Bay Street Bike Lanes Finally Ready

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Last month, Ottawa’s Bay Street’s northern most 400 meters were finally finished. It now includes separate raised cycling infrastructure between Wellington St and Laurier bike lane. Bay had already a bike lane going north. It was also legally allowed to cycle on the side walk southbound, but that was far from ideal.

Storm and Sewer replacement

Besides building the cycling tracks, a storm and sanitary replacement at Bay and Queen and at Bay and Albert was needed. Bay at Albert also saw a watermain replacement. There have been delays, and delays again, but finally, somewhere in August/September 2021, 2 years after the work commenced, we can bike on this new piece of infrastructure. The budget for the project was CAD 6.2 million.

Fly over

Let’s first fly over this section of Bay Street before the raised bike lanes and new intersections were built to get a better idea of the environment. There was already a bike lane painted going north up to the large building at the end, Library and Archives Canada:

Dutch style intersections

Last Saturday I went out to ride the lanes a couple of times. Yes, that is nerdy. If you bike on Bay now, the first thing you will notice is the many Dutch style intersections plus the variations on that theme. Northbound, the raised bike lane veers a bit away from car traffic in order to be more visible when a driver turns right. As it is a one way road, those provisions were not necessary southbound, however you’ll notice it at Bay and Laurier anyway.

Laurier and Bay received the full protected intersection treatment. I am a bit puzzled about the ‘eye brow’ (the grey ovals on the corners) on the corner closest to me, as there is no traffic turning right from Laurier. I am also puzzled about the sign saying “bicycles excepted” – ie they can turn right. Is that sign there only to legalise that 1 meter wiggle to the right before you continue straight or can you actually cycle southbound on Bay?

Rumble patch

At the south east corner of Slater and Bay, you’ll notice an odd concrete ‘rumble skirt’ (for lack of a better word). You will start to see that more often: it allows large vehicles to turn the corner, while making the corner look tighter at the same time. I am not sure if it is useful. The images I took from the OC Transpo bus shows why it is there. I converted the three images into a GIF.

Novelty: near bike signals

Cyclists in European bike friendly countries often have a ‘near’ light at about 4 feet high. We don’t have that in Ottawa or perhaps even in North America yet. Bike signals here are across the intersection above the bike lane. New in Ottawa (I think, as I have not seen them anywhere else yet) are bike signals that are placed before the intersection. However, you won’t see them at eye level, but way up high and therefore easy to miss as I have experienced.

I am guessing that the signals on the near side of the intersection are an experiment but that the lower placed small signals on a post like in Europe didn’t make the cut yet. It makes sense though as I think it would be clearer where you have to stop at the light, rather than bike up to the curb at the intersection. (Edit, I talked to city staff later and they told me that smaller lights at eye level are allowed, but extremely hard to get a hold of)

But why does the city want you to do that?

You are supposed to wait before the intersection (where the near traffic signal is), but somewhat naturally, one tends to ride all the way up to the curb. This is not a good idea as you will block other cycling traffic cycling perpendicular behind you.

I really hope this is the prelude to getting much lower bike signals mounted on a post at 4 feet high near the cyclist. They would be much more in a cyclist’s field of vision too.

Near light above your head, easy to miss. Ideally, they’d sit roughly where the two metal bands run on the post at about 4 ft (cheaper too I suspect). Smaller signs would be more beneficial too)
Ultimately, I think we will see near cycling signals like in the Netherlands (see red arrow). The circle shows a push button to activate the signal. (screen grab Google)
Part of the bus lane on Albert has disappeared and turned into a safer corner. Pedestrians now only have to cross two lanes, rather than three. (see below) (this is a Google screen shot)
The bike lane angle is a bit odd, but here you can see the side walk pushed out into the former bus lane
A forest of posts and signs: I never understand why a bicycle signal with a bike needs a sign with “bicycle signal” – isn’t that stating the obvious? No less than three ‘yield’ signs too

It is nice to see several benches placed, built to resist a nuclear war and snow plows. The concrete will soon be damaged by the latter ones I fear.

Benches on a solid concrete base
A slightly different design, with the bike lane hugging the road all the way to the intersection, rather than veering away earlier. This is likely done because there is no right turning traffic from this position
A special crosswalk for the loading zone folks and ParaTranspo
Crossing Slater southbound. One cross ride is painted green, the other one isn’t ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
My annual ‘car in a green bike box’ image. You don’t have to wait long for such a picture. Of course, I placed myself in front of the car as I didn’t want them to turn right in front of me while I was going straight. The purply sign gives instructions to drivers about where to position
This part is on NCC property, hence the granite curb. Note the cross rides are not painted green. And no, that is not a Christo project in the background. I wonder if water is going to pool in the corner on the right at the painted bike’s rear wheel

If you want to go fast on Bay, you’re probably better off to take the lane on the road (northbound only, southbound you’ll have to take Lyon if you want to bike on the road). But many others will definitely like this new facility. It is now up to Tobi Nussbaum to build a safer Wellington towards Portage vice versa.


Project page:

Drawings: large PDF (18 MB): (this doesn’t look exactly the same as the final build in real life though)

Images: Hans on the Bike

Also read: Top ten position for Ottawa – Gatineau cycling


  1. I think that we are forgetting one huge aspect of these improvements: when a city invests in cycling infrastructure, the return on investment is immediate and long-lasting, requiring very little maintenance. Bicycle lanes will never ‘break down’ because the doors aren’t working, and a collision on one part of the bike lane will not shut down the entire network. Even if they are not perfect, let’s celebrate them.

  2. One of the challenges of adding protected intersections on this narrow corridor is that it pushes back pedestrian crosswalks from the intersection and requires pedestrians to deviate quite a bit. Many will cross through the bike path instead, either consciously or unconsciously. I also worry about how “future proof” the design is, if cycling volumes increase significantly (admittedly this would be a great problem to have!).

    Overall I’m really happy to see the City experimenting with different designs. Despite criticisms, it’s hard to go straight to a “Great” design – you need to iterate, which is what the City is doing.

  3. Of course, all mostly good for many cyclists.
    However, I will continue to use the right hand traffic lane northbound because riding at a brisk pace I can make it through the phased lights on greens all the way from Laurier to Wellington. Following the twisty and rolling bike route, and watching for right-turning traffic, as well as illegally parked vahicles, means encountering one or more red lights

  4. One issue I’d like to see corrected is the curb cut when entering the Bay St. lane southbound from Wellington. The curb is not well-beveled so you need to make a wide turn when entering. This is okay on a normal bike, but becomes increasingly difficult on a tandem, trike, when towing a trailer, etc.

    • Hi James,

      At the bottom of the blog you’ll find a link to the project page. Here you can find the project manager’s name. Probably best to contact the manager directly and cc ward councillor mcKenney.

  5. My comments above were not to “dump” on the Bay Street design. It is yet another step forward in the taming of the downtown environment to make it safer for peds and cyclists. As more intersections get similar treatments, downtown, in the city, or in the suburbs, motorists and cyclists will eventually familiarize themselves with the layout and habituate themselves accordingly.

    The planters installed on Queen are also a significant step forward.

    I do note that several significant metropolitan areas are moving forward with significant “greening” of their urban areas, less with parks or malls which are separate places to go to for trees or greenery, but with converting entire lanes of traffic or parking with extensive block long green irrigated corridors, so as to bring the benefits of greenery to the people where they are.

    It will be interesting to see if the small planters on Queen become translated into much longer green spaces when Laurier, Albert, and Slater are reconstructed in the coming years.

  6. i think the city compromised on the “eyebrow” curbs at the corners. The curbs are not full height, reducing the “protection” from turning vehicles. They are all covered in tire marks. They are sort of a half way between a protective “eyebrow” and a turning apron.

    There has been at least one intersection with a 4′ high Euro-style near side light, I think it is on Allumiettiers. As intersections grow larger and larger far side lights enable motorists to creep into the intersection, blocking any crosswalks or cross rides, and prepares motorists to launch at the first moment. Near side lights force motorists to stop at the line as they cannot see the overhead light if they pull too far forward, as I discovered the first time I drove in France, and motorists here if they stop too far forward of “half light” intersections and PXO’s.

    Are there any sensors / yellow dots on the cycle tracks to activate the signals? On these blocks, I suspect ped and cyclist lights will operate 24/7, but elsewhere the location of the dots will determine if there is a green-revert light phase that is so dangerous to peds and motorists, activate the signal, and encourage cyclists to stop in the right place. In theory.

    I “test cycled” the track the other day, and walked across Bay several times in the last week. It will take some time to get used to the very offset ped crosswalks… I felt I had to go considerably out of my way to get to them. I mentally chastised myself for this as I understand the offset improves safety from turning vehicles … and promptly at the next intersection found myself walking straight across the intersection between the crossride and the crosswalk… ignoring the mash of cycle tracks, offsets, and white cement vs asphalt, etc.

    I think the signs are on the traffic light posts for cyclists because people see the red or green light and carelessly stomp on the gas or brake responding to the colour of the signal, rather than the symbol on it (assuming they have enough eyesight to distinguish it). Just look at how many people drive forward on the advanced walk light signal… and it isn’t even green! I note that advanced light signals for buses use a vertical white bar in the light head instead of green… with mixed results as one can see if you watch these installations for a few minutes.

    • Yes I agree with the desire line for pedestrians. I understand they offset it for better visibility but likely people will do march straight along the bike lanes, chatting and coffee in hand. I always look over my left shoulder when I walk into an intersection. Drivers stopping too far into the intersection is noticed by many cyclists and pedestrians as you ca nsee on social media.

      Near signals for all users would be safer I agree. I didn’t study the eye brows in detail, but I had the same thoughts of them being depressed and render them less useful.

      BTW when I took the picture on Laurier and Bay, **>within 90 seconds<**, one car driver turned south into Bay (not allowed), and soon discovered their mistake and turned around. Another one came from the east, turned south into Bay (again, not allowed), drove aginst traffic and slipped into a parking lot nearby and parked the vehicle. That was a clear calculated risk he made.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. Heron Road's New Protected Intersections - Hans on the Bike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.