Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The case of the vanishing bike lane

In my column this week, I wrote about the sudden disappearance of the bike lane from the Glebe section of the O'Connor Bikeway. Due to "parking concerns" (sigh), the City announced that the painted, designated bike lane was suddenly now "no longer considered" and the lanes would go back to being "shared lanes" which, at best, means magic painted bike symbols, and at worst means the street stays exactly the same as things are now.

They announced the pretty-much-solidified plan on, what, April 9? Early enough that we ran a story on it in the last issue of the Centretown BUZZ. Then on April 21, the bike lanes were gone. Bike lanes which had been in the plan for the last . . . oh . . . three years. 

It's not like that stretch of O'Connor is all that busy or dangerous, to be fair. I rode down it a few days ago, and it's a fairly quiet street: quiet in part because it's awkward to get onto and off of, particularly if you're heading north. At the south end, you have to do some wandering near Lansdowne to switch from Bank to O'Connor, or at least I did, not knowing which streets would connect up between the two: 

And then at the north end of the section, where O'Connor suddenly turns into a one-way street heading south, you're stuck. The two-way street ends, and you're facing O'Connor heading the wrong way. The cross street (Strathcona) is one-way and takes you even further from Bank Street (and would only get you to Metcalfe, where you would have to make a left turn onto a busy main street, which would in turn only take you a block past the Queensway and bottom out at Argyle). And so you wind up riding (or walking) your bike for two blocks on the sidewalk, the wrong way, across Strathcona and Pretoria, then crossing Chamberlain, which is basically a highway on/off ramp. Then you go under the highway on the laughably short "bike lane," which also goes the wrong way, stopping at a confusing double pedestrian crosswalk to cross the on ramp and then Catherine, then making a left (remounting your bike at some point) onto Catherine (a very busy one-way street that's basically an off ramp) and heading back down to Bank.

The intersection to the east is just as bad. And takes you further off route if you meant to go to Bank Street. 

All that will be mitigated somewhat, I hope, by the bidirectional, segregated bike lane which is planned (so far) for O'Connor north of Strathcona, where it's a one-way street. And you'll be able to continue north on O'Connor for the rest of its length instead of having to deke back over to Bank Street and compete with truck and bus traffic. 

That's assuming the bidirectional bike lane survives the round of complaints that are bound to surface now that the City's announced the plan they've spent the last seven years constructing. It apparently only took them a week and a half to back off on the painted lanes planned for the Glebe, after all, citing a "unique need" for parking and the fact that it's a quiet residential street. 

No, the bike lane isn't as desperately needed on O'Connor as it is lots of other places. If you ask me, where the bike lane needs to be is Bank Street where the actual destinations are, but tell that to the businesses that (probably wrongly) think losing parking will destroy them. So, okay, put it on O'Connor, but if you're going to put it there, then go ahead and do it. I don't know how much more expensive it would be to add bike lanes: given all the bus bulbs along that street I guess it will involve some construction. But it was in the budget, right?

Besides, this bike lane has already been shuffled off onto the lowest impact street: if you can't do it here, where can you? And look at the benefits. You're removing parking for about five to ten cars, but in return you're adding a buffer zone between car traffic and pedestrians on the narrow sidewalk, creating a more pleasant street for everyone, and demonstrating that there's actual political will behind creating bike infrastructure, and not just a mechanical, "we ought to do this, the optics are good, cycling is 'trending,' but we don't really want the hassle" attitude about it. 

When I talked to people about this for my column, the recurring attitude was, "This is just the beginning." Now that the Bikeway plan is firmed up enough that it's being covered in the media, the objections will begin to roll in, people seemed to feel: it's not over yet, not by a long shot. 

Before tomorrow, you might be able to have some influence on the June 3 Transportation Committee report: email to let him know what you think. (Cc. and, too.) 

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