Get cyclists, drivers on same page fast

pg04-e-cartoonDon DimanligThere’s no denying that cycling is a hot topic in Ottawa. And cycling lanes are at the forefront of the controversial issue.

It’s been just over a month since the two-lane bike path opened on O’Connor Street, and already there have been three publicized car-cyclist collisions.

The first accident came hours after the official opening ceremony on Oct. 25. The second came a week later and sent a seasoned cyclist to hospital. And less than a week after that, a third cyclist was hit by a left-turning vehicle in a scene caught on video.

It all seemed less surprising after it became known that Ottawa didn’t choose the safest of several options when designing the O’Connor cycling route. The chosen design was ranked as the third safest option by Mobycon Concordis, a Dutch consulting firm.

Mobycon recommended that the city implement protected bike lanes on either side of O’Connor. 

This plan would have seen the end of parking along the street, however, and posed a problem for cyclists crossing the ramp onto Highway 417.

In an interview with CBC, Kornel Mucsi, a city transportation official, said: “Everything is trade-offs, even safety is a trade-off from time to time.” The city chose to implement the protected two-way bike lane rather than scrap the project. But the road signage has been criticized as confusing, and the bi-directional movement of cyclists has proven challenging for motorists. 

One moment of confusion can make a driver hesitate or hit the gas to get out of the way, and neither bodes well for cyclists.

The city boasts of its cycling safety awareness plan, but what does this campaign really look like? 

Ottawa currently offers cycling education programs from April to October. There’s also a webpage that attempts to explain the road signs and another on how to share the road.

But the citizens of Ottawa — drivers, pedestrians and cyclists — need an intensive re-education about the prominent position bicycles now play in the streetscape.

The Ottawa Police Service has released a set of instructional videos geared toward cyclists and motorists on how to share the road. This came before the official O’Connor opening as part of the city’s ongoing Toward Zero campaign, but a few thousand views on YouTube are not getting the message across.

And on a tragic note, the city’s aspirational goal of zero fatalities on Ottawa’s streets was dealt a terrible blow when a young female cyclist was killed by a truck on Sept. 1 at the corner of Laurier and Lyon.

The current efforts to promote cycling safety clearly aren’t enough. Print and radio PSAs, bus ads and a social media blitz are just a few of the ways that the city could ensure its messages about cycling safety reach more people.

Ottawa needs to take a good look at the mistakes it’s made in rolling out bike lanes before drivers are educated enough.

If Ottawa wants to transition into a more bike-friendly city, then it must get cyclists and motorists on the same page. When the well-being of cyclists is on the line, the idea that adapting to the O’Connor Street bike lane will take some time — that its OK for drivers to be on a learning curve — is disturbing.