Elephant Feet, Shark Teeth, Bike Boxes and Sharrows; Understanding the new markings on Main Street

Rebecca Inglis and her mother Denise test out the new bike box at Hazel and Main. Photo by John Dance.

Rebecca Inglis and her mother Denise test out the new bike box at Hazel and Main. Photo by John Dance.

By John Dance

Main Street seems so new. But what’s with all the green paint and weird symbols?

The new street markings are an educational challenge for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. But authorities say it is all about improved safety and user comfort.

In September, the city opened the rebuilt Main Street from the Queensway bridge to Clegg Street. The many changes seemed a little daunting at first.

The street was transformed: from a four-lane roadway to two lanes with turning lanes at key intersections. The lane reductions allowed the creation of much wider sidewalks and cycle tracks, which are separated bike lanes.

The separation of the three types of users – drivers, pedestrians and cyclists – works well until they meet at intersections and turns. At these points there are new markings.

The zigzag lines on the cycle tracks tell cyclists they must yield to pedestrians who are crossing to board buses.

At intersections the cycle tracks become crossrides that are like crosswalks except instead of straight lines, they are delineated by small painted squares called elephant feet.

These have been recently approved for use in Ontario and are common in Europe at cyclist crossings.

In addition to the elephant feet, the crossrides are painted green to emphasize where turning motorists must yield to cyclists who are going straight ahead.

Another European pavement marking device being introduced is called shark teeth. This is a line of triangles. They mean yield right of way if the teeth of the triangles are pointing towards you. If the triangles point away, it means ‘bump ahead’ and slow down.

The big green bike boxes at intersections represent a major change. Robin Bennett, a project manager in the city’s cycling programs explained they are a traffic measure used in Denmark.

“With the advent of protected bike lanes, there is an accompanying movement towards guidance for cyclists who wish to make turns or gain a positional advantage over motorists at signalised intersections,” Bennett said.

“Since making a legal left turn is no longer possible with cycle tracks or protected bike lanes that reach an intersection, it became necessary to provide guidance for two-stage left-turn manoeuvres, which comes to Ottawa courtesy of Copenhagen.”

“A bike box is used at intersections to designate a space for cyclists to wait at a red light,” added Main Street project manager Josée Vallée. “Cyclists stop in front of motorists and can proceed through the intersection first when the light turns green. These areas increase cyclist visibility and reduce the risk of collisions after a green signal.”

The other new symbol users will encounter is the sharrow between Hawthorne and Lees.

Sharrow is short for ‘shared arrow,’ a symbol with two chevrons above a bike image. It alerts motorists that cyclists are likely to occupy the same lane. It is supposed to encourage safe passing of cyclists by motorists, who, by law, must leave at least a metre of space between themselves and the bikes they pass.

The new markings received a positive review from one respected cycling teacher in the area.

“I’ve lived and biked in OOE for almost 20 years and the cycle track is a welcome separated bike lane on Main Street,” said Merritt Street resident and cycling instructor Denise Inglis, shown above. “With a bit of education to both motorist and cyclist about the new markings such as the bike box, it will be a safer and more enjoyable street and will definitely encourage more cycling in our neighbourhood.”

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