Biking in Centretown

As a new resident in Centretown, an avid cyclist and bike commuter I thought I might try to get a discussion rolling on two wheeled transportation within as well as to and from this central neighbourhood.

For an able-bodied cyclist who likes to race cars, Centretown can be a pleasure to ride in. Biking is the fastest, most convenient way to get around its grid-pattern streets and find free parking on its many bike racks. Cyclists also enjoy relatively low-speed car traffic and many amenities within minutes.

This last spring, my view of this seemingly idylic set of conditions changed dramatically this when a car door opened in front of me while I was riding down Bank St. Luckily there were no cars in the adjacent lane and I ended up with only two very sore knees where they hit the inside of the door. It occurred to me that this accident was preventable with the right infrastructure. As good as biking in Centretown is it would be a lot safer with the implementation of a neighbourhood-wide bike plan based on a network of bike lanes.

There are some great opportunities for new lanes on some of the larger roads. This being said, bus traffic is a definite barrier to implementing bike lanes on Bank St and to a lesser degree Somerset West. Also, the prevalence of on-street parking means that dooring continues to be a risk wherever bikers find themselves between traffic and parked cars. New bike lanes should take these things into account .

The issue of on-street parking is one of the many considerations shaping the discussion on the upcoming O'Connor Bikeway. The current study has asked participants to imagine a redesigning of O’Connor that maintains two lanes of one-way traffic without changes to the current curb lines. At its widest between Laurier and Gladstone, O’Connor can accommodate two lanes of moving cars, bike lanes in both directions with a buffer and a lane of parking. Cutting out parking could provide additional bike space in this current phase or allow for other changes to the streetscape in a future remodelling which includes sidewalks. Since I occasionally take advantage of free parking on O’Connor during the weekends, my self-interest leans me towards keeping one lane of parking. Ideally, I would like to see a bi-directional bike path and parking on opposite sides of the street.

Somerset West is a natural candidate for dedicated lanes as it connects to the Somerset bridge to the East and basically goes all the way to Westboro (albeit with some name changes as it turns into Wellington and Richmond). In the summer, I see more people biking on Somerset than I see on the Laurier bike lanes, especially East of Bank. West of Bank, bus traffic on Somerset West is an issue but I believe that, with good design, bike lanes and buses can co-exist as long as buses have space to turn into stops.

What other corridors could make up a Centretown bike network? There are already some lanes on Percy and Bay though these are in poor repair and end at Somerset. Personally, I think Kent is a good candidate as it extends from the Queensway to Wellington. Like O’Connor, Kent has parking on two sides of the street, though the parking on the West side north of Somerset seems underused. As on O’Connor, I think a bi-directional bike path would really positively affect transportation patterns on that side of Bank.

In many ways, biking in Centretown is much better than many other areas in Ottawa. Ironically this is partly due to how many cars use it but is also influenced by more subtle factors such as the prevalence of one way streets, its almost perfectly flat topography and the general character of the neighbourhood. Ultimately, for me, it is the fast access to amenities such as groceries, the library, city hall as well as the canal and other public places (Dundonald Park) that really make it a bikeable neighbourhood despite serious safety issues.

Because of its relatively high bikeability, it is hard for me to say that Centretown urgently needs a comprehensive bike network. Relatively-speaking we are well served and other neighbourhoods have a much greater need to foster active transport. Hopefully the Coalition becomes a powerful voice to this effect.

Please comment or start your own thread. I’d love to start a discussion on these blogs about biking or other transportation-related issues in Centretown.

What do people think about street parking and buses? What streets should/should not become bike corridors?