Ottawa cycling group runs down 'sharrows'

The expanded use of painted “sharrows” on busy roads doesn’t impress a cycling group, even though the city believes the markings promote safety.

“It’s a bit of an excuse instead of building real biking infrastructure,” Citizens for Safe Cycling VP Alex deVries said Wednesday.

Sharrows remind motorists and cyclists to share the road. It’s simply a picture of a bike with a couple of chevrons. Now there are even “super sharrows” that take up the entire lane of traffic and draw attention to the logo with a painted green box.

Sharrows came up during a council transportation committee meeting Wednesday as staff updated politicians on cycling infrastructure and programs.

City staff said they have received positive feedback on sharrows, which also act as a communication tool to tell motorists that cyclists are also using the road.

However, Citizens for Safe Cycling opposes sharrows.

deVries said there is no proof sharrows provide a safety benefit to cyclists and that the resources could be better spent on enhanced cycling infrastructure.

“Part of the problem is they’re new infrastructure that people don’t understand,” deVries said.

In 2013 Ottawa driving schools received information packages on various cycling programs, including the use of sharrows. The city has also distributed posters and information cards on the markings.

Some sharrows are being painted on roads with fast traffic and cyclists might think they must ride where the markings are painted, deVries explained. The city says sharrows don’t compel cyclists to ride in a particular spot in the lane.

In one study of cycling injuries in Toronto and Vancouver, researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded sharrows pose an “increased risk” to cyclists.

Cycling projects in Ottawa have picked up over the past three years. The city says it has spent $28 million on cycling programs this term of council and some councillors speculate it’s actually been more with enhancements after road reconstruction.

Judging by politicians’ remarks Wednesday, the city should be doing even more.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney pushed staff to explain why cycling infrastructure wouldn’t be installed during a reconstruction of Ogilvie Rd., where he says there’s a “dark hole” of biking connections. Staff ballparked the extra cost at $3 million and said it’s too expensive.

Innes Coun. Rainer Bloess wants the city to promote more cycling events and Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury wants cyclists to be given more consideration in planning construction zones.