David McCrindle comments on City traffic calming mechanisms

posted Aug 31, 2012, 12:16 PM by RCC Admin.   [ updated Aug 31, 2012, 12:21 PM ]
Carleton Avenue is signed as a street that forms part of the Bicycle Route Network.  This street is used by many cyclists because of the safe access it provides to the NCC's Ottawa River recreational trail via the underpass under the Ottawa River Parkway.  Although curb
extensions have a desirable traffic calming effect and benefit pedestrians crossing the street by reducing street width, these bulb-outs create a hazard for cyclists, putting them in competition with motor vehicles for the reduced roadway space. As a cycle commuter that uses this route daily over the spring, summer and fall, I am now intimidated by vehicles approaching from behind as I approach these curb extensions. It's particularly scary when there is also a vehicle coming in the opposite direction limiting the ability of the car behind behind me to pull out and pass me. 

My concern is echoed by Transport Canada: "While pedestrians take a generally favourable view of traffic calming, cyclists have a more mixed perspective. Vertical measures like speed humps are well accepted, but horizontal measures can cause problems for cyclists unless they are carefully designed. Cyclists can be put at risk by road narrowings or lateral diversions that require them to change their travel path relative to the path of adjacent motor vehicles. For example, lanes shared by bikes and cars should have a constant width as they pass through narrowings or chicanes." 

SFBetterStreets, a San Francisco initiative which "attends to the needs of people first, considering pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, street trees, stormwater management, utilities, and livability as well as vehicular circulation and parking", states that "Curb extensions should not encroach on cyclists' space". 

The Delta, BC solution

The City of Delta, B.C. has recognized this conflict between cycling and curb extensions and has taken this enlightened approach, "Although the construction of curb extensions has been a benefit to pedestrians and helpful in reducing vehicle speeds, they have created a problem for some cyclists who may feel uncomfortable when riding through a curb extension abreast of a vehicle.  To help alleviate these concerns the Engineering Department is introducing curb ramps on either side of curb extensions to permit cyclists to bypass the extensions by riding up and over the structures." 

There may be other solutions such as reducing the extent to which the curb extension projects out into the street and placing a sharrow on the roadway next to the edge of the extension.  Or building a stand-alone bulb-out on the roadway that is separated from the sidewalk by a narrow paved lane designed for cyclists which may also benefit drainage.  
This could be an adaptation of the Long Beach, California curb extension in the photo that shows a drain through the curb extension designed to allow water to travel along the line of the existing gutter.   

The vision of the City of Ottawa to grow cycling as a viable and beneficial transportation mode needs to be understood and embraced by every engineer and planner in the City of Ottawa.  Solving vehicle and pedestrian issues in a manner that creates hazardous conditions for cyclists is not the answer.  I sincerely hope in future that, as a matter of course, the City of Ottawa will actively seek opportunities and solutions to promote and encourage safe cycling when designing and improving all aspects, big and small, of Ottawa's transportation infrastructure. 

The Long Beach, California solution