Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bronson: getting the diet started

Wonderful Bronson today.

In the first post of this series, I tried to show that Bronson only looks to have two through lanes in each direction, but functions as two turn lanes with lane-swerving through traffic, the speed of which is set by the fastest driver. The engineering literature abounds with case studies and policy recommendations on what to do with this type of bad road condition: narrow it to three lanes.

The most likely approach that the literature recommends for the section from Laurier to Somerset (given the traffic volumes, number of side streets, driveways etc) is to narrow it to two through lanes of traffic, with a common two way left turn lane in the centre. At the end of this series will be some links to the literature so you read all about the many examples yourself, why they work, etc.

Ottawa is in my opinion a very conservative city. I don't see city traffic officials getting excited about narrowing Bronson. They currently seem fixated on the Bronson serving rush hour commuter traffic from the suburbs and other cities at the expense of any and all other stakeholders (residents, landlords, businesses, pedestrians, cyclists, transit users).

Given that our patient, Bronson, has clogged arteries, and some advisors want to stuff him with more fat (more cars) ... how do we get them to try a diet? My suggested answer lies in the proposed reconstruction of Bronson in 2011-2012. Rather than redesigning the street in a new slimmer body of curbs, boulevards, etc in 2011 why not go on a quick diet this summer.

One night in early August, erase the current painted lines that show four lanes. Repaint with two wider lanes that are friendlier to cyclists and through traffic (but don't paint bike lanes yet) and a two way left turn lane that is also generously wide (15').  Just do the section from Somerset north to Laurier, or to Slater if the city feels comfy doing that. Wait and watch. Count the cars. Survey the residents and businesses in October. See if the road can handle the volume safely, and if people are happier.

The traffic engineering literature predicts they will be happier and motorists will drive safer with no delays. If this works, keep it all winter. This diet approach has been proven to work in other northern climate snow cities like Ottawa.

Then, with happy results in hand, finalize the new curb and boulevard designs for implementation in the fall of 2011. The new Bronson would be slimmer, sleeker, with trees on both side boulevards, decorative pedestrian lighting for wider, pedestrian friendly sidewalks. Residents would stop shuddering as they do now at the mere thought of the old Bronson. Accidents would decrease. Travel times would not decrease. Pointe Gatineau commuters would continue to travel through. Landlords will soon see lower tennant turnover. Properties will be fixed up. A traditional main street will get a second chance at life.

All because of a sudden diet, kick started by a new paint job.

Next: south of Somerset

Example of a four lane street turned into 2 through lanes, TWLTL, bike lanes. No on-street parking in this model. The sidewalks and boulevards should be made wider to complete the conversion to a livable street. Ped scale lighting would be nifty too.


  1. Sigh.. it looks too nice (for Ottawa)

  2. I love this idea! Hopefully the city will allow a pilot project to at least give you a chance to prove whether this will work.

    I think the 3 lane section would have to continue south of Somerset- that intersection is where the majority of the northbound left turns are- a clearly marked left turn lane would be a huge improvement. Just curious- why do you suggest no bike lanes in the pilot?

    Can't wait for your next post!

  3. Brad: I suggest no painted bike lanes because the section under consideration is short so the bike lanes dont (yet) connect well; and because the widen-the-road crowd seek any obvious offence to complain about, so painting on a bike lane will give them ammunition to say they lost a lane BECAUSE of the cycling lane, when the cycling lane is a side benefit, and indeed may not materialize if we eventually choose to have wider boulevards with trees. There are a number of final street configs possible: wide sidewalk, wide boulevard, shared lane, turn lane ... wide widewalk, narrow boulevard, bike lane, car lane, turn lane ... and I dont want the details to confuse the main thrust, which is make it three lanes. Similarly, I dont persue the Preston street model, which keeps on-street parking, but obviously it is one that should be considered for Bronson too. I am promoting one solution that is alternative to what the city first came up with (keep it four lanes and widen it) and want to keep the focus on that.

    thanks for your comments,

  4. I like your thinking on this.

    -- Justin

  5. This model can be seen often in Maine and works really well.