I’m an ecovillager who is studying to get a PhD in cultural anthropology, and my dissertation project revolves around biking in LA. I’m going to spend a lot of time in the next year talking to people and writing about the way our bodies become engaged with our city differently through bicycling than they do through driving or walking.
Since I think of bicyclists as “body-city-machines,” I started wondering about the boundaries between our bodies, our bikes, and our streets. How do they get stirred up as we ride? As an experiment, I decided to do some active boundary blurring and get a sharrow tattoo.
As many cyclists know, “sharrows” are share-the-road-arrows or, as they are listed officially in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), shared lane markings. They get painted onto roadways to remind cyclists and drivers that the safest place to bike is in the middle of the lane, not hugging parked cars. I really like the design of the sharrow, with its simply bicycle outline and two chevrons indicating forward motion. So a few weeks ago I visited New Rose Tattoo in Portland and consulted with Mikal Gilmore, who had just finished tattooing a friend.
My friend Kristen Cross documented the process for me.
Mikal developed this stencil by just going outside of her house and looking at the street, since Portland had just painted a whole bunch of bright, shiny new sharrows on many bike routes. The tattoo design differs a bit from the MUTCD regulation sharrow:
Let’s hope I don’t get fined for installing nonstandard signage. Not only does the symbol differ slightly, my tattoo is not retroreflectorized.
I felt like getting a sharrow tattoo would not only be a fun way to display my interest in transforming how we move in the United States, but also be a play on infrastructure.
It’s exciting to run around with this guy on my leg, especially since the City of LA just started painting their own sharrows due to the hard work of the LA County Bike Coalition. It also makes me feel like my commitment to bikes is something inalienable, something embodied.
Coming soon: a picture of the sharrow tattoo riding over one of LA’s new official sharrows.