Friday, May 13, 2011

Sympathy for Bronson

(photo yoinked from
I was going to write a post to say I hate Bronson Avenue. But it’s actually kind of hard to hate it. I don’t like riding on Bronson, no. When I was first in Ottawa, as a college student living across Bronson from Carleton University campus, I developed an unshakeable conviction that one day Bronson would kill me. I remembered that conviction with immediate and crystal clarity, as I was biking down Bronson to a friend’s house last Sunday morning. It’s narrow. It’s fast, and the pavement is so unbelievably bad as to make it almost impassable for a cyclist. There are parked cars at the sides of the street, infrequently enough to be inconvenient. Where there are bike lanes (only around Carleton), they begin and end awkwardly.

But I can’t hate Bronson. Bronson is like the hard-luck cousin of Ottawa streets. The fact that its hashtag on Twitter is not #Bronson but #RescueBronson might give you an idea; the street grinds along through life, rusty, dirty, broken and cracked, the curbs crumbling, the sidewalks sloping and collecting mud, clumps of grass and water, and the asphalt slowly decaying into truly epic potholes. It doesn’t even get the more or less frequent patches that my other high-pothole zone, Main Street, gets. It feels, as you rattle and swerve and swear your way down Bronson, as though everyone has just given up on it as a bad job. Bronson feels unloved. And then there’s the matter of those spooky, garish painted children mounted on utility poles as decoration, in an attempt to create a sense of community among the elderly brick houses, shop fronts and poured-concrete apartment blocks. I tried to hate Bronson; I felt like I’d snapped at a kicked-around dog that was still trying to wag its tail.

But one of these days I will have to ride down Bronson with a camera and get pictures of the appalling state of the pavement.  Last weekend, as I was biking to my friend’s, and home again, I spotted a bunch that would be great candidates for a Gallery of Awful. Some, to use my Pothole Rating System from earlier this year, would count as Intensity 10. At one point a foot-wide, at least 6-inch-deep circular hole had been drilled around some sort of cap – pipes, or something – and left there, in the middle of where bikes need to be. (I came across that one after dark: exciting.)

Around Carleton, as I said, the bike lanes appear and disappear uncomfortably; I come up the ramp from Heron onto Bronson, where there are Transitway lanes, major ramps to major arteries, and where there is no bike lane and you have to be in the far left lane if you want to continue on Bronson and not be forced onto Riverside. After that, it’s a matter of getting past Carleton in a bike lane littered with the sort of high-speed obstacles you might expect – I’ve seen carriage bolts, dead animals, chunks of tire, sheets of rusted metal, and broken glass – and with the occasional off-ramp, like the one onto Colonel By just past the canal, that forces you to figure out when and how to cross a right-turn lane to merge into the suddenly appearing bike lane. But then the bike lanes peter out entirely and you’re on your own through the west end of the Glebe, where the pavement dissolves into defeat.

Underneath the 417 overpass, you dive into a dark tunnel with potholes so frequent and varied you’re forced to run over them, because you can’t be certain the drivers can or will swing out to give you room. Coming up to a light, with cars just to the left of me, I was forced through a pit in the pavement at least three inches deep – there was nowhere to go to avoid it. Avoiding the holes involves putting your head on swivel mode and trying to watch in front and behind at the same time: and sometimes having to hit major holes head on because of a truck rattling past too close for comfort. Arriving at my friend’s house, I was rattled in bone, body and mind, with a thumping headache beginning in my jarred skull and my adrenaline levels spiking. “God,” I said as I gave him a hug, “I hate Bronson."

But I’m sorry, Bronson. It’s not your fault. I didn’t really mean it.


  1. When you were riding to your friend's place last Sunday morning, you and your friend should have continued to the Rescue Bronson Avenue Jane's Walk walking tour that I gave. (Many of the posters are still up on-site, and I also posted them on my blog).

    Speaking of potholes, your post reminds me that the big ugly potholes on Lewis that I reported in March still haven't been addressed. Now that I'm thinking about it AND at my computer, I'll dig up the report number and harass the 3-1-1 people again to fix them.

    Your account of the underpass reminds me of a story that the Citizen did in June 2007 (not available online; I checked) talking about a lawsuit where the City of Windsor was successfully sued for over $800K by a 62-year old surgeon who may be forced to retire early due to injuries sustained after hitting a pothole on his bike. In that Citizen story, CfSC's representative talked about bumps and potholes under the Queensway at Bank Street. The next day, the pavement there was fixed.

    So I guess the trick is to make sure that "$800,000 lawsuit" is in a news article talking about your potholed-area-of-choice!

  2. Also, the potholes are a feature, not a bug. If the roadway were smooth, cars would go even faster!

  3. You have a point there. I'll try to be grateful for the potholes, keeping that in mind.

    And I absolutely would have been at the Jane's Walk thing if it wasn't that me and my friend were already committed to going rock climbing that day, and, well... very little gets between me and climbing. But I saw all kinds of great reviews of the walk when I got home!