Dutch Design in the Nation’s Capital: Churchill Ave, Ottawa

This gives a good idea of how the street scape looks like. Here is an empty parking bay.
This gives a good idea of how the street scape looks like. Here is an empty parking bay.

It must have been around 2010 when Joel Mulligan mulled over a beer at Pub Italia: “if we could only have a bit of Dutch bike infrastructure in Ottawa, so that people can experience what safe cycling is really about“. Few people around the table could envision that four years later, Churchill would be that ‘bit of Dutch bike infrastructure’. And not just five meters, but an entire avenue.

Fifties design nearly put back in again

For those who don’t know Churchill Ave, it was an old style 50’s era wide road, with some parking on both sides; a connector between Carling Ave and on and off ramps of the Queensway (the highway through town) at the south end and Richmond Road at the north end. There are thousands of these ‘avenues’ in North America, with lots of wasted space.

As so many roads from that era, Churchill had to be ripped up for new sewer and water mains and this was a great opportunity to rethink the purpose of the road. But that wasn’t the original plan:

“(It) was to be a plain road reconstruction,” said Kitchissippi Coun. Katherine Hobbs [in Ottawa Community News], who asked for a re-work of the plan to better accommodate pedestrians and a growing number of cyclists.

“We actually lost a construction year due to the design work needed to create the best possible option. I’m impressed how hard city staff worked to accommodate everyone.”

Interesting enough, contrary to what we usually see in North America, there were no protests, no hours long discussions at the Transportation Committee, no angry letters to the editor. It appeared that everyone was cool with it.

Learning from the experts

The Dutch, as we all know, are about 40 years ahead in cycling design compared with North America, but we are catching up. The problem is that many Canadian road designers have not been exposed to any form of cycling infrastructure. And if that is the case, a city can decide either not to go ahead with bike infrastructure due to a lack of knowledge (or resentment at the planners side) or get the experts in. The City of Ottawa decided to choose the latter option.

Dutch design

Enter Mobycon from the Netherlands. The Dutch designers have been working hand in hand with the city to design something that works for North America (remember, we can’t have bike signals as that is not described in the Highway Traffic Act). They gave work shops, discussed through Skype, sent ideas through email until everyone agreed. The City put cross rides in so that you don’t have to get off your bike (there are still traffic planners in Ottawa who do not believe in cross rides and want cyclists to walk their bike if they come from a path).

Laurier Bike Lane already proved that there was demand for a protected bike lane, but is it far from ideal the way it looks today. The raised bike tracks on Churchill look a lot better already.

Remain vigilant

Sunday I went out to see the finished product. Little did I know that the lanes opened a day later yesterday. Too bad the orange road barrels are still there but you get the picture. Expect similar designs on O’Connor, Main Street, Albert Street and perhaps even Slater eventually after the Light Rail stuff is in place in 2018. Also expect other cities to visit Ottawa to check it out. I don’t expect it will be the busiest bike route ever, but it will be interesting to see how it is going to be used.

All this doesn’t mean that you can now cycle without light, listening to music and not signal. Cycling safety starts with you. Be vigilant, anticipate what drivers are going to do and use your senses to listen and see what happens around you. You are still part of traffic.

And what happened to Joel? He moved to fricking Copenhagen so he can sit on a car free square in December, wrapped in colourful blankets underneath an outdoor heater, just when things are going to change in Ottawa!

Note the strip of pavers between the path and the passenger side of the car to avoid dooring.
Note the strip of pavers between the path and the passenger side of the car to avoid dooring.
There is lots of space for parking, there was no need for parking bays everywhere.
There is lots of space for parking, there was no need for parking bays everywhere.
This is how the intersection with Irene Crescent used to look like.
This is how the intersection with Irene Crescent used to look like. (Google Streetview)
Clearly marked cross rides in green. The white painted blocks on each side are called 'elephant feet' apparently.
This is how the same intersection looks like today. Clearly marked cross rides in green. The white painted blocks on each side are called ‘elephant feet’ apparently. I am not entirely sure what those triangles are supposed to indicate. The left ones point towards traffic, but the one on the right point away from the traffic. I am guessing it means ‘raised surface’.
Cyclists need to stop for pedestrians as the white stop line indicates.
Cyclists need to stop for pedestrians as the white stop line indicates. Notice the path veers away from the intersection to provide a better angle for drivers to see approaching cyclists.
Approaching a bus stop, cyclists have to yield. The zigzaggy part is teh crossing area where bus passengers can be expected to get on and off the bus. The triangles in front of the zigzag design are called 'shark teeth'. I expect -like in the Netherlands' they indicate 'yield'. I assume there will be signs too. Most of them were still covered with plastic bags when we cycled there.
Approaching a bus stop, cyclists have to yield. The saw blade marking indicates the crossing area where bus passengers can be expected to get on and off the bus. The triangles in front of the saw blade markings are called ‘shark teeth’. I expect -like in the Netherlands’ they indicate ‘yield’. I assume there will be yield signs too. Most signs (there are a lot)  were still covered with plastic bags when we cycled there.
All good things come to an end and so do bike tracks. Here is the north end of the tracks, easing on to the road again.
All good things come to an end and so do bike tracks. Here is the north end of the tracks, easing on to the road again.

It is not so clear from the pictures, but the road is getting another layer of paving. If you look carefully, you’ll notice a rumble strip pressed in the concrete along the  bike path. That is designed for the visibly impaired so they won’t  walk on to the bike tracks. I am not sure if they will work though.

Brian cycled the entire track south to north with the camera running. Take a look:

Read more about Mobycon here.

Read about Mobycon’s Kickstand sessions here.

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Dutch Design in the Nation’s Capital: Churchill Ave, Ottawa

  1. I like what I see in the photos but I have not been there (yet).

    Something that is LESS good in my opinion is the blue and white posts added to Bronson between Carleton U and the north side of the canal bridge. They are built IN the bike lane so leave little room for cycling. One must go dead straight or a pedal can catch a post or the high curb. Also, coming south off the canal bridge, the posts start too soon and at 35-40 kph down the hill it is impossible to swerve into the lane behind the posts, so all the cyclists I have seen (myself included) stay OPUTSIDE the posts until we reach the Carleton entrance This rather defeats the good intentions of the City. I would prefer NO posts – any comments???

    Like

  2. Looks good! The two sets of two white triangles are to inform drivers that the cycle-track is raised, hence the “mountain base to mountain peak” orientation to denote a rise in “elevation”.

    Cross rides are great! Somebody please remove the dismount signs on the Byron and Scott St paths. Nobody dismounts. It’s like requiring drivers to turn their cars off at stop signs.

    Like

    1. The “Shark Teeth” triangles are used around the world to mark yields, like at a roundabout, with the point facing towards traffic. Here, they seem to mark elevation changes with the point away from traffic, but on the bike lane they are used as a yield marking at the bus stop with the point facing traffic. In Ontario, yield is usually marked with a broken (dashed) stop bar.

      Like

    1. There is a lot of this in the pipeline for the next few years. Problem is currently capacity at the planners. I expect even more pressure over the next years as more and more people discover the benefits of cycling and will want more of it and fast. Note the communities who expressed frustration around St Patrick when the road planners refused to put bike infra in.

      Like

  3. The HTA doesn’t prevent bicycle signals per se. A city can put up signal lights for a bike lane just as it can for any other lane, including bus lanes and streetcar lanes. That’s because bicycles are considered vehicles under the HTA, so anything that can be done for a car can be done for a bike. What the HTA (or, rather, its regulations, since traffic signal design isn’t fully specified in the Act itself) does prevent is the use of smaller-sized signals with bicycle pictograms on them. But it could use regular full size traffic signals and simply mark it “Bike Lane” for clarity, as is done for bus lanes.

    Like

      1. Theoretically yes that would work, but it’s easier (and cheaper) to put up a standard 8-8-8 signal with a sign that reads “Bicycle Signal.”

        8-8-8 signals reference bulb size. Most signals are 12-8-8 or 12-12-12.

        Like

  4. Hello! I am a journalism student competing a story about the Churchill Avenue Rehabilitation for my reporting class. My professor requires a photograph be included with story submissions and unfortunately I will not be able to take a photograph myself. If possible, I would very much appreciate permission to use one of the photographs you have posted above (with proper credit given).
    Thank you for your time!

    Like

  5. “We can’t have bike signals as that is not described in the Highway Traffic Act”.

    Actually that’s not true. We can have bicycle signals for the same reason we can have left turn signals, transit signals, hazardous goods truck signals, right turn signals etc. The Highway Traffic Act lays out that vehicles must obey signals, and it also includes bicycles in the definition of a “vehicle”. The “it’s not in the HTA” argument is a red herring often used by engineers to avoid learning something new. The HTA is the “rules of the road” in the sense of how road users must act, not how the road itself must be built. There are only a few regulations on road design, and those are very general. It certainly does not need to describe things specifically in order for them to be permitted. The bulk of guidance for road design comes from the Ontario Traffic Manual. And as of June 2014, we have an entire book of the OTM entitled “Bicycle Traffic Signals” (Book 12A)!

    Even back then there were already countless examples of bicycle signals in Ontario. Some of the examples in Toronto off the top of my head included: Eglinton Ave & Allen Rd, Harbord St & Queens Park Cir and Lakeshore Blvd & Ontario Dr (though that last intersection has a notoriously dangerous design).

    What was prohibited at the time of this article was to have bicycle-shaped lenses on the signals. The HTA regulation on traffic signals specifically required amber and red aspects (lights) to be circular. So our bicycle signals are distinguished instead with a sign that says “Bicycle Signal”. The recent revision to the HTA was supposed to include permitting bicycle-shaped lenses, but I haven’t double-checked to make sure that actually happened.

    Like

    1. Thanks for this insight. Coincidentally I talked to a traffic planner in Ottawa today and I mentioned the bicycle shaped lenses as I have already saw them in Calgary this month and also in Quebec. I understood from him that they are coming too to Ontario now. Not sure if you are from Ottawa, but we need the French text for “Bicycle Signal” (“Feux pour Cyclistes”) too, which makes the signs rather large compared to a lens.

      Like

      1. Ontario Bill 31, which contains the HTA changes including bicycle signals, received Royal Assent on June 2nd, 2015, but based on the current text HTA on the Provincial website, they haven’t come into effect yet. The changes are summarized here: http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?BillID=3057.

        My understanding of the new law is that bicycle lenses in themselves require bicycles to obey the signal, which eliminates the need for the “Bicycle Signal/Feux pour Cyclistes” signage in you have in Ottawa, or the “Bicycle Signal” signage we have here in Toronto.

        As a side note, “Bicycle Signal” signs were never required on Churchill, regardless of these HTA changes. Those signals always display the same indication as the main traffic signals, so there’s no need to make them apply specifically to bicycles. They are simply “auxiliary signals” positioned to be visible to bicycles. This is proven by the fact that there’s only one bicycle signal head per direction. If the bicycle signal displayed a different indication than the main traffic signals at any point, two signal heads per approach would have been required.

        Like

      2. I wonder if that’s why the new cycle lights at Slater and Bronson are covered up. Could they be bicycle lens just waiting to be uncovered?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s