Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why Old Ottawa South is awful: a theory

I have a theory. This theory came to me after only my most recent encounter with a bullying driver on Bank Street between the canal and the Rideau River. The driver was in a silver Infiniti with a modified muffler.
This is, sadly, not all that uncommon on this stretch of street. It's about eleven blocks long, and I dread it most of the time. I have consistently had encounters with more more close-passing, horn-honking, finger-pointing, bullying drivers on this stretch than maybe anywhere else I ride.


But after this last one, I was struck by an observation. This eleven blocks is narrower, denser, and more full of visual friction than the stretch north of it, past Lansdowne Park, or south of it, over the river and past the Billings Bridge Mall.

Here's Bank Street north of the canal, by Lansdowne:

And here's Bank south of the Rideau River:


 In between those two stretches of wide, open streets with two full lanes in each direction, large setbacks from the street, and longer blocks, there's Old Ottawa South - narrow, with buildings right up to the sidewalk, trees near the street, side streets intersecting on both sides, more buildings per block, more pedestrians, kids, bikes, you name it.


 See the difference?

My theory is, drivers coming though this stretch aren't even aware of the stressing effect of the sudden appearance of parked cars, trees, storefronts, pedestrians, and patio furniture as they leave the drag-strip environments to the north and south of this neighbourhood. But suddenly, they're having to process more visual input. It makes them twitchy. They can't go as fast as they could a second ago (note: the speed limits don't change as you enter this neighbourhood, but speeds of 80 km/h on the Lansdowne Bridge or at Billings Bridge are not uncommon.) It all combines to make them, unconsciously, more aggressive. I see them bob and weave even around other drivers. Then there's a cyclist in The Middle Of My Goddamn Lane, and the impatience boils over into revving engines and near-miss passes to express frustration.

There you have it: the nastiness of Old Ottawa South, explained.

By no means am I saying that Bank in Old Ottawa South should be widened, the trees cut down, the parking lane given over to travel. No. Definitely not. If anything, I'm saying that on either side of it, where drivers get so much psychological permission to speed, we need to at least complicate their field of vision enough to slow them up. More trees, closer to the road; separated cycle tracks with barrier elements; narrower car lanes. Ease them into the denser neighbourhood, get their speed down, and maybe they won't be quite so edgy when they have to put the brakes on for a cyclist.

No comments:

Post a Comment