Life & Death in the Shared Lane
Shared bike/car lanes, marked by what MassDOT affectionately(?) calls "sharrows," are a relatively new feature of Boston's streets. These indicators help alert divers and riders to a bicyclists' right to use the complete lane. Of course, riders already have this right, but now, with "sharrows," everybody knows it. These are a mixed blessing, as I will describe below.
The cars will stop honking (maybe). Have you ever, like me, been riding in the right lane of a road where there is no bike lane and a car drives up behind you and honks maniacally like their wife is in labor and needs to get to the hospital ASAP if only this dang bicyclist would get out of the way!? (if this has happened, I apologize to that person, though I probably did try to get out of the way, so you need to chill regardless). This is a common and annoying phenomena. First, bike riders have the right to use the full lane. Second, when I get over more to the right, the driver is likely to slam on the gas and roar by, very nearly clipping me with their mirror. Worse yet are the ones who will try to pass you, but not before slowing down, rolling down their window, and venting their worldly frustrations at you. It's times like these I am thankful for my headphones so I can pretend not to hear their ridiculous tirades. Some drivers seem to think they are making the world a better place by yelling at you to get off the road, or out of their lane, or whatever. I'll call these types "cargilantes." All they're really doing, however, is proving themselves to be a jerk while simultaneously putting you both in danger of a crash. In short, on the positives list for the sharrow is the neat painting on the ground that you can point to as proof that the cargilante should just shut up and move on with their day. It's what we're all trying to do.
What's easier than measuring, spacing, and re-lining a roadway for a proper bike path? Why, painting a sharrow, of course! It's like the poor-man's bike lane, because it's just the same old car lane you had to ride in before, except now it has a bike painted on it sometimes. The only real advantage being, as above, righteous indignation to use against cargilantes. Otherwise, a true bike path offers significantly more protection from encroaching vehicles, and everyone is just generally happier with their own lanes to use. Of course, bike lanes have their own problems (cars park in them, pedestrians stumble into them from between parked cars, and there is ample opportunity to get doored by those same parked cars), but I'd still rather have a bike lane than a sharrow, not that the gesture isn't appreciated.