June 07, 2017

Capital Cycling Charms - Part 1

Ottawa River and O-Train Pathways
When I attended Spring Bike Ottawa in March 2015, I couldn’t properly evaluate their cycling facilities due to the weather and lack of bike share. After cycling in Montréal in February, it was only a matter of time Ottawa would be revisited; something Helen and I did in late May.

Approximate map of our route
The first day’s ride of approximately 35 kilometres (including detours) sampled the following routes:
  • Albert Street multi-use path
  • O-Train and Ottawa River Pathways
  • Champlain and Portage Bridges
  • Voyageurs Trail (Gatineau)
  • Cycle tracks on Laurier and Mackenzie Avenues
  • Rideau Canal
  • O’Connor Street
Traffic calming on Rochester Street
Accessing the Ottawa River Pathway from our Airbnb place was reasonably safe. Both Rochester and Booth Streets use traffic calming measures such as curb bumpouts and centre posts – something recurring throughout our ride – though speed limits could be reduced to 30 km/h.
Albert Street multi-use path at Preston Street
Albert Street has a multi-use path on the north side of the street, with the Preston Street crossing being unconventional including a temporary pedestrian island for those crossing south and useless “cyclists dismount” signs. Due to Confederation Line station construction, the short link from Albert Street to the O-Train Pathway was not paved, though the Ottawa River was only a couple of minutes away.
Canada Geese family by the Voyageurs Trail in Gatineau
Once on the Ottawa River Pathway, you could almost forget you were in a city of one million people with the abundance of nature including river rapids and animals from rabbits to baby Canada Geese. A similar experience was found on the Gatineau side with their Sentier des Voyageurs (Voyageurs Trail). The beaches on both sides had some flooding, while the Gatineau side has some wayfinding confusion with one sign pointing back to the waterfront and the Eddy-Laurier intersection not clearly marked for cyclists. Their trails also had signage right on the pavement.
Portage Bridge - Counters are good but safety needs work
The Ottawa River crossings need work. The Champlain Bridge used only painted lanes with 60 km/h posted speed limits, though the Québec side does provide some green bollards for protection. The Portage Bridge has a raised bi-directional cycle track, but a similar design on Toronto’s Martin Goodman Trail proved it is insufficient given the recent death of five-year-old Xavier Morgan. (link to Jun N's post on related memorial ride) Additional barriers are needed on that bridge to prevent such a tragedy from happening in Ottawa.
Left - Ring-and-post parking placed next to walls
Right - Laurier Avenue cycle tracks (before the race blockade)

Two more shortcomings were seen after leaving the Portage Bridge. One is the poor placement of ring posts against certain walls; meaning only one bike can be parked instead of two. The other is mediocre detour markings. The flood related Ottawa River Pathway closure lead to Laurier Avenue – itself an example of how pilot projects should use parking curbs instead of bollards – which then went through the Race Weekend route near the Rideau Canal.
Mackenzie Avenue next to the American embassy
One of the more recent cycle tracks – Mackenzie Avenue – was difficult to access from Laurier Street. We ended up going through Cumberland Street and walked our bikes along several streets before reaching Mackenzie. Along the American embassy, that cycle track featured large green bollards which are great for protection, but those placed in the middle could cause problems for cargo bike users. A lack of connectivity was noted at the northern terminus, though it was the first place we saw a VeloGo bike share station. Going south to the Rideau Canal was seamless.
VeloGo bike share - A similar system is used in Hamilton
The VeloGo bikes operate differently than those from Bike Share Toronto. While traditional docks are provided, the bikes can also be locked elsewhere should riders like to make a stop where no docks are nearby. Payments are done via online, mobile, or directly on the bike instead of a central kiosk. The bikes appear lighter and do not have any visible chains.
Rideau Canal pathway
Echo Drive is a dead end for vehicles at Clegg Avenue, but not for cyclists
The Rideau Canal trail could use separate pedestrian and cycling areas given the large number of trail users. The trail was closed at Clegg Avenue for the race, but Echo Drive is a good example of a bicycle boulevard with motorists blocked from going through. The view of the Canal is maintained all the way to Bank Street, where the detour lacked proper markings and Echo had a “do not enter” sign.
Speed and bicycle priority signs at the Bank Street bridge
The Bank Street bridge encouraged cyclists to take the lane with bicycle priority signs and speed control displays. Bike lanes are provided on Bank Street until the contraflow bike lanes on Holmwood Avenue and O’Connor Street.
Traffic diversion on O'Connor Street
O’Connor is a showcase for different kinds of bicycle infrastructure including traffic diverters – another bicycle boulevard characteristic – bumpouts like those on Toronto’s Roncesvalles Avenue, unidirectional bike lanes, and bidirectional cycle tracks with green paint identifying conflict areas.
Roncesvalles style bumpouts on O'Connor Street
O'Connor Street switches from unidirectional to
bidirectional with green paint across the intersection
One last observation I noticed is Ottawa’s use of bike racks with signs identifying the local business area or general advertising. Toronto’s Community Bicycle Network used to have them at their old do-it-yourself shop; something the Foodora delivery service should consider using instead of their wheel-only racks.
Bicycle parking on Laurier Avenue
While Ottawa needs to work on improving bridge crossing safety, providing clear cycling detours, and fixing bike parking placements, the city was surprisingly pleasant to bike with a reasonably well-connected grid. Perhaps Copenhagenize may want to revisit their index ranking Montréal as Canada’s most bike friendly city should Ottawa keep their momentum?

Part 2 of this series will discuss suburban cycling and other things done during the trip.

Carry on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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