Portage Bridge make over

The new barrier on the Portage Bridge
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There are still many scary places to cycle in Ottawa and Gatineau, but one has drawn the ire from residents for quite a long time: Portage bridge.

Two years ago the National Capital Commission (NCC) decided to do something about the bike path safety on Portage Bridge between Ontario and Quebec. Residents on Portage bridge are now better protected by a three foot barrier. The barrier has been in place since late this summer (2019) and I still have some photos I wanted to share with you.

Where on Portage Bridge

When you are lucky, traffic isn't moving. But notice how close to the curb the buses are.
When you are lucky, traffic isn’t moving. But notice how close to the curb the buses are.

For those who are not familiar with the situation, the bidirectional bike lanes run on the east side of the Portage bridge, which was built in 1973. Motorised traffic travels with considerable speed along the lanes, while the bike lanes are narrow (2.5 m in total), creating undesirable safety issues. There are also issues with wind gusts from the river and buses barrelling by.

Portage bridge consultations

This new barrier came into place after extensive consultation with different groups, amongst others the two transit companies from Ottawa and Quebec as well as the Ottawa and Gatineau Police, traffic planners etc. In another meeting a large group of interest group stakeholders was invited, of which several attended (this may have to do with meetings at for example office hours, when it is hard for people to attend):

  • Action Vélo Outaouais (AVO), attended
  • Bike Ottawa (Citizens for Safe Cycling), attended
  • Ottawa Bicycle Club (OBC), attended
  • RentABike Ottawa, attended
  • Association des résidents de l’Île-de-Hull
  • Club Vélo Plaisirs
  • Conseil régional de l’environnement et du développement durable de l’Outaouais (CREDDO)
  • Kanata Nepean Bicycle Club
  • Ottawa Voyageurs d’Ottawa Walking Club
  • Pathway Patrol
  • Réseau Vélo Boulot (which is actually Velo Outaouais – HM)
  • Responsible Cycling Coalition (RCC)
  • Vélo-Services

On line survey

The NCC also put out an on line survey in January 2018 that was started by 1321 people. 1167 people completed the first question and 986 completed the entire survey, two thirds of them in English and one third in French. Respondents were primarily cyclists, with 82% reporting they currently cycle on Portage Bridge; 73% of the respondences access from the NCC pathway network.

Three options for Portage bridge

Option 2 (from NCC report)

The NCC offered three options:

  1. Widen the bike lanes by 50 cm. It is interesting to read that OC Transpo didn’t like that, as it would only create a perceived safety;
  2. Build a barrier, which became the preferred option, however the bike lanes were not raised to sidewalk level;
  3. Unidirectional bike lanes. This was not preferred as many people would have to cross twice. Note that the Ottawa Police recognised that and foresaw many residents cycling on the wrong side of a track to avoid double crossing.

The final choice for Portage bridge

The choice fell eventually on a modified option 2: a slight widening of the pathways (10 cm/4 inches to be exact) with a barrier between the motorised vehicle lanes and the bike lanes.

The barrier being built. Note the tapered end
The barrier being built. Note the tapered end
The bike lane in on the right of the barrier on Portage bridge
The bike lane is on the left of the barrier
A coating is applied
A coating is being applied
Portage bridge barrier
The coating is done, the pathway (left of the barrier) 10 cm widened

The barrier is just over half a kilometer/1800 ft long. The concrete wall is anchored in a foundation and not just placed on top of the pavement. On top of the barrier is a metal railing but the railing is low enough that you won’t get stuck in the railing with your bars. You will notice that some effort was made to make it visually pleasing, with some relief. The concrete is protected with a spray-on coating.

Portage bridge barrier
The railing makes the barrier somewhat less massive
the new barrier in place on Portage bridge
The new 550 meter barrier in place

Ecocounter keeps track

Portage Bridge bike counter
Portage Bridge bike counter

In the process, the Ecocounter bicycle counter totem was switched off because of the construction. It needs repairs now too but that won’t be happening until spring 2020. The counter has counted around 354,000 trips in 2017 up from 306,000 four years earlier, a growth of over 16% before it was shut down for construction. Many North American cities (and European ones for that matter) would love such growth.


What do you think about the new barrier? Do you feel safer? Does it feel ‘boxed’ in? Do you rather cycle in traffic as an avid cyclist? If you are unfamiliar with the previous situation, you can read up on it on my blog post here: Death trap on Portage Bridge (June 2017).

Report from NCC: http://ncc-ccn.gc.ca/projects/portage-bridge-resurfacing-and-widening-of-cycling-track


  1. It is a calmer ride now but it could be wider and I still ended up riding on the west side sidewalk going to Hull recently.( I don’t commute across the bridge) Maybe when contruction around the area is finished and there is better signage it will be my preferred route.

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