Bike Lanes are as Dutch as Tulips

This is a brief post regarding the NCC‘s recent scheme for the redevelopment of Ottawa’s Confederation Boulevard (i.e. a stretch of Sussex Drive) between King Edward and St. Patrick. (Thanks Chris Begley for bringing this to our attention.)  My point is simple, and I begin by asking the reader what is wrong with this picture.

View of the Proposed Confederation Boulevard-Sussex Drive Rehabilitation, King Edward to St. Patrick.  Click image for complete proposal (PDF) on the National capital Commission website (

View of the Proposed Confederation Boulevard-Sussex Drive Rehabilitation, King Edward to St. Patrick. Click image for complete proposal (PDF) on the National capital Commission website (

I’ll forgive you for answering “The drunk in the red car.” In fact that driver may be texting, and the car/lane misalignment is a commendable aspect of the drawing, since it’s a common occurrence on our streets. Let’s be honest: we’ve all strayed from the path from time to time, even when we were neither drunk nor texting.

The real problem with the drawing is that the proposed road is designed in such a way that if the driver of the red car were veering in the other direction—as one would see happen many times an hour in a real-life observation of a street like this—then he or she would be in danger of taking out a cyclist. Even on this sunny spring day when the Ottawa roads are uncharacteristically spotless, it clearly takes more than a line of white paint to guarantee the safety of our two-wheeled friends. No wonder there’s only one bike in the picture.

A simple solution to this potentially fatal situation is placing the cycle path above the curb, as we see in this marvelous photo of a street in Provence.

Generous sidewalks, bike tracks, bollards and crossings on this complete street in Aubagne, Provence. Photo: Hans Moor. Click image to view on Pinterest and Twitter.

A street complete with generous sidewalks, a cycle track, bollards and crossings in Aubagne, Provence. Photo: Hans Moor @bikeottawa. Click image to view on Pinterest, which links to the original via Twitter.

In the Provence example cyclists are safely segregated from motorists by the curb, and from pedestrians by the changes in surface colour and texture, in addition to the many street lamps, bollards and signs keeping cyclists and pedestrians in line. Some of these same smart strategies (as distinct from regulatory signs, which are almost invariably obtrusive and ineffective) could easily be applied in the final version of the Confederation Drive scheme. Indeed this would be a splendid opportunity to implement the attractive red asphalt cycle tracks that we see in Provence and throughout northern Europe.

By narrowing the very wide landscape median in the NCC proposal and by expanding the sidewalk one could make enough room for a generous cycle track, permitting people to safely cycle two abreast and pass with ease. There would still be plenty of room in the median for tulips—a tribute to the Dutch that lasts for a few glorious days each year. By contrast, a well-maintained Dutch-style cycle track would be useful year round, and (if extended to a credible infrastructure) would greatly reduce the threat of cycle injuries and fatalities. Such a scheme would improve the experience of residents and tourists alike.

The keen observer might have noticed another problem with the NCC picture. While it shows such features as clouds, banners and flowers in exquisite detail, this rendering fails to depict any of the drainage features itemized in the report. While the Dutch are no slouches when it comes to stormwater management, it’s the planners in Portland, OR who are leading the way in developing attractive landscape features that the take strain off the sewers by slowly filtering toxic water off busy city streets. I invite the reader to click on the following examples from the Slow Ottawa Stormwater Solutions Pinterest board.

stormwater1  stormwater2  stormwater3

Graham Larkin

For more on local cycling visit the Slow Ottawa Bike page. For more on multimodal transit visit our Streets for Everyone Pinterest board.

UPDATE, 20 May 2014: After a night’s sleep I’ve added two links in the penultimate paragraph, and I regret having put “bike lanes” (rather than “cycle paths” or “cycle tracks”) in the title. The problem, of course, is that there does seem to be a narrow bike lane in the NCC scheme, but it’s drastically inadequate. “Cycle path” and “cycle track” denote something far more serious. 

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2 thoughts on “Bike Lanes are as Dutch as Tulips

  1. Kevin McLauchlan

    I like the above-curb /b/i/k/e/… er… cycle paths in your Provence example, but the photo you highlighted is a street with no vehicular parking. Imagine the same street, a bit wider, with cars parked alongside the curb. Here’s my concern:

    Dooring is a bad-enough risk when you cycle alongside driver-side doors, but at least you are dealing with people who have their heads somewhat in the game and have been paying attention to traffic (i.e., drivers who just parked). If the cycle path is alongside the passenger side of the parked vehicles, you are dealing with people who have been napping or chatting on the phone or reading or… anything but paying attention to driving and the other occupants and movement patterns of the street-scape. What I’m suggesting is that – without some additional buffer – passenger-side doorings are a more likely event. Unless, perhaps, the curb was too high to permit a door to open… 🙂



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