Over twenty years ago I suggested to my parents that I would like to be a vegetarian. My mother said that to be a vegetarian, you had to eat lots and lots of fish. This made sense to me at the time because I was raised to believe that if there is something that you really want it comes with a price that is in direct proportion to your desire. I hated eating fish so it was logical that this would be the price exacted of me if I wanted to be a vegetarian. This is probably at least part of why I have persistent fears of being dismembered by an automobile when I am out riding my bicycle. I desperately love riding my bicycle and I am trained to believe that a cost of equal intensity will be exacted from me if I continue to ride. Slowly I piece together that there are vegetarians who do not eat fish and so I suggest to my father that I will become a vegetarian who does not eat fish. My father tells me that there is "meat in everything." I go off and consider my favorite treat, the Snickers bar. I read the ingredients. No meat! I become a Snickers-tarian, subsisting on Snickers bars and the occasional piece of fruit and let me tell you it is one hundred percent true, a Snickers really does satisfy. Parents, let this be a lesson to you: lying to your kids can have unpleasant and unexpected repercussions.
Fast forward six months or a year and I am pretty burned out on candy bars no matter how filling and sugary. This is before internet access for me and so I visit a vegetarian restaraunt and buy a cookbook that happens to be the Moosewood Cookbook. And in that cookbook (I'm getting to the point here) is a recipe for (wait for it) Sharrows! Just kidding. It's a recipe for Carob Fudge Brownies. Yummy! Carob! Kidding again! No one gets very excited about carob. To paraphrase Sandra Boynton, both chocolate and carob are brown but then again same thing can be said of dirt. Carob is arguably not tasty but it is definitely and unquestionably not chocolate which brings me directly to so-called "sharrows."
I've been chunking through my "I hate sharrows" post for awhile. The problem is, when I am bicycling in one (they have arrived in my local downtown) the hatred is not some pure and unforgiving fire. It's not even hate. Sharrows are the guy you date when you are lonely but you should really wait for someone slightly better, you know, like a guy who is not a total asshole and who has a job. If I say "I hate sharrows" then obviously I want them gone but I find that I am not sorry they are there. So, what's the deal? The deal is that sharrows are what you get instead of Mr. Right or even Mr. Employed and Not An Ass.
Sharrows do not make cars share because cars do not share, it's not in their nature. There are decades of signs posted alongside roads that say silly hopeful stuff like "Share The Road" and those signs are ignored all the time by everyone except the bicyclist being forced up against the curb who points at them just before getting side-swiped. Cars. Don't. Share. Cars can have three lanes and they'll still balk at moving out of the way for a bicycle because the poor long-suffering driver of the car is working very hard with their hands and feet to keep that big heavy machine moving forward and if they were to move over one lane it might kill them. Asking a car to share is like asking a semi-conductor to give a lecture on higher mathematics. You can ask but there won't be a ton of response.
Back to chocolate and carob: Sharrows are carob when I am expecting chocolate. What I want is a bicycle lane. What I want for my kids and their friends and enemeies is a separate network of bicycle roads a la Holland. What I want is a place to ride where I feel safe and confident and for me that is a bicycle lane and in some places that is a path where there are no cars. At no time do I feel safe and secure in a sharrow because sharrows are filled with cars and cars kill bicyclists. But if I stop trying to make carob into chocolate, or stop asking the sharrow to be a bicycle lane, I find that I like certain aspects of it.
What I like:
- Sharrows look a little like bicycle lanes and so serve the purpose of hinting to the attentive cars that they can reasonably expect to see a bicycle.
- I tend to ride too close to parked cars and their doors because I am less afraid of being doored then I am of being run over. Sharrows persuade me further away from the car doors.
- For those brief moments when I am bicycling on top of the sharrow paint I think the cars have a slightly harder time bullying me. They seem to wait to force their way around until I am no longer on the white chevrons. It's not perfect but every little bit helps.
What I do not like:
- We are not getting cars who reliably watch out for bicyclists. Depending on what study you read, cars may actually be incapable of watching for bicyclists. I want to ride my bicycle with the same risk of death as a pedestrian walking to the corner store. I want for kids everywhere to be able to enjoy the independence of bicycling to school and team practices or just the home of a friend without being run over and killed by some seventeen year old listening to Emo music and angsting over his C- in Photography.
- Sharrows feel like a cheap sop to the masses. Like asking for a living wage and getting a $2 coupon to Subway.
I'm always going to choose chocolate desserts over carob desserts but in the end if someone throws something down in front of you and says "here it is" there are occasions when you should probably suck it up and eat. For me, sharrows are one such occasion.