Long awaited Changes Finally Coming to Laurier Ave West

Written by Cameron Mochrie

Bike Ottawa provided feedback to the City on proposed cycling modifications to Laurier Avenue from Queen Elizabeth Driveway to Elgin Street. The plan includes a protected intersection with Elgin Street, separated cycle tracks on the north side of Laurier, and raised pedestrian and cycling crossings of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway on and off-ramps.

The City’s proposal comes after years of knowing this stretch of Laurier Avenue West  is dangerous for people on bikes – particularly the bicycle lane heading west bound that “floats” between two lanes of motor vehicle traffic (see image below). This became particularly obvious in May 2019, when a man was killed in a hit-and-run in this stretch—one of four people killed biking that year. The City’s response was to apply a few interim measures: they placed seasonal flexible posts to encourage drivers to not veer into the floating lane, and they changed the configuration of the on-ramp westbound from the Queen Elizabeth driveway. 

GeoOttawa Screenshot of the current floating bicycle lane design of Laurier Ave West westbound to Elgin Street.
GeoOttawa Screenshot of the current floating bicycle lane design of Laurier Ave West westbound to Elgin Street

While the City’s current proposal for this area is a big step in the right direction for improving safety for pedestrians and people riding bikes, we are frustrated with how long it has taken the City to propose permanent measures. We were also disappointed with the scope and quality of the changes. With the help of Streetmix online software, Bike Ottawa suggested a possible “road diet” and reconfiguration of the Laurier/Elgin intersection that would improve safety and comfort for all users in the area with minimal impact on traffic flow. 

A consistent theme of Ottawa’s recent intersection and roadway reconstruction projects is one of compromised designs: 1.1m wide cycle tracks due to lack of funding to acquire a strip of parking lot on Montreal Road, or “protected intersections” that include slip lanes (see Scott Street or Bronson and Sunnyside) are just two examples. The city has consistently lacked the resolve to implement truly safe active transportation infrastructure so as not to take space or priority away from motor vehicles. 

We hope that the City will consider bolder changes to transportation infrastructure in this and future projects.

To: Andrew Arseneault, Senior Engineer, Infrastructure Services

Cc: Councillor Catherine McKenney – Ward 14 Somerset

Via email: andrew.arseneault@ottawa.ca, catherine.mckenney@ottawa.ca

Date: October 3, 2022

Subject: Laurier Avenue Cycling Modifications – Queen Elizabeth Driveway to Elgin Street

Dear Mr. Arseneault,

Bike Ottawa is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that advocates for safe cycling infrastructure in Ottawa. Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback concerning the plans for the proposed modifications to Laurier Avenue.

We are pleased to see separated and physically protected cycle tracks, a protected intersection (at Elgin), and several raised crossings in these plans. We are encouraged to see efforts underway to increase safety for people biking and walking in this high-traffic area, which is one of the City’s cross-town bikeways (no. 2). Safety improvements in this area are long overdue, particularly given that someone was killed while biking in this area in 2019.

We also have some recommendations with regards to the designs of the intersections and adjacent facilities. 

  1. The Ontario Traffic Manual (Book 18) recommends a 2.5m cycle track width for high-volume cycling corridors such as this one. The planned cycle tracks are only 1.8m in width, however, which we don’t feel adequately provides for:
  • People less comfortable biking (e.g., children) to maneuver
  • Wider and more utilitarian cargo bicycles
  • Friends and family to ride side-by-side (biking is a social activity)
  • Convenient and comfortable passing (less stressful for slower riders)
  • Future volumes as our modal share increases

Increasing cycle-track width could be achieved by reducing car lanes in number or width. Slimming of vehicle lanes is possible and within the Road Corridor Planning & Design Guidelines for the city.

Wider cycle tracks could also be provided if, for example, eastbound car traffic was separated into through and right-turning lanes. This would enable a reduction in eastbound car lanes on the east side of the intersection to a single lane, providing over 3m of width to distribute to cycle tracks. Similarly, this would permit eliminating a southbound left-turning car lane, providing even more width for cycle tracks. The reduced road width would also encourage drivers to drive more cautiously, as research shows such road diets effect, which increases safety in the area for everyone. 

Before:

Streetmix cross section shows (from left to right): 2m sidewalk, 1.8m bicycle lane, 0.6m planter, 3.3m turn lane, 3.3m drive lane, 3.3m turn lane, 3.3m drive lane, 3.3m drive lane, 0.6m planter, 1.8m bike lane, 2m sidwalk.
Current configuration of Elgin St and Laurier Ave

After:

Removal of a drive lane creates space for wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes while also slowing speeds, creating safer streets.

Similar changes could be made on other approaches to this intersection with similar improvements to the pedestrian and cycling experience.

  1. Corner turning radii—in particular at the northeast corner of Laurier/Elgin—appear larger than is necessary. This will encourage faster and less cautious driving from motorists, increasing the danger to people walking and biking. In addition, the large turning radius pushes the protection island further to the curb, reducing space for people waiting to cross by bike. A tighter corner for drivers would both increase safety for everyone in this area and increase comfort for people biking.
  2. A general comment about travel mode prioritization: despite the addition of protected features, Laurier/Elgin will remain an extremely large intersection relative to its dense urban environment and considerable traffic of people walking and biking. The curb-to-curb distance for a pedestrian on the north side is over 20m, crossing six lanes of traffic. This is an intimidating and dangerous crossing for anyone, let alone someone with reduced mobility. The most effective way of shortening this distance is by reducing the number of vehicle lanes in this intersection—which, as mentioned above, would improve safety for all in this area. 
  3. We are encouraged to see the inclusion of raised concrete cross-rides on the on/off ramps to Laurier. Raised crossings encourage motorists to slow down and proceed with greater caution and remind motorists to yield to people walking and biking. Please consider constructing these at all crossing points and for all users within the project area.
  4. We urge eliminating right turn on red lights for motorists at all directions of this intersection. Right-turning vehicle traffic is a common source of dangerous conflicts. In addition, the ability to turn right on red encourages drivers to proceed into the pedestrian and cycling crossing areas as they look for vehicular traffic coming from their left. Prohibiting right turns in this situation increases safety for everyone in this intersection.
  5. On the south side of Laurier in front of city hall, the cycle track should not dip for curb cuts. Such dips increase discomfort for people biking and may be dangerous in inclement weather or for less comfortable riders. An elevated crossride for all driveways should be the standard here.
  6. Ensure proper drainage, grading and a snow storage buffer for year-round use to make it easy for city staff to maintain.
  7. We ask that where the cycle tracks meet the road, there always be a smooth transition to the roadway—that is, with no depressed curb.  Even a 1cm bump here can be quite uncomfortable, and the combination of asphalt and cement erodes quickly through multiple freeze and thaw cycles, increasing danger for all people biking.
  8. We request yield signs at the raised cross-rides on/off of Laurier to indicate to motorists to cede right of way to people walking and biking.  Additionally, the raised crossrides should have green thermoplastic which is not shown in the design.
  9. We recommend that the offramp lane from Laurier to Queen Elisabeth Driveway be narrowed and the turn radius reduced to match the on-ramp side. This will encourage drivers to proceed more slowly, improving safety for everyone.

We thank you in advance for your careful consideration of our recommendations and concerns and ask for a reply to them. We would be glad to answer any questions you may have to work with you on any aspect of this project relating to active transportation.

Sincerely,

Cameron Mochrie
Willian van Geest

Advocacy Working Group, Bike Ottawa
advocacy@bikeottawa.ca