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Adjusting to bike lanes has required steep learning curve

Cathy Dobson What is a green box? What’s a green lane? And what is a cyclist supposed to do with a sharrow? These and other pressing questions are perplexing drivers and cyclists alike as they learn to co-exist safely on the city’s new bike lane corr
Motorists and cyclists alike are adjusting to the city’s new bike lanes and the signs and rules that came with them, like this northbound lane on Colborne Road at Michigan Avenue. Motorists attempting to turn right across the green bike lane must yield to cyclists. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

What is a green box?  What’s a green lane? And what is a cyclist supposed to do with a sharrow?

These and other pressing questions are perplexing drivers and cyclists alike as they learn to co-exist safely on the city’s new bike lane corridor.

Cycling lanes were painted on Vidal Street in the Chemical Valley several years ago but they were straight-forward and on a very wide road.

The new north-south corridor was created a few weeks ago on Colborne Road, Capel Street, Russell from Maxwell to Maria, and on Cathcart between Colborne and Christina, where traffic is heavy and cyclists are plentiful.

The new lanes incorporate a number of symbols and rules that Sarnians aren’t familiar with, said David Jackson, the city’s manager of development and transportation.

That’s raised a lot of questions and generated a few complaints at City Hall.

The top question so far is whether ebikes can use the bicycle lanes, said Jackson.

“The answer is yes and, if an ebike needs to pass a cyclist, the ebike should use the vehicle lane,” he said.

To accommodate the bike lanes, Colborne was reduced from four to three vehicle lanes. The centre lane is now a turning lane, which caused some initial confusion but has now been accepted by drivers, Jackson said.

Parking was historically allowed on Colborne, but that’s now prohibited.

“Cyclists are finding they have to drive around (illegally) parked cars that continue to park in bike lanes,” said Jackson.

Parking police have issued warnings only so far but will start ticketing soon, with $30 fines for anyone caught parking there.

“It’s a new feature so we don’t want to jump all over people,” Jackson said. “But drivers must now use nearby side streets to park. That’s been one of the compromises.”

To increase safety, the bike lanes are painted bright green in high traffic areas to warn drivers to be especially cautious there.

“These are high conflict areas, like at Northgate near Capel, or in places where the bike lane ends and cyclists have to begin sharing a regular lane with cars,” said Jackson.

When motorists turn across a green bike lane, such as the intersection at Colborne and Michigan, they must ensure no cyclists are in the way.

And then there is that green box. Though used across North America, the first green box in Sarnia is located at Colborne and Cathcart, for left turns from Colborne onto Cathcart.

Resident Paula Crozier witnessed a testy exchange between a motorist and cyclist at the intersection last week.

“Get in your lane,” the motorist told the cyclist stopped in front of him.

“I am in my lane,” the cyclist replied.

“Does the bike have the right-of-way,” she asked.

The answer is yes. Green bike boxes are used on major routes to allow cyclists to move into the vehicle lane for a left turn.

Motorists must allow cyclists to position themselves in the bike box ahead of vehicle traffic. Cars and trucks must stop a few feet further back than normal to give the cyclists space.

And what about those sharrows?

A sharrow is a bike symbol with two arrows that’s painted in the vehicle lane. They are there to remind drivers to watch out for cyclists, and to tell cyclists where they should ride.

Cyclists can use either the roadway or the bike lanes if they want.

“There’s lots of data that shows using sidewalks is more dangerous than bike lanes,” said Jackson.

He reminds drivers who want to turn right across a bike lane that vehicles must yield and let bikes proceed before making the turn. Cyclists that come upon a vehicle already blocking the bike lane to make a right turn should wait behind the vehicle, or pass on the left if it’s safe to do so.

Jackson said there have been no collisions, only questions, in the first several weeks of the road reconfiguration.

However, the city recognizes a comprehensive education campaign is needed and is rolling one out.

The new rules are detailed on the City of Sarnia website at

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