The councillor weighs in on the Fifth Avenue bike lane

In my previous post, I covered the city’s response (and lack of response) to my questions about the Fifth Avenue bike lane–specifically the intersection of Fifth and Bank. To re-cap:

  • The city promises to move the car stop line back a bit.
  • The city promises to put in a bike box.
  • The city is reticent to put in any protection (a bollard or whatever), and apparently there’s no money for it, anyway…but maybe we’ll take a wait-and-see approach.
  • The city didn’t comment on no-rights-on-reds.
  • The city didn’t comment on an advance bike (and pedestrian) light.

So an entirely mixed and rather disappointing, if expected, response. One thing that really bugs me about this is that they’re doing so little on Fifth to begin with, they can’t even muster the interest to do the bare minimum to make this a safe and protected intersection for vulnerable road users. It’s a half measure of a half measure.

So I asked what the local councillor, David Chernushenko, thought–what is his preference for such an intersection.

My specific wording to his staffer was: I have one final question, what does the councillor think of this? If it were up to him, how would he have the intersection and bike lanes constructed?

The response was thoroughly underwhelming.

Thanks for raising these questions. In short, if this was a complete rebuilding of the intersection — with the budget that comes with it — I would look at doing some additional “hardened” measures in place of mere lines. However, it is not. There is a small budget for the whole Glebe Neighbourhood Bikeways project, and it does not allow for multi-million dollar changes. But even if it did, we would still be faced with a couple of major limitations:

  1. The actual location of building faces;
  2. The need for wide sidewalks;
  3. The significant and almost equal needs of different users, and the interactions between them (pedestrians, cyclists, buses, drivers)

As an illustration of point 3, yesterday I was driving on Fifth, turning south on Bank — in my electric car, of course:) Only two cars could get through because the turning lane has now been removed to make room for the cycle lane. There are so many pedestrians crossing that there is little time/room for a turn. Banning a right turn on red would actually increase the congestion and frustration, though admittedly adding some modest pedestrian safety. In short, it is bloody complicated and there is no easy solution in a dense urban environment. Let’s watch and learn, then modify.

As for an advance light for cyclists, there are traffic code limits on when and how these can be used (budgets too) but I will ask for this to be considered.

Please keep in mind that the plan you see in front of you was reached following extensive input from users of all modes, Bike Ottawa, local Glebe cyclists and pedestrians, and went through some public information sessions. So this is not top down. It is the best we could collectively come up with — for now at least. As a city, we keep evolving!

Well, ho-lee there’s a lot to unpack here.

First, I was more interested in what we’d ideally for this intersection under the current circumstances, but I wasn’t clear about that, so a discussion (however half-hearted) about a proper re-construction is fair.

And certainly, if we could widen the sidewalks, narrow the street, eliminate on-street parking and then see what space there was for bike lanes, I’d be ok with that. Prioritize pedestrian safety, yes!

Oh wait, but no, he doesn’t really sound like he wants to prioritize pedestrian or bike safety. Look at point 3. He’s talking that usual city faux-complete-streets bullshit about balancing the needs of all road users.

Look, some asshole driver’s “need” to speed through an intersection is not “almost equal” to my actual need to not get fucking run over. This shouldn’t be difficult. And if a councillor actually cared about bicycling (or, say, the environment), I’d expect him to get that.

Now, let’s look at his illustration. Apparently, only two cars could get through on a light. Oh boo-fucking-hoo. You know how much bicyclists and pedestrians are forced to wait for drivers (or for the hypothetical driver that might soon be coming down the road)? Do you know how many bicyclists won’t be able to go anywhere because some driver is stopped in the bike lane?

Yeah, exactly. So, I don’t care a whole lot.

Also, can we stop prioritizing “traffic flow” over all things on our residential streets? (Yes, Fifth is a residential street.) The Glebe is filthy with cars. We don’t actually need to keep encouraging them.

And, really, if there are so many pedestrians using the street, (a) that’s great; (b) let’s start prioritizing their safety a little bit. ‘Cuz let’s make something clear: I asked his office about some measures to make Bank Street more welcoming, more accommodating and safer for pedestrians and I was…given blatantly false information in defense of the driving-centric status quo.

But, hey, I can play nice. We could give cars a delayed green in order to get a couple of turners through the intersection.

What if between each driving traffic light change, we had a bike and pedestrian scramble? Maybe that’d balance things out nicely.

You see? There are solutions beyond just making sure lots of drivers can do lots of driving.

But, my god, way to diminish pedestrian and bicycling safety (calling needed safety improvements “modest”), when you need to stand up for driving.

I mean, he’s right. These things get bloody difficult when we arrange our entire city around driving. So, yeah, this is a difficult bind (I guess). But, hell, for once, just once, when we’re struggling for a solution, could take pedestrian and bicycling safety as the default, encouraging driving activists to find a compromise they can live with.

For once, could we place the hardship on drivers, not the people they could easily kill?

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