Strava data shows important cycling route ignored when designing new station
If you venture out of downtown or if you travel east-west, south of Baseline, chances are you have been cycling via Baseline Station with its large parking lots and confusing pathways and sidewalks. That is because the area around Algonquin College and Nepean’s Centrepointe is primarily built for car access.
The City of Ottawa Centrepointe building nearby has a large 400,000 ft square parking lot next door. Centrepointe’s former city hall, theatre and library has a 325,000 ft2 parking facility and Algonquin College has another 750,000 ft2 parking lot. That is a total of over approximately 1.5 million square feet (25 football fields) in parking space around Baseline station. In between you’ll find some bike infrastructure, although quite a number of people choose to actually ride across one of the parking lots or use a shortcut along the Transitway.
Heavily used MUPs
According to the Strava heatmap, residents coming from the west end tend to bike along the MUPs towards Baseline station and then mostly head north towards either Lincoln Fields on the pathway or east on the Experimental Farm pathway, avoiding Baseline. And vice versa.
Popular desire line along transitway
Another major east-west flow follows a route that runs between the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence building and the OC Transpo Park & Ride lot south of that building. That route takes you straight into Algonquin College’s southern end which then connects you to residential roads and Meadowlands: another popular east-west route.
Missing link at Algonquin Station
However, there is no cycling infrastructure at a route that most people choose to take: the 23 mtr/75 ft wide connection people like to use is not a cycling connection, but a 4 lane Transitway connection with wide sidewalks. And that is exactly where people bike.
Bike Ottawa for years has been trying to change that configuration to include safe cycling, but to no avail. The City of Ottawa continues to ignore this very important desire line despite a detailed letter Bike Ottawa sent in March 2016 already.
“Ha”, I hear you thinking, “but with the design of the new Algonquin LRT station and the redevelopment around the area including the o so important safe active transportation connections to the station, the City is surely correcting this mistake”. I am sorry to disappoint you, but there will still not be cycling infrastructure covering this desire line.
Missed opportunity to right a wrong
“But Hans”, you say, “give me a break, people can cross a block north of it via Navaho”. Yes they can can, but they won’t. Remember, cyclists and pedestrians are like water, trying to find the shortest route. Why would one go a block north, cross and then come a block south again via an Algonquin College parking lot or service road if there is a gaping opportunity in front of you to follow a more direct route?
Data estimates for Algonquin Station
Let’s look at some data.
We have hardly any bike counters outside the city’s core unfortunately, but Bike Ottawa has access to Strava data which can help us somewhat. A small subset of cyclists uses Strava, so that might give us an indication.
We have to be careful though as not every Strava user uses Strava all the time (like myself) and some routes attract more Strava users than other routes. For example, a route going out of town might attract more cyclists with Strava than a route to the grocery store 1 mile away.
Strava users passing Algonquin Station
Based on some data Alex DeVries ran a few years ago, comparing Strava data against data from bike counters on Laurier bike lanes, he estimated that somewhere around 3% of the cyclists run Strava when cycling, even, like myself, if it is only to keep track of distances cycled.
In a 2016 study, researchers found 1 Strava user represents 41 cyclists (see table below).
In 2019, a study in Maricopa County, AZ, says that “Strava counts account for 1 in every 50 bicyclists along a particular street segment”.
A 2022 study compared city usage rates in Victoria and Vancouver and concluded that Strava usage increased from 5.7% in Vancouver in 2019 to 12.1% in 2020 and from 7% in 2019 in Victoria to 15.8% in 2020. Remember these were serious Covid years though when more people jumped on a bike, so these data might be a bit skewed.
Strava at our Algonquin Station route
From Strava Metro, we know that in 2021 the Strava app passed through this area 2435 times in a year. In 2018, it was ‘only’ 1580 times. However, as we read above, a large minority of cyclists uses Strava. If we extrapolate Strava data for that Transitway segment, and I know it is a bit arbitrary, thousands of monthly trips area counted between April and November.
Most trips between April to November at Algonquin Station
We know that the majority of the trips are made between April and November so these trips mostly happen in about 8 months. That would lead to a conservative estimate of around 20,000 trips in 2021 if 12% uses Strava. However if only 5% used Strava in 2021 at this stretch, that would increase the number of trips passing that desire line in 2021 to nearly 50,000.
That is a lot of trips. Yet the City conveniently decided to look the other direction when the new Algonquin station and its direct environment were redesigned, so that this piece of Transitway didn’t have to be modified. There is tons of space for a MUP though.
As you can see in the picture, there is no cycling infra planned for one the most important desire lines in this area, connecting to a station, a library, a theatre, an LRT station and a college with 20,000 full time students. On a side note, here is how the LRT after Algonquin going south to Barrhaven wil look like.
When Bike Ottawa raised concerns, they didn’t have support from the councillor at that time. Hopefully fresh blood in city council will take on this weird design flaw (I am not going to call it an oversight). But there will be a covered corridor for students across the transitway to save 60 meters of walking outside from the second floor of the building to the station and from crossing the Transitway.
Walk your bike
Once the new station is finished, there will likely be ‘walk your bike’ signs in front of the new station, information panels on how and where to cross, perhaps someone once in a while handing out flyers during bike to work month in May. In the current designs though, you will be forced into an undesirable detour.
There is one solution though, that could save the day. Dedicate the north side of that bit of transitway as ‘shared space’ and the issue is solved. It would be similar to the square in front of the LRT station at Ottawa U.
The solution the city currently proposes is basically creating a dangerous situation by design.
O, and then to think that one European city runs a bike lane through their national museum…
Read more about the changes in the area of Algonquin Station and Woodroffe here.
Correcting Bias in Crowdsourced Data to Map Bicycle Ridership of All Bicyclists, https://www.mdpi.com/2413-8851/3/2/62/htm
Generalized model for mapping bicycle ridership with crowdsourced data – ScienceDirect
I used to cycle here often but seldom need to now.
The design follows the standard city practice. Design first for cars — high volume, high speed, straight. Then add in some bus lanes or bus turn lanes to label it “transit priority”. Last step, add sidewalks and cycling infra where there is leftover space, ensuring these are always glued to curb lines because peds and cyclists have no distinct desire lines or claim on the space.
If any ped or cyclist complains about circuitous routing or danger, engineers are quick to assert “its designed for your safety”. When people use the final constructed layout the way they want which isn’t what the traffic boffins wanted, send in the sign brigade to slap on hundreds of walk your bike or beg buttons.
🙏BRILLIANT post, should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of Ottawa (especially politicians running in the Oct. 24 election). Luckily, as you say, it’s NOT too late to fix this horror story: “Dedicate the north side of that bit of transitway as ‘shared space’ and the issue is solved. “If this “weird design flaw” is not corrected and more cyclists die I’m sure you won’t take any satisfaction in saying “I told you so.”
I use this “route” frequently. It is the one that makes the most sense from a cycling perspective. It keeps you away from heavy car/bus traffic in the surrounding area. Thanks for identifying this issue Hans.