Although the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) has been installing R4-11 (Bicycles may use full lane) signs on many highways, managers have indicated that sharrows will be used more sporadically, if at all. So I was quite surprised to see some sharrows on MD-450 in Bladensburg, where right the lanes are 12 feet wide.
Unfortunately, SHA placed the sharrows about 4 feet from the curb rather than in the center of the lane. I sent them the following complaint.
I am filing this under "complaint" because it may or may not be time-sensitive. I noticed about 4 sharrows painted in the right lane and if more are planned, it would be wise to reflect on these concerns before proceeding.
MBPAC and others have warned SHA that the guidance for sharrows is incomplete and/or misleading. Sharrows are used under two very different situations: On lanes that are wide enough to share side-by-side, and on lanes that are too narrow to share side by side (often with an R4-11 sign). In the former case, sharrows should usually be about 4 feet from the curb or pavement edge--and that is what the guidance said. But when the lane is too narrow to share side by side, then sharrows should be in the center of the lane.
Here you have sharrows 4 feet from the curb on 12 foot lanes. Such sharrows communicate to drivers that the cyclists should be keeping right to make room for the car to pass within the lane--but there is not enough room. The sharrows also communicate to drivers that a cyclist using the full lane (generally about 7 feet from the curb) is hogging the lane when he should be farther to the right. Given that we even have R4-11 signs on this road, you have just painted sharrows that contradict the message of the R4-11 signs.
For examples of the right way to do this, please see the photos for the following cities:
A side benefit of mid-lane sharrows is that they do not wear away as fast as sharrows placed in the tire tracks, But the main reason not to place sharrows 4 feet from the curb in a 12-foot lane is that doing so encourages cyclists to ride in a place where drivers will attempt to pass bikes within the lane with insufficient clearance--exactly the opposite of what the R4-11 sign was designed to do.
I'll let you know what they decide.
Jim Titus is a bicycle advocate from Prince Georges County. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he is affiliated.