Wednesday, September 21, 2016

O'Connor preview!

It is perhaps only fitting that the first I heard that the O'Connor Bikeway was nearly finished was this tweet, showing that even before its official opening, oblivious drivers were . . . well. . . it was inevitable.

And may the odds be ever in your favour.

But never mind that: the O'Connor Bikeway is nearly complete! Complete enough, anyway, that I checked it out for my commute home from work this evening.

Quick refresher: this is the bidirectional bike lane that will connect the downtown core to Lansdowne Park, via the Glebe. It will give cyclists an option other than the chaotic and cramped Bank Street to travel north/south. And yes, it has already caused, and will probably continue to cause, much pearl-clutching, NIMBYism, #neversatisfied and automotive indignation from various corners. That's okay. That's how we move forward.

I caught the Laurier lane (newly furnished with staggered stop lines for bikes and cars, thank you City of Ottawa) west to O'Connor. When I realized the bikeway really was open, I hung a right onto it. Turning right onto the lane is a little odd, since you have to bike across O'Connor, then cut through crossing pedestrians on the green. But I managed it okay and got myself behind the poured-concrete barriers (not laid-down bars of concrete like the ones on Laurier).

And then I was on this bikey highway!

For most of the downtown core, the lane is separated from motor traffic by poured concrete dividers. Green paint alerts drivers to the danger points at the intersections, and there are bike boxes to allow turns to the west. At the intersections the concrete barriers are cut down to near road level, presumably so left-turning vehicles don't wreck their tires.

At the first red light, a man rode up, stopped just behind me, and said, "Is this really for bikes?"

"Yup," I told him. "It's two directions all the way along O'Connor. Going to go all the way to Lansdowne."

"Really?" he said. "Wow! That's amazing!"

"Yeah, it's pretty good, huh?" I said as the light turned green and we started pedaling again.

It's definitely still a work in progress (if the traffic cones didn't give it away). At one point I had to avoid a tipped-over construction sign that had fallen into the southbound lane, and at another I rode through a set of cones blocking off the lane. But I wanted to see what the whole thing was like, so I weaved between the cones and kept going.

I went on alert when I crossed side streets, assuming that people wouldn't be used to the lane being there, and not seeing a whole lot of signage about how the intersections should work. But for the most part, they're quiet streets on that side of Bank.

I don't know how the intersection at the Queensway is going to work. I have heard the solution is good. It's not installed yet, though, so when I got to the block before the highway underpass, I had a moment of doubt.

That intersection has always been terrible. Four lanes of motor traffic, one-way, come to a set of highway on-ramps, and turn right to go west, or left to go east, while one lane continues south onto a small, residential, two-lane street. A cyclist is forced to merge left into the second-from-right lane to go through, or to duck to the sidewalk and use the pedestrian crossing. Meanwhile, the pedestrian crossing is a desperate, two-stage game of Frogger across an east/west street (Catherine), then the highway on-ramp (these two crossings are separately signalled), and then under the highway and across another street (Isabella).

Now, as it happens, the unfinished bikeway ends, and you have to merge to the right across two lanes: I waited for traffic to get a red light before I even attempted it.

And then you get into the second-from-right lane as you would normally. Not shown: the transport truck in the right lane that I was waiting beside.

I ducked to the other side of the traffic cones at the orange sign with the arrow, assuming that is where the bike lane will eventually be. None of it is marked or built yet, though. But on the other side of those traffic cones, there's a space and a separate traffic signal for bikes on the far side of the underpass. 

On the other side of the highway, O'Connor becomes a sleepy, two-way, residential street, and the segregated lane turns into a painted bike lane, or maybe just an advisory, I'm not sure. But the pedestrian bulb-outs that used to cause cyclists to merge in and out of the motor traffic lane have been smoothed out and the bike path continues across them now: this is an improvement, in my opinion. 

Also, at all the four-way stops, the bike stop line (laughable though that idea is, because almost no one comes to a full stop at these intersections, car or bike) is set ahead of the car stop line. A nice touch, if kind of pointless: it shows a general standard that's being adhered to for this kind of infrastructure. 

As you get closer and closer to Lansdowne Park, the lane gets less distinct. However, where O'Connor jogs at Fifth, there is an existing contraflow bike lane that takes you up the rest of O'Connor, counter to the car traffic, and gives you a lane to travel west toward Bank Street (the motor traffic is one-way east here). 

At Bank Street there are bike sensors, and a bike signal to let you turn. After that you're on your own with the "super sharrows" over the infamously terrible Lansdowne Bridge, the traffic pinch in front of the Mayfair Theatre, and claiming your lane all the way down Bank Street to where the bike lane starts at Billings Bridge Mall, just past Meg's ghost bike. And south of Ohio Street, godspeed. 

Still. Unfinished as it is, it looks good. There were already a considerable number of people riding on the lane downtown, and that one guy was pretty excited - and surprised - to know it was there. The education period is going to be interesting, seeing as we already have people parking on the lane, and I'll watch what happens with the intersections. Left hooks are still a bit of a threat too.

But it's a step. 

Interestingly, Strava tells me it doesn't cut any noticeable distance off my commute (usually I take the canal MUP) and it's actually a little slower because of all the stop lights. I also have to ride on Bank through Old Ottawa South if I take this route, whereas when I take the canal I can skip that stretch of Bank Street and come out at Riverdale, near the bridge over the Rideau River. So I don't imagine I'll be commuting along O'Connor much, except maybe in the winter if it's better cleared than the canal path. 

I can see a lot of people finding it really useful to get to the Glebe though. If I don't need to go further south than Lansdowne I'll use it, for sure. 

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