Rider Submitted Suggestion

I got a detailed and well thought out suggestion last week from a reader, who is apparently an amateur traffic engineer in his spare time. It’s printed in full below. Got me thinking that our city is full of spots that are problematic for cyclists. If you know one, send it in and I’ll post them. Don’t spare the visual aids.

Two of the most extensive off-road bike paths through Waterloo (the Iron Horse Trail and the Laurel Trail) are separated by a short section of on-road bike bath between Caroline street and Waterloo Park. This kind of infrastructure makes a daily commute to the University of Waterloo or the Research and Technology Park quite enjoyable, aside from one intersection. The intersection at Erb & Caroline/Bridgeport is incredibly frustrating and likely very dangerous.

Northbound cyclists, need to turn left across Caroline/Bridgeport and enter the park via the NW corner. Southbound cyclists will want to exit via that corner, cross Erb, and merge into the bike lane on Caroline. Both of these are very difficult because of the Southbound traffic turning right off Bridgeport onto Erb.

Problems In Every Direction on Erb and Carline
Problems In Every Direction

Northbound cyclists need to cut across southbound right-turning traffic, which is difficult when that traffic has a green light. There is an enormous amount of traffic exiting that direction, and no legal reason for it to slow for cyclists. Left-turning northbound cyclists will often have to wait until the light goes yellow before hurrying through the intersection. Because of the width of the intersection, southbound drivers may not see left-turning northbound cyclists behind left-turning northbound cars. There is an advance left-turn signal at the intersection for cars, but there is no way for cyclists to trigger it. Left-turning northbound cars might also be confused because there are actually two stop lines for them at the intersection: one that the intersection proper, and one before the train tracks (in order to keep people from stopping on the tracks). This may cause drivers to stop before the tracks, preventing the advance left-turn from triggering.

South bound cyclists also need to cut across southbound right-turning traffic. While cyclists and pedestrians do have right of way in this case (and there is a sign telling drivers to yield to pedestrians and cyclists), visibility is greatly reduced by telephone poles on the corner, and right-turning traffic proceeds so quickly that drivers often don’t check when they have a green light. Because Erb St. left of Caroline is one-way, they may feel less cautious about turning quickly at the intersection because there is little chance of encountering traffic from the left. The sign urging drivers to yield isn’t working, at any rate.

Most of this also applies to pedestrians as well, who face the same obstacle when crossing the intersection southbound. Those pedestrians crossing north may have to deal with northbound drivers taking fast right turns onto Erb, and southbound drivers taking fast left turns onto Erb.

There are a few things that could be done to improve the intersection. First, there needs to be a way for northbound cyclists to trigger the advance left-turn signal. This could be done by implementing underground sensors, or by finding a way to install a manual bike signal (as seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spacing/1074673807/). A small pedestrian island separating the right turn lane from the left turn lane could be the perfect place for such a manual signal. (see fig 2)

To improve the visibility of cyclists and to eliminate the confusion of two stop-lines for cars, the area north of the train tracks could be turned into a bike box (A first for Waterloo?). Bike boxes are quite popular in a number of cities around the world, and Guelph as just installed its first. (http://www.guelphmercury.com/news/local/article/552715–education-key-to-proper-bike-box-use)

If the city really wanted to improve visibility of the bike lane (highlighting the continuity between the Iron Horse and the Laurel Trail) it could include painted bike lanes through the intersection to show cyclists how to safely pass through the intersection. (see fig 2)

The problem for southbound cyclists/pedestrians is a little more difficult to resolve easily. Firstly, the telephone pole needs to be moved to increase visibility to drivers. A signal button for pedestrians and cyclists could be installed that gives southbound drivers a red light, instead of expecting them to yield on a green light. It might be worth inserting a corner bulge on that corner, limiting Westbound Erb to one lane. It would likely have a minimal effect, because both lanes are rarely used at one at the intersection (left-turning northbound drivers tend to wait for right-turning southbound drivers to stop before turning left, rather than simply turning into the left lane.

There may well be big problems with these solutions, and there may be much better solutions available, but it seems ideal to get a discussion going and make some changes before someone gets hurt or killed on one of the main cycling arterials in the city.

11 thoughts on “Rider Submitted Suggestion

  1. Great entry… this kind of stuff is what I love to see in a blog.

    I’ve always just taken the lane in the left-turn lane and head for the trail. I guess it’s kind of legal but it always requires counting on a right-turner to yield long enough. I keep pointing to the trail so they’ll realise where I am going and hopefully choose to not run me over.

    The Iron Horse crossing of Victoria and Strange is also a bit of a pain to navigate, esp. if one doesn’t want to use Strange Street when heading north. Fairway & Wilson is a crazy intersection to navigate on bike but it’s not exactly a popular bicycle route right now either.

  2. I thought they had moved the painted lines on the northbound such that the bike lane now passes over the sensors under the road? I’ll have to check again sometime.

    1. They may have tried (that bike lane at the intersection is relatively new) but it certainly didn’t work. I check nearly every morning. =)

      In Toronto, when there are bike sensors, they’ve painted 3 dots on the road to let you know where to stop. (http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/525643) From my experience, they don’t work as well as the manual buttons in Vancouver, but they’re not bad.

      1. I had an advanced green this morning, but I think a car was in the other lane. I’ll have to check again. I’ve seen the three dots in Ottawa too, wonder why they can’t bring that here. (Maybe one of those guerilla bike-lane painting groups will decide to take that on!)

        I’ve found that most car sensors work with my frame, even though it is aluminium (though it may just be picking up my cycling cleats…)

      2. Used the intersection yesterday morning. Got the advanced green just fine in the bike lane, nobody was to the left of me.

  3. Those sensors are inductive loops of wire in the ground and anything conductive can be picked up by the loops if they are designed right. The small size of a bicycle and the big size of some sensors is what makes them unable to pick up the bicycle, not what kind of metal it is made of. I’ve triggered many a light on my aluminum bike too, so I went a googlin’… guess those folks that put magnets on their bikes are as silly as people who wear magnets on their wrists.

  4. Great post, and the biggest headache that many of us face every morning along the IronHorse Trail. I have never managed to get the left turn signal to work, unless a car pulls up beside me. I also think that Caroline St. could easily handle Waterloo’s first dedicated (protected) bike lane, as there is so much room to work with along the section connecting the IronHorse and the Waterloo Park trail. There are huge parking lots on both sides of Caroline! I don’t see why a few extra car parking spaces are needed along the roadway, other than to provide potential door prizes for cyclists, and to keep us pushed precariously close to passing vehicles on the left.

  5. Good post! I hit this intersection on a daily basis, mostly by cutting through the Square. I almost always use the pedestrian lights to make the diagonal cross during rush hour. In fact I’ve gotten so used to using the pedestrian lights that this intersection doesn’t really bother me.

    I can only recall taking a left few times during off-hours and have been surprised at how easy it is to use the left turn bike lane. Though in the morning as the author points out, you’re waiting for the yellow to turn left while facing three lanes of solid on coming traffic with most cars turning right.

    1. I decided to ask the Region’s Transportation Division about collisions at Erb & Caroline. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 5 bicycle-vehicle collisions at this intersection.

      I guess since the region has about 200 of these collisions a year, a 1-per-year average at this intersection might not be a major source of concern, but it still seems like a pretty terrible record to me.

Comments are closed.