Pretoria Bridge bike lanes still unsafe, cyclists say

Pretoria Bridge Bike Lane

November 25, 2010

Another Ottawa-based news site launched this week the community-driven Open File Ottawa.

I contributed a story to Open File Ottawa about the Pretoria Bridge bike lanes.

Pretoria Bridge bike lanes still unsafe, cyclists say

New lanes for cyclists on the Pretoria Bridge have improved what used to be a harrowing ride, but some aren’t satisfied with what they still see as an unsafe crossing.

The bridge has long caused headaches for cyclists, who often felt squeezed by passing cars and ended up riding on adjacent sidewalks – much to the chagrin of pedestrians. Starting in 2006, police spent summer months cracking down on those who left the roadway.

Signage on the bridge reminding cyclists to dismount, which remains to this day, wasn’t doing enough to get cyclists to follow the rules.

“The signage did not work,” says Robin Bennett, the city planner who worked on the Pretoria bike lanes. “So we took a look at the dimensions of the road surface between the curbs, and we realized that there was adequate space to put in a lane that meets the lowest standards the bicycle plan has for the bike lanes.”

At the end of the summer of 2010, the city painted new lanes – 1.2 metres wide in both directions on the bridge – that met the Ottawa Cycling Plan’s lowest standard for lane width.

Some cyclists don’t think that’s enough.

Richard Guy Briggs rides a recumbent tricycle. He says it helps him deal with back and neck problems. The tricycle is about a metre wide, bigger than the average bike, and it consumes the whole lane on the bridge – leaving him no room to manoeuvre if a car gets too close.

While he’s comfortable asserting his place on the road and driving in the car lanes, Briggs says some cyclists may be in danger.

“It gives some cyclists perhaps a false sense of security,” he says. “It has been shown that when bike lanes have been painted on the road, that motorists tend to come closer.”

Others have identified problems with turns, like Citizens for Safe Cycling’s Alex deVries.
Bennett says the city considered many options for Pretoria Bridge, including the removal of one
lane of traffic in each direction.

Mona Abouhenidy, the city’s program manager of transportation strategic planning, says reducing lanes is not an option because the bridge connects Elgin Street, Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Colonel By Drive just south of the Queensway.

“Based on the capacity the road needs to carry for the surrounding area, two lanes are required,” she says, adding that the bike lanes required a narrowing of the car lanes to the minimum width.

John Dance of the Old Ottawa East Community Association said in an email that the OECA supported the bike lanes, and they are “a considerable improvement over the previous situation.”

The city isn’t finished making life easier for cyclists on the bridge.

Bennett and Abouhenidy say the city is working on solving problems at the eastbound approach to the bridge.

Since the bike lane is on the right side of southbound traffic on Elgin Street, cyclists are sometimes cut off by cars making a right turn on to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, or to the small section of Elgin Street that continues south to Pretoria Avenue.

Bennett and Abouhenidy say the city is negotiating with the National Capital Commission, which owns some of the land around the bridge, to close that section of Elgin that connects to Pretoria.

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