It must have been around 2010 when Joel Mulligan mulled over a beer at Pub Italia: “if we could only have a bit of Dutch bike infrastructure in Ottawa, so that people can experience what safe cycling is really about“. Few people around the table could envision that four years later, Churchill would be that ‘bit of Dutch bike infrastructure’. And not just five meters, but an entire avenue.
Fifties design nearly put back in again
For those who don’t know Churchill Ave, it was an old style 50’s era wide road, with some parking on both sides; a connector between Carling Ave and on and off ramps of the Queensway (the highway through town) at the south end and Richmond Road at the north end. There are thousands of these ‘avenues’ in North America, with lots of wasted space.
As so many roads from that era, Churchill had to be ripped up for new sewer and water mains and this was a great opportunity to rethink the purpose of the road. But that wasn’t the original plan:
“(It) was to be a plain road reconstruction,” said Kitchissippi Coun. Katherine Hobbs [in Ottawa Community News], who asked for a re-work of the plan to better accommodate pedestrians and a growing number of cyclists.
“We actually lost a construction year due to the design work needed to create the best possible option. I’m impressed how hard city staff worked to accommodate everyone.”
Interesting enough, contrary to what we usually see in North America, there were no protests, no hours long discussions at the Transportation Committee, no angry letters to the editor. It appeared that everyone was cool with it.
Learning from the experts
The Dutch, as we all know, are about 40 years ahead in cycling design compared with North America, but we are catching up. The problem is that many Canadian road designers have not been exposed to any form of cycling infrastructure. And if that is the case, a city can decide either not to go ahead with bike infrastructure due to a lack of knowledge (or resentment at the planners side) or get the experts in. The City of Ottawa decided to choose the latter option.
Enter Mobycon from the Netherlands. The Dutch designers have been working hand in hand with the city to design something that works for North America (remember, we can’t have bike signals as that is not described in the Highway Traffic Act). They gave work shops, discussed through Skype, sent ideas through email until everyone agreed. The City put cross rides in so that you don’t have to get off your bike (there are still traffic planners in Ottawa who do not believe in cross rides and want cyclists to walk their bike if they come from a path).
Laurier Bike Lane already proved that there was demand for a protected bike lane, but is it far from ideal the way it looks today. The raised bike tracks on Churchill look a lot better already.
Sunday I went out to see the finished product. Little did I know that the lanes opened a day later yesterday. Too bad the orange road barrels are still there but you get the picture. Expect similar designs on O’Connor, Main Street, Albert Street and perhaps even Slater eventually after the Light Rail stuff is in place in 2018. Also expect other cities to visit Ottawa to check it out. I don’t expect it will be the busiest bike route ever, but it will be interesting to see how it is going to be used.
All this doesn’t mean that you can now cycle without light, listening to music and not signal. Cycling safety starts with you. Be vigilant, anticipate what drivers are going to do and use your senses to listen and see what happens around you. You are still part of traffic.
And what happened to Joel? He moved to fricking Copenhagen so he can sit on a car free square in December, wrapped in colourful blankets underneath an outdoor heater, just when things are going to change in Ottawa!
It is not so clear from the pictures, but the road is getting another layer of paving. If you look carefully, you’ll notice a rumble strip pressed in the concrete along the bike path. That is designed for the visibly impaired so they won’t walk on to the bike tracks. I am not sure if they will work though.
Brian cycled the entire track south to north with the camera running. Take a look:
Read more about Mobycon here.
Read about Mobycon’s Kickstand sessions here.