The city has installed 13 new miles of bicycle sharrows—or, as they’re often called, “shared lane markings”—this summer on city streets in an attempt to keep, they say, the peace, reinforce the existing rules of the road, and create a sense of “continuity” (see below).

Popping up in North Philly, Fishtown, Center City and north-south between Washington and Fairmount on 18th and 21st, the marks were first recommended by the city’s Pedestrian Bicycle Plan, according to the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities’ Pedestrian and Bicycle Coordinator Charles Carmalt.

Before that, such markings were actually approved by the Federal High Administration in 2009. Below is everything you need to know about the markings and, maybe, lots you don’t.

First off: What’s the point?

Shared lane markings assist motorists. The white painted bicycle let them know to beware of two-wheeled menaces, because we’re here, and, legally, we can use this entire lane (which is something many drivers in the city do not seem to be aware of). Additionally, according to the Highway Commission, sharrows help keep the cyclist away from the sides of cars where she’s more likely to get doored; they encourage safe passing; and remind cyclists to ride the correct way (with traffic) down the road.

How do we know this stuff will actually, you know, work?

Simple. Because the Highway Administration studied that shit. “The experiments found that sharrows were effective in guiding bicyclists away from the door zone’—the area adjacent to parked cars where a car door could trap a bicyclist when it is opened unexpectedly, and to increase the predictability of how bicyclists will ride on a roadway,” says Carmalt. “The 2012 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan for Philadelphia, issued in April 2012, identified a number of streets on which sharrows might be appropriate.”

Do these markings give us cyclists any additional rights or responsibilities?



OK, so, where are these shared lane markings, exactly?

Well, prior to this summer’s painting project, they were already all over the place. In fact, the sharrows have been installed on about 21 miles of Philly streets. They were first put down on Ridge Ave. in East Falls, and on Main Street, Manayunk. This summer, they’ve painted the markings on 13 additional miles of roadway. Those miles include portions of 13th and 15th Streets between Spring Garden Street and Temple University; in Fishtown on portions of Memphis, Tulip, Columbia and Marlborough; on Sansom Street in Center City west of Broad Street (they’re already on the east side); and 18th and 21st Streets in Center City between Washington and Fairmount Avenues.

Cool! One of those places is right near my house. How’d I get so lucky?

Mostly, they were put in the Bicycle Network Plan—but getting in the plan was part of a larger strategy. For instance, ever bike south on Frankford Avenue through Fishtown? It sucks, but it seems like the best route because who can navigate all those diagonal one-way streets?  According to Carmalt, the streets were chosen to, among other things, provide alternatives to main, busy, terrible streets like Frankford Ave, Girard Ave. and Broad Street. The other reason they were chosen, according to Carmalt: continuity. “Streets that have been marked with bike lanes often have short segments where the bike lanes cannot be marked. Sharrows provide a method of showing a continuation of the bicycle facility and guide bicyclists on the safest location to ride,” he says.

Is that it?

No. The sharrows also fill in gaps in a much larger bicycle network. “On south 59th Street, sharrows were installed in 2012 to guide cyclists between the Cobbs Creek Trail and the 58th Street Greenway,” says Carmalt. “This link is a portion of the East Coast Greenway, a national trail that connects cities together between Florida and Maine. The sharrows that were installed this summer in Fishtown are another example of how sharrows may be used to guide cyclists through a confusing street pattern.”

Florida, you say? Sounds like a long and potentially dangerous trip.

Good thing sharrows also help you stop getting doored. They’re specifically placed to guide cyclists away from bus stops and parked cars. “Where a bicycle route must be located on a street with parked cars, sharrows are placed 11 to 13 feet away from the curb to encourage cyclists to keep at least three feet away from parked cars,” Carmalt continues. “Similarly, on streets with bus service, sharrows can be used to guide cyclists away from the curb where buses must stop. On streets with parking on only one side of the street, the Streets Department will usually locate sharrows on the side of the street without parking.”

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