By: Francella Fiallos and Tamara Nahal
In October 2012, Carleton University graduate student Krista Johnson was struck and killed by a motorist while cycling on Bronson Avenue. Her death prompted outrage among Ottawa’s cycling community over the city’s approach toward bike safety and accessibility.
More than a year after city councillor David Chernushenko proposed new plans to make Bronson Avenue safer for pedestrians and cyclists, the Leveller takes a look at whether the changes have contributed to better cycling conditions and how cycling affects our city.
Semi-segregated bike lanes:
The City of Ottawa has already implemented segregated bike lanes in the downtown core, specifically on Laurier Avenue. Instead of cyclists weaving in and out of the bike lanes and onto the sidewalks, they can commute in lanes that will hug the curb more closely than they did before. The Laurier lane is marked off with posts, a concrete barrier, and a row of parked cars in some areas to separate drivers from cyclists.
However, these lanes still don’t solve the issue of cyclists pedaling into the wrong lane in order to get to their destination point. Alternatively, semi-segregated bike lanes allow cyclists more safety while commuting. But since there aren’t concrete curbs separating the lane from the road as on Laurier, this can create problems during the winter with snow plows pushing snow to the curb, and effectively in the bike lane itself. This means that cyclists will inevitably commute alongside fast-moving cars while biking in tough conditions, rendering the safety promised with the bike lanes non-existent.
Brewer Way crosswalk for pedestrians and cyclists:
The results of a 2012 City of Ottawa survey indicated significant safety concerns around the intersection of Brewer Way and Bronson Avenue. A new crosswalk increases the visibility of cyclists from Carleton heading north on Bronson while also giving pedestrians space of their own to cross the street.
Additionally, the city constructed a “bike box” on Brewer for cyclists travelling west to campus. A bike box is a green painted bike lane plus advance area that places cyclists in front of cars at an intersection. At Brewer, this allows cyclists to advance first through the traffic lights and continue through to the Carleton University campus.
Bronson and Sunnyside intersection:
Though the intersection of Brewer and Bronson has been identified as a problem area for commuters, it’s not the only one. The busy intersection of Sunnyside and Bronson, for instance, is a headache for cyclists and drivers alike as they attempt to navigate through the dual lanes.
The city has implemented design modifications to the busy four-way intersection that leads into the Carleton campus. Changes include brighter and clearer lights, as well as more noticeable labels indicating which direction commuters should go. But these improvements aren’t as useful during poor weather conditions when visibility is already a major issue.
Minor changes to speed limits:
Since Bronson is one of the busiest roads in Ottawa, speed limits vary in order to facilitate traffic flow and reduce congestion. The north section of Bronson, which leads into the Glebe, currently has a speed limit of 70 km/h, while the south section has a limit of 60 km/h.
The city has proposed to reduce both limits by 10 km each, but the changes have been met with some delays after being proposed in October 2012. A reduction of speed limits could encourage better driving habits and overall diligence on the road, and cyclists may feel more safe while commuting alongside drivers.
No more on-off ramps on Bronson:
The main concerns for City of Ottawa survey participants were the on- and off-ramps on Bronson Avenue. The south end of the Bronson Bridge, where Johnson was killed a year and a half ago, is largely considered to be one of the worst places for cyclists in Ottawa.
The north section of Bronson has been described by Ottawa Citizen blogger and journalist David Reevely as the “narrower, more-often-clogged part just beyond and where southbound drivers hit the gas.” This, in turn, may cause problems for drivers.
The elimination of the on- and off-ramps means that drivers may have to look for alternate ways to get to their destination, which may disrupt other routes with a consistent cycling presence. The lack of ramps can also clog up traffic, which means more congestion and frustrated drivers.
Biking beyond Bronson:
The past five years have seen the proliferation of bike routes and paths in Ottawa, due largely to the efforts of cyclists and groups who have promoted biking as a sustainable method of transportation. However, Ottawa’s most notable strides towards cycling safety have often come in the form of policy responses to fatal collisions.
Cycling in the winter has now become a major part of the city’s vision for transportation in Ottawa. In November 2013, when the city released its master plan for infrastructure, bike routes meant to facilitate biking in the winter were a main focus. Mayor Jim Watson has stated to the Ottawa Sun that the routes should be ready by 2015.
But more work needs to be done.
Neighbourhoods such as South Keys, Beacon Hill, and Kanata do not have the same level of cycling infrastructure as the downtown core. In October 2013, a cyclist was struck and killed by a tractor trailer on West Hunt Club Road, a main arterial road with a speed limit of 80 km/h. A proposed pedestrian bridge over Airport Parkway has been delayed three years and faces significant cost overruns.
Cycling and Ottawa’s social environment:
Governments and avid bikers will often point to the health and environmental benefits of cycling to justify infrastructure investment. However, one benefit that often gets neglected is the way biking and support for using sustainable forms of transportation affects our connection to the city we live in.
Biking to a destination allows people to gain a better appreciation for the green space in a city, and contributes to the distinctive character of a given neighbourhood. This, in turn, helps develop Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) and commercial “main streets” such as Bank Street, Wellington Street West, and Sparks Street.
Biking, then, isn’t necessarily just a form of transportation, but one part of a city’s vision for its urban planning and design. Along those lines, Main Street in Ottawa is also getting an overhaul to become a “complete street” with bike lanes and better infrastructure.
There are 25 Bixi Bike sharing locations in the capital region, with over 300 bicycles available for citizens and tourists. The shared bicycles are a creative way to sightsee and get to know the city, as well as get from point A to point B in the downtown core.
It is one of three bike sharing programs implemented by the city, with the others specifically targeting neighbourhoods such as Westboro and Bells Corners. In its 2013 Cycling Plan, the city recommended to integrate the Presto Card system already used for OC Transpo with the Bixi Bikes. Ottawa’s independent bike share groups include RightBike in Hintonburg and Vélo Vanier, affiliated with the Vanier Community Service Centre.
Main modes of transportation for shoppers on Wellington Street West (Source: City of Ottawa, 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan):
Do you feel unsafe on Bronson? (Source: City of Ottawa, Cycling and Pedestrian Safety – Bronson Ave. survey results, November 2012):
Yes, as a pedestrian 16%
Yes, as a cyclist and pedestrian 33%
Yes, as a cyclist 36%
No, I feel safe 15%
What would encourage more cycling? (Source: City of Ottawa, 2013 Ottawa Cycling Plan Survey):
Additional facilities 40%
Better pathway and/or road connections 36%
Improved traffic safety 33%
Better pathway and/o road conditions (incl. winter maintenance) 32%
I would not cycle more often 25%
Smaller neighbourhoods so that things are closer together 20%
Existent biking infrastructure from 2007 to 2013 (Source: City of Ottawa, Ottawa Cycling Plan 2013)
Bike lanes 119
Paved shoulders 123
Multi-use pathway 151
Bike lanes 161
Paved shoulders 167
Multi-use pathway 258
This article first appeared in The Leveller Vol. 6, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2014).