Be careful what you wish for … the story of Carling Avenue

Life, especially when it comes to municipal planning in Ottawa, is full of inadvertent disasters. Sometimes these come from the law of unintended consequences, whereby something ostensibly for the good turns out to be awful. Other times is results from good wishes, which when delivered, make you wish you had never asked in the first place. That sounds like something from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the proposed reconstruction of Carling between the O-Train and Bronson is looking a bit grimm to me today.

In a city whose new mantra is taxpayer dollar value, we are looking at an expensive road scheme that will be grossly-oversupplied 21 hours a day, and full-up for ninety minutes each rush hour. Haven’t we learned that you can never build enough capacity for the peak?

At the meetings last year * residents were given a peek at the consultant’s and traffic planners marching orders. They paid lip service to cycling and pedestrian needs, but it was pretty obvious this was all about catering to cars. More particularly, cars at rush hour. And even more specifically, cars going to and from Gatineau.

The city got an earful of comments about their not improving the cycling along the street. Now they have. And you may join me in wondering if would be better if they hadn’t listened.

They propose a painted cycling lane from Preston to Bronson (not including the little segment east bound from the O-Train to Preston, where the major north-south cycling priority corridor is being installed…when the city finds some money). Since the curb lane will be the bike lane, the bus lane buses will pull onto the bike lane for stops. While not ideal, this is do-able.

As cyclists get up the hill approaching Bronson, the buses switch from the bus lane to the left turn lanes. The cyclist lane then sorta-jumps over to be between the two left turn lanes. If a cyclist turns left onto Bronson northbound going towards the downtown, she is now riding the white line between the Bronson lanes***. Oh oh. Don’t wanna be there. If the cyclist wants to go east, onto Glebe, they discover that vehicles on their RIGHT are now crossing over the bike position to go north on Bronson. Does anyone see a conflict here?

Wouldn’t a better solution be to  let the bike lane continue straight all the way to the Bronson intersection, with right turning vehicles onto Bronson-southbound moving over to the right turn lane, same as they do for the previous intersections? At the intersection cyclists could cross Bronson straight onto Glebe Avenue (and thence to Percy for an improved N/S bike route to the downtown and eventually the Laurier SBL). Or, they could cross Bronson and wait at a Bronson bike box for a green light to head north (this is a two-stage crossing that will irritate vehicular cyclists). Much less lane switching, and consistent treatment from intersection to intersection. Given that the city wants to sell naming rights, I propose this intersection be renamed Flattened Cyclist corner.

Alternatively, the right most EB car lane on Carling approaching Bronson could be a combined right turn-straight through lane for cars, with cyclists in a cycling lane between the right- and left-turning cars. Again, reduced conflicts.

Or, we could look at a segregated bike lane instead of a painted bike lane. I can picture  a bi-directional lane entirely on the south side (where it could someday extend all the way from Bronson to Island Park with very few intersections — what a joy for commuters and other cyclists). Here is a pic of a seg bike track, from world-leading cycling city of Gatineau:

Gatineau, QC bi-directional segregated lane is a Multi-User Path, ideal for low pedestrian volumes such as the south side of Carling

To draw on an example closer to home, I envision a segregated bike lane / MUP on the south side of Carling either adjacent to the curb or set back a bit where possible (with the cooperation of the NCC and Experimental Farm folks) much like the set-back path along Albert and Scott (but better designed):

bi-directional MUP on north side of Albert

But the city-proposed painted bike lanes are not just dubious for cyclists. The lanes were added to the road not by reallocating pavement space, but by making Carling Avenue wider. The five foot bike lane in each direction widens the pavement by ten feet in total. Add in the new left turn lanes (which are hugely long, taking the entire blocks between Preston and Booth) and the whole road now got between ten and twenty more feet of pavement from side to side. This is not an improvement.

Wait, there’s more! The wide weedy median down Carling gets a makeover. But instead of planting it nicely, like Allumetieres and Maisoneuve in Gatineau **, for some blocks it’s being pruned out of existence, down to a five foot wide concrete strip.

This section of Carling will look a lot more like a suburban interchange, like Baseline at Woodroffe or Baseline at Greenbank, not an inner-city street.

  So what are the good things in this plan?

Well, there’s a plan to plant a six(!!) trees on the south side between Madawaska and Cambridge, provided the property owners agree. And there will be a crossing light at the O-Train cut so that transit users can get from the south side of Carling to the O-Train station, and so that peds and cyclists can follow the as-yet-unfunded O-Train N/S cycling path. And the plans calls for some decorative brick pavers at Preston on the south side of Carling, and at Booth.

There are some new ped-scale lights scattered between the existing overhead road-lights. The crosswalks will be concrete strips rather than painted lines.

 The city is holding a public meeting where you can express your appreciation for this road plan. It’s Wednesday, March 2nd, between 5 and 7pm, in the Dow’s Lake Pavillion building at the very south end of Preston where it meets the Prince of Wales/QE Driveway.




*** for another cycling viewpoint see

17 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for … the story of Carling Avenue

  1. Your readers may want to see the diagrams, which are available here:

    Actually, I think the city did listen. I wasn’t actually at the meeting last June, but looking at the past design and the one presented a few weeks ago, there’s a significant introduction of bike lanes that I don’t think was there.

    I see the bike lane in the diagram extend all the way to the O-Train, and this was clarified in a meeting with the engineer in charge. But there’s no smooth connection to the O-Train corridor. Bring this up tonight.

    The problem with the position of the bike lane on the lane at Bronson was brought up, I encourage you to bring it up again. I don’t think there was much resistance to changing its position, it just needed to be explained why.

    One way or another, this is no worse than the existing situation.

    We were told that the introduction here of a segregated lane wasn’t entirely impossible, but it depends on the successful completion of the pilot on Laurier. I wouldn’t entirely dismiss this; if the timing’s right, the successful pilot will be able to influence this. A problem with the segregated bidirectional lane you suggest is that it is difficult for cyclists to cross over to get to it, particularly since there’s no plans to put in the lanes west of the O-Train.

    From what I understand, there’s no addition of car lanes on the road. We’re losing green space in favour of transit and bike lanes. I don’t think that’s a bad priority to have.

    All in all, though, Carling’s going to be just as ugly as it is today.

    Your readers might also want to read my own writeup on the intersection, it is here:

    – A

    1. Alex: you say … particularly since there’s no plans to put in the lanes west of the O-Train.
      I feel we can get bike lanes and paths through an opportunistic process. When an opportunity arises, take it. So what if we can only get part of the path right now (from Bronson to O-Train is still significant!). Then we lobby for the section from O-Train to Island Park. I find it puzzling that Ottawa cyclists (and now I am generalizing, and esp. referring to some traditional CfSC members) frequently downplay opportunities because they are not complete networks built all on day one. I even had CfSC people complain at a transportation meeting about BikeWest that it was “too dangerous” because it had some intersections with cars and people might walk dogs along the path! We need to work better to improve cycling infrastructure one segment at a time, and build on the increased traffic each improvement engenders, to lobby for more. The Qway wasn’t built all at once, nor will our cycling network. Rant over.

      1. Eric,

        I agree with what you’re saying; we need to take advantage of the opportunities we have, and I think adding bike lanes here is actually a good opportunity that the city is actually doing something with.

        The problem with having a bidirectional segregated lane is getting on and off. Other parts of Carling include lanes on both sides, so at some point you’d have to cross over, which is awkward and would be easy to be ignored by many cyclists until they’re all on the same side.

        To be perfectly realistic, I don’t see any plans coming up to redo the section from the O-Train to Merivale. I think it was repaved 4 years ago, I’d be surprised if this came up before 2015, but that could depend on the state of the sewers. We’ll be all over this if it comes up.

        I don’t think the current board of CfSC expects projects to be one huge project that could never be swallowed in a budget. As VP, I’m committed to making sure we’re always pragmatic.

  2. When I asked Charles, he told me that path in your last picture is technically a sidewalk, not an MUP, meaning that it’s illegal to cycle on. If it isn’t illegal, it should be. Because of that hill, cyclists regularly go over 50km/hr, making it dangerous for pedestrians. But if you cycle on the road, cars are more likely to act aggressively because they think you should be on the “cycle path”. Lose-lose situation, IMO, and a great example of bad results from good intentions.

    1. Bryan: originally built by the water dept (!) the path was intended as a sort of sidewalk. The asphalt sections tell us its a MUP; the few concrete sections that run to intersections and bus stops tell us its a sidewalk. Last year, the CFSC newsletter told us a yellow line was to be added, since it is used as a MUP; I subsequently confirmed that on two occasions with Robin Bennett from city cycling. No line appeared. If someone cycles on it at 50kmh they are an idiot. It is no more dangerous than any MUP and they all have 20kmh speed limits. The path along Albert will someday connect with the Scott Street path as outlined in the BikeWest proposal. Indeed, I gather part of the path near Churchill will be rebuilt to cycling standards this year (sorry, haven’t seen the plans…).

      1. My understanding is that the Scott St. path will not be changed, but Scott St. will be changed to be 2 motor traffic lanes with a painted bike lane each way along its entire length.

  3. We may want to be careful about calling the striped, sharrowed bit approaching Bronson a “bike lane.” The 1.8 m bike lane ends just before the Cambridge intersection. Then, cyclists are expected to travel across the bus lane into the straight/left-turn lane. This lane is only 3.25 m wide. As the engineer in charge confirmed with me this morning, they’ve coloured half of this lane and thrown in some sharrows to indicate to motorists that they are now sharing the lane with cyclists.

    I was at the June meeting. There was no new design presented, just the current configuration. The City did listen in some ways: light at O-Train path is fantastic, and they had to fight for it; bike lanes in any form are a great start. But in others ways it is business and usual for the City: yeah, we get bike lanes, but with the weird gaps and awkward transitions that are common in Ottawa, and that make the lanes unattractive to novice/nervous cyclists. I personally asked that improvements for cyclists not be made at the expense of pedestrians (i.e., that the City follow its own hierarchy of transportation modes: pedestrian, cyclist, transit, then cars).

    The problem here is the same as in other reconstructions — sure, they can improve things for cyclists and peds when it doesn’t infringe on car drivers, but when space gets squeezed it is the cyclists and peds who get inferior infrastructure. Again, it’s the City not following its own hierarchy.

    It’s frustrating because those of us who are out and about outside of peak hours can see how absolutely empty Carling is then. I’ve been crossing Carling quite often recently to skate on the canal, and all the car traffic I see could easily fit into two lanes. It is insanity to design streets for 2 hours of peak commuting by the most inefficient mode of transportation.

    There’s no reason for Carling to stay the way it is or to become even more of a traffic cesspool. It could become a well-landscaped boulevard that is a pleasure to walk and cycle along. This would be good for people who live and work on Carling or nearby, good for tourists, good for developers building condos in the area.

  4. It does seem really awkward at Bronson. They should take out the bus stop on the S side of Carling. Your 2-way path would need some major demolition to reach from Bronson to Kanata, or even to Dow’s Lake Rd.


  5. Tom: there is apprently room for a 5′ bike lane on the north and south sides in the current plan, plus there is a 5′ sidewalk on the south side. Reshuffle the space: south side curb, 3′ median with lamp posts and signs, 10′ MUP. Start the MUP at Bronson and run it all the way to O-Train in this phase of construction. Then it remains a later project (maybe out of the cycling budget) to extend it along the Farm (employment centre plus lots of connecting paths) past civic hospital, to Island Park and its bike lane north to the Ottawa River and south along the woods of Fisher to Baseline. Lots of good connections and residents and employment.

    the city has just approved last fall a MUP that has the front doors of houses opening onto it so it doubles as the sidewalk and bike path.

  6. “We’re losing green space in favour of transit and bike lanes. I don’t think that’s a bad priority to have.” Indeed Alex. In fact, this sort of green space is as biologically diverse as green painted pavement.

  7. I just want to encourage you all to keep up the good fight. I may not be going to these city meetings and agitating but I hope to benefit from your work in road design and cycling.

  8. What about the pedestrians? In the 2nd photo from Gatineau, I do not see a place for people to walk, particularly if they have some mobility issues, use assistive devices or have small children in strollers. I’m in favour of making it safe for both those of us on foot as well as those on bicycles. I do think that painted lines on the car path are not really safe or useful. Car, truck and bus drivers have shown that they do respect those.

    The sooner that transportation planning is inclusive for all of us, the better the city will be.

    1. A very important point. At the Public Advisory Committee for this project, cyclists are well represented by various groups, but there are no pedestrian representatives.

      It’s been a long time since Ottawa has had a pedestrian advocacy group, to the detriment of many such opportunities. The closest is the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee, which mostly looks at transit issues.

    2. When planners look at stats and see there effectively aren’t any pedestrians, they don’t make allowances for them. I mostly cycle along Baseline and even though there are sidewalks, I rarely see pedestrians. It’s not pleasant to walk along there AND there’s no where to walk to. Same with Bells Corners, except there are more destinations for peds – more than Baseline or Carling. In the winter when I don’t bike, I’m the only nutbar walking up the drifted-in sidewalks on Baseline, from Woodroffe to Merivale. It’s a 10 km round trip from my house to the shopping plaza where the closest fabric store to me is. I like to walk and I’ll take the bus home if I have stuff to carry or its really cold. But I’m unusual.

  9. It strikes me that the whole way in which Carling Avenue functions needs to be re-examined. Having moved around the corner from the O-Train and now being a daily user, it strikes me as such an antiquated corridor that we should be looking to convert from an auto-oriented arterial, to an urban main street.

    I think we need to start from the basic building block of any street, and improve the pedestrian experience, which is at best an afterthought. Wider sidewalks and slower speeds on the street would help a lot. If speeds aren’t going to be reduced, perhaps a neutral strip between the sidewalk and the road? That slush spray can be nasty when traffic is zipping along.

    Despite being a major transit fan, I wonder if the street would benefit more from bike lanes like those shown in the Gatineau photo above? I don’t see enough buses going by at any time to really justify much more than queue jumps or priority lighting. Obviously, when an LRT is built along Carling, segregated transit lanes would make sense then, but not now.

    Would off-street parking hurt? That and some street-oriented storefronts could really change the feel of the street.

    Any landscaping would be better than is there now. That median couldn’t be any worse.

    A little further west, there are some very tentative signs that Carling could transform itself into an urban thoroughfare. It would be nice if some of the infrastructure being built were designed to nudge it in that direction.

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