Colonel By makeover in downtown Ottawa

A bird's eye view of the Colonel By intersection with Wellington St. A green line runs north of wellington indicating a possible future bike lane. A second line curves around the Senate building to show a potential bidirectional bike lane
A potential new bidirectional bike lane to connect two pieces of cycling infra
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One of the most important missing cycling links in downtown Ottawa is the connection between MacKenzie Ave en the Canal on the Colonel By side. It is only 200 meters but vital for the flow of a lot of cycling traffic.

The intersection at the corner of the Rideau centre is massive and ugly. There are 6 roads meeting: Rideau Street, Wellington Street, MacKenzie Ave, Colonel By and Sussex and Elgin.

As a cyclist, you may arrive from the pathway along Colonel By, all happy, bike through the shared space across from the Shaw centre and end up at the lights where everything just stops, just when you thought you found a great route to bike with your 7 year old.

A streetview image of Colonel By in front of the Westin. a green line shows where cyclists should bike in order to continue their trip
Once you leave the canal, you’l have to squeeze on to the road in front of the Westin and share the road in a tight space

Black hole

Of course you could have continued along the canal, cycle past Rent a Bike, end up in a dark hole (literally), drag you bike up a large flight of stairs and eventually end up in Mayor Hill Park. But if the door is locked, you won’t be able to use this fairly unknown shortcut. And cycling tourists would definitely not know about this dark secret.

A bird's eye view of a large intersection in Ottawa including Colonel By. A red line shows where people can walk underneath the intersection
The red line shows the continuation of the Rideau Canal pathway along Colonel By. The dotted line represents a tunnel underneath the intersection. Halfway (not visible here) is a large set of stairs. This spooky area is closed at certain times so don’t count on it.

Coming from MacKenzie, it is a bit better since the bidirectional bike lanes were built and bike signals were added: you will have a south bound bike lane going towards the canal.

Bidirectional bike lane on Colonel By

That really big intersection could actually accomodate better bike infrastructure. A bidirectional bike lane from Rideau St was supposed to be finished in 2022 along Chateau Laurier and up Wellington connecting with the final stretch of O’Connor between Laurier and Wellington.

But an idea to add a streetcar on Wellington and a train from Gatineau into Ottawa somewhere in that area and the Freedom convoy causing Wellington St. to be closed forever asked for a rethink of the whole area.

A tramway on Wellington is one of the options being considered. As the trams would have to find their way to the Alexandra bridge, I think it will be a long time before this becomes reality, if ever: Sussex or MacKenzie would have to be sacrified.

With work from home likely to stay, one can now easily reimagine the crazy intersection at Sussex/MacKenzie and Colonel By. A 3 metre (minimum) bidirectional bike lane, running along the Senate building, is a good option to create that missing link. I still have no idea how one could get to the Byward Market from there, but at least there would be a much better connection between MacKenzie and Colonel By.

The east west lane at the top was supposed to be built by the NCC in 2022 but that didn’t happen. The one curving around the station/Senate of Canada building should be a no brainer. I think the car lanes are fairly wide and can be narrowed, with lower speeds as a bonus result perhaps

Tour groups on Colonel By

As a bike tour guide this intersection is the biggest headache for me. Bringing 4-12 people from MacKenzie to the canal or the war memorial vice versa is difficult. Many of our guests are not terribly comfortable on a bike in the first place (but absolutely love cycling in Ottawa), let alone cycling next to traffic, separated by a faded white line. So a better connection would be awesome.

Dreaming about a nicer Colonel By

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just get two lanes connecting to Colonel By and Daly Ave from Sussex, rather than four? It would free up a lot of space in the area. Space we can rededicate to trees (sorely missing), a food truck for the Senators next door and our bidirection bike lanes. Here is a suggestion:

Colonel By as it looks like today. A four lane road with a 6 ft median, a concrete hotel on the right hand side. On the left is a fence to protect the Senate of Canada
Left: with bidirectional bike lanes. Right, total make over with two lanes only. The yellow building on the left is the Senate building, the white one on the right Westin (Image created in Streetmix)

Fingers crossed!

You may also want to read my post on Percy Street as a an imagined bicycle street, where cars are guests.


  1. Great idea Hans. You don’t need two lanes on MacKenzie going towards Colonel By, so if you reduce it to one lane there is lots of room for a bidirectional bike lane. Wish they would build the bike lane up Wellington to access downtown Ottawa

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