It is already seven years ago that Professor Ralph Buehler visited Ottawa to speak at the Bike Ottawa AGM with support of the German Embassy. In 2012, together with several city staff, we cycled on Laurier and made our way to Quebec via Portage bridge and then back via the Alexandra bridge. There was really not much else. This time it was different.
Professor Buehler, PhD, is originally from Germany but lives in Washington for many years already. He is an Associate Professor and Chair of Urban Affairs and Planning in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech’s Research Center in Arlington, VA. Most of his research has an international comparative perspective, contrasting transport and land-use policies, transport systems, and travel behavior in Western Europe and North America.
He was back in Ottawa last week to give a short talk at the NCC Urbanism Lab, lead by Stan Leinwand, whom -can you believe it- I recently bumped into at the Atwater Market in Montreal.
Bite & Bike
About around the time I was planning to connect with Professor Buehler to see if he had time for a bike ride again whilst in Ottawa, the German Embassy here in Ottawa connected with me again and we cooked up a quick plan to have a bite with Ralph as well as go for a short bike ride.
Let’s start with the bite. I had the Ploughman’s platter at the NAC’s Le Café (apparently called 1 Elgin now), but that was a bit of a hipster Ploughman’s, which left me more hungry than before I walked in: a few flimsy shavings of meat, two cm3 of paté, a few pickled veggies, 4 slices of baguette and a bowl of soup. Nice food, but I could have had four times as much…..O, and I was sitting three tables away from NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum I noticed.
12 km route
Having some time and location restrains, I quickly designed a route to show Ralph some of our latest infrastructure achievements. We had about 1.5 hour so we could not veer away too much from the NCC headquarters on Elgin, but with some new infra around the corner though I was able to put together a nice overview. Frank Hartmann and his colleague Eva Willems from the German embassy also invited Ottawa Citizen columnist Brigitte Pellerin and Bike Canada board member Karl Saidla to come along.
Escape Bicycle Tours
We started at Escape Bicycle Tours on 65 Sparks to pick up a bike for Ralph Buehler (Thank you Maria) and I asked Maria to explain a bit about the company. I thought it was fitting to hear that Maria started the company because she believes that cycling in Ottawa is a great way to see the city; Maria believes our infrastructure allows her to do that.
We rode down O’Connor and discussed a bit of background. While a large improvement with about 1500 cyclists a day in the snow free months, generally cities don’t build bidirectional bike lanes in downtown cores with lots of side streets anymore. The city went against the advise of the consultant and I am not even sure why. I am assuming because the other solution would have meant another bike lane going north on another north-south street.
Flora Foot bridge and Old Ottawa East
We made a quick stop at Lansdowne Park and I shared a bit of the history. Did you know that as recently as the 1980’s city council approved to flatten the Aberdeen Pavillion? I talked a bit about the mixed use concept here and the struggle to make it livelier and about the initial concept of shared spaces that was misunderstood by drivers as ‘free parking where ever you want’.
After Lansdowne we crossed the canal via the recently opened Flora foot bridge to explain the improved connectivity between the Glebe, Old Ottawa East and Main Street and even Altavista. We cycled a bit on Main Street’s raised bike lanes to explain how it used to look like. The community and councillor Chernushenko had a big hand in the current design.
We turned into the Oblate Lands, now Greystone Village, to see some urban infill and to explain how the developer initially had a very suburban-ish style plan. Input from the community again brought considerable changes and it is nice to see how things are slowly coming together.
The route continued along the Rideau River northbound, crossing the Rideau River towards Hurdman Station because I wanted to include an LRT station. Here I showed the shared space for cycling and walking around and underneath the station.
Back at the Rideau River we pointed out the MUP connection to the VIA Rail station and then we continued north towards and over the Adawe bridge, which should be included in every tour I think. It sees close to a million pedestrian and cyclists every year and the numbers are going up. We cycled through Somerset St East to show the advisory lanes towards Ottawa U.
This has been implemented somewhat quietly and I learned last year from the city there have not been complaints. At Ottawa U I showed the second LRT station in our little tour, including yet more shared space in front of the station.
It is always fun to zip down the curvy path at the station and so we were at the Corktown bridge in no time. I recently read somewhere that up to 7000 people use the bridge daily in summer. But I also read two years ago a number of 5000. It doesn’t really matter, it is a high number.
Then the Germans and Brigitte peeled off back to the embassy (which overlooks the canal) and waiting children respectively while Karl, Professor Ralph Buehler and I biked back along Laurier where a cyclist was recently killed by a driver to show the temporary cart before the horse changes.
Network and shared spaces
A few things stood out for Professor Ralph Buehler: he really appreciated the connected network of pathways and bridges, the separation from fast moving traffic and the shared spaces we saw at Lansdowne, Hurdman and Ottawa U. He also noted the permanent nature of O’Connor with the concrete barriers and the several bike signals. In a follow up email he wrote me that he “really enjoyed the afternoon with you and I am impressed with Ottawa’s progress and nice facilities“. And he didn’t even see our new protected intersections!