Protected Intersections: The Infrastructure We Need

Today we learned that a young woman in Ottawa lost her life after being hit by a right-turning dump truck. The loss of life is saddening and alarming. What is also alarming and aggravating is that this happened on what has been touted as a showcase for safe cycling in Ottawa, the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane.

To be sure, the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane is superior bike infrastructure by most standards in Ottawa. Concrete barriers and seasonal flexi-posts physically delineate the bike lane, which is between the sidewalk and parked cars along most of the route, with short segments that are at sidewalk level. This removes a significant amount of potential conflict between bikes and cars, although there are arguably too many driveways, and still too many cars that stop in said driveways, blocking the lane. However, the design of the Laurier bike lanes still leave one of the key areas for conflict relatively untreated: intersections.

Currently, there are right-turning prohibitions at intersections, that prohibit turning on red lights. Signage also exists indicating that cyclists have the right-of-way over right-turning vehicles. Paint indicates where bike lanes cross intersections.

Today, none of those intersection treatments proved effective enough.

While we don’t know what the precise chain of events were that ended in this tragedy, we can say with certainty that the current design does not offer adequate protection to pedestrians or cyclists when errors in judgement – on the part of any user – take place. Errors in judgement should not result in death.

We know that we can design a better intersection. We’ve seen them in other cities. Intersections that provide a safe path for pedestrians and cyclists, and provide safer sight lines for turning vehicles:

A-New-Bike-Lane-That-Could-Save-lives

The design is simple: cyclists and pedestrians cross the intersection through a concrete bulbout, affording them some assurance that they won’t be pinned by a right-turning vehicle. This is accomplished by moving the zone for right turns into the actual intersection, after vehicles have crossed the first intersection. Vehicles are basically forced to cross crosswalks and crossrides at a perpendicular angle, allowing them a head-on view of traffic, rather than relying on mirrors and shoulder checks.

Also note that this design shortens the intersection for cyclists and pedestrians, which also improves safety.

I am not an engineer, but to my eyes, this is a solution that is elegant in its simplicity. We know this works. The Dutch use it, the Danish use it, and even some American cities appear to be ready to adopt it. It won’t be cheap, but it will help prevent injuries and deaths when people make bad judgement calls.

It can also be done today. See this example from Montreal:

montrealquebeccanada

Flexi-posts and paint are something that we have plenty of in this city. We can improve our intersections in days and weeks instead of months and years. We can also change intersections quickly so that vehicles can only turn on right-hand signals today. Tell your councillor, tell the mayor, and tell the chair of the Transportation Committee that you want safer intersections now. Find their contact information here.

CycleWest Infrastructure

One of the advantages CycleWest can be built upon is the relatively low cost of the infrastructure that would be required. While the ultimate build out would obviously benefit from full segregation from auto traffic, a safe route can be built from end to end with small investments that will create a high quality cycling route.

Hickory Street

The CycleWest route will start at the east end of the route at Carling Station on the O-Train Trillium Line. From here, the route moves westwards along Hickory Street, a two-way residential street with parking on one side that only sees a modest amount of traffic during rush hour.  Under the proposal, bike lanes would be added on each side of the street, requiring the removal of a relatively small number of on-street parking spots. This should not be controversial, given that parking is not allowed on Hickory Street between 8:00am ad 5:00pm. A stop sign will need to be added on Champagne Street to allow cyclists to get through this increasingly busy intersection safely.

Bayswater Avenue

Hickory Street terminates at Bayswater Avenue, where the cycling route would turn south, and travel one block to Sherwood Drive. Once again, a small amount of street parking would need to be removed to accommodate bike lanes on each side of the street. In addition, a stop sign will be needed on Bayswater to allow safe turns from Hickory Street onto Bayswater Avenue.

At this point, CycleWest would meet Sherwood Drive. The Sherwood/Bayswater intersection is a busy one, with both of these streets being subjected to notable amounts of traffic, mainly at rush hour. To address this, a few measure could be taken to improve the safety of cyclists at this intersection, and improve the design of the intersection in general:

  1. The existing right-turn slip from Bayswater Avenue to Sherwood Drive could be closed to automotive traffic, narrowed, and turned into a turning slip for cyclists, that would connect directly to the bike lane;
  2. A painted bike box should be installed on Baswater Avenue so southbound cyclists turning left can take the lane and get through the intersection safely;
  3. Likewise, a painted bike box in the eastbound Sherwood Drive lane would allow north-turning cyclists the opportunity to take the lane and clear the intersection;
  4. The turning radius of the northeast curb of the Sherwood/Bayswater intersection tends to result in almost all drivers rolling through the intersection, as they turn right onto Bayswater Avenue. To discourage this, the city could start with installing bollards to reduce the turning radius, or even install an eyebrow to allow cyclists to make it through the intersection without getting pinned by cars.
Sherwood-bayswater

The Bayswater-Sherwood intersection, redesigned for better bike mobility, safer pedestrian crossings, and slower car traffic.

Sherwood Drive

Of all the segments of the proposed route that the city is not currently considering for bike infrastructure, Sherwood Drive offers the greatest opportunity for a high quality bike route. This is for a few reasons:

  1. Bulbouts at most intersections have created a narrow travel lane, which currently accommodates all users, with a very narrow – perhaps 2.5 meters – parking lane, that would be converted to bike lanes. Rebuilding the bulbouts – 17 of them along the length of Sherwood – with a ride through section, or converting them to ride-over bulbouts would create safe, segregated intersections that would reduce conflicts between cyclists and drivers. This could be augmented with flexposts, creating visual segregation from the roadway at low cost.
  2. Removing parking along Sherwood shouldn’t create too much of a challenge, given that parking is currently prohibited between 9:00-5:00. In other words, parking is vastly underutilized. Random evening walks and rides confirm that it is also lightly used during the evening, likely due to many houses along this street having parking for 2-4 cars.
  3. Sherwood Drive between Bayswater Avenue and Carling Avenue – perhaps the busiest portion of the road – has few driveways or openings to contend with, and is quite wide. On the eastbound side, there are two driveways, and a right-tirn slip onto Carling Avenue, that should be filled in. In the westbound lane, there are 3 driveways, and one minor intersection with Breezehill Avenue.
  4. Although Sherwood Drive is designated a collector, local residents worked hard and won a 40km/h speed limit. This, combined with relatively narrow lanes keeps traffic at a relatively reasonable speed.
  5. At the Sherwood-Parkdale intersection, a traffic signal would need to be added to allow cyclists to cross Parkdale Avenue on both sides of the intersection. Currently, there is a beg button for pedestrians on the south side of the intersection only.
Sherwood-Reid

A typical cross-section of Sherwood Drive between Bayswater Avenue and Parkdale Avenue. Note the car left in the lane, so that city planners can recognize that this is actually a bike lane.

Holland Avenue

Sherwood Drive terminates at Holland Avenue in the west. From here, the infrastructure required to link up with Bike lanes on Byron become slightly more complex, but are still possible to implement:

  1. Because there is no signal at Sherwood Drive and Holland Avenue, CycleWest would travel along the east side of Holland Avenue in a bi-directional bike lane. In order to avoid conflicts with passengers using the bus stop under the Queensway, the sidewalk would be relocated, with the bike path making use of the current sidewalk alignment.
  2. In order to maintain the bus-only lane and a bike path, parking would only be maintained on one side of Holland Avenue.
  3. The bike path would travel north to the intersection of Holland Avenue and Tyndall Street, where it would cross to the other side of the road, to connect with bike lanes on Byron Avenue.
Sherwood-and-Holland

The reconfigured Sherwood-Holland intersection. Note that the bike path makes good use of the goat path desire line that currently bisects the corner lot.

While elements of CycleWest may be more costly than others, the ultimate outcome will be a bike route that makes good use of existing infrastructure and provides a low-stress riding environment. This is precisely the type of infrastructure we need in Ottawa if we want to increase the number of cyclists.

CycleWest

Every so often, the incremental work approach to city building provides an opportunity to build something greater than the sum of its parts. The City of Ottawa has provided a high quality multi-user path (MUP), the Trillium MUP, along the east side of the O-Train between the Ottawa River and Carling Avenue. Also to its credit, the City has proposed a series of measures that include bike infrastructure and priority measures along Byron Avenue between Island Park and Sherbourne Road in the old west end. However, these are still somewhat isolated efforts that as useful as they are, are largely focused on improving local conditions, with little focus on a fully connected cycling network.

With a small investment, the City can build an leverage its investments, to create an important east-west cycling route that will connect Dow’s Lake, Little Italy, the Civic Hospital, Hintonburg, Westboro and ultimately as far west as Lincoln Fields, with an easy connection to downtown.

The CycleWest Proposal

Full CycleWest route extending from Lincoln Fields Station to Carling Station

CycleWest is founded on two simple premises. The first is that the infrastructure required for CycleWest will be an incremental addition to investments the City has already planned, and would be relatively inexpensive to leverage for a full cycling route. The second is that ridership is steadily growing along the proposed route, and will inevitably make this type of infrastructure necessary if cycling is to be treated as a serious part of the urban transportation mix inside the greenbelt.

CycleWest will build on the investments being made by the City to implement a Byron Avenue cycling route that will run between Sherbourne Road and Island Park Drive. To make this a truly regional biking link, CycleWest will extend the Byron bike lanes east approximately 2.5km to the Trillium MUP and Carling Avenue. In order to do this, an eastbound bike lane between Island Park Drive and Holland Avenue will be added to complement the existing westbound lane that runs most of the length of this route. From here, the route would turn south to run along Holland Avenue, then east along the entire length of Sherwood Drive, to Carling Avenue where connections can be made through Queen Juliana Park to bike lanes on Prince of Wales Drive.  A connection to the Trillium MUP would be established by adding bike lanes north on Bayswater Avenue for one block, then east along Hickory Street, where a bridge connects crosses the O-Train cut, to access the Trillium MUP.

As part of Phase II of the City’s LRT plan, CycleWest could easily be extended west along the Richmond/Byron Corridor to Lincoln Fields Station. The City is currently consulting various stakeholders about a Complete Street vision for Richmond as part of the LRT project. This would extend connectivity to new stations at Cleary and New Orchard, and the existing station at Lincoln Fields, as well as the NCC pathway system.

Rarely in the city building realm are we presented with the opportunity to turn a good project into a great project. The Trillium MUP has extended safe cycling infrastructure as far south as Dow’s Lake. With a safe, convenient connection to downtown, it is observably driving an increase in cycling ridership, which only increases the demand for more of the same – ie, low stress, convenient cycling infrastructure that connects neighbourhoods, employment and schools. With incremental investments, CycleWest can be a showcase for the type of cycling network our neighbourhoods need to connect to high quality segregated cycling facilities like the Trillium and Albert MUPs and the Laurier Avenue West segregated bike lanes.

In in coming posts, I will add more detail about how the infrastructure could look along the different segments of the route, and the ridership driving this project.