How About a 2nd Billings Bridge in Old Ottawa South?

A pedestrian and cycling bridge next to the current heritage bridge at Billings could make a huge difference for cyclist coming from the south end.
A pedestrian and cycling bridge next to the current heritage Billings bridge could make a huge difference for cyclists coming from the south end.

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.

The tight and busy intersection doesn't leave room for error
The tight and busy intersection doesn’t leave room for error. Sadly someone lost her life here.

Vision Zero

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.

NCC rendering of the path east of the bridge
NCC rendering of the path east of the bridge
NCC rendering of the path west of the bridge
NCC rendering of the path west of the bridge

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 Adawe bridge as an example for a bridge further south in the Billings and Riverside area
The Adawe bridge as an example for a bridge further southwest in the Billings and Riverside area

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.

A pedestrian and cycling bridge next to the current heritage bridge at Billings could make a huge difference for cyclist coming from the south end.
A pedestrian and cycling bridge next to the current heritage Billings bridge could make a huge difference for cyclist coming from the south end.

Here are some examples of beautiful Dutch bridges that don’t break the bank.

What do you think? A name suggestion already?

4 Comments

  1. That is a great idea. That whole Billings Bridge section is a mess. It is confusing for drivers as they have limited abilities to turn left. The new NCC bike path design under the bridge is good, but will be flood a good portion of the new during spring run-offs and torrential downpour events. I use that bridge all the time, but usually bike on the sidewalk as the road is far too sketchy, especially if I am biking with kids in tow. The alternative would be to reduce the existing bridge to one lane of traffic each way and make the other lane in to a separated bike lane. Bank street could become a complete street like Main. Main flows better now than it did before with two car lanes in each direction.

  2. YES! I live in Old Ottawa South and I can’t believe how dangerous that bridge and that corner is. Until a bridge is built (fingers crossed) that bridge should be made single file, not share the road. So many bikers feel anxiety on that bridge so they take the sidewalk which is small and just barely big enough for a bike and a pedestrian going the other way.

  3. Yes! Cycling infrastructure at that bridge is desperately needed. The accidents and near-misses I’ve seen are all with pedestrians or cyclists heading north/south and frustrated drivers who have been backed up in traffic waiting to get through that one bottleneck.

    Our family and neighbours live south of there (HeronPark.ca) and there have been times when we have chosen not to cycle to shop, eat, or entertain guests in Old Ottawa South or the Glebe simply because of the inconvenience and dangers of cycling through that area. Instead we take safer back streets and pathways and spend our money in our own neighbourhood or Ottawa South.

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