Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Doucet's segregated lanes

Well, Councillor Clive Doucet's been proposing segregated bike lanes for Ottawa (a la many European cities, or, say, parts of New York.) Having had a pretty rough ride to work this morning down Alta Vista, where the bike lane at the side of the road is unplowed and occluded by snow and slush that forced me a couple of feet into the traffic lane in places, I have to say that even if there were separate lanes with their own traffic signals and a concrete barrier, I have little faith that they'd be cleared and useable through the winter... but let that be. In principle, I'm for it.

And this morning the city approved the plan! With luck, we'll eventually have east-west dedicated lanes running from Preston to Elgin. Not having the city's posted bike route direct me down Albert Street, where I have to share the right-hand lane with the Transitway of all things, would be terrific.

I'm interested, though, in the opposition coming from some cyclists. I agree, the bike lanes I use here in Ottawa collect debris (I've seen everything from carriage bolts, branches, and pop cans to dead animals), are usually studded with drain covers and manholes, and are often potholed and cracked. But just to have that extra breathing room at the side of the road is welcome, as far as I'm concerned: if nothing else, the bike lane widens the street. And I cheered when the bike lane was put in at Saint Patrick and King Edward, leading cyclists across the two right-turn lanes so they can go straight through and up Saint Patrick. Suddenly it was so much easier to get across King Edward.

For some cyclists, the experienced and confident ones, bike lanes may be restrictive. But I think that they're invaluable for getting people out onto the streets who would not otherwise take their bikes: new cyclists, less experienced or more cautious ones. Parents towing their kids. I will bike down South Bank Street: I have friends who will not. If we want to encourage more people to leave their cars at home, we have to help them feel that it's a reasonable and sane thing to do. That it's not just for "road-warriors and bike couriers."

Cyclists objecting to bike lanes usually point out that the lanes create a false sense of security, that motorists don't see cyclists until the last minute at intersections, and that it's aggressive driving from cars that makes cycling dangerous so we should be re-educating motorists. (But face it. Some motorists will not be re-educated: you only have to read the comments below cycling-related news articles to see that. Nor will some cyclists learn to stop at red lights and obey traffic laws.) But I do, really, feel safer on a bike lane, and that translates to being less jumpy, less nervous, less unpredictable.

And it seems unclear from the news whether everyone's talking about the same thing - is this about painted lines at the edge of the road, or physically separated lanes with barriers and their own lights? I don't see how those concerns really fit in the latter case. We wouldn't be able to speed along through downtown, no, but then neither can the cars. So the question is, is that what Doucet's suggesting? Or more pertinent, is that what the city planners will decide is feasible?

Here, I'll add a little video. You know. Not that I imagine City Hall will be holding these cities up as a model while they think about this... but a girl can dream:


  1. I'm undecided about separated bike lanes. We have quite a few here in Montreal, and, while they're often nice, you have you remember that it's only separated *between intersections*. Every block, you're out in traffic again, and the cars turning the corner probably haven't seen you, since you're way off in your own lane, often behind a row of parked cars. On my (20 minute) bike ride downtown, it's very rare that I don't get cut off at least once!

    Also, if the bike lane is blocked, you're stuck! If there is a real curb separating the bike lane from the street, you have to haul your bike up over it to go around obstacles - things like construction, emergency vehicles, idiots that thought it would make a nice parking place, debris... Again, it's very rare that I get through my brief commute without the lane being blocked somewhere.

    That said, it's a really nice idea, and lanes further away from traffic, like the Lachine Canal, are wonderful. I think the 'proper' solution for more urban paths would be to make some streets bike-only, but that'd face some stiff opposition, to say the least!

  2. It's getting late, but e-mail me and I can send you a copy of the presentation I made at the meeting (which is paraphrased into a single paragraph in the Sun article).

    The line "Another outspoken cycling advocate, Charles Akben-Marchand, said he disagrees that segregated bike lanes are the answer to cycling safety," could perhaps be clarified with the word "only" before the word "answer". The primary threat from segregated bike lanes is if it's the ONLY thing being done, and if it's done with the unstated (or sometimes stated) assumption that bikes don't belong on roads in the first place.

    I'm not as vehemently opposed to segregated bike lanes (which, in response to your question, refer to physically segregated ones, not just painted lanes) as their proponents like to paint me as.

    You going to be at the Ottawa Blogger's Breakfast on Saturday? Maybe we can discuss it there. (Details at the end of XUP's latest post)