News / Toronto

Why cyclists hate sharrows

Many bike advocates say they're at best a half measure and certainly no substitute for designated lanes.

A cyclist rides south in the sharrows on Bay Street.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

A cyclist rides south in the sharrows on Bay Street.

The City of Toronto will continue to paint sharrows this year, despite evidence suggesting they’re next to useless.

In addition to around 250 kilometres of designated bike lanes, Toronto has 53.9 kilometres of sharrows: shared-lane markings featuring a bicycle below two chevrons. They serve as reminders that cyclists and drivers should share the road and nudge cyclists away from parked cars that can pose a hazard.

But many bike advocates say they’re at best a half measure and certainly no substitute for designated lanes.

“If there’s no political will, that’s when they’re considered,” said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation. “That’s not a recommended course of action, but that’s what has been happening.”

Sharrows were first developed by Denver transportation engineer James Mackay in 1993. In a May episode of the 99percentinvisible podcast, Mackay explains that sharrows were originally a compromise. The city was unwilling to spend more money on cycling infrastructure, and so the shared lane markings were made as a low-cost substitute.

Studies since then suggest that sharrows have limited effectiveness.

A 2013 Ryerson University study showed that in Vancouver and Toronto, sharrows had the worst rate of cyclist injuries among nine forms of bike infrastructure analyzed. A 2015 University of Colorado study found that sharrows performed worse than doing nothing at all.

Smith Lea said sharrows can be useful in areas with very little car traffic and low speeds — but that means they aren’t suitable for most Toronto streets in need of bike lanes.

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