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Do sharrows work?

Denver and other Colorado communities take pride in being bicycle friendly. The city's website touts the fact that there are more than 100 miles of multi-use trails available. At the same time, there are some 400 miles of designated bike routes and 39 miles of sharrows. Wait a minute, sharrows? What are sharrows?

If you haven't heard the term, don't feel bad. According to some sources, it was only coined in 2004 by organizers of the bicycle program in San Francisco. The word is formed by blending the words share and arrow. What it means is a painted marking on a paved road surface that is supposed to show that bicyclists and motor vehicles should share the road.

The idea behind them is that they make the roads safer for bicyclists. If they happen to be used on a paved path, they're supposed to make the path safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But as those with experience dealing with personal injury law in Colorado know, such accidents are still quite common and the trauma that can result from a bike-pedestrian or vehicle-pedestrian accident can be devastating.

That seems to suggest that sharrows might not be all they're cracked up to be as far as preventing accidents. And new research by a University of Colorado Denver team seems to support that idea.

The researchers studied data from 2008 to 2010, comparing accident reports from three types of street areas in Chicago -- those that had designated bike lanes, those that had sharrows and those that had no biking designation of any kind.

What they found was that bike commuting increased across all areas during the timeframe. And rates of cycling injuries fell by 42 percent in designated lane areas. Rates also fell in the two other areas, but the differences weren't statistically significant.

Their conclusion: Sharrows may encourage bike riding, but they don't offer any greater protection to cyclists -- suggesting that designated lanes might be the way to go.

What do you think?

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