University Avenue Reconstruction update

Last week, I criticized regional staff’s recommendation of painted on-street bike lanes in the planned reconstruction of Universty Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way.  The matter was about to go before the Planning and Works committee for approval.

Here is the road cross-section the report recommended:


I attended the P&W Committee meeting to delegate on behalf of TriTAG, a transportation advocacy organization for more balanced and efficient transport in our region.  My main points were:
– The notion that off-street bicycle paths would disrupt the continuity of cycling along the corridor is factually incorrect.
– A fully off-street (i.e. in-boulevard) bicycle path would have neither of the disadvantages staff used to dismiss cycle tracks: it would not be any more expensive than on-street lanes, and it would actually be easier to effectively maintain in winter.

The full text of my delegation is included at the bottom of this post.

Here’s what I had in mind:


Sadly I fear that my message may have been muddled by the off-hand remarks I made at the start of my delegation about the project’s limited public consultation.  The only question I received was in relation to these comments. Similarly, the meeting’s minutes highlight them and glaze over the actual content of my presentation.

Following my presentation the committee had a brief discussion of the matter on the agenda.

Councillor Jane Mitchell supported my comments and raised the fact that the project was never forwarded to the region’s Active Transportation Advisory Committee for comment.

Commissioner Thomas Schmidt elaborated slightly on the staff report’s concerns about continuity.  He noted that transitioning off the street for this segment would create new conflicts and complicate intersection design.  These are fairly detailed issues that I will address in a future post.

To me, the most welcome comment came from councillor Sean Strickland, who asked why we need to have this debate every time a road comes up for reconstruction.  He suggested that the region update its guidelines on cycling infrastructure to reflect the community’s demand for physical separation between bicycles and fast-moving motor traffic.

I had planned to make a very similar comment in my presentation, but had to cut it out due to time constraints.  I think this is an excellent direction for discussion, and I hope we can use this particular project as a venue to tailor a new standard design of cycling infrastructure for fast-moving suburban arterial roads.

In the end, the committee decided to defer the decision by referring the project report to the Active Transportation Advisory Committee.

Next Steps

I am not on the Active Transportation Advisory Committee, so I’m not sure what else can be contributed to the process by myself or other interested members of the public.  My plan is simply to provide commentary and background on this blog that could be useful to members of that committee.

For more information on the project, interested individuals can refer to:

Transcript of Delegation

This is the script I brought to the meeting.  It should be noted that I added a few off-hand remarks about consultation at the beginning, which resulted in me running out of time and needing to skip a few of the paragraphs near the end.

[Greetings, thanks]

I am here on behalf of TriTAG to address some concerns we have with the University Avenue Reconstruction report with respect to cycling infrastructure.

First of all, we would like to recognize and commend the regional council for following through with the cycling master plan whenever roads come up for reconstruction.

In this case, we believe there is a real opportunity for the region to do much better than what is recommended in the report before you today.

The recommended facility type is buffered bicycle lanes, which are on-street bicycle lanes separated by nothing other than two strips of paint 60 centimetres apart.

The report indicates that separate cycling infrastructure was dismissed to ensure “continuity” with the adjoining segments which have painted on-street lanes.  This could be interpreted in two ways:
– either staff are not familiar with the methods of seamlessly connecting on-street lanes to off-street paths through the use of a ramp,
– or the unappealing nature of the adjoining bike lanes is used as a justification for the similarly unappealing bike lanes proposed for this newly reconstructed segment.

Needless to say, neither option is a satisfactory justification of dismissing safe cycling infrastructure.

The decision to proceed with buffered bicycle lanes hopeufully included more thought than that, but since the full report was not available online and no other justification is provided in today’s agenda, I can only speculate on the other factors that may have been considered.

Reading between the lines of the November 4th public consultation materials, it seems that the only form of separate infrastructure considered was a cycle track immediately adjacent to the roadway, separated by a raised curb or gutter.  This option was dismissed on the basis that it would be expensive and create challenges for snow clearance.

We certainly that both issues are valid concerns.  However, neither applies to a bicycle path that is entirely separate from the roadway.  That option is the design we consider to be the most appropriate for a fast and busy road such as University Avenue, yet it does not seem to have been considered.

The Region’s Active Transportation Master Plan suggests that an off-street path is actually cheaper to build than a sidewalk, so there’s a good chance that it is also cheaper than the 4.2 metres of roadway widening required to accommodate buffered bike lanes.

Furthermore, fully separate lanes are actually easier to maintain in winter than painted lanes such as buffered lanes.  On-street lanes lack physical separation from the roadway, so they quickly become filled with road grime kicked up by cars soon after they are cleared.  This means that even though we are going through the trouble of clearing the bike lanes, they are still unusable in winter.  Maintaining the bike lanes to a useable standard would take persistent and perpetual cleaning.  In contrast, once an off-street bicycle path gets cleared, it stays clean until the next snowfall.

Given that the option we consider to be the most appropriate for University Avenue was not even considered, we hope that the committee will not accept the recommendations in this report, but will instead, in consultation with members of the community, seek to develop a truly protected design for bicycle facilities that strives to make cycling accessible to everyone.

As an aside, I would like to point out that the issues we are discussing here apply to just about every arterial road reconstruction project.  To put it simply, most people will not consider cycling to their destination if it involves riding on the road alongside fast-moving automobile traffic.  We should be updating our guidelines so that we stop proposing cycling infrastructure that does exactly that, and instead aim to make cycling attractive to people of all ages and abilities, from children to seniors to athletic adults.

Adopting this high standard would vastly improve the return on investment of active transportation infrastructure, especially in cases like this one where the safer and more attractive form of infrastructure is actually cheaper to build and maintain than staff’s preferred design.

Thank you.

3 thoughts on “University Avenue Reconstruction update

  1. Hello! I am just back from a visit to Ottawa. “If you build it they will come.” Could not believe the number of bicycles. Segregated bicycle lanes are required. How can I help? Peter Lehman

  2. I live pretty close to the Keats Way/University intersection. I take my daughter to daycare using a bike trailer, and that stretch of University between Westmount and Keats Way is the *only* place in our route where I balk and go to the sidewalk, because it is just completely unsafe.

    Last week, I found the solution to that intersection:

    In particular, we should try to send that vimeo video ( ) to anybody in any committee designing our streets.

    This design is exactly what we need in that intersection, and ends with any concerns regarding continuation.

    1. When I lived off Keats Way, I would commute from the university through that intersection and it was honestly the only point of the ride when I routinely felt my stress levels rising. As a result, I have countless drawings and renderings of alternate intersection designs and signal timings for it. I will be sharing one or more of them next week, as well as probably yet another new one tailored to this project.

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