The city's plan for the Elgin Street redevelopment suggests the use of 'sharrows' in the middle of the road to indicate that drivers and cyclists should share the street. Photo: City of Ottawa.

Elgin Street plan criticized for lack of segregated bike lanes

By Jackie Bastianon

As major reconstruction of Elgin Street begins this month in the heart of Centretown, some critics are questioning the lack of segregated bike lanes in the city’s planned revamp of the busy commercial strip.

“We were not surprised, but disappointed,” said Alex deVries, vice-president of Bike Ottawa, the city’s largest cycling advocacy group.

“There’s a good opportunity with these rebuilds to do something great,” he said. “What they’ve done is try to retain a lot of parking at the cost of comfort for cyclists on the street.”

Cyclists on Elgin will be expected to share the street with motorists, an arrangement to be indicated by images of bikes and share-arrows — or “sharrows” — painted on the road.

DeVries said many cyclists won’t feel comfortable taking up space in the middle of the road where the sharrows are marked. Instead they will tend to squeeze to the right between the cars and the sidewalk.

“This kind of behaviour will encourage drivers to pass them and, given how narrow the road is, there could be sideswipes or very close passes,” deVries said.

The sharrows are meant to signal to cars that cyclists have a place in the street, but Bike Ottawa member Etienne Grall said he’s skeptical of their effectiveness.

“Sharrows in my mind are the worst bike-specific piece of infrastructure,” he said. “It’s good for people who are confident on their bike, but it’s not great for people who aren’t confident or who have kids.”

Carleton University student Mason Hietkamp was involved in a collision last year while cycling in downtown Ottawa. Since then, he said he generally feels more comfortable cycling in designated lanes than on the street.

“I’ve been honked at on the road when there aren’t bike lanes. Drivers just assume that they’re entitled and bikers aren’t,” he said.

Don Grant is an avid cyclist in Ottawa and has been an advocate for improving cycling infrastructure and energy-efficiency in the downtown core. He said that the Elgin reconstruction may make the situation for bikes safer, if only slightly.

Don Grant is an avid Ottawa cyclist who lobbies for organizations such as Bike Ottawa for safer biking infrastructure in the city. Photo: Jackie Bastianon, Centretown News

“I wish all streets were like Main [Street in Old Ottawa East], but we’ll take it one step at a time, I guess,” said Grant. The “Complete Street” project on Main Street has been commended by the cycling community for the city’s decision to incorporate safe cycling lanes — elevated to curb height alongside sidewalks — into the design.

“The city has excellent people working on cycling in Ottawa and they’ve invested a lot more money in it than they ever have before,” Grant said. “Overall, things are great if you’re a cyclist, and they’re getting better.”

The lack of bike “shoulders” for Elgin Street is seen as a missed opportunity by Grall and deVries, but they acknowledge that infrastructure in Ottawa has improved greatly over recent years.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who cycles in Centretown himself, said he is working hard to balance the needs of the cycling community and the rest of the city.

“I have to try and navigate it,” he said. “It’s a compromise, that’s for sure.”