Sharrows Miss the Point on Harbord

In the cover of night, workers began installing sharrows along Harbord.

A point of contention for years, the disconnected bike lane between Bathurst and Spadina has inspired Urban Repair Squad intervention and left Councilor Adam Vaughan singing the same old tune that the very sparse car parking on this strip is essential to the survival of the businesses here.

Ignoring the fact that this is one of the most direct east/west bicycle routes connecting west end residents to downtown work and school this gap reflects the overall disinterest in the City of Toronto for providing continuous, consistent and much needed bicycle infrastructure.

Like placing a band-aid over an axe wound, sharrows, painted stencils that encourage motorists and drivers to ride right over them, now “fill” the gap.

There’s no denying that space is limited along this street. Yet while further west street parking alternates sides of the street to accommodate bike lanes this effective use of space is ignored and instead pictures of bicycles place cyclists directly in the door zone:

And to make matters worse, the boxed in parking space designations are too small, maximizing the potential for door prizes:

It is clear that steps to improve this route for cyclists have been taken. Repaving the curbside lanes has eliminated sticky seam sealing and countless potholes meaning that cyclists can spend more time looking ahead than scanning below for hazards. Bike boxes have also been installed in the heart of the University of Toronto at Harbord/Hoskin and St. George to increase the visibility of cyclists and decrease the possibility of right hooks.

Yet, while the effectiveness of sharrows in Toronto is currently being studied, including part-time sharrows in use along the west end of College Street, it is clear that these stencils are a compromise. Sharing the road is a feat accomplished day after day by most motorists and cyclists. Sharrows offer up a reminder that space is limited and we must do what we can to make room for everyone. However, sharrows ignore more issues than they address. In the case of the new Harbord sharrows, they do nothing to prevent the problematic door prize and do even less to convince aggressive drivers to share space.

I must note that I am not a city planner and I am not diligently studying the road use along Harbord or College, however, I do ride along these streets almost daily and in my experience sharrows do little more than remind me of where better bicycle infrastructure is needed and how poorly our demands are being met.

More photos of the sharrows on Harbord in the slideshow by Martinho below:


  1. Just a point to bring up here. Being a cyclist in the City, you encounter challenges of all kinds in a very short period of time. While you state you are not analytically studying this road, I would like to say that ANY cyclist would have a much greater understanding of a road’s performance and its associated traffic behaviour, even during different times of day.

  2. Thanks, Rico. I mentioned that I’m not studying this road to reinforce that this is simply my opinion. I’ve been hearing from people who both dislike and appreciate sharrows along this stretch and I think it’s great so many people are discussing these. I’ll continue to post more about this stretch as more changes are made.

  3. Count me in the “like” column. It definitely would be better to have lanes, but like the ‘rush hour sharrows’ on College, I think they serve a purpose though I agree, they could’ve been better executed here.

    What I *really* like is how they’ve continued the markings through the intersections along the street. Nothing like a bunch of eye-catching chevrons (yeah, colour would be better) to give drivers one more clue that there could be someone going straight when they are wanting to turn right…

  4. Sharrows are much better than nothing, and in some cases are better than bike lanes.

    Some of the existing bike lane designs in this city encourage right-hook accidents.

  5. Agreed that they are better than nothing, but I have trouble appreciating the rush hour sharrows because they are covered by parked cars the vast majority of the time.

    However, I really do like sharrows in car lanes that are wider than normal, but not quite wide enough for a bike lane. It tells motorists to keep to the left of the lane to provide space for bicyclists to pass on the right.

    Those are the sharrows I appreciate (in lieu of proper bike lanes).

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