On the inconsistency of sharrows: Opinion

View From the Gutter

On the inconsistency of sharrows

Opinion by Jake Allderdice

~ Originally published in issue 4, spring 2010, of dandyhorse magazine ~

Back in 2009, a crew of Toronto city workers painted a row of bike stencils and chevrons along the gutter lane where Dundas East crosses the Don River. These “sharrows” —lanes or “rows” that are shared by both motorized vehicles and non-motorized traffic—have since popped up around the city.

Here at dandyhorse we’ve promoted the use of sharrows (see issues 1 and 3), albeit with reservations. We offered constructive criticism: they might work, we said, if they were more frequent on the road and if they could be painted directly beneath traffic lights. Some of what we said seems to have registered.

Today, sharrows have become the preferred tool of the transportation department to mediate demands from cyclists for dedicated space on the road, and the insistence of motorists to maintain the status quo.

The City especially likes to use sharrows where existing bike lanes come to an illogical end. One example is on Lansdowne where sharrows run between College and Bloor streets. Toronto plans to place sharrows on streetcar routes including College and King where they’ve determined there’s no room for bike lanes. (Preliminary plans suggest: College from Manning to Lansdowne and King from Roncesvalles to Strachan.)

The City was even considering a new application: a “floating sharrow” where the emblem would be painted twice. One marking for a rush-hour-lane sharrow and the another for non-peak hours, in the gutter lane, where cyclists would “share” with parked cars. At the City of Toronto’s recent open house (February 1) at Metro Hall, infrastructure plans for 2010 were showcased.

Boisterous discussion of sharrow placements erupted during the Q & A after the official presentation and it was understood that the “floating sharrow” would not fly, not this year anyway. It was also announced (to mostly positive response) that sharrows would be painted through intersections, on roads where bike lanes already exist, a la Montreal (and others). The fact is, in their incarnation here in Toronto sharrows have consistently been painted in the so-called

“bicycle zone” of the road: that is, “as close to the curb as practicable,” as Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act puts it.

By placing the markings at the gutter, Toronto is sending a clear message to cyclists to “share the lane”, leaving motorists out of the conversation. Sharrow markings in their original habitat of Portland, Oregon, are placed in the centre of the “car” lane. It’s clear in this confi guration that it is the driver who’s being reminded to share the road.

When Toronto slaps sharrows down in the gutter, it sends a message to cyclist to be cautious, to beware. But cyclists don’t need to be told this. For crying out loud!

I mean, do we live on Toronto Island? OF COURSE we have to share the gutter with cars. Half the time we share the bike lane with (parked) cars. Paul Young, whose

public health promotion work out of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre was essential in getting the original Dundas East bike lanes through the approvals jungle at City Hall, says: “Discussions to date indicate that sharrows—as developed by the Transport Association of Canada—are not intended to create space for cyclists, rather they are intended to show cyclists the correct position to ride on the road.”

So what’s the real message here?

Bloor/Danforth has been in the sights of cycling advocates as a logical place for dedicated bike lanes for years: ARC (Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists) questioned its absence from the City’s Bicycle Master Plan in 2000, and a more recent movement has sprung up asking it be initiated in memory of the late Tooker Gomberg—a petition with well over 5,000 names curdles on City staffers’ desks—while another group, Bells on Bloor, has initiated an annual, family-friendly group ride from High Park into the city core that now draws thousands. The street was called out as the logical place for an east-west crosstown link in a report issued by Toronto’s Bicycle Transportation czar Daniel Egan as early as 1992.

Instead, painting crews painted a small strip of sharrows on Bloor, just east of Yonge. More are planned for the stretch of road between Church and Avenue. Those sharrows speak directly to cycling advocates too. “Relax, people, here’s a bone to chew. Oh, and remember: share the road!”

Dave Meslin, on his “Mez Dispenser” blog, writes: “I’ve never been a big fan of sharrows, because I’ve seen them as an easy way for politicians to score points without actually doing what needs to be done.” Amen to that, brother.

~ Originally published in issue 4, spring 2010, of dandyhorse magazine ~


Read the City of Toronto's updated information on sharrows here.


Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com

New North-South bike lane through Kensington Market

Going with the flow: Contraflow lanes for TO

Bloor (finally) gets a bike lane

A Do-Able Danforth

Sign the petition to support the installation of new contraflow lanes in Toronto

dandyCommute: Lowther to Lappin (P.S. Win a bike! Send us your dandyCommute today!)

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