Bike lanes on Confederation Boulevard in Downtown Ottawa

Artist impression from 2014 Downtown Moves report
Clutter free artist impression from 2014 Downtown Moves report (note the bike rack)

When the O’Connor bike lanes were built, we were told that it wouldn’t go all the way to Confederation Boulevard (Wellington St) in front of Parliament Hill yet for reasons I forgot already. It wouldn’t make much sense to dump cyclists on Wellington anyway with nowhere to go unless you are an experienced cyclist. And even experienced cyclists like myself mostly don’t enjoy a ride on Wellington anyway.

Many traffic demands

But now the city and other parties are returning to the drawing board to finally connect O’Connor, Mackenzie and Colonel By(cycle) bicycle lanes. With the many traffic demands in that area, it won’t be easy for city planners Paul and Adam to figure out how to squeeze everything in (and having the NCC and Public Works looking over your shoulder), but having many of the buses removed from Wellington is going to help.

Connecting the Mackenzie bike lanes with Colonel By seems a no-brainer to me. The space is there. The only difficult issue might be to design some kind of a safe waiting space for cyclists north of the former train station, soon to be the Senate building, in order to turn into Mackenzie’s bike lanes in front of the US embassy if you come from Elgin going north.

But the configuration north of Confederation Square will need some changes.

Chateau Laurier

I have always wondered how one would solve the space right in front of the Chateau Laurier though. It is a space I pass a few times a week with my tourists when I give tours. We always walk our bicycles there as it is a fast and loud and unpleasant area. I always thought that taking a lane out would be the easiest but politically impossible solution.

The space in front of Chateau Laurier is wider than needed. (Image: Google)
The space in front of Chateau Laurier is wider than needed. (Image: Google)

Until that day last week when I noticed that there was a van parked along the curb in front of the Chateau and a bus passed in the same lane. I never realized how wide that lane is: according to Google’s measuring tool, it is about 5 meters (16 ft) wide. On the photo above you can see it fits two buses: a bike lane shouldn’t be a problem. As some of us know, that space is often occupied by the diplomatic corps drivers, waiting for their ambassadors to return from a reception. But soon, ambassadors can take the LRT so that problem will be solved too. Leave the BMW M760Li in Rockcliffe.

Left turning lanes

Confederation Blvd, north of the National War Memorial (photo: Mapillary - the logical violinist)
Confederation Blvd, north of the National War Memorial (photo: Mapillary – the logical violinist)

A bit further west, the total road surface is about 20 meters (67 ft) wide including a median, with six lanes of traffic. Six lanes of traffic is quite a drivers luxury in the heart of Ottawa.

Although I am not hanging out there at rush hour, I have a feeling (but don’t know the stats) that the two lanes turning south into three lanes into Elgin at the Prime Minister’s office are not necessary. Whenever I cross from Sparks Street to the war memorial, there is very little traffic waiting at the lights. In fact traffic volume is often so low, that people start to walk through red lights because there is no traffic at all. A lane of left (SB) turning traffic on Wellington can easily be removed in this historic part of the capital. After all, this is a city centre, not a suburban mall.

Not the entire length

Because O’Connor, Mackenzie and Colonel By are all bidirectional paths/lanes, it makes sense to keep the links between the three current dead ends also bidirectional. As you can see in the City’s drawing, the choice appears for a bidirectional solution on the north side, creating a continuous route from Mackenzie to eventually the Portage Bridge with very little interference from other traffic. Drivers will be happy. I say eventually, as the current project only takes us to the end of Parliament Hill for reasons somewhat unclear to me. At least it would allow you to take Vittoria St (the extension of Bank across from Wellington) to the NCC Pathway behind Parliament Hill.

Bollards on Wellington?

It wouldn’t surprise me either, if we will start to see more bollards on Wellington against car bombers and their ilk. This means that sidewalks and curbs have to be reconfigured and that would be a good time to rethink the entire Wellington street area. Narrow the southside sidewalk with four feet as the bus stops will be gone (less demand for foot traffic) and shift all the car lanes over a bit. Everyone is happy.

Thousands of tourists on bicycles

Canada Day. Confereration Blvd closed for all traffic exept for the Governor General on her bicycle and the 15 invited residents representing several healthy living organisations such as Bike Ottawa and the Army Run (Photo: Mapillary - Hans on the bike)
Canada Day. Confederation Blvd closed for all traffic except for the Governor General on her bicycle and the 15 invited residents representing several healthy living organisations such as Bike Ottawa and the Army Run (Photo: Mapillary – Hans on the bike)

With a bit of creativity, and the disappearance of the buses on Wellington, bike lanes shouldn’t have much impact on traffic. It will have a huge impact on the experience of the city though for residents and visitors alike. You may not realise this, but thousands upon thousands of tourists and visitors rent bicycles or take bicycles tours in the Nation’s capital every year to experience the city’s treasures from a bicycle.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see a row of tourists cycling in front of Parliament Hill rather than a lineup of loud buses? Downtown Moves calls Wellington a ‘showcase street’ for Ottawa. Rows of cars and buses don’t belong in a show case street.

On line resources

A screen shot form the city's project page
A screen shot from the city’s project page

Give it some thought on how this could work. You might think this is all ridiculous, but also see it through the perspective of visitors who are much more comfortable and happy walking and cycling safely through town than trying to navigate a car. At least that is what I am learning from the tourists I am taking on bicycle tours several times a week. The city has started this project and here is the link to the project page.

4 Comments

  1. While walking my bike on the sidewalk near the Chateau Laurier I met a German couple with their bikes looking at a map. I asked if I could help and they said they wanted to get to the bike path starting at Rideau Falls. I gave them my older woman’s route😉 which meant to continue walking their bikes along Wellington to the bidirectional bike lane on Mackenzie. Would love to see a segregated bidirectional bikelane on Wellington but where are all the STO buses going to be. Remember when we met Paul Dewar to talk about cycling infrastructure in front of Parliament Hill.

  2. Finally! To get to work from Hull, I cross the Alexandra Bridge onto Mackenzie bike track and then turn right on Wellington in front of Chateau Laurier. I then should turn left at O’Connor but because of the crazy traffic, I prefer to turn left towards the War Memorial to get onto Queen. Now with this project, I will able to proceed to O’Connor.

  3. Hans great post as always. Really wondering what the City will do on O’Connor and Albert. There will be an awful situation with cars exiting the World Exchange Plaza Car park heading South on O’Connor – they will be going head on into the two way bike lane. Its actually already a bad situation now for the cars coming up the ramp as the bus traffic on Albert street is crazy. There’s going to be need for a creative solution there for signalling etc. Laurier like Bike signaling may help.

    • That is indeed a challenging design issue. Unfortunately, Albert is westbound else it would be easy to slip traffic eastbound. But it isn’t. I can see something designed for very slow speeds and some serious buffering.

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