Cycling routes – part of roads? or sidewalks? or all on their own?

Timo Perala spoke at the CFSC agm on Tuesday evening. One point he made about cycling infrastructure in Oulu, Finland, got me thinking again about how cycling infrastructure should be regarded.

In Copenhagen, cycling tracks are adjacent the curb, with parking lanes out closer to the traffic lanes. Cyclists cross intersections in two stages, like pedestrians, rather than in one left-turn movement like cars. This is the model Bedard liked after his trip to Copenhagen, and I earlier blogged about how I thought Vivi Chi liked this one too as it can be implemented consistently throughout an urban area. Although how she could fit this onto the freshly rebuilt and highly popular and successful Preston Street, West Wellie, and soon Somerset Streets, is beyond me.

The Holland model is rather different, and gives cyclists their own tracks and own path through intersections, as frequently illustrated on David Hembrow’s popular blog site View from the Cycle Path.

Cambridge MA puts the cycle track on the same elevation as the sidewalk, similar to what the NCC does on the Portage Bridge and approaches to the Alexandra Bridge:

The 1970’s Doug Fullerton/NCC model put cyclists on their own path, roughly parallel to the road but not slavishly so, and in some cases very independent of where roads did (or did not) go. These paths have their own geometry, which I re-appreciate the few times I venture onto the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway on bike Sundays. The road geometry has grades that run slow and constant for kilometers — 1 km up slope, 1 km down slope, up again … and the curves are so broad and gentle to entertain motorists become boring and alienating for cyclists of my capability. The cycling paths are built to a cyclist scale; roads are not.

Toronto has decided to examine all hydro-electric rights of way for use as cycling paths. This is interesting, because these rights of ways tend to go through neighborhoods in a totally different way than do roads. Yet they are direct and often quite straight for miles (oops, kilometers).

Did Ottawa examine or choose hydro rights of way for bike infrastructure when it made up its bike master plan? My general impression is that is was largely forged by the vehicular cyclist crowd and follows roads (eg Scott Street) even when there are parallel green spaces that could have been improved and used.

It will be interesting when the Laurier separated (hello tom!) track is constructed towards the west side of the downtown … will it strike off on its own geometry through the Ottawa Tech playing fields or will it zig zag with the road grid or will planners helpfully direct cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes through the Albert/Bronson intersections? The answers will be telling.

Timo Perala from Finland illustrated his talk with photos of Oulu cycling paths/tracks that are not lanes among cars, but form a separate network, often more direct than road commuting (like some of new town planning, suburbs have access roads on the periphery away from the city; transit and cycling paths have the advantage of being direct towards the city). They are separated from roads by elevation or a grass median. They are built to their own geometry rather than the motor car’s. They are all lit, and all designed and maintained for cycling needs, rather than borrowed road-centric thinking.

Ottawa is getting some cycling paths that are independent of roads. The proposed O-train path from the Ottawa River/Bayview Station to Carling comes to mind. Parallel to Preston, but definitely off-road for several kilometers, it extends well out to the southern areas of the city via the Farm, Hogs Back, and Mooney’s Bay.

I thought Timo’s presentation was worth while in a variety of ways. The main feature — winter cycling — doesn’t appeal to me; but his consistent reference to planning cycle routes for cyclists did.

Cyclists are not a uniform lump of users, of course. There are long distance daily commuters for whom speed and directness is important; there are less-pressured daily riders doing errands, going to school, etc and there are urban riders in the busy city. We don’t expect roads to be one design for all users; we should be designing and building cycling infrastructure to suit different needs too.

4 thoughts on “Cycling routes – part of roads? or sidewalks? or all on their own?

  1. One difference I noted in Timo’s presentation is that the bike/ped separated paths were 4m wide, much wider than the 2.5m or so of paved NCC paths.

    If you want cyclists and pedestrians to coexist, you need to give lots of space.

    However, I think it is better to separate sidewalks and bike lanes because cyclists can travel a lot faster. Fast cyclists will intimidate walkers, and walkers will also scare fast cyclists!


  2. Tom, NCC pathways are minimum 3m wide, and most have been rebuilt to this standard since 2003 or so. Some, like those along the Rideau Canal, are 4m wide.

  3. I was impressed with Timo Perala’s talk. It is a mindset we need to change here. One that sees bikes as being the ultimate urban transport not some poor cousin. Maybe things are changing a little for the better. I think we need segregated lanes (I like the bright blue/green lanes) that follow logical routes cyclists would use. I know many cyclists who favour less bike friendly ways downtown (Richmond, Wellington, Somerset) rather than meander along the Western Parkway path (as nice as it may be for a summer ride). Timo really stressed the need for a plan. I think the fact the city fixed up west Wellington and Preston without doing segregated bike lanes shows that there really is no long-term thinking. They had the chance while digging these roads up to put in segregated lanes. Same with the new lovely Bank Street. They somehow managed to find room to put in parking spots as far north as Nepean but no sign of cycle infrastructure. Sigh…

    1. next week is the first public meeting on the downtown separated bike lane/track, to be along Laurier. It’s a great chance to be heard by those planning the cycling infrastructure.
      Thanks for reading,

Comments are closed.