Planning the O-Train bike path

Okay, so it’s not really a “bike path”, the City doesn’t have any of those. We have MUPs, or Multi User Paths, which are shared by cyclists, dog walkers, parents with wailers, grannies with yappers, kids alone,  etc. (It makes an interesting contrast: on roads, cyclists are told to play nicely with cars, buses, and tractor-trailers going 70km; off road, cyclists are sent to play with various pedestrian folks).

I’m on the PAC (public advisory committee) for the O-Train path that will eventually run from the Ottawa River pathways south to Dow’s Lake. The City will construct the section from Bayview Station to Somerset (or maybe Gladstone) in 2012. (This doesn’t mean you will ride on it in 2012, unless you winter cycle next December 15).  

looking north from Somerset viaduct, towards Bayview and the Ottawa River

 The path will follow roughly the dirt trail on the right side of the fence (in the pic above), unless we can convince (ie, pay for ) OC Transpo to relocate the fence a bit further left (west) since they don’t need the large right of way they fenced. Nor, BTW, does the fence follow the property line, which is six inches out from the concrete pillars holding up the elevated service road along the back of the City Centre Building bays.

The path will go under Somerset using the newly constructed underpass, subject of many previous posts, and then swing back upslope to join Somerset on the south side roughly where the billboard is located. A flight of stairs may also be installed, to forestall the inevitable goat path that would appear as peds shortcut the longer bike/wheelchair/perambulator pathway.

the as-yet unlit underpass with its virgin walls

 I wanted to make a checklist of points for the PAC meeting, so I don’t forget anything, and thought I would share them with you, gentle reader. The “experts” at these meetings are generally very nice, but can be overly bureaucratic (corrupted by the motorist-mindset at City Hall) and it never hurts to remember what the user thinks is important.

 1. the sloped path on the south side of Somerset needs to have all overland drainage run away from the path. If there is an upslope area, an intercepting swale is necessary to prevent early morning and early evening “freezing” patches in spring and early winter.

2. the flat path going overland should be elevated at least 12″ above the surrounding soils, to promote drainage, reduce flooding when the soil is frozen and it rains, and so users feel higher than the surrounding areas to have good visibility and enhance subjective safety. Of  course there should be a gentle gravel slope leading off  the edge of the asphalt to prevent erosion, cracking, and cyclist spills

2b. since the path is shared by various users, including commuter cyclists who are likely to be emulating Lance Armstrong velocity, it needs to be w-i-d-e.

3. there should be rest areas along the path (mainly for pedestrians, but useful for dog walkers, and parents with wailing 2 year olds who want “out”). I am not a fan of the NCC-style bench-up-tight-to-the-path solution, and benches are expensive to install and maintain. Instead, I’d like to see stonedust-paved bulb-out areas that lead rest-takers 10′ or so off the path, where they are less likely to get run over by MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra), and can relax, sitting on large flat boulders as benches. The City has a generous stockpile of these rocks heaped up along Pinecrest Creek transitway just north of the Qway. Let’s put ’em to good use here…

4. the path needs to be lit, with ped-scaled light fixtures, like at the east end of Corkstown bridge over the Rideau Canal, or along the Albert Street MUP just west of Bronson. Parts of the area along the O-Train corridor are “behind” warehouses etc and need to be lit up to enable their use by women and people with various sensitivities towards safety. This path will eventually form a very important and busy feeder link to the Bayview Station as well as a link to BikeWest and the ORP. We can’t afford not to light it.

well-lit Albert MUP

5. the city is apparently considering a fancy 21′ staircase structure on the north side of Somerset, by the City Centre complex, for peds to access the path, and for cyclists who are gung ho to carry their bikes up the stairs instead of riding around to the south side. This stair costs lots of money, I would rather it be spent on extending the first phase path all the way to Gladstone; leave the stair to the future. The stair, BTW, is because some think it “too dangerous” for westbound cyclists to cross the street without a traffic light to access the bike path staring from the south side of Somerset …

6. Similarly, at Gladstone, the path would come out right by the billboard on the NE corner of the rail overpass. Last time I talked to the City, they were alarmed at the idea of installing curb cuts here so that cyclists could access the street to cycle onwards, or to cross the street: “But there is no traffic light there, it’d be too dangerous”. Fie on that. Put in a bit of chicane or maze to slow down cyclists so they don’t speed across Gladstone. Or put in a half-light, with activator buttons 150′ down the trail on each side. But don’t “promote” cycling by forcing them to dismount and carry their bike over the curb to get to the  -eventual –  continuation of the path on the other side…

7. the city-owned right of way along the O-Train is quite wide between Gladstone and Bayview Station, I’d like to see it all treated as parkland. This means rough landscaping it all, demarking the boundaries to prevent encroachment by dumpsters, dumpers, and vehicles. And to prevent adjacent building sites from encroaching onto the public realm for “staging”. Given the wide open nature of the area, with no overhead wires, I’d like to see the area planted with big trees — burr oaks, chestnuts, walnuts, and other large-growing trees. If the city can’t afford to do it, supply a few planting beds and let the community plant tree seedlings. I wouldn’t like to see the city ‘cheap-out’ by leaving the O-train corridor as a untended unloved industrial track wasteland, to be clear-cut every decade or so to keep down nature. This is a prime green connector between the Ottawa and Rideau River ecosystems, we should be proud of it.

7b. The Bayview Station designs all show water run off from the station roof being directed down stone channels to the valley floor. I’d love to see a proper water run-off storage pond built, to moderate run-off and reduce flooding, and because they are attractive and good for urban wildlife (ducks, raccoons, etc).

8. the Bayview Station design is an amazing shape-shifter. Every time we see it, it has moved to a new location, with its main entrance at the OTrain level, no at the Albert level, no it’s on the bridge, etc etc. Pretty much constant in the latest designs has been a delightful accommodation of the north-south cycling route, sometimes it even runs right through the station (the non-fare-paying part). It is important that this cycling link be kept, and that it be rideable (not a “dismount and walk your bike” zone)*, shareable, and generous sized.

8b. as the bike path ascends from the valley floor up to the Bayview station platform level, the slope should be long, and gentle, with a generous “flat” zone as riders approach the station. This will require more fill to construct the long slope, and thus more expense, but the path and slope must be visible from top and bottom, and from the Otrain platform, to conform with principles of Crime Prevention through Evironmental Design (CPTED)

9. this north/south bike path (oops, MUP) also needs to connect well with the E/W bike path proposed for construction in 2017 along the north side of the LRT line from Bayview underpass to LeBreton Station to the downtown.

10. could the NCC please, pretty please, complete the Bayview Station to ORP link at the same time, in 2013, as we all know they are bustin’ a gut to close the Preston Extension (and if they don’t do it, the LRT people are telling us they will, as early as 2013, for our own safety, to keep us out of the LRT right of way).

11. can the City please do the southward sections in 2013, so that cyclists can get over Gladstone, to join the existing path along the OTrain, up to Carling, where a half-light crossing is due to be installed in 2012-13, enabling cyclists to join the driveway paths or go south to Carleton, Mooney’s Bay, and other destinations?

the 1963 section of the path, from Young to Carling, is plowed in the winter

There are lots of other considerations for the pathway design. The group discussions at the PACs are often fun and educational. They really bring out the truism that together everyone achieves more.


*for those that care, the last station design for Tunney’s showed the Bikewest path as interrupted by the Station waiting areas, and it definitely looked like it was a “stop, dismount, and walk your bike” zone rather than a ride-through-shared-space-carefully zone. Sigh.

6 thoughts on “Planning the O-Train bike path

  1. I admire your patience and focus, Eric. I’m sitting on 700 or so photos of City Centre, Somerset, and the O-Train tunnel, and have spent the last few days trying to get them organized enough to put into a coherent narrative, much less pare them down to a couple dozen to put up in a multi-post blog series. You’ve managed to tell a good chunk of the story all in one post.

  2. Two comments.

    First, a bit of an aside related to your first picture. That picture shows to advantage the $700 hydro pole that the O-Train track winds its way around. By “$700 hydro pole” I mean that it would have cost $700 at the time the O-Train pilot project was being constructed to relocate it so that the track could have gone in a nice straight line from Somerset and up the incline to Bayview Station. For a decade now, the O-Train has been crawling past that pole, its wheels squeeling on the curve and the engines requiring extra revving to climb up what otherwise would have been just a matter of coasting in, using gravity to slow down. It would also have removed the need to brake on the way out of Bayview. It’s an aside, I grant you, but an illustrative one because it’s the kind of non-thinking City decision that I suspect you want to avoid.

    Secondly, with respect to point #6, why should Gladstone have right of way over the path? My suggestion would be to extend the path at curb-top level clear across Gladstone, in effect turning it into a form of speed hump on Gladstone, complete with yield signs. Chicanes and mazes are cures worse than the problem they attempt to solve. Most chicanes and mazes are big enough for cyclists to navigate without dismounting, since they have to be big enough for strollers and wheelchairs to navigate. The consequence of that, however, is that cyclists are paying attention to the tricky work of navigating the chicane rather than on the sidewalk and road beyond. It also means that snow clearing is that much more difficult and there’s a degree of paternalistic offensiveness in these chicanes in that they are imposed on cyclists for “safety” reasons when no one would ever ever consider forcing cars through chicanes quite like those (well, except of course the Dutch in their shared streets – the Dutch have a keener sense on just what the safety hazards are…).

    1. I concur. This is a great opportunity to try an experiment in more subtle traffic planning. If the pathway was raised across Gladstone and Beech, with bricks or some other different surface than the roadway and yield to cyclist signs were in place, motorists would hve to pay more attention. I’d take this over a signalized intersection or speed hump anyday.

  3. Love the idea of a bike path next to the O-Train. I hope that this will stop OC Transpo from further destroying the existing path from Carling to Beach.

    It will be nice to link the Ottawa River to the Canal via a green space path.

  4. All great points. I was glad to see connecting Bayview Station with the path along the river included on the list.
    I really hope the NCC and the city can coordinate on this to minimize disruption with pathway closure during station construction and to see both legs of the path completed at the same time.

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