We’ve all seen the sharrow, but not all of us know what it means. Most drivers think it creates a bike lane and will even yell at the cyclists to ride in the lane while pointing to the sharrow. However, it’s not a bike lane designation, it’s actually there to tell where cyclists can safely ride without being at risk for car doors, drains and other hazards that exist on the far-right side of the street.
It’s also there to alert drivers that the road is a preferred bike path and to remind them that they have to share the road with cyclists.
So Just What is a Sharrow Again?
Sharrows are meant to prevent confusion by telling cyclists and drivers that bikes are allowed to ride in the road, and they are allowed to do so in a safe manner.
Where Can I Ride?
Ok, let’s start with where a cyclist is allowed and required to ride on streets in the Bay Area. California Vehicle Code, section 21200, states that a bicycle is considered a vehicle for purposes of rights-of-way and traffic laws, and a cyclist has all the rights and responsibilities of a motor vehicle driver.
This means that a cyclist can ride his or her bike on the road with the other vehicles. However, there is another law, CVC 21208, that says if a cyclist can’t keep up with the flow of traffic, then he or she is required to ride in a bike lane—if one exists—or ride on the far-right side of the right lane.
Keeping Up with Traffic
I know what you’re thinking, “If I can’t keep up with traffic and am required to ride on the right side, then why is the sharrow practically in the middle of the road?” This confuses even those who know what a sharrow is. The answer is in the law.
If you can keep up with traffic, then you are allowed to ride with traffic in the traffic lane the same as the other cars. Thus a sharrow tells you where it’s safe to ride. But if you can’t keep up with traffic, then you have to ride to the right EXCEPT when there are hazards on the right, or when a lane is too narrow, then you can move to the left.
When is a Lane Too Narrow?
If a lane is narrow enough that a car and a cyclist can’t ride side-by-side, then it is considered too narrow and cyclists NOT keeping up with traffic are allowed to ride in the road with traffic, and motor vehicle drivers are supposed to wait until the road widens before they pass. This is in keeping with another law called three feet for safety which requires drivers to give bicycles three feet when passing them.
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