How Bad Rules Affect Our Road to Vision Zero

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Cycling, as all my readers know, is a wonderful way to get around. There are environmental, physical and mental health, social and transport benefits to cycling. Yet, every meter needs to be fought for, even 60 years after Jane Jacobs wrote her Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Vision Zero stopped by manuals

One would think every city would roll out the red carpet for cycling safety ideas that help increase cycling, and walking for that matter. So it always comes a bit of a surprise to me when the city is intentionally or unintentionally stonewalling improvements.

When I warned the city project manager of the LRT that the Booth St bridge needed bike infra, supported by the numbers I brought with me, I got a friendly handshake, a stroke over my head and nothing happened. We all know how that story ended. Or wait for Maitland.

Fortunately, I know enough people inside city hall who work just as hard as cyclists do (remember these are not two different groups, think Venn diagram) to build better cycling infra. But somehow the engineering manuals have made it very difficult to implement rapid modifications.

Yes Google’s roads are always quiet. But it is a different image at rush hour. Having to cross 80-90 km/h roads is not Vision Zero

A case in point: Carling Ave

At issue here is a very dangerous place on Carling in the Greenbelt. An NCC Greenbelt pathway arrives at Burke St which connects to Carling Ave. Cyclists and pedestrians are expected to cross Carling to continue their route across the road, but Carling here is very dangerous to cross. Previous advocacy attempts to improve this situation didn’t go anywhere. But Bike Ottawa doesn’t give up.

Below you can read the correspondence from a Bike Ottawa advocacy group member (not me) with a city staffer. Both are great people who I know personally and both want to see Ottawa becoming a better cycling city. Yet, rules stand in the way to make a quick safety improvement happen.

The reason why I copy the communication underneath is to show the two perspectives. ( I removed or replaced the names). But I also want to show how despite a call for better safety, ideas get stonewalled by expensive engineering regulations, resulting in the opposite of Vision Zero. I have given the City’s responses a grey-ish background so they stand out better. (I just noticed that background colour on my smartphone doesn’t work but the headings should help.)

First email to the ward councillor – January 7

Dear Mrs. Kavanagh,

I wanted to thank you for having taken the time to see for yourself on-site the status of Carling Avenue crossing at Burke Street. I hope that all stakeholders will join forces to make a positive change happen.

I will brief my colleagues at Bike Ottawa’s Advocacy Working Group next week, and will also connect with Kanata North’s transportation committee just to let them know that the meeting happen.

Thanks in advance for supporting active transportation initiatives in Ottawa.

Best regards,

Jane Tensioner  (*real name known at the editor)

Second email to the ward councillor – January 16

From: Jane Tensioner
Sent: Thursday, January 16, 2020 5:15 PM
To: Kavanagh, Theresa
Subject: Re: Thank you for your time

Dear Mrs. Kavanagh,

I presented the file to Bike Ottawa on Tuesday night. [one of our members] made a phenomenally simple and elegant suggestion that I think would solve the problem at extremely modest incremental cost.

He suggested to simply arrange a refuge island enabling to cross Carling in two steps [such at Colonel By at Carleton U – Hans]. Indeed, crossing each lane is never a problem as there are lights nearby in both directions. The issue is crossing both lanes at the same time which is impossible as said lights are not coordinated, issue compounded by the speed of vehicles (>80km/h) in that area.

The suggested idea for Carling

Arranging a refuge on the East side of the intersection so as not to impede residents of Burke Street turning onto and from their neighbourhood would be ideal (and it would also align with existing bus stops). Very minor work would be required as the right-of-way is already very wide: just install an island with buffer in the middle, a few road signs, marking on the road and voila, problem solved! No need for electricity, no need to dig the ground, no lane change, no road widening… and no impact on vehicular traffic. Brilliant!

If you could add a speed limit decrease to 60km/h just before that crossing (on the East side of it), it would also help, plus [it] would make sense as motorists will be bound to slow down as they approach that island, so there wouldn’t really be [an] extra traffic penalty.

What do you think about this idea? I really think that it’s brilliant, yet utterly simple to implement. [He] has a lot of experience and is often called upon as an expert resource on the topic of bike safety by the City, NCC or provincial ministries on both sides of the river and that shows!

Best regards,


Example of a refuge on the Eastern Parkway north of Rockcliffe
Example of a refuge on Colonel By near Carleton U at Hartwell’s Locks (arrow added for clarity)

Response from Ward councillor – January 17

From: Bay Ward / Quartier Baie <>
Sent: January 17, 2020 2:55 PM
To: Jane Tensioner

Cc: Kavanagh, Theresa <>
Subject: Carling and Burke Intersection

Hello Jane,

Thank you for forwarding your idea regarding the problems faced by bikers at Carling and Burke Street. We forwarded the suggestion to the City’s traffic specialist for his review. We will contact you once we hear back.

Thank you,


Assistant to Councillor Kavanagh

City of Ottawa –  Bay Ward 7


Response from Transportation Services Department – January 20

From: [Transportation Services Department]

Sent: Monday, January 20, 2020 1:44 PM
To: Bay Ward / Quartier Baie <>; Jane Tensioner
Cc: Kavanagh, Theresa <>
Subject: RE: Carling and Burke Intersection

Hi Jane,

Thank you for sharing this idea.  Unfortunately, when we look further into it, it is not a simple undertaking.  In order for a refuge island to safely store a pedestrian, it is recommended that it be a minimum of 2.7m wide.  This is so that it will accommodate a person in a wheelchair or a person with a stroller. 

There are also requirements through AODA that call for tactile surface areas to notify visually impaired persons that they are entering a hazard area when leaving the island.  Making the refuge island safe for cyclists would require even greater width, and it is recommended that the entry and exit points from the island are offset. 

Since the current roadway width from edge line to edge line is 7.2m, a wide centre island would create the need to divert traffic away from the centerline to where the paved shoulders exist.  Paved shoulders are often not constructed to the same load capacity as the travelled lanes of a roadway, so major upgrades would likely be required to the subgrade in order to allow general traffic to travel on them.  

Since these paved shoulders are currently used by cyclists who choose to commute along Carling Ave, we would want to continue to accommodate them.  This could only be done by widening the roadway, which would in turn require changes to the ditch alignment.  Because of the operating speed of Carling Ave, the widening would need to extend a significant distance on both the east and west side of the intersection. 

All that said, the cost to install the refuge island would be very high, and at the end of the day, we still would not have a controlled crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.  At such time, when proper funding can be allotted to address this concern, it is recommended that a traffic signal be installed versus any form of uncontrolled crossing improvements.

I do commend Bike Ottawa’s efforts in an attempt to solve this one, and if the setting was different at this location, this idea may have been the answer.  It is an ongoing concern, and unfortunately our current policies around signal warrants don’t allow for an easy solution.  We will continue to work to get something done here.

If you wish to discuss further, please feel free to contact me.

Thanks again.

[name withheld] 

Transportation Services Department

City of Ottawa

Second email to Transportation Services Department – January 28

From: Jane
Sent: Tuesday, January 28, 2020 7:14 PM
To: Transportation Services Department; ‘Bay Ward / Quartier Baie’ <>
Cc: ‘Kavanagh, Theresa’ <>;
Subject: RE: Carling and Burke Intersection

Thank you for your answer and my apologies for the delayed response. I wanted to consult my colleagues and go back to the field to study a bit more the feasibility of the idea in context of what you mentioned in your message.

At the location in question (Carling/Burke), there are bus stops for bus route 66 on both sides of the road. These are used by double-decker busses who load and unload transit users on the paved shoulder. So, I would be extremely surprised if its load bearing were inadequate for general traffic. If accommodating an island would mean restricting heavy truck traffic on that stretch of Carling due to subgrade issues, and diverting trucks onto Moodie/417/March Road, I would think that it would be a fairly acceptable compromise since there is hardly any such heavy truck traffic in this corridor. I realize that Carling is designated as a truck route right now, but that’s not what I observe in the field.

Please also note that the pavement at the proposed island location actually goes beyond the shoulder to accommodate a bus waiting area (at least on the North side, I couldn’t check the South side due to snow cover). Therefore, accommodating bike users on the shoulder while widening the vehicular roadway should not be a trouble, and definitely would not require ditch re-alignment. Please have a look on site to get a feel. The right-of-way is HUGE, so I would be once again extremely surprised if the proposed solution would encompass such major undertakings as you represent below.

Finally, on the topic of speed, and therefore the need for an extended tapering of the island feature, I would be strongly in favor of a speed reduction to 60km/h in that area, which would be more in-line with having residential homes lining one side of the street, and Carling/Herzberg crossing approaching. And if space were an issue, I could also see a non-symmetrical taper feature extending only on the approaching side of the island (i.e. taper on the North lane Westboud and on the South lane Eastbound) as opposed to extended tapers on both sides.

I do not think that waiting (until something dramatic happens that is) would be an acceptable strategy here. Riding on the shoulder is quite unpleasant and dangerous (Have you tried it in rush hour traffic? Grazed by vehicles driving at 80+km/h and trying to survive the infamous CN bridge narrows? Honestly, I currently make a 2km detour on Corkstown to avoid that part of my on-road commute [for the short and painful period when snow makes my otherwise extraordinarily pleasant on-trail commute impassable]). I would strongly encourage the city’s traffic department to be as proactive and creative as possible in support of active transportation, and to reconsider this island project by investing just a bit more time to dig further (and maybe pay a visit on-site to get a feel for it).

Best regards,


Third email to Transportation Services Department – January 30

From: Jane
Sent: January 30, 2020 9:19 PM
To: Transportation Services Department

Bay Ward / Quartier Baie <>
Cc: Kavanagh, Theresa <>
Subject: RE: Carling and Burke Intersection

Just as a quick follow-up to my earlier note, I went onsite again today and took a few measures. The vehicular roadway width is 7.2m, while the paved right-of-way (vehicular portion + shoulder) is approximately 12m wide. At the bus stop on the North side of the road, pavement extends a few feet further, but there does not appear to be any sub-layer.

As such, accommodating a 2.7m island shouldn’t be too much of a trouble as that would simply mean cropping just half the existing shoulder on both sides. Even if you would want to accommodate cyclists by extending the paved shoulder a few feet away, I don’t think that bicycle traffic would require any particular sub-grade treatment and there is ample room to do this.

If load bearing on that half-shoulder were an issue due to heavy vehicles, of course I forgot to mention, but it’s rather obvious that although this is a designated truck route, no trucks actually use it due to the CN bridge which is not up to current norms in terms of height and width. I would therefore highly recommend to de-classify Carling Avenue on that segment (between CRC/CSA/Shirley’s Bay DND complex and Herzberg) and divert truck traffic to the 417 (once again, this is not an issue as there are almost no trucks on Carling there). Due to that narrow bridge, traffic is also much slower in its immediate vicinity than the posted speed limit of 80km/h so again lowering the speed limit to 60km/h onto the segment would not cause too much harm.

Finally, regarding non-symmetrical island design, this is actually something that the City is already doing. For example, Old St Patrick has such a refuge island to allow for safe pedestrian crossing in two steps with non-summetrical tapers on each side. The right-of-way there is MUCH narrower than Carling Avenue. I therefore do not really see why it shouldn’t be possible to accommodate a safe crossing at the Carling/Burke location.

Please let me know what you think.



Second response from Transportation Services Department – January 31

Thanks Jane for your keen initiative on this.  I will forward all of this information on to our Transportation Planning group and at least get the discussion started with comments from other internal units.  I’m not sure if you noticed in my first email I stated that the minimum island width for a pedestrian refuge island would be around 2.7m.  I believe at this particular location we would be trying to accommodate more cyclists than pedestrians.  To safely provide a refuge area for a cyclist would require an even greater width.  Also, the drawing you included is for a pedestrian cross-over (PXO), which is a form of traffic control for pedestrians (not cyclists) to cross.  There has already been a PXO warrant check completed for this location and it did not meet the criteria. 

With regard to speeds, the latest speed data we have on file is from August 2016, which shows an 85th percentile operating speed of 83km/h.  I’m going to order some new data to be collected this spring, but it’s likely that it will be around the 80km/h mark.  Drivers may very well be operating at lower speeds in the immediate vicinity of the underpass, but speeds tend to rise back up away from the structure.

As practical as your assumptions are about the strength of the subgrade below the paved shoulders, we would still need to confirm with borehole tests.  All that said, if funding was to become available, we could consider this option.  The preferred treatment here would be a signalized crossing, which would provide a formalized form of traffic control. 

Thanks again, Jane.  Hopefully improvements can be made in the near future.


Transportation Services Department

City of Ottawa

Shirley’s Bay crossing

One could argue that there is a signalised crossing a bit further east at the Shirley’s Bay complex, but than cyclists are required to share the road while squeezing through an (unused!) CN overpass.

Interestingly, on Shirley’s Bay Complex grounds nearby, the government of Canada has its own green painted bike lane and even a bit of segregated lane along the entrance way where it really is not necessary, as traffic is allowed to travel only 30 km/h.

There is a nice, partly green bike lane where the red line runs towards the guardhouse of the complex

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