About those not-quite-bike-lanes on Booth Freeway

There are certain facts of life we have to deal with today, even if we regret how things came to be that way.

I wont rehash how Booth Street north of Albert, going through LeBreton Flats, came to be designed and built more like a Freeway than a street. The issue now that the concrete is laid is what to do about it.

I think the Booth Street Freeway issue and its resolution will someday be seen as a major turning point in road design for Ottawa. We have shifted from begging for public transportation infrastructure that meets everyone’s needs to outrage that a new street somehow got approved without being a complete street. I think complete streets is now the expectation, the normal condition, not the exception.

Typical for highway-style road design, the planned lanes on Booth were very wide. It is well proven these induce or encourage faster vehicle speeds , but with an increase in risk to to people who are walking, people transferring buses,  and people who cycle.

To the credit of the new head of city transportation, John Manconi, he struck a task force to meet with some key public interests: Citizens for Safe Cycling, the Ottawa Eco District, and the local Dalhousie Community Association rep [me]. Most significantly, he gave the group the ability to consider options and the city staff the power to decide quickly.

The measures to fix the problem fast focused on reallocating existing pavement space.


A variety of options was considered. The chosen solution narrows down the vehicular traffic lanes enough to create a paved shoulder zone demarked with a painted line. This 1 metre space isn’t enough to be an official bike lane, but is wide enough to be a de facto bike lane. It will definitely aid some cyclists.

Personally, I would not take an 8 year old on a bike there nor a kid in a trailer. I’d head for the very wide sidewalk (being cast in concrete, borrowing width from the sidewalk to make a wider cycle lane was not a quick-fix option).

I’ll have to assess the situation when it opens next week as to whether I would cycle on the lane at rush hours, evenings, weekends … and my choice may vary day to day.

IMG_8723above: curbside 1 metre “bike shoulder” entering Booth north bound from Albert
IMG_8721above: actual floating bike lane on Booth southbound seen from Albert St

The city recognizes that people will have a variety of responses to the re-marked spaces, and expect some dissatisfaction. Once some legal issues have been dealt with, some cycling will likely be permitted on the sidewalk. It will depend on reasonable cooperation amongst users, similar to multi-user pathways (MUPs) elsewhere today.

IMG_8725IMG_8724typical city shared sidewalk signage

I fully expect some people driving on the road will behave badly, weaving and speeding and crowding crosswalks and running red lights. I fully expect some people walking will find affront at people riding bikes on the sidewalk. And some people cycling will decry the substandard “cycle lane”. Situation normal.

The current “fix” will be in place until a yet-unspecified time close to when the Pimisi Station opens in mid-2018.

IMG_8726above: looking back at the northbound cycling shoulder,  seen from Fleet Street intersection; yes it is narrow
IMG_8729above: southbound bike shoulder as seen from Wellington/SJAM

The working group will continue to meet this fall with city staff to consider how the situation will change at that time, and what can be done to improve safety for all users.

Both this quick fix and the when-the-Confederation-Line-LRT-Pimisi-Station-opens scenario are being crafted with an eye to a long term solution.

Additional funding — thank you — has been allocated from the Feds and City to install a permanent fix, to shift Booth from freeway to complete street.

The first meeting of that working group will be later this month, and yes, community reps are still on it. Very encouraging (to me) is that the Phase 2 LRT planning team is also on the group, so the city is learning from the Phase 1 mistakes.

The City installed intersection cameras at Booth/Albert and at Booth/Wellington to film how pedestrians and cyclists handle those intersections up to now. Ironically, it is dismantling those cameras today …


… and will reinstall them later, to see how peds and cyclists handle the intersections once they are used to them. There is apparently no interest in discovering unsafe behaviour and taking corrective action when the intersections actually open. I guess someone has to get killed or there be a media crisis first.

Here are penultimate drawings for Booth Street, running from the Albert intersection northwards to its intersection with Wellington out at the war museum.

The temporary (until Pimisi opens in mid-2018) bus stop arrangement is the same as at the former Preston Street extension. Transit users going to Gatineau will get off buses on Albert, and take a long walk to the temporary northbound bus stop on Booth shown below as a black shaded area.

People cycling on the sidewalk will encounter line ups of people queuing for the No 8 bus. A zig zag line or other marking on the sidewalk will mark the conflict zone. People cycling northbound in the paved shoulder, marked off by a dashed line, will be blocked by buses at the bus stop, as will motorists, same as at most bus stops around the city.

Southbound cyclists (from Hull) will be in the “floating” bike lane which is wider here than elsewhere. For cyclists continuing south, the choice is straightforward: use the floating lane, or cross with pedestrians if you are riding the sidewalk.

As for cyclists to get to the Albert Street MUPs … Sidewalk cyclists will pick up the eastbound or westbound MUP along Albert by crossing the street on the crosswalk (legally walking their bikes, of course …). I dunno what on-street cyclists will do as they approach the intersection in the floating bike lane.

I know I would merge into the right-most curb lane, probably as a gutter bunny, and then pretend to be a pedestrian at the intersection and ride across the crosswalk to pick up the eastbound MUP or turn right through the people waiting at the intersection so I could go west on the MUP.

A big part of the “what to do” quandry here is that we don’t yet have a widely recognized or consistent set of legal and de facto expectations for each party. Alertness and consideration will be essential for everyone.


Please note that for people who are walking, the sidewalks on the new Booth Street are full width to very wide width. Walking along the curb edge will be disconcerting given the speed motorists will go, but the painted shoulder will create some subjective separation. Eventually, future buildings will be built up to the edge of the sidewalk and landscaping, now dreadfully absent, will temper the harsh environment of today.

Here is the next segment of Booth, going towards Gatineau. This drawing continues from the bus stop northwards, showing the construction staging zone for the Pimisi Station, to be demarked off with flex posts. There will be construction vehicles, materials, and overhead work in this area. This construction zone will be in place until late 2017 or mid 2018, then the bus stops are scheduled to move into these “bus bays” . Of course, the bus bay space may get modified or reallocated by then depending on the longer term fixes decided for the area. Note that the bright orange areas will be the entrances to the future Pimisi Station, directly above the LRT tracks.


The straight section of road from the Station area towards Gatineau is shown below. The 1m paved shoulder zone is straightforward. Personally, I dont think there are enough bike stencils. And the simple drawing doesn’t show the reality that motorists along here will be speeding a lot. The very design of the road invites it, with wide open spaces on each side of the road and no features that visually close in the space. It will function like a freeway because … it is. Cars hitting people on bikes will be fatal for the cyclists. Vehicles jumping the curb will be fatal for pedestrians.


Further north, there is the intersection with Fleet Street then with Wellington in front of the War Museum. The right-in right-out limit on Fleet further isolates the growing residential community on the Flats. Ironically, people here live downtown but are isolated by roads designed to serve through traffic rather than streets designed to add value to adjacent lands and promote a safe and prosperous community. Mind, this just reflects the typical indecision in Ottawa as to what public rights of way are supposed to do.

The left turn lane onto the SJAM commuter expressway will likely be for buses only. I don’t think left turns were permitted from the “old” Booth Street. Until the Confederation Line opens, deadheading buses uses the parkway so a left turn function is required.


For people continuing north across the intersection, the current four lane road configuration between the War Museum and the Holocaust Memorial will remain for the next few years.

There are plans to make Booth a complete street north of the river edge MUP crossing (ie, in ZIBI land) by reallocating some vehicular space to cycle lanes. Public pressure will eventually cause the various segments of complete streets to be connected up safely.


I think the Booth Street Freeway issue and its resolution will someday be seen as a major turning point in road design for Ottawa. We have shifted from begging for public transportation infrastructure that meets everyone’s needs to outrage that a new street somehow got approved without being a complete street. I think complete streets is now the expectation, the normal condition, not the exception.

The Ottawa public deserves huge kudos for speaking up for safer streets for everyone. Credit for channeling the public pressure for a better Booth goes to Citizens for Safe Cycling, Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict, the Dalhousie Community Assoc, and numerous other groups too many to mention. And to councillor McKenny, David Reevely at the Citizen and social media for publicizing the issue and focusing the political pressure. All this is encouraging for future.






12 thoughts on “About those not-quite-bike-lanes on Booth Freeway

  1. My first reaction to the first picture, which shows the right turn lane adjacent to the curb and the bicycle lane to its left is a significant design improvement on the Laurier Ave bicycle lanes. This should help address the “right hook” hazard that led to the death of a cyclist on Thursday (Sep 1). For drivers of vehicles intending on making a right turn, the cross over with the bicycle lane is much further back, and one can only hope that they will be able to identify a bicyclist when doing their shoulder check prior to changing lanes.

  2. It remains to be seen whether the Booth Street Freeway problem is a turning point in improved cycling infrastructure. The problem is only being fixed because Federal money is being provided to help fix it and Booth Street is a visible downtown street to the new Lebreton Flats development with high potential for cycling casualties which would be an embarrassment to Jim Watson. One wonders how an Councilor Mckenny missed this problem.

    There are plans to make the Byron Richmond Cooridor a Complete Street from Roosevelt West as part of LRT Phase 2 which is good , but there is not enough money available to make that planned modifications of Byron from Roosevelt to Parkdale into a complete street. At the current rate of investment it will take 50 years or more before Ottawa Streets are safe for cycling.

    My view is that unfortunately more cycling casualties will be required to prod Mayor Watson and City Council to put more money into cycling infrastructure.

  3. Don: it took 100 years to make Ottawa totally car centric and dangerous to everyone not in a car. It cant be reversed overnight, but will be over time, and as more people demand a fairer distribution of space. I dont think Booth is a special case; it is the turning point in time after which every road change will be viewed thru the lens of complete streets.
    Coming soon: changing roads to complete streets on demand, rather than just when road reconstruction is underway.
    Coming later: converting roads to transit, much the same way as roads expanded by taking over railway rights of way.

  4. Excellent article; thank you for this. What I look forward to doing as a cyclist is going from the eastbound river MUP to eastbound Wellington at the war museum. With the current Preston extension, one can wait several minutes at the Wellington/Preston traffic light and then again at the Wellington/Booth traffic light.

  5. Great news if they can get bikes and pedestrians to share the sidewalk. I don’t think those narrow bike lanes are a permanent solution. Really they look kind of dangerous, as they will encourage drivers to pass the bicyclist without moving over to give them space. Also, I wouldn’t want to pass a bus in the bus bay on the left. The bus drivers are merging with traffic all the time and I would be quite hard to see. If I was passing a bus on the left, I think I would move into the car lane from the bicycle lane, or at least make sure there was room to do so before passing the bus on the left.

  6. I tried the southbound bicycle lane today and found it scary. At the intersection with Albert, it is unclear how cyclists are to turn left into the east-west MUP alongside Albert.

    That being said, I appreciate that the city is including new cycling infrastructure to some extent. It is a step in the right direction.

  7. Eric – thanks for sitting in on these planning meetings and being the pedestrian / cyclist / living human being representative.

    I am having a lot of trouble “reading” those street diagrams. My hunch is that they demonstrate a design vocabulary exclusive to a group of folks who sit around in a big office all day and use software to push diagrams around on screen. Look at all the arrows leading from a geographic point to a very large representation of a 50 mph speed limit sign. Looks big and noticeable on paper, or on-screen. No one will see it in the real life setting.

    Software development uses the concept of “eating your own dog food.” The dev team is forced to use the software they just created complete with bugs, frustrations and design idiocies that simply do not operate well in the “real world.” I think something similar might be useful for the city planning department.

    Issue the street planners a set of bicycles and force them to go out an utilize the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure they just designed back in the shelter of their office. Make it a job requirement that they cover X number of “real world” miles in a year in all weather conditions and variations on street lighting.

    My bet is these office wallahs will end up scared shi**less at the Frankenstein they have created and the unnecessary risks they impose on those who choose not to operate a car.

    The office wallah cycle fleet should include one of those three foot wide infant carriers and the office wallah’s should be required to attempt to operate this set-up with their own child aboard on the 18″ width of the proposed cycle lanes.

    This is likely the fastest way to get roadway design that actually works for human beings and will prevent more pedestrians /cyclists being put six feet under by bad planning or implementation decisions. I am sure these planners get paid a great deal of money. That salary should include the demand that the planners face exactly the risk that they force upon us.


    Noticed the roundhouse excavation got bulldozed over pretty quick once the public learned about the heritage of the area.

    1. fjf: instead, the basic job requirements for planners at city hall was that they had a private motor car to take to work every day and that it be available for them to use every day. No carpooling. No bus. No walking. No cyclists.

      Someone said to me recently that that job requirement was now removed. I’d very much like to force planners to eat their own baking by living in the city (some of the architects of the preston carling towers live … in the rural areas of the city). And taking transit for daily tasks in addition to for commuting. And to ride bikes to meetings or to home. I am tired of planners telling me I should love having rush hour commuter traffic on my residential street because people live in the city because it is bustling and active, while he lives on a suburban crescent.

      Lets start by teaching the mayor how to ride a bike.

  8. If all city councilors were forced to take the bus, walk, or ride to work, we would see rapid infrastructure changes.

  9. Here’s my crazy idea for a long term solution that minimizes rebuilding of what has already been built: turn Booth and an extension of Preston into a pair of one-way couplets across LeBreton Flats.

    The current Booth Street northbound carriageway can remain as is for two lanes of northbound traffic. The southbound carriageway can be converted into a one-lane southbound bus lane (use the lane nearest the median) while the rest of it can be set aside for a two-way bikeway, with a median separating it from the bus lane (further north the bikeway would continue across the SJAM Parkway and past the War Museum, then across to the Zibi developments). At the station a new platform can be built in what is now the southbound curb lane as a widened version of the median separating the bikeway, while the bikeway can “steal” some sidewalk space to shift westwards slightly. A connection to the MUP below may also be possible on the north side of the aqueduct.

    The Preston extension would also have two general traffic lanes, southbound. Any traffic from Gatineau that would otherwise head south on Booth would have to head west to Preston (as it has been doing in the temporary condition). One of the two lanes on Preston would terminate as a left turn onto Albert, the other continue on Preston. In the northbound direction would be a single bus lane to complement the one on Booth. On the outsides would be separated bike lanes (uni-directional, not grouped as a bikeway as on Booth) and sidewalks.

    The bus platforms therefore of Pimisi would be split between Booth and Preston.

    As to the inevitable counter-argument that one-way couplets are evil: well we’ve already got a near-freeway anyway and the overall effect is actually to reduce the number of general traffic lanes in the event that a Preston extension is built. In the default scenario of extending Preston as a two-lane road, we would have three general traffic lanes per direction across the Flats. In my conception, that’s kept down to the current two, but with the addition of dedicated bus lanes and bike lanes. It would also spread that traffic around a bit so that Booth is not quite the traffic sewer it is at the moment.

    The reason I didn’t propose just making both Booth and Preston as two-lane, two-way roads is that it would make for incorporating the bus lanes more tricky and probably require that Booth on the south side of the SJAM intersection be rebuilt for a couple hundred metres to shift northbound traffic to the other side of the road.

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