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.