Political will and courage is necessary to step Miami’s bicycle network up a notch.

Sharrows. Chevrons. Shared lane markings. Little painted bicycles on the street.

Like fungi after a spring rainfall, Miami has seen a rapid proliferation of these markings on her streets, designed to remind motorists to be aware of cyclists and their right to the lane. While the markings are a welcomed improvement to our otherwise naked, auto-dominated streetscape, the sharrow boom is raising some concerns in Miami’s cycling community and beyond.

Has the the sharrow obsession come at the expense of more substantial bicycling infrastructure?

Sam Ollinger at Bike San Diego argues that her city has fallen into this trap, using sharrows as copout to real change.

“In the last year, San Diegans have seen the increasing number of shared-lane markings, also called “sharrows.” Sharrows are appearing everywhere: Adams Avenue, Park Boulevard, Broadway, El Cajon Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Voltaire Street, Chatsworth Boulevard, Hotel Circle South, Pacific Highway and more. However, these sharrows are being used as a cheap band-aid instead of implementing real change on our roadways that would increase the number of people riding their bicycle for transportation or recreation.

10 year old girl riding to school on Voltaire Street with drivers passing at over 30 mph. Are we prioritizing free vehicle curbside parking over child safety and health? Is this the best we can do? via Bike San Diego

For starters, San Diego’s Bicycle Master Plan recommends sharrows on roadways that are too narrow for bike lanes. Sharrows are recommended on roads that have a minimum width of 14 feet. Bike lanes are recommended on roads that have a minimum of 15-17 feet. El Cajon Boulevard, for example, has three travel lanes in each direction – it has more than enough room for a bike lane.”

The same argument can be made for Miami. When I take a look at our current bicycle lanes, I cannot imagine a single one that required the removal of a vehicle travel lane or parking. It seems that Miami’s current bicycle lane striping, like on S. Miami Avenue in Brickell, NW 1st Avenue in Overtown, on Coral Way through the Roads for example, was the “low-hanging fruit”, meaning that the existing pavement was wide enough to add bicycle lanes without a significant alteration of the existing street configuration, save perhaps narrowing the travel lanes a foot or two. It’s a commendable feat, but what needs to come next are the “hard miles” of lanes to achieve connectivity and encourage ridership.

What are “hard miles”? New York City DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan used the term in a November article for the New York Times. Hard miles, Ms. Sadik-Khan puts it, are bicycle lanes in the densest, most contested parts of town to achieve connectivity with the lanes that were easier to complete. Many of the 280 miles of bicycle lanes NYC has built in the last four years have been of the “hard mile” variety.

NYC's bike lanes did not come easy. A protected bike lane and pedestrian plaza cuts right through the heart of Times Square. It required political will to remove space for cars and reclaim space for people.

Miami’s answer for the “hard miles” seems to be the cheap sharrow. And it ‘aint cutting it anymore.

One of the loudest gripes with Miami’s current bicycle infrastructure is the lack of connectivity, where lanes seemingly begin and end at random, forming an incongruous network. It’s obvious that the sharrow seems to be the answer du jour. But how effective is this treatment and are they coming at the expense of better, safer facilities?

A recent study of the sharrows on Washington Avenue (.pdf) in Miami Beach showed that before sharrow implantation, 55% of bicycle riders were on the sidewalk. After the sharrows, that number reduced to 45%. Clearly, many riders still feel safer on the sidewalk, despite the painted bicycle in the middle of the road. The sharrows are probably doing very little, if anything, to encourage would-be riders to take to the streets.

From the Bike San Diego piece:

A recent report from the Mineta Transportation Institute, an institute that was established by Congress to research “multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues”, concluded that in order to attract a wide segment of the population, a bicycle network’s most fundamental attribute should be low-stress connectivity, that is, providing routes between people’s origins and destinations that do not require cyclists to use links that exceed their tolerance for traffic stress, and that do not involve an undue level of detour.

Conventional sharrows are not accomplishing the “low-stress connectivity” emphasized in the report. The infographic above is from a study in Portland, OR that found 60 percent of people surveyed were interested in cycling, but concerned for their safety. The “1% strong & fearless” and the “7% enthused & confident” are the ones most likely to appreciate the sharrow. But what about about the biggest chunk of prospective riders? To encourage more people on bikes, we need safe, dedicated infrastructure. And that almost always requires some sacrifice at the altar of the automobile.

Miami should consider implementing ‘enhanced sharrows’ like these as the conventional markings expire and need replacement.

In early 2012, I wrote a piece called The Year in Bicycles where I wondered if this would be the year Miami saw it’s first protected bicycle lane. As we approach the annual halfway mark, that question still remains unanswered.

North Miami Avenue through downtown Miami is practically begging for a two-way, protected bicycle lane. Here it is, desolate as usual, during the height of the work day at 3pm yesterday. A three lane tarmac of pavement with parking on both sides. This street could be transformed overnight with a few cans of paint.

The real question is, when will we see the “hard miles” of bicycle lanes in Miami to enhance and connect our network? Because conventional sharrows aren’t cutting it.

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9 Responses to Miami’s Sharrow Boom Needs to Evolve or Go Bust

  1. Rima says:

    Craig, thanks for pointing this out. I agree that little cute painted bicycles on streets will not cut it, Miami drivers are much too aggressive to be deterred or impressed by that. It simply does not achieve anything. I don’t feel safer, and cars won’t treat me any different. If we all could just share the roads, then we wouldn’t need any sharrows at all! But as it is, we need a true dedicated bike lane, marked separately, with color and separations. Everything else is just … well, cute. http://miamibeachbybike.com/sharrows-suck/


  2. Mari Chael says:

    These are all good points: Let’s make cycling mainstream locally, so commuting is not the fringe activity of the brave.

    I biked to the office today, as is my routine, sharing the road. (Trust me, I am not particularly brave.) It works for me because many of the streets in SoMi are low speed roads, including our main street, Sunset Drive. I think let connectivity rule, and sharrows on existing low speed streets are welcome, as is biking on sidewalks for those who would prefer it (yielding to pedestrians, of course). I actually think on narrower street, add sharrows now for a more immediate connected bike network, without waiting for a resurfacing project or a major road construction job. On busier streets, there should be bike lanes. But isn’t it the point that we should be striving for slow speed streets anyway such that pedestrians, cyclists, and motorized vehicles can share the road?


  3. B says:

    I agree with the “sharrows suck” article you link to. Sharrows are more about make-work political moves than seriously improving cycling infrastructure. They could potentially complement a mature system of bike lanes and paths, but it’s a joke to expect sharrows to be the kind of game changer that we really need.


  4. Matthew Toro says:

    Right on, Mr. Chester!

    Sharrows are material reminders of the entrenched ideology of automobile domination. They serve to superficially accommodate politicians’ (false) perception of the Miami bicycle community as a mere marginal (as you rightly say, ‘fringe’) faction needing to be appeased.

    We need a more concerted (and, frankly, more aggressive) effort to put more transformative bicycle facilities on our road network. We are perpetuating the dominance of the automobile by condoning the rapid proliferation of sharrows without a proper network of lanes, cycle-tracks, and all the rest of them.

    Sharrows may be well-intentioned, but they just aren’t cutting it to take Miami to where it needs to be.

    Among other things, the City of Miami is trying to advance from its current status as a mere “honorable mention” under the League of American Bicyclists’ “Bike Friendly City” classification system, and by the end of 2012, moreover.

    I hardly think a bunch of sharrows are going to take us there, not in 2012, nor in 2022.


  5. FrankG says:

    Bike lanes are fine as long as everyone’s going straight. When cars are turning right and their drivers are looking left, I don’t want to be on their right side. When I want to turn left, I don’t want to have to do it from the right side of the road. Sharrows are fine because they remind everyone that bicyclists belong on the road. Unfortunately, inexperienced cyclists feel safer riding one the extreme right side of the road, in bike lanes and on sidewalks when those can actually be more dangerous, especially at crossings.


  6. Jeff Butts says:

    I’m glad you’ve brought this subject up, indeed. I must say that, in my opinion, sharrows are a total panacea and may do more harm than good in giving transportation planners the belief that they have addressed a need for safe bicycling facilities.


  7. ivo says:

    this is nice, but takes to nowhere

    Miami’s Turnpike trail


  8. […] painting some sharrows, giving themselves a pat on the back, and calling it a day. (As noted in a recent TransitMiami post, sharrows just aren’t cutting it for true bicycle network […]


  9. […] Times Square Bike Lane, New York City. Photo from Transit Miami […]


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