Or, the ongoing saga of Nicholas and Laurier. Nope, not a bromance.
On Thursday I picked Middle and Little up at school for two appointments. Our travels took us to the optometrist in Sandy Hill and thence to the doctor in the Glebe. The trip to Sandy Hill was uneventful and we found plentiful bike parking at our destination. We then cycled along Cumberland to Laurier, with Little on the back of the cargo bike and Middle pedalling his smaller red bike.
That is where things started to get hairy. We had to cross the canal, and usually we would use the underpass (the star) at the University of Ottawa to navigate Nicholas. It was used heavily by pedestrians and cyclists, but is closed now until August 24 because of LRT construction. Laurier is the nearest east-west street that connects Sandy Hill to downtown and is therefore the route of choice for all those who want to get downtown by bike or on foot. In many ways, it is a horrible route. Nicholas and Laurier (the square) is a hell on earth of cars, buses and trucks coming from the highways on the Quebec side, joined by vehicles coming from downtown, and going down Nicholas to the Queensway.
Here it is on Google Earth:
Green things have recently been painted on the road, like sharrows and a crossride on the west side of the intersection, that do not appear on that image.
This is the way I got through it earlier this week: disembark from bike, stand at Waller and Laurier waiting for light to change so that I can cross south to Laurier (top right corner of picture). I am right on the edge of pavement, with a bike lane behind me and a roadway in front of me with two lanes full of vehicles, one of which has sharrows on it for bikes. I don’t ride on sharrows with the children. Little once remarked about sharrows: “A bike lane and a car lane in the same place? How can that be?” Indeed. Middle was on the sidewalk with his bike. I notice from the image that the curb curves quite sharply to enable vehicles to turn easily and this makes the available sidewalk smaller. Just as the light changed so we could cross to the south side, a police car turning off Waller drove right over in front of me, blocking traffic and told me to get my bike more fully on the sidewalk because it was very dangerous there because of the turning buses, saying that there had been a terrible accident recently. I got on the sidewalk without remark and missed my light to cross Laurier. Yup, it’s the lady with her bike and her kids that’s the real danger here.
I decided to continue along the north side of Laurier and we walked our bikes, with a crowd of other pedestrians, along a narrow sidewalk between a building and a railing, presumably erected to prevent cars from going up on the sidewalk. The crossing at Nicholas involved us crossing a right turn lane and perching on a porkchop (triangular traffic island) as we waited for the light. There was room on this porkchop (sort of in the middle of the image) for two bikes and no one else. We were still walking our bikes. We crossed Nicholas and arrived at the northwest corner. We got back on our bikes because recent modifications made by the councillor, Mathieu Fleury, in response to an outcry from cyclists, have involved the installation of a crossride from north to south. On the other side of the intersection, a policeman was waving cars through on the dedicated right turn lane from Laurier to Nicholas. A bike lane is sandwiched between this lane and the two lanes of straight-ahead traffic; the bike lane disappears on the other side of the intersection and cyclist merge with cars onto sharrows.
This is what the intersection looks like from street level. These photos were taken at the end of May. On my most recent encounter with this failure of infrastructure I had my hands full with two children and was not snapping pictures.
We did not continue on the bridge over the canal; that would have involved me being on the bike lane on the road, protected by some blue pilons, and Middle on his bike on the sidewalk. My last trip to this intersection involved me travelling east across that bridge and taking the bike lane separated from the curb by a turning lane. I would never ever ride in that lane with a child on the back and another on the sidewalk separated from me by a lane of cars. Part of riding with children is constant communication and instruction, and that would not work above the din of traffic from one lane away. I have asked the city to move the bike lane to the right side of the street, as they did on the St. Patrick bridge, but was told there was too much traffic turning right and it would slow the vehicles down. If one dropped the assumption that the cars had first priority over all road surfaces, one might come to a different conclusion. One could eliminate the right turn lane, for example. Sigh.
Finally, we reached the haven of the MUP (multi-user pathway) along the canal on the east side. We continued down to the Corktown pedestrian and cycling bridge, situated right next to the closed underpass, crossed the bridge and faced the MUP on the other side of the canal, closed now for some time for construction. There is an alternate route on a road just west of the Driveway, but this is now dug up, also for construction. A construction worker saw me hesitating and told me that there was a way for cyclists to weave their way through. Yes, there is, and it is narrow and winding and rough, with sharp turns around construction fences. We managed fine, but it was not a proper detour. Did no one think that digging up the MUP and the alternative route for cyclists at the same time might provide some difficulty for said cyclists? We reached the MUP and continued down to Fifth Avenue and crossed the Driveway using the cycling signal. The children always love using that signal, since they can activate the sensor themselves on their own bikes, and they exclaim, “Look, it’s a signal just for us! For cyclists, not for cars!” Yes, grownups, children on bikes are paying attention and know that the world is mostly not built for them.
We arrived at the doctor just in time. It had taken us 45 minutes to travel from Besserer and Cumberland to Fifth and Bank, a distance of 4 km. Even allowing for a slightly slower child biking speed, I would expect it to take 25 minutes at most. Most of that time was not cycling time, but waiting time, walking time, and figuring out which way to go time.
I was cross during that bike ride, and I am still cross. I did not feel safe except when I was on quiet streets or on the MUP. The worst part was navigating the crossing of a highway, Nicholas, that travels through the middle of town. The underpass, a safe route for cyclists and pedestrians has been removed, and replaced with nothing. All the cars and trucks and buses maintain their usual routes, and cyclists and pedestrians are meant to fit themselves around all those other vehicles. We can anticipate two more months of nothing safe at Nicholas and Laurier for the children and me, and all the other people who don’t want to, or can’t, pay for the bus or for a car to get downtown. It is not safe for us to go that route by bicycle, and it is not safe for us to walk our bikes through there either. The spouse’s office is just on the west side of the canal, and it might be nice to meet Daddy for lunch during the summer. On the other hand, the children have remarked that the downtown is loud and smelly and full of mean cars, so perhaps they won’t want to do that after all.