Sharrows, Bike Lanes and Shared Space on the Streets of Toronto

Toronto sharrow on Wellesley at Yonge
I remember back to when I was preparing to take my G-1 driver’s test. I stayed up really late the night before my exam studying the Ontario Driver’s Handbook. I treated this little book the same as one of my science or history texts. I looked for the possibility of trick questions and memorized the seemingly countless street signs while also trying to remember all of the rules.

After taking the short eye test and learning how tall I was I realized that the studying I had done was more than a little excessive. The rules of the road and the signs that dictate them are meant to be intuitive. You should be able to recognize the meaning of a sign with a little additional information and for the most part many people seem to be able to do just that.

While biking around Toronto over the past few years it is a pleasure to see more and more cycling-related signs and painted symbols along our city streets. But, are they enough?

The photo at the top of this page is a “sharrow” painted on Wellesley just west of Yonge and leads to a bike lane that is just beyond a delivery drop-off area.

I personally like sharrows and I believe they should be on most roads in the city. Sharrows inform cyclists that they are on a road with shared traffic. There are no exclusions to the rules and no segregation, to get along you have to go with the flow and you have to follow the rules. The chevrons point the way and even seem to demand that you notice them.

But, unlike many of the cycling-related signs on Toronto streets, sharrows are for both cyclists and motorists.

For motorists, sharrows ask that you give room to cyclists, that you must be aware of their presence and tell you to share the space you’re driving in.

While I appreciate bike lanes, and certainly want to see more of them in the city, I don’t feel they present a consistent message to the motorists and cyclists on Toronto’s streets. A bike lane can be perceived as something separate, something that has been “taken” from motorists and something many drivers feel they need to take back (or so it seems if you’ve been following the bike lane development along Annette and Dupont).

I find myself getting a little too comfortable in bike lanes, assuming that since I’m in my dedicated cycling space I’ll be safe from “door prizes” and unsignaled right turns. This false sense of security doesn’t promote safe cycling as much as I believe sharrows can.

On a recent trip to Vancouver Island I noticed that in many areas there is this focus on shared space. I often came across this sign:

Share the Road

It’s a simple sign. The graphic is clear, and the added instruction below leaves no room for misinterpretation.

What are your thoughts on sharrows and bike lanes?

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