In Search of Good PSAs about Bike Lanes and Sharrows

Just around the corner from Bike Shop Hub (a.k.a. Commute by Bike World Headquarters) is Mia’s Lounge, your basic bar. Except Mia’s has a little store, tucked into a corner, where you can buy bags of peanuts, chips, candy bars, sodas, cigarettes, carryout beer and distilled beverages.

It’s the shortest distance between us and sugary caffeine — not counting the Greek restaurant across the street from us, which always seems to be having a communal employee cigarette break blockading the entrance.

So once or twice a day someone here will announce, “I’m going to Mia’s. Anybody want anything?” And then that co-worker will walk over to a bar, during work hours, come back a few minutes later, and it’s perfectly okay.

Mia's Sidewalk Rider and Sharrow
A sidewalk cyclist passes in front of Mia's. The sad sharrow sighs.

Yesterday, I apparently got a job at Mia’s.

I had stopped in front of the bar to ponder a flier in the window. Four kids, probably 12-year-olds, came cycling up the sidewalk. One shouted ahead to me to make room. Instinctively, I squeezed toward the wall — which is counter to my usual strategy (when I have time to think) which is to block the sidewalk nonchalantly.

Not everyone ignores the sharrow
Not everyone ignores the sharrow

I instantly realized my missed opportunity, so I said to the kids as they passed, “You can ride in the street here — you’re supposed to.”

I heard one of the kids say something like, “Okay. Thanks,” as they all pedaled away from me.

The bartender at Mia’s stepped out of front door and said to me, “You’re hired. I’m so tired of that, I can’t say it as nice as you can anymore.”

I don’t really want a job at Mia’s, but maybe I can leverage this into one free beer.

I’m all for sharrows (as well as bike lanes, and simply sharing the roads). But I’m starting to wonder who (besides bike advocates and people who read bike blogs) even knows what sharrows are. I just had a meeting here at my desk with a smart guy; a citizen of the city where I live. I showed him a photo, also taken in front of Mia’s, of a cyclists and a sharrow. I asked him if he knew what it was.

“Umm… That that lane is just for cyclists?”


What do we do to educate people about the meaning of these cryptic markings on our roads? Anything?

I don’t see much TV, so I kind of assumed that there were PSAs or something that told motorists, This is a sharrow. If you see one painted one the road, it means you should run down fewer cyclists than you would ordinarily.

I guess I’m wrong. Where I live there apparently has not been an effective effort to educate the public about the fabulous things the city has done — which makes it a little less fabulous, I think.

But have other municipalities done this? It turns out that they have. What I found is not particularly impressive, but it’s better than nothing.

Here is a selection:

This has the production values of a YouTube reply video made by a nine year old, starring the mom of said tween. And the music creates a mental association of bike lanes and sharrows with a menacing accordionist.

Concise and to the point. But, again, the weird music. Discordant xylophone arpeggios descending into madness — the madness of bike lanes!

This was a class project done by some college kids — apparently filmed and produced on the way to class on the day the assignment was due. The shaky video gives the sense that bike lanes are good for fleeing the university campus in the event of an earthquake. There’s absolutely no education message here except for a few bland titles: “Pedestrians are Everywhere,” “Bike Lanes are Everywhere,” “Bike Lanes Protect Everyone.” If you have read this paragraph without watching the video, you’ve saved yourself from motion sickness.

Better. Short and to the point. The whimsical Leave it to Beaver music is almost too upbeat. Maybe there’s no pleasing me.

Again: These are all better than nothing.

But what are we doing, cyclists? How are we getting the word out to other cyclists as well as motorists?

Telepathy isn’t working.

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13 thoughts on “In Search of Good PSAs about Bike Lanes and Sharrows”

  1. jason says:

    Here in Boulder, drivers are seemingly very aware of us. Often they stop for us crossing, even though they have the right of way. Education has paid off here, as seen in the prolific use of signposts marking bike trails along with distances and locations of parks, etc. on the paths.

  2. I don’t know if it’s good, but here’s the one we did:

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I like it! It’s probably too long to be a TV PSA, but the production values are good, and the messaging is directed both at cyclists and motorist.

  3. J Rob says:

    Here’s a Bike Lane Edu-video from the friendly folks at “Reach Healthy Communities” in Columbus, Indiana. It’s pretty terrific!

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      A little stiff on the delivery, but very thorough. Too long for a TV PSA, but it’s had 1,133 YouTube views in the year it’s been up.

      The music at the beginning is kind of weird. If you play it backwards, do you hear, “Cars are dead?”

  4. JaimeRoberto says:

    I thought they were little accelerators that give you abnormal speed to pass your competitors like in Mario Cart.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      More people probably know what Mario Cart is than know what a sharrow is. That ain’t right.

  5. True. It aired on the city’s Cable TV channel, and obviously YouTube…

  6. Karen says:

    My former boss, CM Tom Owen of Louisville’s Metro Council has created a couple of PSA’s for Metro TV to help educate the public about how to take your bike on the bus and how to pedal safely. They have been widely watched, partly because he is very well-loved public servant (as opposed to politician) and because he is known for his penchant for walking, biking and busing everywhere.

    Flagstaff doesn’t have a high-profile bike spokesperson like Tom. Nor does it have a local TV station where PSAs can be run. I formerly worked for the City and I don’t even know if the city has it’s own public affairs station. Louisville Metro TV has a pretty high viewership, and I always got calls about his PSAs, mostly very positive. We just don’t have the media outlets of larger cities.

    I believe that South San Francisco Street is signed though just north of Butler to indicate that bikes can take the sharrowed lane.

  7. jack says:

    There really aren’t enough bike lanes. I can’t tell you how many times cars have come close to hitting me. I sometimes thing that they’re trying to see how close they can get to me without actually hitting me.

  8. Patrick says:

    “Telepathy isn’t working.”
    Heh, no, not so well.
    Here in NYC I haven’t seen many PSA’s at all regarding the use of Sharrows, or the now *mandatory* bicycle lanes appearing all over the city. There are signs that appear in major centers of the city next to racks, as well as information signs present in some greenways explaining how to use the lanes, but I’m yet to see any real motorist training or informational announcements.
    In fact, the NYC Police are the only telepathic entities out there that don’t train motorists, but rather train cyclists on what not to do. They’ve adopted this great ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy for not observing the laws that are not well defined or even known by cyclists. Many commuters are informed by New York’s Finest in the form of a hefty fine ($60 and up) or a summons to court, where if you aren’t found not guilty, get a plea bargin to have all charges dropped if you don’t get pinched by the cops for a period of 6 months, or have to pay a moderate fine. (I’ve had to appear 3 times in court! Once they even threatened to suspend my drivers license if I failed to appear in court)

    NYC has taken a major initiative to construct Bicycle lanes throughout major metro centers, but it would seem they didn’t consult very many cyclists before leaving the planning phase and progressing into the construction stage. The result seems to be a system designed more for tourists than commuters. The lights are shorter necessitating more frequent stops, and nobody respects the lanes at all. Cars park in them, pedestrians walk in them, and cross without looking at all. It’s to the point where if I ever am unfortunate enough to strike a pedestrian, I will claim my action as self-defence from their attempted suicide.

    I usually avoid the dedicated bike lanes on city streets, because they are a haven for disaster in my opinion. I actually feel safer blending with the vehicular traffic, because I can typically keep pace with it. I’m told by other cyclists that this is illegal, if there is a bike lane provided. The only wiggle room seems to be if you can prove that the bicycle lane as it exists poses a danger to your personal safety. But given my experience with the Police here, I’ll likely end up in court again soon. At least I’m off my 6 month probation period.

    One of my closest commuter friends created this youtube video documenting these new lanes and how she tried to love them. Even as a native NY’er I found it informative.

  9. Matt says:

    Oh, is that what those arrow & bikes things are! They started appearing here in Binghamton as well.

  10. plh says:

    We also need PSAs about bike safety generally. Ride with the traffic, wear a helmet, etc. I ride nearly every day and I do see many of what are apparently new or inexperienced riders engaged in such unsafe practices.

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