Bikeway image by Dennis Leung - Ottawa Citizen
The proposed bike route through Ottawa. It connects five neighbourhoods: Westboro, Hintonburg, Centretown, Sandy Hill and Vanier.
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Whoosh logo - copyright Urban Commter Ottawa
Just for the fun of it. Copyright: Urban Commuter Ottawa

You probably read already that Ottawa city staff is designing a bike way through the city. Some will argue that it is yet another example of a waste of tax payer’s money (as if $220,000,000 for the Queensway isn’t), but the reality is, that it will be a long term gain. The idea behind a bike way is to create a safe corridor for cyclists from one end of town to the other end. It will feed commuters into the down town as well as encouraging more people to take their bike to get across town for errands. Or to get around their own neighbourhood for that matter.

The route will start (or finish, depending on your location) in Westboro, passes Hintonburg, goes through down town (Hi Jerry), and hooks up with Sandy Hill and Vanier. It looks like the route might be about 12 kilometres, but likely people will use just segments of the route.

Bikeway image by Dennis Leung - Ottawa Citizen
The propose bike route through Ottawa. It connects five neighbourhoods: Westboro, Hintonburg, Centretown, Sandy Hill and Vanier. Picture: Dennis Leung, Ottawa Citizen. In reality Scott/Albert and Laurier don't connect that neatly.

Back in 2006, the Dutch Ministry of Traffic and Water Management, battling ever increasing traffic jams (despite investing in roads), started a project to get (even) more people cycling. One of the ideas was to optimise certain bike routes to bypass traffic jams. Initially five routes were chosen: existing facilities were upgraded, new facilities were added. As you probably know, not many people will cycle more than 7-8 km (about 5 miles) for daily commutes, but the Ministry intended to increase that to 15 km by designing the perfect conditions. In 2008 the government gave another €10 mln (about $13 mln) for two more routes; in 2009 another €21 mln was set aside. In 2010 a total investment of another €80 mln was set aside for sixteen more bike routes.

Zoe logo
Zoef logos on the pavement: an existing path that was likely used to tow boats by horses along the Dutch canals. Image: Zoef route website.

Let’s zoom in to one route, the ZOEF route near Delft in the western part and busiest part of the Netherlands. Zoef (pronounced as ‘zoof’) is a a word that expresses speed in Dutch and can be loosely translated with “Whoosh”; it is also an awkward Dutch acronym for Carefree, Unobstructed, Simply Cycling, made up for the project obviously. The route stretches from De Lier, a village west of Delft, through Delft to a village east of Delft called Pijnacker-Nootdorp and is about 16 km (10 miles) long. Although I write village, the villages are really suburbs developed around an existing village, but the focus is very much on the old village core, with main streets developed into full service centres, rather than around soulless box store centres on pristine land.

The west end of the ZOEF route in De Lier, circling a roundabout. Picture: Urban Commuter
The east end of the ZOEF route in Pijnacker along its main street. Picture: Urban Commuter

In a nut shell, it has been a government policy to expand existing villages, but the disadvantage was that they were somewhat isolated from the work centres in the cities. Although trains and buses run very frequently, they were much less frequent than for example city buses and subway lines. This caused a lot of extra traffic on the roads.

Fortunately, the government planners had the foresight to develop new burbs along existing railway lines too and actually added train stations to bring people in and out of cities. But the problem –in a country the size of Nova Scotia with nearly 17 million people- remains that there is just too much traffic. The western part of the country is very much comparable with the GTA in a way. Convincing people to take the bike more often is one of the options to tackle traffic congestion.

At train station Delft Zuid, train and bike routes come together. The red pavement is a segregated bike lane. Picture: Urban Commuter

In order to be successful, a ZOEF route should meet the following three S’s:

Speed: lights are adjusted for cyclists, extra way finders and signs on the path, smooth pavement, removal of unnecessary curves in the road;

Safety: segregated where possible, countdown counters to inform cyclist how long the remaining wait is at a traffic light;

Service: mobile bike repair services (an independent for profit service – if the damage is too big to repair, alternative transport is provided), guarded and unguarded bike storage for those who happen to work along the route.

You may have noticed that neither health care concerns nor environmental concerns play a role, although indirectly the new measures do have a positive effect on these two. I think health care budgets should partly go into promoting cycling and even into cycling infrastructure. It looks like it is too early to measure results on the routes in the Netherlands as routes are still implemented, but first signals indicate that people do appreciate the routes. Research among high school students in the area shows that students first and foremost take the fastest route to school, and that they may not necessarily take a route that is longer but safer. 30% of the cycling students are using the ZOEF route. The other 70% do not use it, because they simply don’t live close to the route or come from another point in the city.

Nervous residents in the Ottawa area usually claim loss of parking space in front of their house as the reason for not implementing bike infrastructure; I tend to refer to Island Park drive, a road without on road parking: it doesn’t appear that house prices are suffering, in fact it is one of the more expensive neighbourhoods.

So let’s see what Whoosh could stand for:

  • Westboro
  • Hintonburg
  • On to
  • Ottawa
  • Sandy Hill and
  • Hemlock.

A year ago, I gave an interview to Sandy Hill Community newspaper: “Time for a Queensway for Cyclists“. I am glad to see this route is going to be a reality soon; it will definitely notch Ottawa up the list of bicycle friendly cities in North America once again.

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