Bicycle Streets: A Next Step for Ottawa?

Bicycle Street in Utrecht, Netherlands in front of the Gerrit Rietveld huis. Note that the bike street still has a refuge too.
Bicycle Street in Utrecht, Netherlands in front of the Gerrit Rietveld huis. Note that the bike street still has a refuge too.

As Ottawa sees the number of residents who bike increase, it is time to improve our existing infrastructure. The NCC pathways, built in the seventies, are becoming overcrowded by commuters, tourists and utilitarians alike and therefore the federal agency is planning to widen the paths likely starting with the ones that were flooded this spring. To give you an idea of numbers, June, despite being fairly rainy, saw 60,000 bike trips on each side of the canal.

June 2013-2017: Steady increase of cycling trips in four places on NCC pathways (source: underground bicycle counters at Alexandra Bridge, Colonel By, Ottawa River Pathway (near the train bridge) and a counter near Canal Ritz.) The Ottawa River Pathway has much lower numbers than usual likely because of flooding, which made the route less attractive (He said euphemistically)

I was pleased to see that west of the Adawe bridge, the city slipped in an advisory lane, and there was no negative feedback for a change. No clubbing of residents cycling into town, no angry Ottawa Citizen editorials, no Global TV on line polls (“Should cyclists pay toll for using bike lanes”). Granted, it is a short distance, but it is a change nonetheless.

Advisory lanes, west of the Adawe bridge.
Advisory lanes, west of the Adawe bridge – photo: Hans on the bike

A concept that could be implemented in the future is the so called bicycle street, a mix of a bike lane and a car lane. Cyclists have priority in this lane, and cars are guests. But what exactly is a bicycle street? It is not a woonerf (Woon-erf, not “woo-nerf”).

Advisory lanes in Haarlem. This street connects with a solar powered ferry over the Spaarne river, further feeding cyclists into the core.
Advisory lanes in Haarlem. This street connects with a solar powered ferry over the Spaarne river, further feeding cyclists into the core.
Advisory lanes along a canal. they don't have to be a downtown solution only. I don't think I will see the day that these will come to rural Ottawa.
Advisory lanes along a canal: they don’t have to be a downtown solution only. I don’t think I will see the day that these will come to rural Ottawa. And yes I timed the photo so I would have the windmill in it.
Stommeerweg (Stom-meer-weg) in Aalsmeer, Netherlands. Note how the cars pass using the advisory lanes. Once passed, they will return to the middle of the road, leaving the bike lanes for cyclists.
Stommeerweg (Stom-meer-weg) in Aalsmeer, Netherlands. Note how the cars pass using the advisory lanes. Once passed, they will return to the middle of the road, leaving the bike lanes for cyclists.

Filling a gap

The bicycle street fills in the gap between a bike lane or bike track and a residential street. It is a type of bike route that runs through a residential area with the following characteristics:

1. It is used moderately by motor vehicles, so it is not a bike lane only
2. Measures are taken for clear recognition as a route; the position of the cyclists in the profile and the comfort of the cyclist are important. It is not a standard residential street.
3. The cycling street recognizes a mix between bicycles and motorized traffic. There are no separate lanes for bicycles and cars. (But is is very clear the driver uses a bike friendly environment)

Furthermore, a bicycle street runs deeper into a residential area than arterials and it should have a clear and distinctive design so that a bike route is easy to find. They should be direct and in calm streets without major intersections and they should have right of way. In combination with a 30k/hr zone, speeds remain low. Comfort is important, with smooth paved “runners”)¹ and parked cars are out of the way.

When to implement a bicycle street?

A bicycle street can offer a solution in situations where the space is lacking for a separate bike track or bike lanes, but where many residents cycle. Another advantage is it  retains the character of a residential area. Recently a discussion paper was released in the Netherlands on which type of design works best, from which I borrowed this info. There are dozens of bike streets designs, but there is no real standard yet. The paper is looking into the several types for best practices.

Bicycle Street in Haarlem, Netherlands. Note that the cyclists stay off the rabat strips
A conventional centuries old street converted to a bicycle street in Haarlem, Netherlands. Note that the cyclists stay off the rabat strips; parking in parking bays. A driver would have to wait before passing the cyclists as there is not enough space.

Bicycle – car ratio

The first observation is that the relationship between the number of bicycles and cars is most important in the success of a bicycle street. Too many cars in a bicycle street is not good for the cyclist, on the other hand not enough cyclists make the bike street not very credible.

Initially, it was assumed that the daily number of cyclists should be about twice as high as the number of cars. The upper limit of motor vehicles was considered around 2500. From experiences from 29 researched bicycle streets, it appears that users react positively when 2000-2500 motor vehicles per 24 hours pass a street, when it goes over that number, more critical remarks can be heard. Further research however shows that the 2:1 ratio was not confirmed: a 1:1 ration appeared enough. A bicycle street with less than 2500 motor vehicles and a bicycle – car ratio of 1:1 can be implemented successfully.

Bicycle Street in Utrecht, Netherlands in front of the Gerrit Rietveld huis. Note that the bike street still has a refuge too.
Bicycle Street in Utrecht, Netherlands in front of the Gerrit Rietveld huis. Note that the bike street still has a refuge and a median of pavers too. Parking in parking bays and wide side walks.

Width

The second observation is width. This very much depends on the use of the street and has to be adjusted to the number of passing movements. It turns out that the idea that drivers will stay behind cyclists leads to irritation at drivers. Drivers should be allowed to pass cyclists, provided it happens at a low speed and keeping enough distance.
The research shows two recommended base profiles, a narrow bicycle street with a street width of 3,8 to 4,7 meters and a wide bicycle street with a street width of 5.4 to 7.2 meters with two ‘runners’ )¹

Bicycle in Tilburg, Netherlands. Fairly narrow runners as well as a very narrow rabat strip. In this photo you can see that the signage has not been standardised yet. There is no sigh "cars are guest", which is the sign that most experts agree should become the standard.
Bicycle in Tilburg, Netherlands. Fairly narrow runners as well as a very narrow rabat strip. In this photo you can see that the signage has not been standardised yet. There is no “cars are guest” sign, which is the sign that most experts agree should become the standard.

Widths between 4.7 meters and 5.4 meters with two runners should be avoided as this invites dangerous passing.
In the wide variety, a strip in the middle appears. This should meet a number of requirements: the centre strip should be neither too wide nor too narrow: somewhere between 70 and 150 cm appears practical. The median should also be low enough that cars can pass it, and smooth enough for cyclists who want to pass the slowpokes.

Guidelines

The discussion paper is the first step to well supported design guidelines for bicycle streets. The designs are now being discussed at conference sessions. A model study and camera observations need to give more insight in car and cycling intensities on how a bicycle street functions.

In the images below, you will notice a strip along the curb, what is called a ‘rabat’ strip in Dutch, of about 60 cm. It keeps cyclists away from the curb and it helps keeping a feel of a residential area but shouldn’t be so wide that it starts to look like a bike lane or parking strip.

The centre strip in the case of two runners should have different pavement than the runners (f.e. pavers) and it shouldn’t be wider than 1.50 metres to avoid the impression of a driving lane. And obviously, it should be easy to cycle on.

Bicycle Street with 1 ‘runner’ (a). (source, see below), two rabat strip (b) and the entire width curb to curb (c)
Bicycle Street with a median (a) two ‘runners’ (source: see below) (b), and two narrower rabat strips (c)

Bicycle streets: Percy Street?

With this information under our belt we can take a look at Percy street in downtown Ottawa. Percy is a north-sound street that runs through residential areas. It is a desirable route for cycling in the west side of downtown because it crosses underneath the 417 Queensway highway. My next post will explore if Percy could be a bicycle street.

 

¹) The Dutch call the lane in a bike street a ‘loper’ which is literally translated as a ‘runner’, as in a rug you usually find in a long hallway or on a staircase. The bike lanes in a bicycle street bear some resemblance with a runner.

Sources:

Paper: Fietsstraten (in Dutch)

1 Comment

  1. As for Percy Street, it is a marvelous alternative to the killer strip known as Bronson Avenue. But Percy now only allows southbound car and bike movement. The street is so quiet, I don’t think the painted bike lane, going with traffic, is of much value. It is a relic of a more timid past in Ottawa when any sort of cycle infrastructure was weird.

    I think it would be much better to REVERSE the bike lane, making Percy a two way street for bikes (southbound with traffic; northbound contraflow). Like Cameron Avenue in Ottawa south. Implementation is easy, just move the parking to the west side and add a yellow line on the east side. This would be much more useful to cyclists, gets bikes off Bronson, and doesn’t impact motorists or residents at all.

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  1. Could Percy Street in Ottawa Become a Bicycle Street? Let's look at some numbers.

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