Addressing Region’s concerns about off-street bicycle lanes on University Avenue

The Region of Waterloo is reconstructing University Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way, and rather than building off-street bicycle paths that would be accessible to people of all ages and cycling ability, staff are recommending on-street painted bicycle lanes.  Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind this decision.

In my first post about this project, I responded to the rationale given in the public consultation materials to dismiss “cycle tracks”: that they are expensive and difficult to maintain in winter.  In short, while these are both true about the version of cycle track they considered (immediately adjacent to the roadway), neither applies to a bicycle path that is on the boulevard away from the roadway – an option they do not seem to have examined.

Then when the project came before Planning and Works Committee, the position was:

A cycle track was also considered is not recommended for this location because University Ave. both north and south of the project currently has on road bike lanes and it makes the most sense for this portion of University Ave to maintain an on-road bike lane for continuity with the adjoining sections.

When I went to the committee meeting and questioned this rationale, Commissioner Thomas Schmidt clarified that moving the bicycle lane off the main roadbed for this short segment was undesirable because it would create conflicts and complicate intersection design.

I expect that the underlying assumption here is that the same type of facility be used for the entire segment, both at intersections and mid-block.

Given the long distances between conflict points (intersections and driveways), this is an unnecessary constraint on decision-making.  The typical explanation for maintaining consistency is for the visibility of cyclists by motorists.  But with cars travelling upwards of 60 km/h and cyclists travelling around 20 km/h, a motorist who sees a cyclist mid-block would be long gone by the time the cyclist arrives at the intersection.

As a result, we can consider the mid-block and intersection designs independently from each other, and simply switch facility type shortly in advance of the intersection if necessary.

Protected mid-block, on-street intersection
Protected mid-block, on-street intersection
On-street mid-block, protected intersection.
On-street mid-block, protected intersection.

From the perspective of mid-block design along University Avenue, I don’t see any way  new conflicts would be created by moving the bicycle path from one side of the curb to the other.  In doing so, the bicycle path does not cross paths with any other road user.

So Regional staff’s concern about separate cycling infrastructure must be entirely based on intersection design.

As Commissioner Schmidt said, separate bicycle paths do indeed complicate intersection design. Since bicycles travel several times faster than pedestrians, bicycle path crossings should be designed to accommodate this rather than simply using a repainted version of the standard crosswalk design.

But this extra effort in design pays off with a result that is safer than could be achieved with on-street bicycle lanes.  For this reason in the Netherlands, intersections are often built with separate bicycle paths even when streets leading up to them have on-street bicycle lanes or even no bicycle lanes at all.

Over on The Ontario Traffic Man, check out the detailed explanation of one way we could safely incorporate separate bicycle lanes into the Keats Way & University Avenue intersection.

Potential protected intersection design design (From
Potential protected intersection design design (From Ontario Traffic Man)


6 thoughts on “Addressing Region’s concerns about off-street bicycle lanes on University Avenue

    1. I don’t know how much I actually am on top of this. Because the key piece missing here, as Thiago points out, it to bring this to the attention of people in charge, which I’m not sure how to do.

  1. Hello Narayan, Please let me know if you need letters of support sent to Councillors or bodies at meetings or presentations. We are regular riders on University, though not usually that far up. I would have to drag my 8 & 10 year old’s along to presentations, but we would all arrive on bicycles. Because that’s just how we roll. Peace! Peter Lehman(519) 635 5681

    Date: Sun, 6 Sep 2015 20:06:27 +0000 To:

  2. One other thing I’d add. Just looking at a map, there’s an opportunity for a safe easy connection between Father David Bauer Dr. and University Ave.. If you go straight through at Westmount, you can get 95% of the way to University, before reaching a big berm. There’s no reason to have this berm, we should also push the city to add a multi-use pathway connection at the end of the road here. This would allow cyclists and pedestrians to bypass Westmount Rd., which lacks any bike infrastructure when trying to access either University Ave. or Keats Way.

    1. That’s a good idea! It would make Keats Way – Father David Bauer Dr into a continuous bicycle route. To access it we’d either need a crossing point at Westcourt Place and University Avenue, or a 2-way bike path on the east side of University Ave between Westcourt Pl and Keats Way (I prefer the latter given the high traffic speeds).

      I don’t think there’s much demand for connectivity south from Westcourt on University given the geometry of Father David Bauer. There’s nothing on the north side, so anyone going northeast-southwest would already be on Seagram and/or University.

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