Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bronson and Cycling: Quite the opportunity. Really!

I've been up till the wee hours of the morning every night for the last couple of weeks, working on either Rescue Bronson Avenue materials or preparing for last night's CCCA Annual General Meeting (where I was acclaimed as President), or both! My head and body hurt from all this community work, but they're both very important causes.

However, the Bronson Avenue Public Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting is tonight (sorry, the City insists it's by invitation only), and I wanted to assemble these materials on cycling and Bronson in advance of that meeting.

I'll start off, curiously, with this photo of Garland Avenue in Hintonburg.

Garland is a small but important street that branches off the intersection of Wellington Street West and Somerset Street West. During the recent reconstruction of Wellington Street West (or "West Wellie", as Eric Darwin calls it), the project engineers and consultants concluded that there wasn't enough room on West Wellington for a bike lane. Instead of saying "oh well", they decided to improve the parallel cycling connection one block North on Spencer and Armstrong streets. Unfortunately, Garland, which connects Armstrong with Wellington and Somerset, was only one way. Cyclists would have to take a major detour to get from Armstrong back to Somerset. Still undeterred, the project participants decided to add a contra-flow bike lane to Garland to allow a two-way cycling connection along the route (which continues along Somerset West), alleviating this barrier.

Fast forward to Bronson Avenue. At the first PAC meeting for Bronson Avenue's reconstruction, I argued that Percy Street (one block East of Bronson) should be improved as part of the Bronson reconstruction, just as a parallel route had been arranged during the West Wellington reconstruction.

The project consultants scoffed. "Bronson isn't a designated cycling route in the Ottawa Cycling Plan," they said (paraphrased, of course), "and Percy Street isn't Bronson Avenue, so we have no responsibility to provide or improve cycling facilities on either street."

Well, here's a closeup of Centretown in the Ottawa Cycling Plan. Specifically, figure 3-4c on page 72. The brown lines are the "spine", or major, cycling routes on the City's cycling network, and the green lines are the "neighbourhood", or local cycling routes.

There's a big black box around Centretown that says "Proposed Cycling Network in downtown core to be reviewed as part of Transportation Master Plan Update and future transit strategies."

I don't recall any such review happening in the 2008 TMP update or in the workup to the DOTT project. As far as I'm aware, that black box still applies, and therefore the absence of a designated cycling route on Bronson isn't final. The Bronson reconstruction project should therefore consider cycling connections on or along Bronson. (Indeed they did, when they recommended widening the curb lanes, justifying it as better for the 50 or so cyclists per day who use Bronson. Unfortunately, the curb lanes would not be wide enough to meet the minimum standard for a shared car/bike lane, and would just encourage motorists to pass cyclists dangerously within the same lane. A narrower lane is actually safer in this case because motorists are more inclined to wait behind a cyclist until they can safely change lanes to pass.)

But I'm just getting started. Bronson's reclaimed width from a road diet (see link at end of post) is better served with sidewalks and landscaping than bike lanes.

The lines on the above map are pretty vague. For example, they don't tell you how easy it is to cross at major intersections, nor does it tell you which streets are one way. The printed copy of the Ottawa Cycling Map also doesn't show one-way streets, which reinforces many cyclists' misperception that one-way laws don't apply to them.

So to understand Centretown's cycling network better, let's look from the perspective of cyclists travelling in a specific direction.

First, let's look at a southbound cyclist heading toward the Queensway underpass at Percy. The magenta arrows show potential routes, the green circles are signalized crossings on a calm street, and the yellow circles indicate busy streets with signalized crossings at busy streets.

Coming from all the way up at Wellington Street, you can take the new Lyon Street bike lane, then cross over to Bay Street at the north end via Slater (whoops, my bad. I traced the map's line on Slater, which actually goes the other way--see what I mean about unclear one-ways?) or all the way down at Arlington, or at nearly any street in between. Lyon and Percy both have traffic signals at the major cross-streets (namely Somerset and Gladstone), and Percy is a calmer alternative to Lyon, though both now have southbound bike lanes.

Coming from anywhere East of this is the same story: you can easily connect anywhere at Lyon or Percy.

Coming from Dalhousie neighbourhood west of Bronson is a bit tougher. Bronson is the thick blue line. To cross it (without riding south along Bronson and making a left-hand turn), you have to cross at either Somerset or Gladstone. Both of these intersections have lights, but neither is a particularly fun street to cycle on. Quiet at times, but not fun. There is a lot of right-turning traffic, and the intersections aren't straight.

Here's Gladstone looking West (there's the infamous Yellow House in the background). It's a big, ugly intersection for cyclists, and pedestrians have to zig-zag away from Gladstone to use the crosswalk.

Here are four cyclists lined up on Somerset, waiting to cross the four lanes of traffic on Bronson. The photo was taken before the Arch construction began. They're actually supposed to be back behind the stop line (the big white bar at the bottom of the photo), but then most motorists don't do that either. The cyclists are probably eager to get away past Bronson!

At either Somerset or Gladstone, once you've crossed the crooked intersection, you still have to share a lane with motorists, which are plentiful at rush hour. Most cyclists squeeze past cars on the passenger side, and risk getting the right hook as the cyclist goes straight and the motorist turns right.

Another issue I raised at the first PAC meeting is that there are no safe pedestrian crossings between Gladstone and Catherine. They came back at a subsequent meeting suggesting Flora, which is halfway through this stretch. What is really needed, though, is a safe pedestrian crossing at Bronson and Arlington, shown below.

In the above photo, taken yesterday, a pedestrian has crossed the two southbound lanes of traffic, and is waiting on the centre line to ford the two northbound lanes.

Arlington is the only small street that intersects with Bronson on both sides; all the other have T intersections. As a result, it is a popular pedestrian route, despite the Frogger-like crossing patterns. A safe crossing here would provide refuge for pedestrians, as well as a safe alternative to cyclists from Chinatown who want to head South to the Glebe, Carleton University, and Old Ottawa South.

Next, let's look at northbound cycling routes in the Bronson corridor. Well, there's really only one practical one if we're avoiding busy streets like Bronson and Kent, and obeying the law. Percy has a two-way path, but only as far north as Flora. From there, you have to jog West one block to Bay to continue northbound as far as you'd like. Most cyclists just continue up Percy, especially if they're planning to turn at Gladstone.

The two red circles, not seen in the previous map, show the major flaw with Bay as a viable cycling route: there are no traffic signals at Gladstone or Somerset. This means you have to wait for traffic to be light enough to cross two (Gladstone) or four (Somerset) lanes of arterial traffic.

Here's a Google Street View screenshot of what cyclists have to wait for at Bay. The car on the right is on Bay waiting to cross.

Similarly, here is the situation at Somerset, much worse even. And on both of these corners, you can't see far enough down the cross street if you stay behind the stop line as the law technically requires.

These crossings are, in fact, intentionally inconvenient. If there were traffic signals at Somerset and at Gladstone, Bay street would be far more attractive to motorists as a northbound route. As it is now, Bay is a safe, relatively peaceful residential street that allows motorists to get to Somerset or Gladstone, and continue North on the nearest major road.

Where should cyclists go, then? I'll get to that in a minute.

That's because there's one last traffic pattern to consider: north-west bound cyclists. If you are coming up from the Glebe and are headed to Dalhousie neighbourhood or further west, assuming once again that you follow the official bike routes and don't take Bronson, there's only one reasonable legal route for you to take.

The magenta line on the map above shows that as you come up on Percy, you are supposed to travel to Bay one block east--when you're trying to go west--and then continue up Bay to Gladstone or Somerset, where you must then turn left without a signalized intersection. You then must take the busy east-west street of your choice and cross Bronson, all while avoiding left- and right-turning vehicles.

However, the green line shows how much easier it could be to cross Bronson if there were proper signals at Arlington. Technically, you can do it now, but since Arlington isn't a cycling route, there aren't any signs or indiations to encourage you to consider turning left there. Once you've crossed Bronson, you can continue on Arlington and turn up any of the streets there to get to where you're going--or take it all the way to Booth.

For those who still want to get to Gladstone or Somerset, I recommend that we convert Percy into a two-way cycling route, and reclassify Bay from a major cycling route to a local bike route. This wouldn't be too difficult to do.

Here's a view looking south down Percy around MacLaren/Gilmour. There is parking on the east side of the street and a bike lane on the west side. Really, it's a quiet enough street that you don't even need the bike lane, but the lane helps to discourage parking on the west side of the street. Built in a pre-sharrow world, the lane was the best way of indicating a cycling route.

Looking back in the opposite direction, here's an ugly rendition of how we can easily convert Percy street to a two-way bike route that I put together with MS Paint.

You move the parking to the west side, then add a contra-flow northbound bike lane to the east side. To reinforce the southbound lane as a cycling route, you add sharrows. They do this in Montréal and it is a great way of indicating a quiet side street as a cycling route without shoving cyclists off into the gutter.

So to summarize, here's a map of the Bronson-parallel bike routes through Centretown:

East-West, Bronson is not pleasant to cross at Somerset or Gladstone. We have an opportunity to make a pleasant crossing at Arlington. North-south, Bay Street has two unsignalized intersections at Somerset and Gladstone that make it unpleasant as a northbound route; by contrast, Percy is a pleasant and convenient southbound cycling route that can be converted to two-way relatively easily, and should be as part of the Bronson Avenue reconstruction.

This cycling connectivity is just one of many opportunities afforded by the reconstruction of Bronson Avenue, which doesn't sacrifice Bronson's role as a major arterial road. So far, the City has refused to consider these opportunities. Hopefully they are more receptive at the PAC meeting tonight, so we can start working together to explore and implement them.

For more details on the fight to get a better Bronson Avenue, visit, and sign the Rescue Bronson Avenue petition.
Edit: further reading on cycling route connectivity is available in the recently-posted Vélo Québec peer review (PDF) of Ottawa's segregated bike lane project. While much of the 23-page report is about segregated bike lanes, route connectivity is addressed as well.


  1. Yes, Percy should be a bi-directional bicycle route.

    To be clear, it already is for the 1km length south of Flora. It's just the northern 1.1km stretch that needs to be changed.

    I realize the focus in this blog is Bronson north of the Queensway, but there are some issues further south.

    Percy south of the Queensway is not marked as a bike lane, and there are several intersections that don't have stop signs. Traffic is so calm here, I am a big fan of biking on Percy even without a bike lane.

    If you want to get from the Glebe to Carling Ave, there's no legal way to do this without having to a) bike on Bronson and then b) take a left turn on Carling. This is seriously uncomfortable.

    A solution to this is to go along Percy, then go one block west on Glebe Ave, which is a one-way headed east. I haven't yet looked up if the fine is less for riding on the sidewalk or riding on a one way street the wrong way, but Glebe Ave. is far, far preferable to dealing with any part of Bronson.

    The best thing we can do to deal with cycling and Bronson is to not have to bike on Bronson. We need alternatives.

    - A

  2. I think this presents a good solution, but will note that it runs into the basic problem of what to do when Percy ends at the North - how do you get from there to Downtown? TO the Bridges?

    Regarding signalised intersections, at the bike paths in Vancouver, they put Bike controlled intersections (check out Ontario Street at West 12th and you can see a cyclist using this feature) Map

  3. Hi Alex, keep those comments on hand for when the consultations resume on the south side of the Queensway. That's on hold, I believe, since the reconstruction itself is still a few years off.

    Chris, there are lots of quiet east-west streets through Centretown. Also check out the City's proposal for an east-west segregated bike lane on Laurier (, which would provide pretty good connectivity east (to U of O/Sandy Hill) and west (to Lebreton Flats and beyond).

  4. Charles - I am still reliving my one year frustration when I commuted from Gatineau - I could take either Booth Street Bridge or Portage, but that meant a portion of riding on Bronson (and making a left at Nepean? off Bronson to get to Percy) or Booth up the hill with cars trying to pass me. Neithe rideal, but otherwise it meant riding over to Lyon.

    Not the biggest deal in the world, but a huge gap in the bike connectivity, especially considering the amount of people who work at Place du Portage or Terrasses de la Chaudiere.

    On that note, far and away the best option for getting from the Glebe to Dalhousie is crossing Bronson at 5th or Powell. Similarly, from the south, crossing at Fifth and riding through the park is the easiest way to access Carling.

  5. The suggestion that (1) as Bronson isn't a designated cycle route the reconstruction shouldn't take cyclists into account and (2) a light on Flora would change anything is really quite shocking.

    The first, I think, goes without saying. Transportation planning needs to be integrated.

    In terms of the second, as you point out, Arlington is the only through street at Bronson. It's also two ways and a quiet residential street. Putting a light at Flora would push cyclists onto Bronson and require needless left hand turns onto what is a busy and dangerous road for cyclists in its current form.

  6. Chris - You wouldn't have to ride on Bronson with improvements on a connection through Commission from the Albert street pathway to Bronson/Slater, and further to Laurier/Percy. Both would be needed to connect the proposed Laurier pilot bike lane to anything useful on that end, as outlined by Eric Darwin on his Laurier Bike Lane posts. Coincidentally, this would align perfectly with the top end of Percy.

    Pete - it won't be smooth sailing, but there were some hopeful points about the Arlington crossing. The pedestrian counts at that intersection aren't high enough to warrant a signal (go figure--there isn't a signal!), but if we get Council to put a signal there, it will be included in the budget for the Bronson reconstruction.

    As for the Percy study, they're insistent that it can't be handled in the Bronson review. That might be a blessing in disguise, because (a) we could look at the entire stretch down through the Glebe, too, and (b) do we really want these guys to be planning our bike routes?