City tries to become bike friendly

Pedestrians use sidewalks. Cars dominate streets. But if you’re a cyclist in downtown Ottawa, claiming a designated route as your own is not so easy.

Recent discussions held in two city advisory committees have raised questions as to how the downtown area should accommodate cyclists in a city that has recently touted its commitment to become more bike friendly.

“I think there’s a real movement to support cycling in the city because we’ve realized our roads are getting over- congested and even our transit is very congested,” says Alayne McGregor, a downtown resident and long-time cycling advocate. “And cycling provides a really convenient way for (people) to get around.”

In September, the city’s pedestrian and transit advisory committee passed a motion urging a cycling ban on Bay Street sidewalks. While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act already states that it’s illegal for individuals on bicycles to use sidewalks, official city signage invites cyclists to do just that. Riding against traffic on the sidewalk is the quickest connection for riders on Wellington Street to reach a designated north-south bike lane on Percy Street.

While McGregor says she has always considered the situation on Bay Street problematic, she decided to finally bring the issue to committee’s attention considering city’s renewed interest in cycling.

 “The real danger is that motorists don’t see you and when they want to turn, they’re looking for pedestrians. Pedestrians don’t walk nearly as fast as a bicycle can ride.”

While the city has yet to decide whether it will act on the issue, she says she believes the best solution to would be contra-flow bike lanes. This type of route is used on a one-way street, permitting cyclists to go against the direction of traffic. Such a system currently exists on Cameron Avenue.

Although glad to see the city has renewed its interest in creating a more bicycle-friendly environment, McGregor believes contra-flow roadways would be a more appropriate alternative to segregated bike lanes.

“There are many ways of making cyclists more comfortable and segregated lanes, in my opinion, are one of the poorest.They make it more difficult for cyclists to pass each other because they’re too narrow.”

This summer, the city proposed to have segregated bike lanes installed in the downtown area in an effort to encourage cycling. Segregated lanes differ from regular bike lanes in that they place a physical barrier between cyclists and traffic.

 It was due to exclusivity of the lanes that the business advisory committee passed a motion on Sept. 14, calling for the transit committee to re-evaluate its proposal to have a separate lane for cyclists on Somerset Street.

Protests from local business owners concerning loss of parking space was the driving factor behind the advisory committee’s actions.

Similarly, a motion passed on Sept. 20 to install such a lane on Lyon Street was met with disapproval from Centretown residents.

Somerset Coun. Diane Holmes says the city had considered implementing contra-flow lanes, but decided against them due to safety concerns.

“Other cities have tried contra-flow lanes and found it unsafe because vehicular traffic is expecting cyclists to go in the same direction as (them).’’

But for now, the transportation committee will re-evaluate the Somerset Street project.