Might be more palpable, to be honest, if on the day the lane officially opened it hadn't been slowly, dismally raining for hours.
But that aside, it's worth celebrating - making a big deal out of, even - the opening of a major new piece of infrastructure. We've been waiting for this one. It's even open ahead of schedule. Pop the champagne!
Someone at work complained this afternoon about the concrete barriers, which make it harder to cut the corners on right turns. "You have to make such a sharp turn," he said, "or you'll scratch up your car on those things. And it'll just be worse in winter." He complained that traffic was already slow on O'Connor and now people making left turns were having to stop and hold it up further. Someone else mentioned that the adjustment period while drivers got used to looking for bikes coming northward on a predominantly southbound street would be dangerous.
But then I bumped into a friend this evening who told me that she had just driven through the mess of on- and off-ramps where O'Connor crosses Catherine and Isabella and runs under the highway, and she told me it was far less scary and confusing now. "You know which lane to be in if you want to get on Colonel By, and which one goes to the highway," she said. "The signage is a lot better. It's a lot clearer."
Anyway, this morning, my cell phone rang at work. It was someone from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning wondering if I would be willing to come downtown tomorrow morning to talk to Hallie Cotnam about the lane. I said sure, and then they told me the interview would be at 7:00 am.
(But I would have said sure anyway.)
They also asked if I could give the lane a test ride today so I could check it out. I had an evening meeting, so I started home on the lane at about 8:30 pm. It was pouring. The kind of rain that comes in around your glasses straight into your eyes and makes you blink constantly, and gets all over the lenses, which are already steaming up from your body heat and breath in the cold night air. And makes all the signal lights reflect off the pavement so it's hard to tell what you're looking at, and obscures road markings, and makes unlit cyclists and pedestrians damn near invisible.
So, when I set out on the O'Connor lane, I was doing it under the worst possible biking conditions. Go me.
First impressions, rain-glazed and unclear though they are: the intersections felt okay. Where cross streets enter O'Connor, the bike lane is marked out in green thermoplast. Stop lines are further back, "yield-to-bikes" signs are more sensibly placed. I had my head up and my antennae cranked at each cross street anyway, because I didn't know how they would work. But between the fact that it was late, so there were very few cars on the cross streets, and the fact that it was pouring rain, so there were no other cyclists (none), the ride was confusion-free.
The only thing that made me jump was the sheer speed of cars coming up beside me. Even though I knew they were separated from me by a concrete barrier, cars fly along that street and are noisier in the rain, and I flinched a couple of times as cars blasted by on my right.
At the Catherine/Hwy 417/Isabella crossing, I didn't know what to expect. When I rode this lane illegitimately, jumping the gun, this intersection was unfinished and baffling. Terrifying, even. But now it was kind of glorious. You just stay on the east side of the street.
How bafflingly simple is that?
The bike lanes continue straight, on the east side, across Catherine, under the highway, and across Isabella, with two different, very clearly defined, separate bike signals to allow cyclists to cross before left-turning, highway-bound traffic proceeds. The bicycle lights are even bike-shaped to make it more obvious, and the green thermoplast leaves no doubt about it. There's a bike signal before you cross Catherine, and another at Isabella.
(I haven't seen how the traditionally hellish pedestrian crossing has changed, if at all, on the west side of the street. I guess I will tomorrow.)
Once across Isabella, the bike lane continues for about a block, then the southbound half of it crosses to the west side of the street. It was very dark and rainy, so I couldn't see exactly how but, on a street as quiet as O'Connor suddenly becomes at this point, it's not such a crucial thing. Then there's a painted bike lane which runs up and over pedestrian bulb-outs at the corners, the rest of the way to Lansdowne Park. It was flooded tonight because of the rain, and my shoes got drenched: the pavement could be better, but at least there's not a lot of traffic.
At Lansdowne you have to turn up along a contraflow bike lane on Holmwood, which is scary in the dark and the rain: narrow, with cars coming toward you past a line of parked cars, and a narrowish bike lane. I was unnerved by it. And the less said about my experience of Bank Street past Lansdowne, over the bridge, through Old Ottawa South, and on to Billings Bridge, the better.
So I may not be taking the O'Connor lane every day. Mostly because it's lovely until you get to Holmwood, and then you're dumped onto Bank Street at Lansdowne. Which is not great at the best of times, and terrifying in the rain. If I take the canal to get to South Ottawa, I get to skip all of that horrible crap and get onto Bank down by the Rideau River, avoiding the whole stretch between Holmwood and Riverside. So I'll probably keep taking the canal for my commute.
But that's not to say that O'Connor won't be my very first choice if I'm going to the Mayfair Theatre after work, or to Lansdowne Park, or if I want to get to the Glebe Community Centre or McNabb Park. Or if I need to stop at Kettleman's Bagels on the way home. (This is a need that could happen.) And if I need to get north/south in the downtown core, this and Lyon will be my go-tos.