Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crossing the Driveway on Somerset West

[Oops! Looks like I scheduled this to go up on Tuesday instead of Monday. There might not be a Wednesday post this week.]

Here's a photo of Queen Elizabeth Drive and Somerset Street West back in 2006, when the yet-to-be-named Corktown Footbridge was still under construction. While the top layer of asphalt is scraped off anyway, there weren't any crosswalks painted at the intersection, nor were there stop signs. The traffic patterns at the intersection before the bridge was built didn't warrant it (at least in the NCC's eyes).

Once the bridge opened, that was another story. The hordes of pedestrians and cyclists crossing made it clear that the NCC would have to relent and put in stop signs. This shot, like the one above, is from my old blog following the construction progress of the bridge, over at pedbridge.blogspot.com. Note how the curb depression is partway in the crosswalk (for pedestrians) and partway in the intersection (for cyclists). The bridge design had a lot of input from the Ottawa Cycling Advisory Committee (which since merged into the current Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee)

Stop signs were also added on the bridge for cyclists approaching the crosswalk. A third stop sign (since removed) was intended to get cyclists to stop before crossing the pathway, designating the right-of-way to people continuing along the path. Maybe somebody pointed out that technically there should be stop signs for cyclists coming off the intersection, too, or maybe the sign was just vandalized and never replaced.

But there's a quirk with this intersection. There is a second street just West of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, which is called "The Driveway". (Abandon all hope if you ever have to describe this location over the phone, like to 3-1-1). The three tall buildings along the canal are 10, 20, and 40 the Driveway, respectively, and this street is how people can get out from 10 the Driveway, along Cooper. There's a stop sign on the Driveway at Somerset, but you'll note from this 2008 aerial view from the City of Ottawa's eMap application that the crosswalks aren't painted at the intersection of the Driveway and Somerset like they are at the Queen Elizabeth Driveay. (Curiously, the eMap doesn't show the footbridge in its schematic drawings...)

This is an important detail. Just about every other intersection in Centretown that has a stop sign also has a white stop line and/or crosswalk pained across the lane. I didn't realize how much I depend on these cues until I nearly ran a stop sign while driving in Aylmer, Québec, where these lines are mostly not painted. Like my enthusiasm for sharrows, I'm a strong believer that road markings are better at communicating than signs, which take your attention from the road (see Distracting Miss Daisy, a 2008 article in the Atlantic).

There's a brick crosswalk across Somerset here, which remains from when pedestrian and cyclist traffic patterns were much different prior to the footbridge. It reinforced to traffic on Somerset that pedestrians cross here so look out for them. (Photo August 2009)

This photo was taken in April 2007, nearly four years ago to the day. It was shortly after a friend of mine was hit by a taxi that ran that stop sign. He was riding from the bridge to where the camera is. He survived, but suffered some injuries to his person, and his bike and trailer were totaled.

I also had a close call at this intersection, where a motorist stopped, then started going even though I was right in his path. I noticed him early enough and yelled loudly enough that he stopped just in time for his front bumper to gently touch my bike's front fork. He pulled over and was very apologetic and gave me his information, and even though I was in shock from the incident I decided not to file a police report. (Thus saving up karma for my subsequent close call in Aylmer!)

Finally last October I e-mailed Councillor Holmes' office about this and suggested strongly that the City put some markings down here to reduce the chance of this from happening again. I got this promising reply from someone with a five-line job title (but something to do with traffic in the Public Works department) at the end of March 2011:
In regards to the intersection of Somerset St and The Driveway, stop bars and crosswalks will be painted at both northbound and southbound approaches.

Pavement markings are scheduled to be implemented this summer at the same time as other maintenance work for that area.
So look forward to seeing new lines there this summer!

You might have also noticed some change in the other scenery in the above photos. The Palestinian Delegation is at the North-West corner of this intersection. They renovated their building and did a major landscaping overhaul in 2008. Here's a shot from November 2008, in the middle of the grading for the parking area and walkway, and renovations of the porch.

Here it is in October 2009 (this shot also illustrates the "March of the Hirises" that started in the '60s and was stopped before they replaced all the old houses in the Golden Triangle). The two "no entry" signs are on The Driveway, and on the other side are stop signs for southbound traffic approaching Somerset.

And soon, there will be a painted stop line and crosswalk, too!


  1. Hi. I live at 88 Somerset St. W., in an apartment building called "The Elizabeth" (it is a 13 story white building in some of the photos).

    I cross the Corktown bridge frequently, and I also found it strange that there were no crosswalk lines when crossing The Driveway. Without the crosswalk lines, cars don't seem to stop as far back.

    I also find drivers stopping at the Queen Elizabeth Driveway are extremely impatient and aggressive. They often take the pedestrians' right of way and force them to step back. I mean, this can happen anywhere, but it seems worse at this intersection. I don't know why.

    On top of all of that, high speed bicycle traffic travelling in possible directions makes it extremely arduous for pedestrians. (I find that cyclists travelling North/South along the NCC cycle path aren't anticipating all the bicycle/pedestrian congestion here.)

    And don't even get me started on the narrow sidewalks on Somerset St. W. with so many people walking on them, and the narrow road with so many bicycles on it. But that's another story...

  2. Thanks for the feedback. Do leave a comment when the lines are painted.

    I'm usually on my bike there (and at low-traffic times) so I hadn't experienced the narrow-sidewalk problem as a pedestrian. I figured that N-S and E-W traffic conflicts, but I didn't realize how much of a problem it is.

    At the Queen Elizabeth Driveway intersection, I think the constant stream of pedestrians makes it hard for motorists to get a gap in traffic (hah! what a reversal!).

    A second element involves pedestrians generally not understanding that they have the right of way. Motorists will often also wave cyclists or pedestrians through when they have the right of way (more at other intersections and in other situations). Sometimes you can't see them waving you because of glare on their windshield, and sometimes they're just waving their hand in a conversation and not really waving you through.

    When combined, there's a lot of hesitation on all sides that delays everybody because they're not sure who's going to go first.