Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Never not ride

Been snowing for a couple of days now.

So when I looked outside this morning and saw that it had been snowing all night, I could barely see the highrises a block away, the streets were white and people were walking in them because the sidewalks were too full of snow, I admit I had a moment of indecision. Maybe I should take the bus to work.

So I stood, looking out the window, dithering, for a while. Thought processes something like this:

My small residential street always looks worse than the rest of the commute.

But the bike lanes were pretty hard going yesterday. And Old Ottawa South is always so shitty.

But you've biked in worse.

But it might be pretty scary out there.

But it's never as bad as you think it's going to be.

Look, you're already late because it's taking you so long to decide.

And it's still snowing, so maybe it'll be really terrible trying to get home.

Or maybe not.

And you've ridden in worse. 

But if Heron Road is full of snow it'll be awful, and they won't have plowed the back streets you use to avoid it.

You might get to work exhausted from fighting skids for 9 km. And you'll be late, because you're already late. 

Maybe you should just take the bus. No one will blame you.

(Maybe you should just call in sick and avoid this whole decision. Nah. That wouldn't fly.) 

But you always ride. You ride in everything. It's kind of a point of pride. 

But it's silly to put yourself in danger over your pride. 

Take the dang bus. 

So I left my gaiters on the boot rack, grabbed my keys and some change for the bus, and went outside. It was still snowing, little tiny flakes, and there was no pavement to be seen. I joined the flock of people standing at the bus stop, all staring silently, in resignation, down the street toward the corner where the bus should appear. The crowd at the stop was not reassuring. And as I stood there, slowly getting chilled by the wind even though it was only about five below, staring down the street looking for a bus that didn't come, I thought to myself, "Well, this is stupid." There was snow on the pavement, yeah. So what? It was warmish, the snow looked to be letting up, and I was really, really sick of waiting for the bus.

So I went back up to my apartment, and got my bike. When I got back down to the street, the crowd was still waiting at the bus stop. I walked out into the street, put my tires down in the wheel rut, swung a leg over, and pedaled off. Sayonara, suckers.

And discovered I had chosen wisely: the ride was hella fun. I took the back streets through the Pleasant Park neighbourhood - a little skiddish, but since there was no traffic, not a problem - and caught Bank Street at Kilborn, where the tire tracks were strips of bare pavement between ridges of snow several inches high. The bonus? If there are massive ridges of snow demarcating your tracks, drivers tend to stay in their lanes, which means they have to change lanes to pass a cyclist. Score! I beetled down a normally sketchy road, securely claiming the whole damn lane.

The snow was light and fluffy enough that it was relatively easy to cut through. A good thing, because in Old Ottawa South, where the outside lane is usually full of castoff snow, I could just ride along through it, sticking to where it was a little less deep. The parking ban was still in effect, so I had far fewer parked cars to swerve around, and I even blew past the bumper-to-bumper line of cars up the hill. I may actually have sung "la la la la la suckers" out loud as I passed them.

I microcorrected my way down the super snowy street on O'Connor, where the ruts were as spectacular as I've ever seen them - the exact width of a car tire, with sheer sides that were inches high. In some places my boots hit the snow at the edge of the rut on the downstroke.

The O'Connor bike lane past the Queensway appeared not to have seen a plow in hours, but the snow was mostly still easy to cut through. I blasted through ridges plowed up across it at the intersections that were sometimes up over my pedals. At Laurier the lane was a few centimetres deep in snow - looked to have been plowed even less recently than Laurier - but, again, it was not all that bad to cut through.

By now the sun was breaking through the clouds and the snow had stopped and I was grinning.

What was I even thinking, standing in transit limbo at that bus stop, staring up the street? How did I forget that I never, ever regret taking the bike instead?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Brave

It was a sleety sort of day last week, and I was on my way to work. At the corner of Heron and Bank there was a car whose driver had apparently managed to smash into the corner of a payday loan place - the cops were on scene and traffic was a little backed up. I skipped the intersection by ducking through a parking lot. A little further along, as I got to the canal, I saw that all traffic on Colonel By was being redirected up Clegg. The police officer on site said, "Nothing big, there's just an accident further down." I remarked that it was the second one I'd seen that morning. "People don't slow down for the conditions," he said. I remarked that I was glad I wasn't in a car; my studded tires seemed to be working just fine. "You're braver than I am," he said as I crossed to the canal path.

(Apparently, I'm braver than a person whose job involves guns. And angry people.)

Today, as he was bagging up my purchases, a cashier saw my helmet. "Did you bike here?" he asked. (One of these days I'll start thinking of snarky answers to that. "No, my helmet just gets really depressed if I leave it home all day." "No, I'm cosplaying Bruce Banner from the Ang Lee Hulk film." "No, I'm beta testing a prototype pedestrian helmet.")

But I said, like I usually do, "Well... yeah."

"Brave woman," he said. I laughed it off. "It's actually really nice today," I said. "Nice and cold, pavement's dry, no ice."

"Well, you're braver than me," he said. "Have a good night."

I got the bags into my panniers and unlocked my bike and headed for home. I got on the elevator to find a man and an adorable young poodle mix already on it: I squished the bike on with them, and proceeded to let the dog lick my hand, scruffle her ears, and chat with her human for eight floors. As he was getting off, he said, "Have a good night."

"You too," I said.

"And you're really brave," he said, gesturing to the bike, as the doors closed. I laughed, and said "Thanks, I guess?"

This here is Brave.
So I got home and unzipped my gaiters thinking, Am I brave? I certainly don't feel brave. I just get up in the morning and get on my bike because it's faster than the bus, it's nicer than the bus, it's warmer and less frustrating than waiting for the bus, I get fresh air and sunshine and exercise and arrive alert at work and I save money and aggravation. But I keep having this conversation. "You biked here? Good for you! I'm so impressed that you ride in the winter." People who have known me for years still sometimes manage to look surprised when I show up with a bike helmet hanging off my arm in January.

This is brave.
And I'm not going to lie, it is kind of nice to be told, on a near daily basis, that you are brave. Who doesn't want to feel like a badass sometimes? (I even keep it in my back pocket for arguments with anti-bike people who tell me it's "stupid" or "crazy" to ride in the winter: "Well, just because you don't have the stones to do it....") But I also have a problem with the constant "hardcore winter biker" narrative. No one says, "You walked here? In this cold? Wow, you're brave." It's up there with the insistence on helmets, as though biking is somehow far more dangerous and reckless than walking or driving, and therefore requires special safety equipment. That just perpetuates the idea that it's not a thing just anyone can do, it's a "high-risk activity."

And this is brave.
I usually try to walk it back when people start with the courage stuff. "It's not really that much harder than riding in the summer," I say. "It's no big deal. Really, it's actually warmer than walking because you get moving and your temperature goes up. No, I've never seriously wiped out. Yes, I have special tires. No, they're not those big fat tires, you need a whole new very expensive bike for those. Yes, I just have regular size tires. They're fine." It doesn't usually seem to convince them. "But what about ice on the roads? And shitty drivers?" they say.

"You learn what different kinds of ice look like and how to ride on them," I say. "And there are shitty drivers all year, everywhere."

Really, I want to say, if the streets were cleared with bikes in mind, and if roads were built with us in mind, and if people didn't assume that you have to be an Avid Cyclist (TM) to ride in anything but perfect summer weather, riding in the winter would be no different than riding in the summer (with the exception of the toque, scarf and mittens, of course).

Brave?
And come on, Canada. If you keep framing actually being outside in the winter as bravery, what does that say about most Canadians, who admittedly live in a pretty cold place for several months of the year? It was about 15 below today. That's not really that cold. If you consider it an act of courage to spend longer than a few minutes outside in that, well, you're missing out. You're missing out on the tingly feeling in your cheeks, the sight of your breath, the feel on snowflakes on your cheeks, the experience of ice in your eyelashes, the rush of warmth that moves through your fingers as you start to warm up on a hill, the quiet dark winter nights when the roads are covered in a thin layer of snow and everything's silent, the sense (to quote Moby-Dick, which I do) of feeling "like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal."

(And, if I'm being perfectly honest, you miss out on occasionally having total strangers tell you that you're a badass.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A whole new Bank Street South

I have to thank the folks at Ecology Ottawa for getting in touch with me for a response to the Bank Street South Functional Design Plan reveal. I had meant to write something, but one thing drove out another. But I had wanted to talk about the design, and what a surprise it was. 

I was actually blindsided by how good the design was. It seemed to me as though there was more radical and more far-reaching work going into the pedestrian and cycling experience of the street than I've seen in any other proposal like this. I'm used to hoping for cycle tracks and getting sharrows. My jaw dropped when they led with “segregated cycle tracks on both sides of the street for the length of the project area.” It dropped further when they got into landscaped boulevards, tree planting, and fixing the traffic patterns at Riverside and Bank and the Transitway exit at Billings Bridge Station.

It looks like a lot of thought has gone into pedestrian and cycling traffic patterns – there are sections of the street where they're putting in bidirectional cycle tracks because the majority of people are just hopping on Bank for a couple of blocks and shouldn't have to cross the street at one point only to cross back. They've tackled the lack of points to cross by adding a couple of signalized intersections. I was only really disappointed by the lack of infrastructure to address the dangerous intersection of Riverside and Bank at the Billings Bridge – a pet project of mine - and what I thought was a bit of a missed opportunity to fix the two-lane left onto Bank at Alta Vista to make it safer for cyclists.

The Riverside intersection at the bridge is at the extreme edge of the study area and the bridge itself is not within the scope. This means that they have designed in, as well as they can, a transition from the protected cycle tracks south of it to the sharrows over the bridge. They step down the cycle track to an on-street lane for a bit before the bridge, to ease cyclists into traffic, but you'll still need to ride a shared lane over the bridge, and into Old Ottawa South.

The two-way turn off Alta Vista involves one dedicated left-turn lane and one lane where you could go left or right. Left-turning cyclists are required to take the lane at the intersection, possibly blocking and annoying drivers who want to turn right. The intersection itself is within the design area but Alta Vista is not, and at the moment there is not much being done to address that situation. It's a minor thing, though, and I'm happy to claim the lane on Alta Vista if I can turn onto a protected track at the end.

The addition of grass and trees (if they can manage it) will do a lot to make the street more pleasant: right now it's a bit of a concrete wasteland. I don't know if they can manage to have grass right up against the road – that whole part of the city is full of kill strips that are paved over because grass can't survive that close to the street. However, the cycle tracks might be a decent buffer. I think they're doing a lot of that streetscaping in anticipation of the area becoming more residential, with a few high density condos going in west of Bank. I was also sort of surprised that their traffic models showed a decrease in car traffic in the future. I guess that is because of the transit links that are coming with light rail and the development of other ways to get to suburbs like Riverside South, but at least one person in the presentation disagreed and yelled out “they're wrong!” when the planners said traffic was going down by 5% in the future.

Another advantage for the planners is that the businesses can't object on the basis of losing parking – there was never parking on this street. In fact, I can't really see a reason for businesses to object. Aside from a minor slowing effect, drivers aren't losing much here. I don't think they've lost a single travel lane. I overheard people who, before the presentation, were grumbling that “the only people who win here are the cyclists,” but he was complaining about the conversion of the two-way left turn lane in the middle to a standard alternating left lane, and once the presentation was underway it was pretty clear there was no real reason to object to getting rid of the two-way left lane.

No one really seemed to be able to come up with any actual traffic flow concerns. Objections seemed to generally cluster under the local community association's belief that they were trying to turn the street into “something it's not” and cut off access to side streets. One vehicular cyclist was vehement that the cycle tracks, which bend outward around the major intersections (Dutch style) were dangerous, but he seemed to be going from the VC perspective that cyclists should be traveling at 40-50 kph and in the car lane. (He also seemed to think that helmets were only really any use at slow speeds, because apparently you “fall backwards” more at slow speeds and, therefore, the Dutch, who don't wear helmets and bike slowly, have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to safety.)


I tried to muster my skepticism, but it was hard. The improvements to a street that I am forced to ride on, and that I hate riding on so much, were so sweeping I couldn't help but cheer. And they pulled it off without really “taking” anything substantive from drivers or businesses. I hope the implementation phase holds on to these changes.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Making connections. Or not.

There's a stretch of path that vanishes in the winter. (Well, there are many, all over the city: this is one of them.) It runs down the hill from the intersection of Laurier and Nicholas, through the trees, to the edge of Colonel By Drive, where there is a "crosswalk" (well, a bit where the curbs are cut down) over to the canal MUP. Another branch runs parallel to Nicholas, and takes you to the underpass to the University of Ottawa one one side, and the signalized crosswalk to the canal path, and the Corktown Footbridge on Somerset, on the other. Thusly:


In the summer, this is just about the only reasonable way to get to and from the Byward Market in this area. Your other options involve leaving the canal pathway, crossing Colonel By at an unsignalized intersection, and riding on Colonel By until you can get to Daly or Rideau, or crossing into campus and weaving your way through there until you can find your way onto, say, Cumberland?

In the winter, this path is not cleared. It catches me out at least once a year, as I cut across Laurier coming from an event in the market or something and discover that I can't get to the canal. Occasionally, I've had to pick the bike up and carry it through the snow down the hill to the crosswalk.

I've said before that the Byward Market suffers from an unbelievable lack of reasonable ways to access it by bike or on foot - especially for a market and nightlife district designed for pedestrian tourists to stroll and shop. It is cut off on all sides by highway ramps connecting the 417 with Autoroutes 5 and 50, or arterials leading to them, like King Edward, Sussex and Nicholas, or by dead ends and one way streets, or by the mess of car-centric, pedestrian-hostile intersections on Rideau around the War Memorial.

This path actually offers the most convenient and safest way to get in, for anyone coming from the east side of the canal. It links the Market and Ottawa U campus, not to mention the Corktown Footbridge on Somerset, which is a major bike and pedestrian link across the canal. It would be a key link in the cycling and walking network, if it were cleared in winter and reliably lit in summer.

I asked Councillor Fleury's office if there was any chance of getting the path cleared. I just heard back, and well. . . The path is owned by the National Capital Commission. Which should tell you something.

The NCC is not interested in everyday mobility. It is not their concern whether residents can get around on a day-to-day basis. The NCC's position is that they only maintain the pathways that support "winter animation programs," that is, the Rideau Canal Skateway. Basically. And those of us that use the Canal MUP to get across town also know that it's not cleared with an eye to using it for travel - especially not the Colonel By side. It's cleared with an eye to letting skaters schlep their skates to the stairways. Most of it is a slushy, puddle-clogged, or traffic-rutted icy mess.

They say they don't have the budget to clear this segment of pathway. But they own it, so the City doesn't clear it. (A similar confusion persists about who is responsible for the bridges across the Ottawa River, meaning that pretty much every year there is a discussion between cyclists, the City and the NCC about who is supposed to move the snow, and every year, it seems, the answer is different.)

My contact at Councillor Fleury's office asked if the City would be able to clear it, but got the answer that "the city's snow clearing budget is under tremendous pressure as it is" and they're not adding any paths. But they did outline a future route to the Market from the canal:


A new MUP would be built through campus, and from the underpass/crosswalk/bridge, you would do this:

"An alternative to the red dotted line route for cyclists heading between the Col By Pathway and the Market area is shown below as a blue solid line.  This new link is planned to be implemented just after the Confederation line opens. It incorporates the existing underpass at U Ottawa station and a new multi-use pathway planned east of Nicolas, which terminates at Laurier and Waller. Once a cyclist reaches the signals at Laurier and Waller, they can then either go along Laurier and east on Cumberland or West to Nicolas then north to the Market. The plan is to add the blue markings to a future Winter Cycling network."

The councillor's office rep basically said, "the bad news is that we can't get it cleared now, but the good news is that there are plans to address this link in the future."

So that's something? I suppose? In the meanwhile, I guess we keep MacGyvering winter routes using the available clear pavement.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bring it, 2017

They did say that this was going to be a winter with a lot of precipitation.

They weren't wrong. Apparently we're now at 63.6 cm more cumulative total snow for this winter than the average. And it does seem like I've spent more time this winter wrenching the handlebars back and forth to stay upright as my wheels skidded right and left in the snow.

Today, it started snowing sometime in the middle of a hectic work day for me. My director came around to tell people that if they "felt like they were in a good place" they should get out early to avoid the inevitably snarled commute. But I was going to have to go over to my other office at the BUZZ to do a bunch of edits and upload the January issue anyway, and if I was going to be in town for a while, I figured I'd rather bike home late (after the plows had maybe had a chance to start catching up to the snow, and after the rush hour press of traffic) than brave the roads in mid-storm. Also, I had way too much to do to leave work early.

So, I wound up heading home at about 7:30 pm, in the middle of a full-blown storm.

It didn't look that bad until I got outside and realized how much snow was coming down and how white the streets were. There was no bare pavement at all on Gloucester. I hauled the bike out to the shallowest bit when the road looked clear, got on, skidded and counter-corrected my way to Kent, waited until there wasn't a car for a block before swinging out onto Kent, and then got myself to the Laurier lane.

I was not alone! As I turned onto the lane, I saw that a fellow frostbiker had been there before me. I felt a certain cameraderie with whoever that was.


The lane didn't seem to have been plowed - at least not in a while - but it was easy enough to cut through. Snow itself isn't the problem. Snow that's been packed down, squashed around, and piled up by car tires is a problem. Its texture is irregular. Fresh snow just swooshes along under your tires. Especially if you have studded tires. A thousand blessings on the head of whoever invented studded tires.


By the time I hit the O'Connor lane, I was even more not alone. There were a whole bunch of other tire tracks - and footprints, too, since the lane was easier to walk on than the sidewalks by now, for the aforementioned texture reasons.

All that was well and good . . . until I got under the highway on O'Connor and found myself on a side street. O'Connor beyond the highway was unplowed, has no separate bike lane and was impassable. I tried. I made it half a block. So my choice was, did I try to cut up to the canal and hope it was okay, or did I cut down to Bank Street and hope to be able to ride the rut? 

After slogging, pushing the bike, unable to ride it in the deep snow on the uncleared street and sidewalk, a short way, I decided that the canal would be a lost cause. It was Bank Street or nothing: the usual resort of the snowstorm biker is the most traveled street (sadly).

So I cut down to Bank Street. It was beautiful, but . . . the road was pretty white. Not all that busy though.


I took the sidewalk for a bit, I'll admit, but got tired of crawling along at pedestrian speed behind people walking (and I will not tell a pedestrian on the sidewalk to move over for me). So I hauled the bike over the snowbanks and into the road - again, during a lull in traffic when I knew no one was coming for a while - and then got rolling along in the slightly shallower snow of the wheel-rut. It meant I need to be way out in the middle of the lane, in order to stick to the part of the road where I had traction. If nothing else, winter teaches you to take the lane, and do it unapologetically, because you have no choice. The only place where you can be secure is way out in the lane. 

But it was surprisingly secure, except at intersections, where snow dragged out from the side streets was dumped in the street and then alternately compressed by bus tires and heaped into ridges. Those sections were less fun. Still, I managed to stay on the pedals most of the way through the Glebe and over the bridge at Lansdowne. It was as snow-covered as ever: I stopped to take a photo of the "supersharrows" mostly obliterated by snow. Thought it was telling. But still, there wasn't that much traffic to worry about and drivers generally gave me a wide berth because of the conditions. They must have seen my tires doing little micro-slalams as I steered for the clearest pavement.
Old Ottawa South was the biggest surprise - as long as I steered for the rut and bullheadedly ignored whether or not I was in anyone's way. I stuck to the middle of the street until I could switch out to the outer lane just before Billings Bridge. Drivers stayed back. They waited until there was time to pass. It was pretty nice, even if sometimes the rut ran out and I'd have to feel my way through all the snow to the next spot on the pavement that felt secure.
Changing lanes, Old Ottawa South style.
Probably the clearest pavement was on the busiest road - Bank Street. Higher speeds notwithstanding, the easier going was a relief after a lot of fighting the skid. That can get really hard on the core and lower back muscles. And the arms as you try to control the front tire. And the legs. And pretty much everything. 

At Heron Road, you're damn right I got on the sidewalk, after I saw that it had been plowed. Heron is narrow and scary on good days, and by the time I was heading up Heron, freezing rain had kicked in, and there were sharp hard ice pellets whipping into my face. Made my vision less reliable, and I just didn't feel like dealing with the fear of being in mid-lane on a road where people are used to going 70 or 80. 

But then the sidewalk got unuseable. There was Three Jeep Man, who owns so many cars that he typically parks with the ass end of one of them sticking halfway across the sidewalk. Annoying in summer, worse in winter.


And then the sidewalk vanished entirely under a dump of snow from the plow. . . 


. . . so I headed out onto the road. Again, I had to stop and wait until there was nothing coming at all before I carried the bike over the snow and put it down on the pavement in a clear patch. Got on it and then rode, quite comfortably, along the rut and home. 

Stuff I remembered on this ride (which took me about an hour, twice as long as usual, though I also stopped to take pictures): 

Standing in the car lane is an interesting experience. You feel like you have a target on your back, you try to get moving as quickly as you can. Even moving slower than the rest of traffic feels better than being stopped on the road. Being stopped on the road feels threatening. But I had to do it a couple of times today, because to get to the clear(er) pavement, I had to walk the bike, and then get set up on it, and then get rolling. 

Taking the lane is a scary feeling too. But when the snow is really flying, it's paradoxically easier, because the drivers stay away from you. The sidewalks can be safer, but more work; the road is scarier, but easier to ride on. The side streets - normally the best option - are useless. The segregated bike lanes, though, are fine. 

And even though everyone may tell you you're crazy, you'll still be glad you took the bike.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Further to yesterday's post

RideTheCity.com is a site/app that lets you plan routes around a city based on cycling data. You plug in your start and your destination and it suggests a "safer," "safe," and "direct" route. (The "direct" route comes with a warning that there has been no effort made to steer you toward safer streets and you should be careful.)

This is the direct route from Alta Vista and Bank to 200 Kent downtown (picked because it's a government office with hundreds of employees). It's a straight shot down Bank, about 5.8 km, takes about 22-29 minutes according to the site.


This, however, is the "safer" route.
It's 16.5 km, and takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and 20 minutes. You'll also note it never actually takes Bank Street at any point. (It's also pretty much unusable in winter.)


Yyyyyeah. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bank Street: Where do you even start?

Tomorrow night there's a public consultation on the plans for Bank Street between Riverside and Ledbury. The street is up - nay, far overdue - for "renewal," and I'm really hoping something actually comes of these consultations. In my fevered hopeful dreams, the whole street gets dug out, gutted, and replaced with something that isn't a nightmarish hellscape.

You'd think I was kidding, if you hadn't ridden down it lately.

Look at that poor bastard on the bike. If you zoom in, I bet you can see the hunted, wary look in his eyes.
Among the features of Bank Street which should die in an ALL-CONSUMING, PURIFYING FLAME are such elements as: 
1) narrow sidewalks immediately abutting the roadway or separated only by barren asphalt kill strips; 
2) broken pavement, potholes, and sunken drainage gratings; 
3) lane widths that allow - nay, encourage - drivers to average about 75 km/h; 
4) heavy truck traffic; 
5) wide parking lot entrances crossing the sidewalk; 
6) major intersections with those damn "eyebrows" allowing faster and more careless right turns and requiring pedestrians and cyclists going straight to cross three stretches of hostile pavement instead of just one;
7) drivers who are so pressured by the fast, heavy traffic to get through their turns into parking lots quickly that they cut off and endanger pedestrians; 
8) a complete lack of reasonable lighting; 
9) hydro poles and other utilities blocking entire sections of sidewalk; and 
10) a sidewalk across the bridge to South Keys that is so narrow two people can't actually pass each other going opposite directions.

It's also just plain fugly, but I guess you could argue that ugly never killed anyone. But then, maybe it does. Maybe it's part of the reason the whole street feels so antagonistic, for everyone. It's not pleasant to drive on, it's downright unpleasant to walk on, and it's scary enough to bike on that most of my friends who live in my neighbourhood, and who have expressed an interest in riding, don't ride - like, at all - because there's no sensible way to avoid Bank Street. 

So. There is a consultation tomorrow, at Jim Durrell Recreation Centre, from 6:00 to 8:30. I'm so there. And in advance, I'm reading through the presentation given back in June about this.

This street has been in discussion for about ten years, and there have been a few studies so far to look at what is falling apart (the pavement, underground utilities) and what the future needs of the area are going to be. Really, the main issue with Bank Street is that it is a) an arterial route for cars, b) a key transit route, and c) a spine route on the cycling network. And all of that is because it's the only road that crosses all three of the main barriers in this part of the city - the CPR rail line, the Rideau River, and the Rideau Canal. There is really no other practical way for people from South Keys to get to Old Ottawa South, the Glebe, or downtown. Or vice versa. By any means.

So, it needs to be able to accommodate more than just cars. It needs to be - dun dun DUN!!! - a Complete Street.

Which is something the City (theoretically) decided on back in 2013. A complete street has to balance the needs of different modes of travel and hopefully come up with something that is safest for all. When they developed the complete streets model, they also adopted Multimodal Level of Service (MMLOS) guidelines.

These guidelines are a newish thing in Ottawa, and encouraging to see. They basically force you to assess trade-offs in comfort and safety across modes. The grades in the chart below go from A (convenient, comfortable, safe) to F (long delays, high stress, unsafe).



And they've done an analysis of Bank Street as it stands now, and the targets they want to hit. It's extremely telling.


This is the analysis of five intersections with Bank: Riverside westbound and eastbound, Heron Road, Alta Vista Drive, and Walkley Road. If you can't read it, the dark burgundy represents an "F." Dark green is an "A." The shades in between go from E/F (rose) through B (light green). 

Would you just look at that upper chart. Would you just look at the "bike" column. And the "pedestrian" column. The only A on the whole chart is for heavy trucks, at Walkley and Bank.

Walkley and Bank looks like this. 

My reaction: Oh god oh god kill it with fire. Maybe that's just me.
I have, in fact, made left turns at this intersection on a bike, in the traffic lanes. But I have since found ways to avoid going anywhere near it so I don't ever, ever have to. So I encounter this intersection on foot, mostly. And it's nasty. Not only are the signal intervals uncomfortably long while you huddle on the islands after having scuttled across those right turn lanes, but sometimes the crosswalk lights don't actually work on one side of Walkley and you wait through a cycle or two before figuring it out. People frequently do that thing where you cross half of the intersection while the advance-left is on, so there's time to finish crossing when you actually get the light.

Anyway. Back to MMLOS. This is the same two charts - existing conditions and targets - for segments of the road rather than intersections.


That lone, floating "B" grade for bikes, in the top chart, represents the section of the street that runs past Billings Bridge Mall, where there is a bike lane, coated in bright green thermoplast wherever it crosses a merge lane or intersection. And yes, that bike lane is a huge improvement on the street. I'm lots more comfortable on it, even if traffic zips past me at high speed. It vanishes, however, south of about Ohio. And you will note that the whole stretch is universally bad for pedestrians. The only A grades? For trucks, at the north end of the street, starting at Riverside westbound (at which intersection Meg Dussault, of #megsbike, was killed three and a half years ago. By a truck.)

The targets are much more hopeful, looking toward better pedestrian and bike experiences, particularly around Billings Bridge Mall (currently a hotspot on the map of reported collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians) and from Walkley to Kitchener. I can see why those areas are priorities. Across from Billings Bridge there is a cluster of high rise apartment buildings. People are constantly ducking across the street to get to the mall and to the Transitway station. Between Walkley and Kitchener there is the local MP's office, a Shoppers Drug Mart, the Beer Store and LCBO, an optician, a consignment store, a couple of auto body shops, a mini mall with all sorts of services, a few restaurants, the Home Depot. When I walk in my neighbourhood it's usually in that area, to get to the shops. And it's the worst area to walk. 

So how do we fix this car-centric pavement-veldt where the strongest, fastest and heaviest prevail?

The initial design plans I've seen involve narrowing the car lanes a bit, carving out a bike lane on either side of the street, and adding a bit of boulevard space between the curb and sidewalk. Not a huge change, really, but if the lanes in front of Billings Bridge are any indication, they do make a difference. Paint may not really protect you from anything, but it does help to nudge the position of drivers on the road so you get a bit more space. And the green paint makes the intersections along that stretch feel just a little less hazardous.

It's always seemed clear to me that you could hack out a bike lane from the existing roadway on Bank Street and never have to move a curb. The current roadway is, in one studied stretch, 20.8m wide, for four lanes of car traffic (broken down, that's more than 5 metres of space per car. Allow my eyes to roll at the type of giant baby that can't handle a car in less than 15 feet of space).

The outside lanes are 4.5m wide, the inner lanes 3.25, with a median between them that's 4.5 m wide as well. If you just took the outside car lanes down to 3.25, which is clearly a completely reasonable width, because one lane is already that wide (and well within lane width targets if I read the charts right), you'd gain 1.25 m for a bike lane. And that's without touching the vast median.

Big wide medians that keep cars going in opposite directions from getting anywhere near each other do one thing: they allow drivers to feel nice and safe going at speeds well above the speed limit. Like 30 to 40 km/h faster. Which they do. It's really not uncommon or shocking to find someone going 80 or 90 along Bank between Billings and Walkley, where the limit is 50. Narrow or get ride of the median, the drivers slow down, and you've gained even more real estate for your bike lanes.

Maybe even enough to make them separated and protected. A raised, quieter, safer buffer between the pedestrians on the sidewalk and the motor traffic.

Kind of like these options:


A raised cycle track on Bank. I could only dream. Oh, wait. I spotted, and made some noise about converting, those paved kill strips a year or so ago, didn't I? If we're already digging up the street we could move the hydro poles and voila, a cycle track. (I think any recommendations about burying the lines have been shelved, alas, but we'll see at the consultation).

I expect that the bike lanes won't come up against the usual business-owner objections about parking, because there is no parking on Bank. . . but I can already hear the furor over having them cross the entrances to parking lots. Especially ones like the Beer Store, where most of the length of the store's property is made up of access to the road, and the LCBO just down the street, which has three different accesses to its parking lot and already has its fair share of accidents because people don't know which to treat as an entrance and which as an exit.

Still, the objections, I imagine, will be about safety and logistics, and not about bike lanes driving away parking customers. At least, I can hope not.

Sharper right turns (i.e., not rounding off the intersections and allowing right-turning cars to have their own mini merge lane) will probably piss off some drivers too, particularly truck drivers (and I'm not sure how you accommodate transport trucks in this design. Which you probably have to, since Walkley and Bank both have highway ramps on them and there are so many large stores along the street...)

But regular car drivers would just have to suck it up and make more careful turns, and that will anger some of them. I've heard that complaint about the O'Connor lane already from some drivers. "The turns are so sharp and they've got these big curbs so if you don't stop and go through the turn really slowly, you could scrape your car!" one co-worker said to me.

(. . . That's kind of the point.)

Anyway, so far all I've got to go on is this summer's presentation. I'll know more tomorrow night. I'm trying to get straight in my head what I think would work and what's actually likely to happen (this city can talk a good game in the planning stages and then somehow totally lose the plot until you have Booth Street on your hands, after all). It's a great big complicated bunch of tradeoffs, but it's always been clear to me that there has always been the space for a complete street on Bank. The real estate is there. It's just the will to reallocate it. And the improvement could be so huge. I'll keep my hopes up: I might as well.