option makes a more tangible difference in user safety. A sharrow can cost a few hundred dollars (less than most bikes!) while a mile of bike lanes can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. As one blogger from Portland succinctly asked, “are sharrows a cheap way to make big changes, or an expensive way to do nothing?”
In some cities, nearly half a million dollars in federal funds have been wasted on stickering sharrows everywhere and anywhere instead of installing protected bike lanes and sharrows where they may have truly made a difference. It seems sharrows have been implemented on so many streets, they don’t do as much for safety as they do for simple wayfinding, and they don’t differentiate from roads that lack bike infrastructure. In some areas of Baltimore, there are bikes lanes that abruptly end, instead of continuing to connect bicyclists to other routes. That’s about as good as it gets in Baltimore, it seems – get on your bike but don’t plan on getting anywhere.
Baltimore is not doing enough to get the timid bike enthusiast to choose biking over driving (my short self included). For now, Baltimore is only creating slight relief to what Merriam describes as “the [one-percent] cyclists who will ride on any street.” Meanwhile, urban planners in other cities are playing with bike boxes, bike boulevards, bike streets, and bike signals. In the video Cycling in the US: A Dutch View, the Dutch narrator states “you are thirty times more likely to get injured as a cyclist in the U.S. than you are in the Netherlands” and he describes sharrows as “just useless paint.” What is it costing Baltimore not to spend money on complete and effective bike infrastructure?
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.