New Billings Bridge Cycling Underpass Partly Avoids Dangerous Intersection

ghost bike ottawa
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For many years the Bank Street – Riverside intersection in Ottawa was (and still is) considered one of the worst intersections, with many collisions happening annually. It is an ugly part of post war suburban design with way too much road.

Bank street bridge underpass
New bank street bridge underpass. Part of the path is made from concrete because the expectation is that the river will flood the path in springtime every so often.

The entire area between the railway track and the Rideau River is unsightly and dangerous for all road users. It is very pedestrian unfriendly with narrow sidewalks (if any) right next to fast going traffic and the corners are tight.

Decrepit  sidewalk
Decrepit infrastructure claimed a human life

Sadly, Meg Dussault lost her life in 2014 in the north west section of the intersection on that narrow piece of sidewalk (above). A truck driver turned right and didn’t see Meg waiting to cross.

New underpass

It took five years, but finally the Billings Bridge underpass was built, allowing the cycling traffic to continue underneath the bridge, avoiding the Bank – Riverside intersection. It doesn’t work if you travel on Bank, but hopefully that can be fixed in the future. The underpass might flood for a few weeks in spring though, bringing everyone back to the old situation.

Low cost solution

The budget for the bridge was around 2 million dollars, which is peanuts for road construction. As an example, a car parking area with 582 spots for transit users at the Chapel Hill South Park & Ride cost 8.5 million dollars or over 14,000 dollars per spot. Plus annual snow plowing cost.

8.5 million dollars parking lot

Photos of the new underpass

Billings bridge west side
The west side of the underpass
Bicycle counter fixed on railing
A mobile counter, keeping track of the number of pedestrians and cyclists
underpass billings bridge
Although it looks low, I am guessing there is nearly 8 feet of space

The three-metre-wide concrete Part of the multi-use pathway is below the two-year high-water mark; the asphalt part is above the three-year high-water mark.

east side of underpass
Approaching from the east side, you can choose to go down the slope and avoid the intersection all together…
woman crossing bank st
…but some people choose to follow the old route across the intersection instead.
view on ramp along Rideau River
The ramp as seen from the other side

What is that wall?

stone wall

The wall on the east side in that patch of grass near where the Sawmill Creek enters the Rideau river is a commemorative wall built from the stones of a chimney and fireplace of an early blacksmith. Not the greatest creative expression. The chimney was removed in 1960 for the construction of -what else- a new road.

view over Rideau River
I can easily see a low impact Adawe type bridge here, to cross the Rideau River safely

The Billings bridge underpass is a big improvement, however it doesn’t do anything if you want to change directions, say going from west to south. You will still end up at the corner where Meg was hit. This is why we need a bridge too. I wrote a blog with a suggestion about it here.

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  1. 3 examples of poor bike infrastructure design | Hans on the Bike

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