Signs of the times


NCC skateway street sign as seen from the Corktown Bridge

The City ascribes geographic omniscience as a characteristic of cyclists. How else could one explain the total lack of street signs or directional signs along the City’s multi-user paths (usually called “bike paths”).

In contrast, vehicular motorists are considered by the City to be geographical ignoramuses. How else could one explain the provision of street signs on every corner of every street, no matter how minor the street or how few places (if any) there are on the street?

Sarcasm aside, there should be street signs along pedestrian and cycling paths. They should be installed using similar criteria to regular street signs, ie at every corner.

Some destination signs would be useful too. These California format signs are pretty nifty:

As is usual in Ottawa, we are “considering” the issue of pedestrian and cyclist wayfinding. This requires some serious study. Should routes be numbered or named? How many signs, how big, and where to install them. Will they obstruct motorist sight lines? Who will pay for them as bike paths are not city roads?

I fear this will take us into the land of the parking-meter-to-bike-posts fiasco, where thousands of parking meter posts were removed instead of being converted to bike posts because we set up criteria so detailed that it is difficult to find spots to put bike posts.

This is a familiar problem when dealing with traffic issues. Existing conditions, even if rebuilt, are grandfathered and don’t have to be changed. Any changes wanted by the community have to pass the most stringent new standards designed for unconstrained suburban environments. That’s why the engineers always win.

But in Ottawa we are blessed with the NCC. They installed cyclist wayfinding signs on their paths several years ago, and have been improving them. And now they have installed them on the canal, for ice skaters. Yup, motorists can know where they are, skaters can know where they are, but cyclists on city streets …

8 thoughts on “Signs of the times

  1. Southbound cyclists on Bay St are particularly poorly off. The city has designated the west sidewalk as a cycling lane. There are a handful of signs indicating this for cyclists, but no signs facing the other way to let pedestrians know that it’s a shared sidewalk. There are also no traffic controls at intersections. Southbound cyclists have no stop signs or traffic lights. Finally, there’s no sign marking the end of the shared sidewalk.

    I’ve contacted Dianne Holmes about this, but she didn’t seem to understand the problem.

  2. It might be worth noting that the NCC’s signage came out of the response to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Ardeth Wood from an east-end pathway in 2003. As people became hyper aware of their security on the paths, many people realized they wouldn’t know where they were if they had to call 9-1-1.

  3. Eric – To be fair, if you lived on one of those streets with only a couple of houses and yours caught on fire, you would want the fire trucks to be able to find you. Yes they have GPS etc. but it isn’t always accurate and the technology can fail etc. so I bet drivers of emergency vehicles still rely on their own eyeballs. Otherwise I agree with all your points.

  4. My previous post should have specified “…rely on their own eyeballs to look for street signs.”

  5. I wish they had signs on the underpasses under the portage bridge and Wellington street. I was trying to walk to the new Mill Pub, and took the wrong un-marked underpass, and ended up on Victoria island.

  6. “Geographic omniscience” – love it! I have always thought the city was complimenting cyclists because they don’t make it easy for us to do much, and therefore, we must be smarter than motorists. I am glad someone else thinks so too, and has developed a favourable term for what we cyclists have.

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