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The new advisory cycling lane on Somerset Street East consists of dashes instead of a line for drivers to be able to go into them when needed. [Photo © Heather Keary]

After a year of testing, a city official says feedback on Ottawa’s first advisory cycling lane has been positive. But permanent advisory lanes could still be a long way off.

The lane was opened on Somerset Street East on Oct. 17, 2016 between Range Road and Chapel Street.

“The city has heard from more than 900 people about the pilot project,” said Justin Swan, senior project engineer from traffic area management. “Feedback has generally been positive from those who cycle this route.”

The city gathered feedback through an online survey that was open from March 3 to May 25, 2016. Apart from the survey, the city conducted a few public meetings, sent out door-to-door fliers and mailed people about the advisory cycling lane to gather feedback.

Swan said that initially people appeared to be confused by the general purpose of the lane.

“(In response) we had some videos produced to educate people on how they worked and we circulated (them),” said Swan. The city also put up signs on the street to communicate its function.

Advisory cycling lanes are typically used on narrow, quiet roads. Bike lanes are created with dashed-lines on either side of the single car lane. When two oncoming vehicles meet, they can steer into the bike lanes to avoid each other, and then back into the vehicle lane. When a car and bike might be in the same lane, whomever is in front gets the right of way. For example, drivers must give way to cyclists in front of them while occupying part of the bike lane.

Advisory cycling lane on Somerset Street East between Range Road and Sweetland Avenue. [Photo© Heather Keary]

The lane after the advisory cycling lane ends on Somerset Street East [Photo© Heather Keary]

“It’s helpful for situations when we can’t fit in dedicated bike lanes but … we want to give cyclists more prominence than under a shared-use environment,” Swan said.

[Total pedestrian and cyclist collisions in Ottawa, 2016. Source: City of Ottawa. By Shalu Mehta.]

He said that so far no problems have been reported between drivers and cyclists on the advisory lanes.

“(Somerset Street East) is the right kind of street for that kind of lane,” said Heather Shearer, president of Bike Ottawa. “I think it is great that the city is trying them out.”

Former Bike Ottawa president Hans Moor agrees. “It’s always good when city is experimenting with new ideas to calm traffic and make our roads safer.”

Former Bike Ottawa president, Hans Moor approves of the City trying out advisory cycling lanes. [Photo© Heather Keary]

There are currently two advisory cycling lanes approved in Ottawa: the one on Somerset Street East; and another on Byron Avenue between Sherbourne Road and Broadview Ave., which the city is aiming to install in early 2018.

These two locations are part of a pilot project, which will include up to four streets in total, Swan said. The other two locations haven’t been finalized yet.

The city will continue to monitor the lanes until 2019 when the project will be wrapped up. Swan said once the pilot is complete, the city will use it as a design guidance for future references.

“This will be a new tool in the tool box that can be considered and we just want to make sure that the design guidance is robust and we can use that confidently on any project,” said Swan.

According to Moor, advisory lanes are effective for quiet roads but are not recommended for busier roads.

“Busy roads don’t work because cars having to enter the bike lanes to pass wouldn’t really make sense anymore,” he said.

This could mean that the potential for advisory lanes in Ottawa will be limited. According to Shearer, Ottawa doesn’t have that many roads that have the right mix of traffic for the lanes.

For the busier roads, segregated bike lanes such as those on Laurier Avenue and O’Connor Street are more suitable.

For busier lanes such as O’Connor shown in the photo above, segregated lanes are more effective. [Photo© Heather Keary]

“For traffic where cars are going over 50 kilometers per hour, you want to make sure cyclists are separated from car traffic,” said Moor, who was president of Bike Ottawa from 2010 to 2015.

According to Swan, the speed limit on Somerset Street East is currently 40 kilometers per hour, a speed at which the city is comfortable with having an advisory lane.

Since the speed limits are higher on Byron Avenue, the city will be pairing traffic calming together with the project in order to lower the traffic speed.

Byron also has higher traffic volumes than Somerset Street East.

“So one of the things we want to test on (Byron) is how do advisory cycling lanes fare in an area where there are lower cycling volumes and higher traffic volumes,” Swan said. This along with other differences — the length of the lane and not having curbs — will provide the pilot project with more variety.

The advisory cycling lane on Somerset Street East was expanded by two blocks earlier this year and now runs to Sweetland Ave.

According to Bike Ottawa’s 2017 annual report, approximately $60 million was invested in cycling-related projects in the City of Ottawa budget for 2017.

The report states there are 202.5 kilometers of bike lanes in the Ottawa cycling network. Of that total, 4.2 kilometers are segregated lanes, –in which bikes have their own separate lanes.

Segregated cycling lane is more effective for lanes with higher traffic. [Photo© Heather Keary]
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