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Guerrilla Sharrows in the mist

A few days ago, Victoria, BC activists related to O.U.R.S. (Other Urban Repair Squad, eg.) painted sharrows (Shared Lane Markings) on several streets in the city. The local paper ran an article (City crews obliterate guerrilla road marks) and Victoria Indymedia published OURS’s press release, Cycling Activists Take to Streets Over Slow Expansion of Bike Lanes. One of the City of Victoria’s councilors (recently elected John Luton) is supposed to be a cycling advocate, but was quoted in the local paper (the Times-Colonist) as follows:

“I question whether these are bike advocates or just anarchists who ride bikes,” he said.

“More responsible bike advocates work with municipalities to advance their cause. This sort of thing creates more problems than it solves.” (source)

The Times-Colonist has started publishing letters to the editor on the topic. I have to say I really agree with the first part of this one, Bike-lane painters are doing a good deed. The author (Marty Hykin) writes:

I am thinking about the midnight bike lane painters whose work was destroyed by city crews the next day. It is reported that the cycling group “followed Canadian guidelines for road marking to a T” and that their admirable motivations were entirely concerned with promoting road safety.

City councillor John Luton, a cycling advocate, dismisses the actions of these civic-minded volunteers, calling them “anarchists.” He states that the work must be done “within the city budget and priorities.”

Yet the city appears to have plenty of money in its budget to shift priorities in the blink of an eye, sending crews out to paint over the markings. Where did that money suddenly come from?

There are a variety of problems in this city that are handled in part or in whole by volunteers. Volunteers work as school crossing guards, feed the hungry, house the homeless and guide tourists. People put up road signs warning drivers to slow down in residential streets where children might be playing. I don’t hear the city harrumphing that those worthy people are “anarchists.”

Why can we not accept the cycling group’s generous gift of free paint and free labour? Perhaps the city might even reciprocate by providing a few road safety cones or a person to direct traffic around the activity.

While I’m not sure I want volunteers to take over too many duties, I think Hykin nails it when he points out that the city never ceases to remind taxpayers and residents that it has no money to address pressing problems, yet somehow managed, in the blink of an eye, to find the crews, the paint, the funds to obliterate the sharrows – which had been painted in part as protest over the delays in implementing cycling infrastructure improvements, delays supposedly stemming from lack of funds.

I live near one of the intersections (Cook and Fort Streets): even though I’m really familiar with those streets, I had no idea there were itty-bitty signs on Cook Street between Fort and Yates that indicate to drivers and cyclists that the latter are allowed, encouraged, even obliged, to take the center of the lane.

So, are we waiting for some cyclist to get knocked over by a car driver who thinks he’s “in the right” in not sharing the road, or do we continue to put up with cyclists on the sidewalk endangering pedestrians?

Before anyone flames me for not wanting cyclists on sidewalks: I don’t know about your municipality, but it’s illegal here for anyone over 12. I feel about cyclists on sidewalks the way cyclists feel about being on roads that drivers don’t want to share: it’s not a good mix. From the pedestrian’s point of view, a cyclist is heavier, has much greater velocity, and can really do some damage to the person on foot …just as a car (heavier, greater velocity) does damage – will do more damage, but damage is damage – to anyone on a bike …or on foot.

The main point, however, is money: how come the City has no money to paint sharrows, yet has the funds to paint them over, lickety-split? Is this part of the bureaucracy malaise (silo thinking), and have new councilors bought into it already?


(Photo source: Follow the Sharrows on Urban Photo)


  1. Councillor Luton said to me yesterday that the sharrows were not placed according to guidelines, ie: some were placed uphill (which would slow traffic). Policy states that separate lanes are used uphill and shared lanes for places where bikes can more easily keep up with traffic.

    Comment by Robert Randall — July 10, 2009 #

  2. Thanks for that follow-up, Rob. I’m still ticked off at how cavalier the brush-off was. In fact, the more I think about it, the more ticked off I’m getting. How dare he call the OURS people “anarchists,” when real anarchy is a lack of law enforcement? I’m thinking of the bikes on sidewalks, or that car drivers don’t stop for pedestrians in intersections …and could expand to several other topics. That’s the real problem: laws (sometimes laws piled upon laws piled upon laws) with no enforcement. That’s anarchy. A few painted signs on the road literally pale in comparison.

    Comment by Yule — July 10, 2009 #

  3. Thanks for your kind comments on my letter in the T-C. I was made aware of them via a facebook note from a niece in Massachusetts! How did she ever come across the? I am still not sure how this new world works, or if it works, but it’s a wonder!

    Comment by Marty Hykin — July 11, 2009 #

  4. You’re welcome, Marty – and thanks for the comment. Hmm, who’s your niece? I lived in Greater Boston for 17 years, maybe she and I are FB friends? Six degrees of separation and all that…! 😉

    Comment by Yule — July 11, 2009 #

  5. Well, Yule, I am now distracted by whether she really is my niece, a word which I used for sloppy expedience because we don’t seem to have simple terms in our language to name all possible relationships such as, for example, “the daughter of the sister of my ex-wife” (which the person in question happens to be) . Not likely you know her – Katherine Clark. I also have daughter (Abby Hykin) and her spouse (Gordon Hanlon) in Boston – them both conservators at the Boston MFA for the last 8 years or more. If I were to live in the USA again Boston would be high on my list of cities. A great place for music and much else. I play at a wonderful Irish session there every time I go for a visit.

    As for FB friends and the like – I am not a dedicated Luddite, but certainly behind the beat in 21st century social skills. Been forced into FB by the importuning and increpations of younger family and friends and there I flounder, unable even to post a proper profile, a perfect non-entity whose very existence will soon be called into question if I don’t pull up my socks.

    What were you doing in Boston? When?

    Comment by Marty Hykin — July 12, 2009 #

  6. No, I don’t know your Boston-area relatives, but the Boston MFA connection is intriguing: I used to spend a lot of time there when we lived in Brookline and I was working on my PhD in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard. That also answers your question, in part. I lived there from 1985 till 2002, started at Harvard in 1986, PhD from Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) in 1991; taught variously, from about 1987 till 1998/99, at MIT, at Brown, and at Harvard (first, as a Teaching Fellow while working on my degree, and later in Harvard’s Extension School – it was adjunct teaching, not terribly rewarding).
    By the way, did you see today’s article in the T-C, City erases more bike ‘sharrows’ on Hillside?

    “OURS can do in 20 minutes what it can take the city years to do,” Duit said.

    But Mike Lai, city assistant director of engineering responsible for transportation, said the city cannot allow people to put road markings wherever they see fit. “Our overriding concern is safety. We don’t want to confuse drivers and the general public,” he said. “There has been no education campaign to highlight what sharrows are.”


    Comment by Yule — July 12, 2009 #

  7. Well, yeah, I saw the article. I don’t think I’ll take this on as a personal crusade. I’ve made my point and there are bigger battles to enjoy – when I have time between bouts of real life. I don’t even ride a bike any more. I tried biking to work briefly when I worked at UVic years ago. The traffic scared the beans out of me.

    Your time in Boston sounds like a fine and fruitful way to spend time. I did a little bit of grad work at Brown (psych)-1962 – but soon dropped out of academic life to work with the rest of my brain and body. Few regrets. Only one life to live. Our other daughter, Berry, also lived in Boston for a year (2000)studying classics at Boston College – now back here being a lawyer.

    Are you still teaching?



    Comment by Marty Hykin — July 13, 2009 #

  8. There will be more articles, editorials, etc. on this topic, but I too won’t pursue it any further – I’m concentrating my “extra” energies on the Johnson Street Bridge and on trying to stop its demolition, which I think would be a disastrous mistake. (I even wrote on Twitter that I’d spend more energy on it…!)
    Re. Boston: it was great except for the weather (hot and humid summers, very long and cold winters). The autumns are glorious, but relatively brief. Spring is nonexistent. I loved that it was closer to everything, though. Here in the West, we’re awfully spread out and it takes forever to get to the next place, in our case especially since we’re on an island (unless you can throw money at it and fly direct). Re. teaching, no I don’t do that as a paid gig anymore…

    Comment by Yule — July 14, 2009 #

  9. The bridge, now there’s a topic. I don’t know what I feel about it. I grew up in NYC where such bridges were common as dirt so this blue one never struck me as a remarkable example of art, just a reasonable utilitarian structure. Still, the erector-set style of the thing has a certain quaint charm, expressive of the age of iron and all that goes with it; moving parts, big gears, sort of like in Chaplin’s Modern Times.

    In general I do lament the replacement of visible moving parts by invisible electrons in so many of today’s gadgets because kids don’t get to see how things work. Instead of making their own observations and working out cause-and-effect connections, they have to take adults’ explanations at face value – always a risky procedure.

    On the other hand the blue contraption is a maintenance nightmare and I wonder why a replacement couldn’t be designed with sufficient esthetic value to become in its own time an object of devotion. My reservation on this score is that expecting esthetic value from today’s designers seems a leap of faith which, every time I make it, lands me in the ol’ slough of despond.

    I am not a bridge designer,of course, but as a builder of many sorts of things I think designing a bridge could be a beautiful project. Such a combination of necessary function with symbolic values as well – the crossing of barriers, the act of transition or transformation. It is a kind of magical passage. If I think back to the first time someone found a log lying across a stream – it must have been as exciting as the first time a human flew. I bet he/she ran back and forth a hundred times for the sheer delight of it, laughing at the frustrated crocodiles below. As the alternative would be a structure too high to harmonize with the scale of Old Town, the new bridge most likely must be moveable to provide access to upper harbour. This adds a further dimension of fascination (My love of moving parts at work). Movement can be graceful, “musical” in a way.

    Anyway – the question I really want to ask you as a thoughtful and educated person – what is the source of your attachment to the existing bridge? I have yet to form a strong opinion and welcome your thoughts.

    Yours truly,

    via invisible streams of electrons, or so I’ve been told


    Comment by Marty Hykin — July 14, 2009 #

  10. You can read my article, Blue Bridge Blues, which was published in the June issue of Focus Magazine (the link opens a web page on; the article is in PDF, but you won’t need Adobe to view it; the webpage has additional icons that let you download, print, or zoom/view the article).
    My main concern is that this bridge, designed by Joseph Strauss, who patented the Strauss Bascule Bridge System, is the only trunnion or bascule bridge in Canada, west of Ontario, yet we’re thinking of tearing it down. Strauss, as you probably know, also built San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, as well as another San Francisco bridge identical to ours in Victoria (i.e., also bascule design). As I wrote in the article, it’s an artifact from a time that celebrated Industrial progress, and it’s a reminder that ours is a working harbor, not just a pretty resort. In Victoria, there’s a lot of noise made about how we love to preserve heritage, yet we’re willing to knock this thing down. Furthermore, I’m really quite convinced (perhaps misguidedly so, but still – no one has shown me otherwise) that the decision to replace the bridge is being driven primarily by the city’s Engineering Dept. and by the chance to grab some Federal Infrastructure stimulus funding. But because this was never a “shovel ready” project (which the stimulus fund was designed for), the whole thing is being “planned” (ha.ha.ha. NOT!) in a really ad hoc way, without any public consultation.
    As for design: …sigh. I have no confidence whatsoever that we’re going to get a nice-looking replacement. We’re going to get the equivalent of a Save-on-Foods-Memorial-Arena bridge. Underbuilt, cheap-looking, too small, kinda ugly.
    The link I provided in my last comment references my previous recent posts on the JSB – check those out for more information. Also, I recently left a comment on Gregory Hartnell’s blog (which he reblogged, uncontextualized, on his blog as a post) where I explain my position.
    In particular, I am pro-development – I don’t want a Potemkin Village in Victoria and I really dislike it when people dig their heels in against change. But I also know when something deserves preservation, and the bridge is it, imo.

    PS: I’m willing to bet that the NYC bridges that were a dime a dozen weren’t bascule bridges, by the way. There’s a difference between a simple steel lattice work bridge, and one that has complicated mechanisms like ours, sort of like the difference between a Timex and a Vacheron-Constantin.

    Comment by Yule — July 14, 2009 #

  11. NY Bridges – well, some were bascules, some swing bridges, some that rose between towers, some counterbalanced draw-bridges – Quite a variety, inevitably, in such a big place. But many incorporating the same general sensibility or style as our blue bridge even if not identical in type. As i said, I like that style pretty well.

    Your info about the timing of the project and necessary haste re: the stimulus funds was good to know.

    I too wish to preserve the actuality and the look and feel of a working harbour. The encroachment of the Songhees developments has been an esthetic disaster as far as i am concerned. In the aggregate it reminds me of a
    major sort of state insane asylum or penal institution with influences from Miami Beach 1950’s hotel design. It’s a wonder the residents haven’t used their considerable taxpayers’ clout to demand banishing all those smelly fish boats, airplanes and low-class kayaks and tourist ferries. Then a similar wall of nuthouses could be built upon the opposite shore so the inmates could have unobstructed views of each others’ ersatz opulence across the water.

    The mega-yacht marina-to-come will be the last straw.

    Comment by Marty Hykin — July 14, 2009 #

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