Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Radical cyclists peddle sharrow agenda in Victoria

In the middle of the night, with no warning at all, pedestrian infrastructure was savagely attacked by a gang of bike riding anarchists known to authorities only as the Other Urban Repair Squad (OURS). Shunning reason and civilization, these brutes painted another round in the series of sharrows marring our streets since 2009.

Or not.

Maybe a group of concerned citizens got together and decided to take up arms (read: paint) in the name of improving local cycling amenities. You figure it out.

Sharrows are road markings indicating a shared-use lane where roads are too narrow to incorporate a bike lane. OURS has been painting these markings around the capital since 2009, focusing on high-traffic areas with little existing bicycle infrastructure.

Yukon Duit, spokesperson for OURS says the group is painting sharrows to highlight the gap between car and bike infrastructure upgrading and maintenance in the capital.

“We’re talking about bike lanes that just disappear into the ether in the middle of a route. Imagine if these were vehicle routes — we would never do that to cars.”

According to councillor John Luton, due process — meaning engineers, studies, and consultation — is still what’s needed. OURS, in contrast, is undemocratic and unsafe. “I want this decision made by professionals, not by the self-appointed vanguard of cyclist’s interests,” Luton says.

Or maybe not.

“This is exactly what democracy looks like. It’s engaged citizens helping to shape the public sphere,” says Duit. “The City of Victoria collapsed its one formal group for cyclists to have their voice, so there’s no longer a direct route for cyclists to communicate our needs to the city.” As far as Duit is concerned, OURS is filling that void.

While the group doesn’t necessarily adhere to Transportation Authority guidelines when applying sharrows, Duit says that’s not the idea.

“Our point is not that we’re using the exact materials and spacing,” Duit says. “Our point is that the city should be doing it. This is the next best thing while we wait for the city and the region to take action. Of course the city is going to do a better job — that’s the whole point.”

In the end, while the goals of activists, radicals and officials (in this case, anyway) appear to coincide, debate over method may still doom future sharrows to less-than-legal status. M

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