Churchill Cycle Track takes shape



Churchill Avenue running north from Carling Avenue towards Westboro is being rebuilt today as a complete street. In addition to the regular car / truck traffic lanes on the street, there will be concrete walks and at the same level as the walkway, a cycle track.

A cycle track differs from a bike lane, which is a painted zone on the street just off to the side of the car traffic. Road traffic can readily intrude into the bike lane (hello FedEx). The cycle track is separated from other vehicular traffic by a curb and buffer zone.

The opening photo (above) shows the regular concrete walk and the gravel strip where the asphalt cycle track will be installed. Squint carefully into the distance, by the orange pylons, and you can make out the parts of the buffer zone that will have brick pavers. Parking bays along the street are inset from the traffic lanes, like on Somerset in Chinatown or Preston in Little Italy. The bus stops appear to be flush with the road (not in “bus bays”) which helps maintain bus schedules and keeps the road visually narrower and calmer.

The photo (below) shows a block where the track has been paved in asphalt. The asphalt provides a smoother surface for cyclists (no concrete joints) and helps differentiate the cycle track from the pedestrian walkway. Note that the dip down to the curb (“the curb cut”, in the jargon) appears to occur primarily in the concrete buffer zone along the curb. This is a huge improvement over the City’s regular practice of insisting the whole walkway (and in this case, cycle track) be depressed so as to maximize the smooth entry of cars into private driveways.



Two other features are visible in the above photo. The voids in the curbside buffer zone will likely be set with coloured bricks, further visually delineating the various zones along this complete street. Notice too the slots cut in the right edge of the concrete walkway. These sort of mimic a brick border, and provide a tactile “rumble strip” that might help keep the users in the right space, while not preventing users from utilizing the adjacent space when necessary.

I deliberately rode my bike on the strip and found it gave me virtually no vibration, so maybe this feature will need refinement. Make no mistake, this is the first complete street installation in the city (may there be many more) and staff is learning a lot as they proceed.



At intersections the cycle track proceeds straight across the intersecting side streets, without deviation. Cyclists cross side streets parallel to the crosswalks, set back from the road intersection, in the Dutch style. Alas, my photo of the unfinished crossings didn’t come out. You’ll just have to head out that way later this summer to try out the track.

The complete street design is very different from a typical street design as the road travel lanes appear straighter and more defined; the parking bays look and function better than simply parking on a wider road surface; the bus stops are well defined; the cycle track separates cyclists from motorists; the buffer strips protect everyone from being “doored”; and pedestrians are further removed from annoying vehicular traffic.

The inset brick zones and presumably, towards the end, addition of some street trees and other landscaping, should make this street a joy for everyone to use, regardless of their chosen mode of travel. I also couldn’t help but notice the really nice retaining walls that are being used to take of grade differences from the older front lawns and tree zones to the walkway. Complete with inset steps, these walls are a gorgeous finishing touch and help transform the street from its previous vaguely suburban look to a more polished urban space:


Because Churchill is an “old” street, there are some features that are leftover from an earlier, more permissive era. For example, some parking areas are simply extensions from the street, rather than separate parking lots with a defined outlet to the street. Compromises!



Other streets are scheduled for similar treatment. For example, Albert and Scott (once the notorious bus detour is finished in 2018) in the Bayview area, and most famously, Main Street in Ottawa East. The road allowance in both those places is much more constrained, and its harder to fit in all the desired features. This is the problem in Lower Town – Vanier, where the planned east-west bikeway project peters out to invisibility in some blocks due to priority being given to curbside parking. Having a completed complete street to see might help inform people as to the desirability (or not) of this design.

Frankly, I’m both excited that this complete street is coming to fruition, and jealous that there aren’t more such streets. In particular, the opportunity has been missed to do this type of cycle track on Rochester in the much-lamented Preston-Carling plan. And Booth, going between Albert and the War Museum won’t have cycle tracks (nor lanes, nor sharrows) despite the post-2018 Albert Street being designed like Churchill. I hear that Booth, going to Gatineau from the Parkway, is also being redesigned by the NCC with a road diet and cycle tracks, leaving only the busy City-owned section of Booth by Pimisi Station without cycling facilities. Complete streets in unconnected segments. No network. Sigh.

6 thoughts on “Churchill Cycle Track takes shape

  1. Not sure, but I suspect those “rumble strip” features might be for visually impaired pedestrians who use white canes, to help them stay on the sidewalk and away from bikes – kind of like the more textured features you find as you approach an intersection or crosswalk.

    1. Except the ones in Europe now typically have some degree of elevation difference between cycle track and sidewalk. I’ve been along Churchill a few times and I’ve already seen pedestrians walking on the cycle track a few times.

      It also remains to be seen what happens at the intersections – will cyclists have a “level” ride or will they be swooping down and up and bumping over curb edges. From what I’ve seen already the cycle track will be interrupted by a curb edge. Now it’s *theoretically* possible to make this smooth and seamless, but in the practical reality of what Ottawa road builders are used to doing and the inevitable effects of winter freeze-thaw heave chances are this is going to be an unwanted bump.

      In Ottawa we’ll have gone from equating bicycles with pedestrians during the NCC path-building era, to equating them with cars (RMOC era) and now back to equating them with pedestrians again.

  2. So the cement buffer / curb will separate/ protect the cyclists from the cars, but as a frequent pedestrian on Churchill, I wonder what is going to separate me from the bikes. What exactly does the rumble strip do? Would it prevent a speeding bike from straying from the cycle path? Who among cyclists or pedestrians has the right of way at intersections or when crossing? This is going to take some getting used to for all I think.

    1. Courtesy will help pedestrians to stay on the sidewalk and cyclists on the track. Yup, some cyclists will swerve onto the concrete, but if you’ve ridden on concrete squares it ain’t a smooth ride. And some peds will drift onto the asphalt path, especially those with strollers or wheeled vehicles. Curbs do not provide absolute protection from high speed autos careening out of control. Nor do the multitude of crossing driveways render anyone safe from collisions. My suggestion is you walk with your eyes open, walk defensively. Humans occasionally behave as bad cyclists, inconsiderate pedestrians, or thoughtless drivers. No amount of design can eliminate human factors. Even birds have been known to be inconsiderate. Even 5′ concrete walls separating each share of the road wouldn’t be perfect, because whineypants can imagine someone forcing their vehicle or body onto the wrong surface. Don’t let some unimagined goal of perfection become the enemy of better design and facilities. Celebrate what improvements we can get, and lobby for improvements to that design or more installations of it.

      I am a frequent user of the Cambridge MA tracks that have been pictured on this blog so many times. Yup, pedestrians sometimes walk on the tracks. And some cyclists on the sidewalk. And sometimes the walkway crosses the path, eg at intersections. And I have seen a whole flock of cyclists — on a cycling tour of greater Boston, no less !) ride the wrong way along the track. Sigh. Cyclists ring their bell when the path is blocked or about to be. In the Cambridge instance, those neighbourhoods have police patrols on bikes, and yes they do ride the track and yes I have seen them issue tickets for improper use or failure to obey stop signs.

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