Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where cyclists cross ...

Multipurpose path, aka a bike path, crosses a parking lot entrance. This is a crossing, not an intersection. Notice no painted crosswalk for the pedestrian users, as the crossing is not at an intersection. If at an intersection, there would be a painted crosswalk for peds, and cyclists are supposed to dismount and walk their bike across the road...

I like off-road cycling facilities like the NCC bike paths. I like painted bike lanes too. I think I would like physically segregated bike lanes along roads, too, but Ottawa has too few to experience.

One of the things I like about the NCC paths is they are set back from roads for the most part, and have grades and turns suited for cyclists rather than motorists. I like the set back way the Ottawa River path crosses River Street (road to the Lemieux Island filtration plant), then the Kitchissippi lookout road, then the Westboro Beach road, then the road to Britannia Beach.  What is in common for all of these crossings is that they are set well back from the nearest intersection. Cyclists and motorists can see each other well before they cross; there are no surprises from fast-turning-then-accelerating vehicles at intersections that whip around the corner then come face to face with a soon-to- be-roadkill cyclist or biped. It has been my experience that most motorists are polite and alert for cyclists at these crossings.

I recently wrote to the NCC suggesting that at least some of these bike-road crossings should be rebuilt a bit so the cycle path has the right of way over the entrance to a parking lot, for eg, the bike path could be raised on a speed bump that forces vehicles to slow to a crawl, and perhaps appropriate signage added.

The NCC response: Giving cyclist and pathway users priority over motorists is a new concept that needs to be closely studied, taking into consideration various factors, in order to ensure the safety of all pathway users. We understand the concept you are proposing of promoting the development of barrier-free utilitarian cycling facilities. We will re-examine the pathway crossings configuration with roadways at future rehabilitation projects for each pathway. That is a good answer, and is not a "no".

In contrast, correspondence with the city regarding how cycling paths cross roads, elicited this: There is even greater potential for dangerous situations where cyclists use these midblock crossings as they move faster and make it more difficult for a motorist to see them approaching. Both the city and NCC tend to be removing midblock crossings (by rerouting facilities) for the above reasons.

I remain puzzled at how rerouting a cycling path from a crossing a hundred meters from an intersection to being located at the intersection improves anything. When at an intersection, the cyclist is supposed to dismount and walk his or her bike across the offending parking lot entrance or roadway since cyclists cannot (legally) ride on a crosswalk. This rule is likely to be flouted. The turning vehicles are less likely, not more likely, to see cyclists.* And don't 70% of cycling collisions occur at intersections? That strikes me as a good reason to avoid them.

I prefer the NCC response to the City's.

*all right, I confess to being a criminally reckless parent. I always taught my kids to do as I do: cross mid-block rather than at intersections. There is usually fewer lanes of traffic, and it's coming from predictable directions at predictable speeds. (The exception to this is downtown core crossing, where everywhere is too dangerous). I used to be a rare loony with this attitude, but find more and more people expressing the same thought. Conventional traffic planning wisdom is all in favour of cars and penalizes those idiots who ride or walk. Rerouting cycle paths to meet roads only at intersections is more car-centric thinking.


  1. A 90 degree turn of that stop sign ought to do the trick

  2. 1 - Cyclists are only expected to dismount and walk their bikes across when the pathway dumps them into the crosswalk. Properly designed intersection approaches, such as where the Corktown Footbridge meets Queen Elizabeth Drive/Somerset Street West, have a curb depression that is partly in the crosswalk (for pedestrians) and partly in the roadway (for cyclists).

    2 - The NCC should look at the crosswalk treatments at Carleton University, where the roadway and crosswalk comes up to the sidewalk level, instead of the sidewalk dipping down to the road level. This gives a pretty clear indication of priority.

  3. Charles: the raised crosswalk treatment at CU is exactly what I like, and is the model I proposed for the bikewest path when it crosses minor residential streets that run off to the north side of Scott. It is probably the single most criticized and dumped on bit in the whole report. I used a photo from College Square big box plaza near Baseline Station. Both College Sq and CU are private roads, not public ones.