Fixing the Booth Freeway fiasco

Recall that Booth Street between Albert Street and Wellington Street (out by the War Museum) was rebuilt with a grand overpass over the new LRT line. Before it was built, the design was hotly contested by local communities and advocacy groups like Bike Ottawa (CfSC)*.

Nonetheless, the City proceeded with their original plan. Once it was built, it became obvious to most observers that the design was bad. It encouraged fast moving traffic. It had large bus bays which delay transit buses from re-merging with traffic. Cyclists were forced to share the road with freeway-speed motorized vehicles or onto the sidewalk. They were put in real danger at the Albert intersection which forced them into choosing from a number of really bad, dangerous to life and limb, movements.

Since then, the City held a number of stakeholder meetings to consider “fixes” to the problem.  Challenges include the engineering difficulty (“impossibility”) of removing the concrete median over the bridge and station portion, as it is integral to the bridge design. Removing the median was one way to free up space for other uses, and would also slow the traffic a bit.

The City has now released its design fixes for the Pimisi Station area. There is no detail yet of the solution from the Station area out to the War Museum, or from there to Zibi and the Chaudiere Bridge, although the those “solutions” (ie, fixes) will be integrated and “seamless”.

Here is a pigeon-eye view of the proposed southbound fix at Pimisi Station. The bus layby has been removed (thanks to OC Transpo for giving up this space) and converted to a passenger loading platform for buses, along the curb line. Cylists pass behind the passenger loading area on a raised cycle track. The sidewalk remains adjacent the railing overlooking the aqueduct down below. This is the best practices model from Europe.

It is my impression that most passenger movements will be off-the-southbound-bus at Pimisi, and into the LRT Station (buses will not go downtown from here); and off-the-LRT and out-of-the-Station onto the buses going north to Gatineau, on the east side. Ergo, a curb side shelter on the east side but not the west.

If you look at the east side of the street (to the left), the northbound lane, you can see that there is also room to squeeze in a bus shelter and bit of leading fence which separates the waiting passengers from the cycle track passing behind it. Bonus points are awarded for managing to slip in a raised planter with tree, to further humanize the current freeway environment. Note that while the planter and bike tracks seem to carry on toward the viewer forever, the actually end pretty much at the leading edge of the picture.

Obviously, there are some concerns with the cycle track being on sidewalk level, just like there is in similar designs along Churchill and Main Street and Beechwood. But this is the city’s preferred cycle infrastructure model and they are getting better at it with each implementation. 

For example, the railing on the overpass edge has to be raised a bit to prevent cyclists tumbling over the top. And a curve in the path, plus painted markings, should slow cyclists as the approach the crossing point with pedestrians (someday we may get green asphalt for cycle tracks to further distinguish them). Note that elements of the  design try to steer bus passengers to cross at specific points. In more confident societies that have had more cycle / pedestrian experience, such separation of users isn’t required. See, for example,

When there is no such concept as ‘jaywalking’

Here is the pigeon-eye view of the east side of Booth from the Albert end, looking north towards Gatineau:

I do not expect some features of the design, such as the tree and planter space shown on the left, to actually appear in the next two years, but are city-planned for some future date when the land to the left is developed and sidewalk can be moved back a few feet. It is sometimes termed planning porn, showing what might be but not necessarily what will be.

Here is a functional concept (ie not final drawing exactly as it is to be built) drawing for the west-side Pimisi Station area, looking south, as a cyclist rides on the cycle track, showing a preferred pedestrian crossing point ahead, right outside the station entrance:

Other measures to more distinctly demark the passenger /pedestrian / cyclists spaces were considered, such as a sunken track, railings, street furniture , etc. The sunken track is a maintenance and trip problem. I expect some “furniture” measures like benches or portable planters may still appear. They can be used to “steer” people to the right places. It is a delicate balance between the rules-focused folks who want all users separated no matter how cumbersome the fix,  and the play-nicely-together folks plagued by rogue or selfish bad actors.

The illustrations do not show what happens to south bound cyclists and pedestrians as they approach the Albert intersection, and need to turn onto the (future, planned, promised) cycle tracks along both sides of Albert.

Similarly, we don’t yet know what the City has in mind for connecting the (I presume…) interim painted cycle lane extending from the Pimisi Station out to Wellington by the War Museum, should there be room for such a lane if the median is removed.

Nor do we yet have the “eventual” final layout should the adjacent lands be developed by Claridge or Senators and more space allocated to make for a continued raised cycle track (kudos to Claridge, which has already promised to provide this space on the east side of the road).

City staff were directed to address taking the interim cycling fix along Booth, and the likely long-term cycling fix, and integrate it into a fix for the section along the War Museum and Holocaust Monument onwards to the River. From there it has to be integrated into the Zibi proposals for a two-lane Booth + turning lanes, through Zibi lands across the Chaudiere and to Gatineau. And do it against strong can’t-interfere-with-fast-moving-car-traffic proponents. Whew. This was not an easy task.

Even if all the component pieces cannot be provided at once, it is correct to have a longer term integrated plan so all the pieces fit together (eventually). Our road-focussed city wasn’t built in a day, nor will a more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly city be wished into instant existance. We are moving in the right direction.



* Note that I am a member of the Citizens for Safe Cycling advocacy working group, and a member of the city’s fix-Booth working group.





14 thoughts on “Fixing the Booth Freeway fiasco

  1. These unsegregated cycle tracks adjacent to bus stops, with markings that no one understands, are a hazard to pedestrians and to transit users. Unsegregated cycle tracks absolutely do not belong in the shortest path between transit stations or shelters and the bus boarding spot.

    Whether here, on Main, or on Beechwood, someone is going to get smucked some day, soon.

    1. Kevin: of course there are alternative designs, most commonly letting the bus move into the painted cycle lane at bus stop zones. But there is the risk of someone getting smucked there too, with a higher probability of death. I’d love a better solution, but what is it?

      1. Bus hut about four feet in from the curb. Cycle track goes behind (relative to the street being “front”) the bus hut.

        This is what the design should have been, for example, on St. Patrick opposite Island Lodge. Instead, the bus hut is set back unduly far from the curb line (leading to passengers frequently being left in the lurch as OC Transpo drivers don’t see them waiting in the shelter, or actively ignore them because they aren’t waiting “at the stop”), and further forcing bus passengers into pedestrian conflict with the cycle track.

        The point of maximum conflict is between where passengers wait and the bus door. Cycle tracks do not belong in this space. Cf. the bike path that runs BEHIND the passenger waiting areas (and is even glass-walled off from them) at the lower level ofQueensway station on the bus path.

        Putting the cycle track between waiting passengers and waiting buses is a dumb recipe for conflict by design, and will inevitably result in ensmuckening.

  2. Looks good. There does seem to be room for a southbound bus shelter so I’m not sure why one would not be provided. I understood that this would be a transfer point for the 85 heading to Preston St. and further westbound.

    1. OC Transpo likes its passengers as wet, hot, cold, and uncomfortable as possible. Is there another major Canadian city whose transit authority is so anti-shelter, and anti-quality-shelter, as Ottawa?

    2. Brad: Looks like a southbound curbside shelter would address both your and Kevin’s concerns.

  3. Hi Eric
    Personally I’m very happy to see bikes and pedestrians together. Bikes and cars only have one winner and that’s the car where the bike rider is always the loser. Bikes and pedestrians can co-exist and hopefully no one gets smucked. Bikers need to be aware of the pedestrians at this one spot. Signage advising them to slow down could be one solution. Thanks.

    1. Given the colourful language that cyclists have used on me when, as is necessary, unavoidable, and right, I have crossed the cycle track on Main to get from the bus hut to the actual bus, yeah, no, a sign alone is not going to work.

  4. Looks good.
    I just hope there will be no ridiculous “cyclists dismount” signs that nobody follows and that only create conflicts.
    Signs like “Yield to pedestrians” work perfectly fine.

    1. It has been my experience that for some people, be they a pedestrian, cyclist or motorist, the sign applies to everyone else. I would not rely on a sign to create anything other than the illusion of order.

    2. Signs like “Yield to pedestrians” work perfectly fine.

      Only because cyclists ignore them the same way they ignore red lights, stop signs, speed limits on the MPP and every other traffic directive and do so without fear of any form of sanction.

  5. Funny we have planners that keep screwing up and we pay to fix these projects at great costs that limit otjer work in our city. All this work for the bridge but you cant tirn off wellington or JAM onto it when going east or west. Crazy.

  6. I only show up here from time to time in the attempt to expand my vocabulary.

    I am rarely dissappointed and when I encounter offerings such as “ensmuckening” I am in rapture.

    Someone needs to do an “ensmuckening” study of the Champlain Bridge. I used to cycle but am now a “senior walker,” cross the Champlain regularly on foot, and am regularly exposed to “ensmuckening” by cyclists riding on the pedestrian sidewalk.

    These “ensmuckeners” travel at high speed. Being hit by 200 pounds at a velocity in excess of 20 mph is going to hurt. I know of cycling accidents where two cyclists “ensmuckened” themselves in a head on collision with the death of one of them.

    These dudes do not have bells, give no notice of their approach, they just whiz by at speed inches away, blissfully unaware of either the laws of physics, or the fact that pedestrians on a sidewalk expect to meet only other pedestrians not speeding “ensmuckeners”. This occurs despite the Champlain having not one, but two (I counted them and then double checked to be sure) cycle lanes of generous width in both the southbound and northbound direction.

    I stopped one speeding “ensmuckener” who was wearing Ottawa Bicycling Club strip. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact he was operating a vehicle on a sidewalk. I think it is time cyclists are required to hold a license because sooner rather than later everyone will be gobsmacked at someone getting woefully “ensmuckened,”funeraled, and funiculared.

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