10 years later, the success of the Laurier cycle path is fueling the city’s cycling agenda

It made post-merger Ottawa history as one of the most controversial transportation debates on record.

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Tim Hore rode a snowstorm on his bike in the middle of a winter in Ottawa so city councilors could hear his support for a controversial idea to separate cyclists from regular traffic on a major downtown artery.

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Seventeen centimeters of snow fell and the winds reached nearly 60 km / h on February 2, 2011. As the snow fell on the town hall, the councilors of the transport committee were in the Champlain room, rushing through a marathon meeting, which included a decision to launch a pilot project to create bike lanes on Laurier Avenue West.

This would lead to council approval of a two-year, $ 1.3 million pilot project, and the city’s installation in July of that year of the first separate cycle lanes in a downtown area in the city. ‘Ontario.

Part of the downtown transportation network for over 10 years, the Laurier Avenue bike paths have been a catalyst for other safe cycling initiatives in Ottawa.

Hore, who cycles year round, said the existence of cycling infrastructure might not make a big difference to seasoned cyclists who aren’t afraid to fight for their lanes, but many who do not have the same courage feel safer on cycle paths.

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“Having a separate bike path is helpful because it gives people who might be a little apprehensive about cycling downtown the confidence to do so,” Hore said.

“I think there are a lot of benefits to cycling that go beyond reducing the number of cars on the road. I think there are also health benefits that people enjoy. The more cyclists we have, the healthier the population is. “

It made post-merger Ottawa history as one of the most controversial transportation debates on record, with the transportation committee sitting until the evening, listening to public delegates and arguing over a decision.

But there’s no question that the bike lanes, while not perfect, have provided a safe cycle path through the core as the city works to expand the crosstown cycling network.

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In 2011, some of the strongest opposition to the bike path proposal came from residents of the condo towers at the west end of Laurier Avenue.

SuzAnne Dore lives in the Queen Elizabeth Towers on Laurier Street, between Percy and Bay streets. She spoke to the transport committee in 2011, warning advisers of increasing traffic jams if cycle lanes took up road space and likely conflicts with landings, parking entrances, garbage trucks and docks. loading. She joined with other residents in voicing concerns about the loss of on-street parking.

Dore credited town hall with making room for some street parking after council approved the bike lanes. She praised the city for connecting the bike paths using the technical school grounds east of Bronson Avenue, although there is still a precarious crossing on Laurier Avenue to access to the eastbound cycle path.

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“I still monitor these bike paths every day,” Dore said recently, adding that she was always concerned for the road safety of all users.

“We have to remember that people need to be educated,” she said. “There was not enough education for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to navigate a busy downtown street. “

A bicycle parade hosted by Citizens for Safe Cycling takes place along Laurier Avenue in this archive photo from January 2012.
A bicycle parade hosted by Citizens for Safe Cycling takes place along Laurier Avenue in this archive photo from January 2012. Photo by Wayne Cuddington /Postmedia

Dore, who is around 70, has friends who don’t visit her because of the “hectic” road activity, which makes them anxious about driving on Laurier Avenue.

In 2019, the last year for which statistics are available in the city’s open data catalog, there were 13 collisions involving cyclists on Laurier Avenue between Bronson Avenue and Elgin Street.

David Smythe, general manager of the Lord Elgin Hotel, who raised concerns at the 2011 transport committee meeting on cyclist safety, is still not convinced that Laurier Avenue is the right street for cyclists. separate cycle lanes, taking into account the volume of traffic. He thinks Somerset Street and Cooper Street, connecting the Corktown Bridge, would have been better candidates.

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“I am hopeful that one day someone will recognize this obvious fatal error,” said Smythe.

There have been two fatal tragedies on or near the Laurier Avenue bike paths.

On September 1, 2016, a woman cycling on the cycle path was struck by a man driving a construction truck turning right from avenue Laurier onto rue Lyon.

The city commissioned Mobycon to conduct a cycle lane safety study in 2017 and the organization found that “right hooks” – the right turns of motorists on cycle lanes as cyclists approach the intersection – were a problem.

Safety upgrades included painted stop bars for cyclists located in front of stop bars for vehicles, new signs and signage for bicycles, and green thermoplastic on bike lanes at vehicle entrances to buildings.

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There was another fatality on May 16, 2019, when a motorist driving a van struck a cyclist, although the crash occurred east of Elgin Street in front of City Hall, beyond boundaries of the separate cycling facility. The cyclist’s death sparked another discussion about eliminating dangerous road designs.

Cycling advocates say the success of the Laurier Avenue bike lanes has forced the city to consider cycling facilities more often in transportation planning.

Regarding the downtown area around Laurier Avenue, O’Connor Street now has separate bike lanes and Bay Street north of Laurier Avenue has a new bike path. The city has also eyeed Albert, Slater and Wellington streets for separate cycling facilities.

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Erinn Cunningham, President of Vélo Ottawa, said the Laurier Avenue bike lanes have contributed to a huge increase in cyclist ridership in the downtown area and have reduced the number of collisions involving cyclists on the street.

“More people are feeling comfortable on this kind of infrastructure and it’s clearly safer,” Cunningham said, noting that he had started cycling to work and other places. circa 2014-2015. The Laurier bike paths were a factor in his decision.

Cunningham said the bike lanes have fueled new discussions about providing safe cycling infrastructure in Ottawa. Streets that would never have been considered for cycle lanes or separate cycle lanes 10 years ago are now part of the conversation to improve safety for cyclists, he said.

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But that doesn’t mean the city has completely changed its philosophy about how people move around the city, Cunningham said. He pointed to the Queen Street remake as a missed opportunity to include cycling facilities.

“I would describe Ottawa as being in a place where we’re still a very car-centric city, but we’re also building better infrastructure for people on bikes now,” Cunningham said.

“If we are to become a city that relies much more on cycling and other forms of active transportation or sustainable transportation, as the new official plan envisions, then we probably need to start challenging the car-centric nature. from the city. “

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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