Could Ottawa’s Percy Street Become a Bicycle Street?

Not sure why I choose for red, I guess I was brainwashed by the many Dutch images I studied. Looking northbound.
Percy St as a Bicycle Street. Looking northbound.
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Percy Street

In the previous post, we read about the Dutch bicycle streets and the Dutch quest to design guide lines based on best practices. With the 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, which runs east-west through downtown; it is mostly an elevated highway.

Percy Street north of the Queensway (Google Screen grab)
Percy Street north of the Queensway (Google Screen grab)

North of the Queensway, Percy is a one way south bound street of about 1200 metres, south of the Queensway it becomes a wide, quiet two way street. When Bronson was renovated, a tight, busy arterial one block away from Percy, planners pointed to Percy as its bike alternative. Bay Street is Percy’s twin one-way northbound street, all the way to Wellington St across from the Library and Archives.

Bay street, looking northbound.
Bay street, looking northbound.

TLC for Percy

The city tends to spend money on new infrastructure to improve connections, which is good, but Percy has become somewhat of a forgotten foster child of downtown cycling. I think it is time to give Percy some tender love and care. I also think it should be a two way street for bicycles. Remember “Safety is in the numbers”? Optimised for cycling, it would be a great north – south connection getting you from downtown to 5th ave, Commissioners Park, Dow’s Lake and the Arboretum.

Not the greatest engineering feat in Ottawa
Not the greatest engineering feat in Ottawa
Another stretch of Percy
Another stretch of Percy: the Queensway bridge is behind the traffic signals. This part is still bidirectional for cyclists.

Percy’s data

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 was a cold day. The temperature was only 4.2 C at 9 am, and only went up to 8 C at 4 pm. Not a day that many cyclists were out yet. According to city data, 1183 motor vehicles drove south through Percy at the Catherine intersection and 164 bike trips in total were counted both ways.

Monday, July 13, 2015 was a much nicer day. The temperature at 8 am already hit 22 C, and went up to 30 C at 4 pm. Earlier in the day the humidex was 36 degrees, surely one of the warmest days of the year. According to city data, 958 south bound motor vehicles trips and 552 north and southbound bike trips were counted through Percy at the Catherine intersection.

The data the city collects are unfortunately only for one day, but July is probably a better indicator day than April 5 for seasonal cycling numbers. To understand if 552 bike trips through Percy is a normal summer number, I looked at the numbers for Laurier Ave for July 13, 2015 too, and it looks like it was an average summer day in terms of numbers: Laurier had 2750 bike rides that day, which was an average number in that month, so we can safely assume that Percy’s numbers represent an average summer day too.

As we read previously, a cycling – car 1:1 ration would work but there have to be around 2000 cars minimum. Percy has half of that and only a quarter of the cycling numbers. Based on the consensus guidelines which start to emerge from the Netherlands, the number of both cyclists and cars is too low for a bicycle street, especially considering that Percy is one way; north bound cyclists move one block over to Bay St. a few hundreds meters after they cross underneath the 417.

Based on data, Percy isn’t ready for a bicycle street. However, the city could be innovative and implement a pilot to create a safer corridor as there is little else in the area, and see if the number of bike trips would go up further. There are very few downtown alternatives to cross underneath the Queensway safely with a 7 year old.

The design: shared space

Let’s do some thought exercises: Percy is about 7 meters wide, but has parking on the east side, so that eliminates already 2.1 meter for moving traffic. That gives about 5 metres to play with. We want to leave some space for a dooring zone if we want to create a two way bike traffic street, so we end up with one centre runner with two 60 cm side strips, such as in the first of the two drawings I showed in the previous post.

Bicycle Street with 1 ‘runner’. (source, see below)


Let’s add 60 cm on each side from the curb. Why 60 cm?

Research shows that this is a distance cyclists like to stay from the curb. If you make that ‘rabat’ strip too wide, drivers will assume it is a bike lane and won’t understand why you are not cycling along the curb. There is something to be said for keeping the parking on the east side of the street: 1) there is less chance of dooring: not every car has a passenger, but does have a driver 2) the passenger could see the cyclist coming up towards the car. The driver would have to leave the parking spot very carefully as it is hard to see if the road is free. But observation is a key of shared spaces. Percy would look a bit like this, give or take a foot:

Percy St as it could look like as a Bicycle Street
Percy St as it could look like as a Bicycle Street. Looking south to north. I have estimated the current width somewhat based on the Google maps measuring tool. Curb to curb is about 7 meters. The runner is the red lane in the middle. On both sides of the runner is an area of 60 cm paved (called a ‘rabat’ in Dutch) in another colour and different material to visually narrow the street, but allow for cars to pass. The car on the right is parked in a parking lane. (I didn’t measure the side walks, but they don’t look overly wide either)

Percy looks currently like this (photo below):

Current Percy Street
Current Percy Street

If we would ever implement a bicycle street, it would look somewhat like this, based on the image above.

Not sure why I choose for red, I guess I was brainwashed by the many Dutch images I studied. Looking northbound.
Percy as a bicycle street. Looking northbound. Rabat stripes on both sides, bidirectional cycling pavement in the middle. Sorry, getting bike symbols on top of the asphalt was too challenging in MS Word.

Poooof, gone are the flexi posts! Not necessary to bring them in in spring and take them out in the fall. That pays for dyed asphalt already on its own I bet within a few years. You can stamp a paver pattern in the asphalt for the 60 cm rabat strips.

Shared space in Haarlem: video

Two years ago, I cycled around in Haarlem. The 1.1 km south to north route is shown on the map below. One of the feeding routes into the train station from the south end through the downtown core is Kleine Houtweg and Kleine Houtstraat. The first part is a bicycle street. You will see it doesn’t meet the proposed standards we discussed above, but you get the idea.

Bicycle Street map
Route I followed in the video below: south to north. The first part up to the bridge is a bicycle street, from the bottom dot to the first perpendicular canal). The train station is all the way at the top of the map (Google Screen grab)

Take a look at the video (5:41 minutes) to see how Haarlem’s bicycle street looks like. The first part of the clip is a bicycle street up to the first intersection at the bridge. The rest of the clip leads you into downtown Haarlem in a very narrow shared space environment all the way to the tourist office at the major market square. Enjoy the flowers, kids, dogs, patios, car go bike, wheel chair, bollards and all the other impressions of a weekday morning in Haarlem.


Fiets beraad: hoe ziet de ideale fietsstraat eruit (in Dutch)

Paper: Fietsstraten (in Dutch)

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