The city got a lot of flak for the Booth Bridge Boondoggle and rightly so, as the design goes against all the modern road design principles. Big intersections, 4 lanes, no bike infrastructure, despite the connection to Quebec, the Zibi developments, the future Senators stadium and the Ottawa river pathways, even though there have been dire warnings from different sides years (!) before it was built. Once the opening came closer, the general public woke up and started to ask questions. The city scrambled a team together and a temporary provision for cycling was made. All you can do is roll your eyes. Informed citizens? Such a nuisance sometimes.
But this isn’t always the case. Which makes the city so unpredictable sometimes.
When in October 2012, 27 year old Krista Johnson was killed on her bike on Bronson, councillor Chernushenko started to push for better infrastructure at this awful 1960’s road design built with the philosophy in mind that motorised traffic should flow at all cost.
Years before Krista’s collision, a student in a wheelchair crossing Bronson was killed 100 meters further south. At that time, city staff was still of the opinion that drivers keep to the maximum posted speed. In discussions about the Booth bridge recently it appeared that opinion has changed.
It appeared that Krista cycled northbound in a southbound floating bike lane, i.e. a lane that runs between to car lanes, one of the lanes being a high speed exit lane. Why she chose that lane will always be a mystery, but likely she came from the gravel path from Carleton U, which ends at Bronson. From there, there was no where to go northbound. Cyclists apparently crossed Bronson to get to the other end (northbound), but Krista didn’t. There is a led crossing further south, but when you take that gravel path, the intersection is out of the way.
The point now is not who was at fault, but why people chose this fatal path and how to avoid future collisions. If proper ped and bike infrastructure is missing, people will chose an alternative based on a risk analysis. An wide road might be crossed on a quiet Sunday morning illegally but fairly safely, but the same person might not even consider crossing the same intersection during the Monday morning rush hour. Perhaps Krista thought the road was quiet and she could risk cycling against traffic. Perhaps she had been doing it for years. We will not know. But well designed infrastructure doesn’t require a risk analysis, people will simply follow that desire line that has been made safe for them.
Councillor Chernushenko with support of Citizens for Safe Cycling (@BikeOttawa on Twitter), the community association and city staff came up with good alternatives:
- Crosswalk/cross ride at the end of the Carleton U gravel path
- Replace the wide on and off ramps with sharper angled turns
- Add segregated bike infra
The screen shot shows you the improvements. Google Earth stills shows you the old on and off ramps (I have put a red dot on it), but also the new (a newer data set) ramps in a transparent overlay.
I added the most important changes in text boxes over the Google Map screenshot above.
These were all very good improvements. Of course, there was protest from the more southern suburbs who value a 2 minute faster drive into town over a human life. But Bronson is basically a freeway that completely disconnects Carleton University from the community. When all was paved, painted and installed Google drove by and showed why cyclists can get so upset sometimes: a great place to park your truck!
Is it ideal? Perhaps not completely, as the lane stops after the bridge going northbound and becomes a floating lane a bit further north. Once again, some traffic manual likely sits in the way of common sense safety. I think the lane would’ve more visible if at least green paint was used where cars cross the bike route. But given the previous situation, it is a major improvement and I think the city learned a lot from this project. That is why it is so sad that the city missed the boat so enormously with the Booth bridge design. Incomprehensible really.