What are Sharrows?

Sharrow on Main Street in Ellicott City

“Sharrows” or “Shared-lane markings” are intended to help motorists and cyclists safely share and navigate streets. The sharrows show cyclists where to be in the road (aligned with the middle of the chevron markings), and along with “Bikes may use full lane” signs, remind drivers that the presence of bicyclists is to be expected.

Sharrows are different from bike lanes, which are reserved exclusively for bicyclists and are marked by a solid white line and a bicycle symbol.

Sharrows also show where cyclists can position themselves on the street to avoid being struck by a suddenly-opened car door. Although it is the responsibility of the motorist to check before opening their door, cyclists can stay safe by not riding in the “door zone”.

Sharrow with parked cars
Sharrow outside of the “door zone”

Sharrows Frequently Asked Questions

Q.  The sharrows are in the center of the lane. Aren’t cyclists supposed to stay to the right?

Sharrow on Old Dobbin Lane in Columbia

A.  Not always. According to Maryland law, cyclists are to stay to the right except to pass another vehicle traveling in the same direction, to prepare to make a left turn, to avoid riding in a lane that turns or diverges to the right, to avoid unsafe conditions, or when the lane width is too narrow to safely share with a motor vehicle. The minimum lane width for a motor vehicle and bicycle to share side-by-side is 14 feet (AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities). On lanes narrower than 14 feet with speed limits of 25 mph or less, it is usually safer (and totally legal) for the cyclist to ride in the center of the lane.

Q.  If I see these markings in a lane, is the lane only for bikes?

A.  No. These markings can be used in any lane that is used by bicyclists and motorists. Bicycle lanes, which are set aside for bicyclists, are marked by a solid white line and a different symbol.

Q.  So, if I don’t see these markings, then it’s not a shared lane and bicyclists aren’t supposed to be there?

A.  No, cyclists can ride on any street in Howard County except limited access freeways with signs explicitly prohibiting cyclists (such as Interstate 95). Sharrows are intended to reinforce that cyclists are allowed to use the traffic lanes, not to define a special condition.

Q.  Are these markings going to be on every street that does not have a bike lane?

Sharrows on Levering Avenue in Elkridge

A.  No, these markings will be used primarily on streets that fit into the biking network, where a significant number of cyclists is expected, or to note a connection between common cycling routes. In these cases, a separate bike lane is generally preferred, but in cases where a bike lane is not feasible (usually due to space constraints), sharrows may be a helpful alternative.

Q.  I’ve never seen these markings before. Why are they being used now?

A.  These markings were approved by the Federal Highway Administration for use nationwide. They were recommended in the Howard County Bicycle Master Plan for some locations, and were included in Council Bill 3-2016 for Main Street Ellicott City.

Q.  How do I pass a cyclist who is riding in front of me following the sharrows in the center of the lane?

A.  The same as always – wait for a safe opportunity to pass and leave at least 3 feet to the cyclist when passing. The delay is never very long and a safe chance to pass will soon present itself. Please be patient on the roads and courteous to all road users.

Sharrow Concept
Cyclists following sharrows
(Photo Credit: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide)

If you have feedback or comments, please let us know!