WTF is a “sharrow”? A guide to the language of sharing the road

Lindsay Abrams
Dec 13, 2016 · 3 min read

New words and new definitions for navigating NYC’s streets.

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Sharing the Road

The concept that drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all have the right to use NYC’s streets, and the responsibility to do so safely.

Right of Way

When in doubt, defer to the more vulnerable party: drivers and cyclists must yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and at intersections where they have a “walk” sign; drivers making turns must yield to cyclists proceeding straight through the intersection. Knowing when to yield and take the right of way and doing so accordingly is integral to sharing the road.

Oh, and under Local Law 29, also known as NYC’s Right of Way Law, a driver who kills or injures a pedestrian because they failed to yield the right of way in a crosswalk can be charged with a misdemeanor, and fined up to $250.

Vision Zero

NYC’s plan to end all traffic fatalities and injuries through a combination of measures such as a lowered speed limit (25 mph!), enhanced traffic enforcement, improved street design, and public education.


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Sharrow, via NYC DOT

A portmanteau of “share” and “arrow”, it indicates places where bikes and cars aren’t just sharing the streets — they’re sharing the lane. Behave accordingly.

Idaho stop

The practice by which cyclists treat traffic lights as stop signs, and stop signs as yield signs, while yielding right of way to pedestrians and oncoming traffic. It differs in intention — if not in legality — from blowing red lights and stop signs.


The practice of biking in the wrong direction on a one-way street or bike lane. It’s considered dangerous, as it makes bikes less predictable to drivers and pedestrians and puts other cyclists at risk.

Traffic Calming

The use of infrastructure and design, such as speed bumps, curb extensions, or traffic diverters, to make streets safer by discouraging aggressive driving.


Leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) are walk signals that give pedestrians a head start at intersections, allowing them to begin crossing the street before drivers are given their corresponding green lights. A new bill allowing cyclists to take advantage of LPIs (after yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk) is currently being considered by the City Council.

Barnes Dance

The practice of stopping all traffic at major intersections so that pedestrians can cross in any direction. New York City has just one; another bill recently introduced in the City Council would consider the feasibility of adding 25 more.

Safe passing

A particular concern for cyclists is when cars overtake them too closely, destabilizing and, in some cases, side-swiping them. New York doesn’t specify a safe passing distance, but in 26 U.S. states, it’s set at three feet (and in Pennsylvania, it’s four).


Cyclists have the advantage of being able to keeping moving in slow or stuck vehicular traffic by riding between lanes or weaving through cars. However, this behavior is considered unsafe, as it makes their actions less predictable.

Street harassment

Pedestrians and cyclists making their way through the streets have the added challenge of being exposed: they’re more vulnerable to unwelcome comments and aggressive behavior. Catcalling and sexual harassment are two major problems, but cyclists point out that driver behavior like unnecessary honking, tailgating, or otherwise attempting to intimidate cyclists with their cars negatively impacts their real and perceived sense of safety as well.

Are any of these definitions incomplete, or are there terms that are missing altogether? Leave a comment here, or send me an email at

The New Rules of the Road

An anti-crash course for NYC cyclists, pedestrians and…

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