Cyclists feel safe on new bike lane, but risks remain

pg01-n-bikelaneKatie Rychliski says the signage along the newly opened O’Connor Street bike lane is confusing to both cyclists and motorists. Lysia Filotas, Centretown NewsDespite being the scene of three accidents since its high-profile opening on Oct. 25, new bike lanes on O’Connor Street make “the majority of cyclists feel safer,” says Gareth Davies, president of Citizens for Safe Cycling.

The $4-million reconstruction of the street includes widened green lanes separating cyclists from vehicular traffic, along with numerous signs along the road. The segregated bikeway is unusual because it accommodates two-way bike traffic.

Davies said he’s heard positive feedback from fellow cyclists regarding the lanes. Prior to the changes, cyclists relied solely on “share the road” signs to remind drivers to watch out for cyclists. 

Davies said a particularly dangerous section of the route was the area around the intersection of O’Connor and Catherine streets, including the lane leading to the Queensway on-ramp. 

“The new bike lanes bypass conflicts at that troubling intersection altogether, and the junction is now safer for drivers, as well,” he said.

However, Davies said high-risk zones remain for cyclists at intersections along O’Connor, where cars have to cross the bike lanes when turning down side streets. Other risky spots are the entrances and exits of parking lots and driveways. 

While cycling past a parking lot entrance Nov. 2, Gary King — an avid Ottawa cyclist who has toured the world on two wheels — was hit by a car his first time riding the O’Connor bike lane.

“I was riding north and I saw a vehicle pulling out of a parking lot mid-block,” he recalled in an interview with Centretown News

“As I got in front of the vehicle, I was looking at the driver’s face to see that he saw me. He was looking the other way, and then he accelerated into the roadway — and I was pretty much right in front of the car when he hit me.”

King said he considers himself lucky to be recovering from only minor injuries. 

“I got hit pretty hard, but I don’t remember landing on the road. My legs were crunched pretty good, but over the course of the week I feel much better.”

The accident was King’s first time being hit by a car despite having “ridden tens of thousands of kilometres” in his life. 

King is one of three cyclists hit in the O’Connor bike lanes during its first few weeks of use. The first accident occurred only hours after the official opening on Oct. 25 at Waverley Street — just blocks away from the launch ceremony. 

The cyclist was hit on the bike lane as the driver made a left turn onto Waverley. 

On Nov. 6 at the same intersection, another cyclist was hit as a van turned left, crossing through the bike lane. That collision was caught on video, and the van driver was charged with failing to yield the right of way. 

Last month, Carleton University student Katie Rychliski was hit by a car at an intersection while exiting the multi-use pathway at Island Park Drive and Carling Avenue. Rychliski — who also routinely rides downtown — was cycling home from Carleton and heading north on Island Park.

Rychliski suffered cracked ribs and a concussion.

“Adding signs that say watch for bikers at crossings would be worth it,” she said.

King agreed that signs are important to warn drivers. 

“Where there are driveways and parking lots, they need big markings — maybe a symbol to alert cars that it’s a bicycle path with two directions… Almost like a stop sign.”

Still, King said keeping bikers safe isn’t entirely up to city planners — motorists must bear a part of  that responsibility, too.

“If drivers don’t look where they’re going, it’s not safe no matter what you do. That’s the bottom line.”