A hotly debated area for safe cycling in Ottawa is the intersection at Riverside and the Billings Bridge, built in 1916. According to BikeOttawa’s website, the intersection at the south side is the one that has the most reported collisions in Ottawa, including a deadly one, when Meg Dussault was waiting on her bicycle at a cramped sidewalk/MUP and a right turning truck caught her bars.
From a Sustainable Safety or Vision Zero point of view, this intersection needs to be changed, so that this can never happen again. There are plans to build a path underneath the bridge so that cyclists can avoid the intersection when travelling along the river. The plans were finalized in the spring of 2018 and work should start in the summer of 2018 according to the NCC website. Expect a three meter wide concrete path with railing below the two year high water mark and a similar pathway made of asphalt above the two year high-water mark. See pictures below. Expect flooding in spring.
Crossing the river at Billings bridge
But even when the path is built, there is still the nightmare to cross the Rideau River from Old Ottawa south towards Billings Bridge and beyond and vice versa. The Billings bridge cannot be modified because it is a heritage bridge. (Update: Alex the Vries thinks that the structure cannot be altered, but that cantilevered lanes are allowed). Of course, we could narrow Billings bridge to two lanes and create more space for walking and cycling, but the reality is that this is not going to happen any time soon. If ever. Even though traffic backs up further up Bank anyway.
Out of the box
Let’s think out of the box. As an alternative, one could build a second bridge, similar to the Adawe bridge about 100 meter west of the current bridge. The Rideau River is fairly shallow, and it wouldn’t take much effort to build a pedestrian and cycling bridge. It only needs to allow very shallow boats (canoe, kayak) underneath.
The bridge would nicely connect to Harvard Ave in Old Ottawa South which gets you to Cameron Ave with a bike lane going west. Grosvenor would get you further north, close to the canal. A happy and save ride without the hassle of traffic. Any street going east gets you to your favourite gelato or coffee shop.
No doubt there are dozens of reasons not to build it, but combined with the underpass under Billings Bridge, this safe alternative bypasses the bridge’s intersection with Riverside all together.
Superimposed Corktown bridge next to Billings Bridge
I have superimposed the Corktown bridge on the Google image. A modest but elegant bridge would work well, taking into consideration the beauty of the river further on the west side. My photo editing skills are limited: although it may look like the bridge connects to Riverside, the intention is obviously to connect to the paths only.
Here are some examples of beautiful Dutch bridges that don’t break the bank.
What do you think? A name suggestion already?