Edit: see also Kate Jaimet's push for the Segregated Bike Lane in an editorial in Friday's Citizen
I sent the following message (sans photos) tonight to Citizens for Safe Cycling's public discussion e-mail list in advance of CfSC's Board meeting, where they will be considering their position on the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane pilot project (see ottawa.ca/bikelane). You can view the message in the archives here. It is unfortunate that nobody on Council seems to want to champion this project.
I will not be at the [CfSC Board] meeting tonight [where the Board will be considering whether or not to support the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane pilot project], but I hope that CfSC's Board chooses to support this pilot project and would like to share my thoughts on the topic.
This proposed lane goes entirely across Centretown, from the Rideau Canal to Bronson, and as President of the Centretown Citizens Community Association (www.centretowncitizens.ca) I have heard many concerns from residents.
These concerns are not unfounded, but as CfSC's policy on bike lanes states, these issues must be addressed. On Tuesday, the CCCA's Transportation Committee met with the City's SBL project manager, Colin Simpson, who explained how these issues would be addressed. The committee was satisfied and will be recommending to the CCCA's Board of Directors that the CCCA support the project.
Summary of concerns and response (as compiled and intepreted by me):
Concern: Loss of visitor parking for condos between Kent and Bronson.
Response: Parking will be added to the second side of Gloucester and Nepean to make up for every lost space. Colin will have diagrams showing each individual space ready on Friday or early next week.
Concern: Motorists will have difficulty coming out of driveways, either because the curb will block them, or they will have to pay special attention to cyclists.
Response: The curbs will have cuts at driveways and loading zones, just as sidewalks do. Because cyclists will be on the curb side of any parked cars, it will actually be easier to see them, because they will not be blocked by cars.
Concern: Where do Para Transpo and Taxis stop?
Response: A new Para Transpo loading zone has been added to the plans on Laurier on the North side, between Bay and Lyon. They may add another at the northwest corner of Bay.
Concern: Too few connections to other facilities
Response: While I want Percy to be converted to a two-way cycling route (see my proposal here), Colin observes that there isn't enough room for cyclists to pass under the new Chinatown Royal Arch, and suggests crossing Bronson and going down Primrose/Empress/Cambridge/etc. to connect to Somerset. There are also opportunities to connect to the Albert street pathway, and up Bay to Wellington (the NCC is looking at improving the connection along Wellington between Bay and the Portage Bridge).
Concern: What about pedestrian safety?
Response: Pedestrians will have an increased buffer from motorists.
Concern: People are skeptical about the pilot nature of the project, suspect that once the concrete is poured, that it will be permanent.
Response: No concrete will be poured, it will be entirely precast concrete bollards that can be easily removed if Council decides following the mandatory evaluation after two years.
Concern: This will take money away from other cycling projects; it's
Response: This was one of my (Charles') major concerns initially, but instead I've seen it to draw a lot more attention for cycling projects elsewhere. The project team has also reduced costs and simplified travel by proposing a five-second advance straight-arrow for all traffic instead separate advance bicycle signals (which would risk cyclists trying to turn left across the general traffic lanes in the advance signal). Hopefully Councillor Wilkinson, the new Chair of Transportation Committee, will continue the investment we've seen in recent years, and as mandated by the 'Legendre Motion' this past year.
Concern: Safety of pedestrians, cyclists, etc. Will cause many more collisions.
Response: Up to 70% of the traffic already on Laurier already is pedestrian traffic. As such, motorists must already drive carefully. Some turn movements are already banned due to high pedestrian traffic (e.g. Laurier and Bank).
Concern: We should be spending money on education to improve cyclists'
skills, not infrastructure to make them "feel" safe.
Response: It is not an either-or debate. We can--and should--have both. Remember the four Es of cycling safety: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement.
Concern: Laurier isn't the best street for this.
Response: More than twice as many cyclists use Laurier already than either Somerset or Gladstone. The latter two are not close to the Central Business District, which is the destination for most commuters. Other streets are even less well suited, because they do not cross Centretown continuously, and have no connections at all on either side. It should be observed that the Bank Street BIA has claimed that Laurier is not be best street, but they have refused to suggest an alternative. The BIA has said that the best route should instead be chosen by "experts". However, Laurier IS the street the experts (i.e. Vélo Québec, which has a lot of experience with segregated bicycle lanes) have said is the best one, particularly given strong opposition to Somerset by.... the Bank Street BIA!
Personally, I am not the most enthused about this facility (I even opposed them earlier), but I am willing to admit that I don't know enough to say they will definitely fail in Ottawa. The only way we can tell is with a proper trial, and I think the 2-year pilot project on Laurier will give us the most conclusive evidence possible as to whether or not these facilities can work in Ottawa.
Furthermore, the SBL has become a flashpoint for cycling in general in Ottawa, and opposing this milestone project risks putting the balance of power (and funds) into the hands of those who wish to spend nothing at all on cycling. There is a great opportunity to piggy-back on this project to get lots of cycling promotion and education. With a $1.4 million budget for this project, a small portion of that dedicated to programming (i.e. encouraging people to cycle and educating citizens about how to safely ride in traffic) would immediately multiply the City's annual spending on cycling programming.
Speaking for myself, but I am also:
Member and Former President, Citizens for Safe Cycling
President, Centretown Citizens Community Association
Vice-President, Dalhousie Community Association