Improved safety on NCC pathways

by John Dance

The NCC is now consulting to renew its pathway strategy, including looking for ways to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on the Glebe’s canal pathway. Photo: John Dance

Local residents have lots of suggestions for how the National Capital Commission (NCC) could improve its pathway network, especially the safety of its Rideau Canal routes that border the Glebe.

Local communities were well represented at two recent public consultations on the NCC’s network by keen cyclists and pedestrians who make daily use of the network. The NCC’s goal is to approve a new pathway network strategy by early next year.

Pathway use has doubled over the last two decades and the percentage of users who are cyclists is a growing as their share of total usage has grown from 56 per cent in 1999 to 69 per cent in 2016. The canal pathways are two of the busiest routes, with almost 400,000 cycling trips on the western side last year and about 250,000 on the eastern side. The NCC’s counters did not record pedestrians.

“I’ve witnessed huge improvements in cycling infrastructure as well as huge increases in pathway usage,” Jim Fraser, an Old Ottawa East resident, noted. “The major problems arise when the pathways are filled with casual walkers and casual cyclists, e.g. noon hour, evenings and weekends.”

“The suggestion we hear most often is to widen the pathways and create separate lanes for pedestrians and cyclists like on the Alexandra Bridge,” says Matthew Meagher, GCA’s traffic chair. “That may help to reduce conflict.”

Fraser suggested that signage specifying that all pathway users should keep to the right; a campaign to inform and educate all pathway users – not just cyclists; and ensuring safety after dark are major components of any education campaign.

Confining high-speed cyclists to the parkways rather than the pathways was suggested by several people including Harry Musson, co-owner of Rentabike and an Old Ottawa South resident, who stated that “the lycra crowd should be encouraged onto the roadways,” a point that others agreed with.

“As I see it, these roadways are already wide enough to accommodate high-speed cyclists, except perhaps in a couple of spots, and the changes required are minimal, i.e. repair the roadway surface, paint bike lanes, post appropriate signage, add traffic calming measures in a few key spots and enforce car speed limits,” said Fraser.

Jim Strang, a King’s Landing resident, frequent Canal walker and occasional cyclist observed, “there are far too many cyclists who divert the minimum amount possible from their chosen trajectory and pace to move over into the passing lane to the left to pass pedestrians.”

“Courtesy and education starting with the schools about mixed pathway protocol, rights of way and good manners would help,” Strang noted. “The goal should be to encourage a more European approach to cycling and I don’t mean the Tour de France.”

In this vein, Glebe resident Allison Dingle notes, “What I find missing is any mention of encouraging cyclists to ring their bells as they swish past unsuspecting pedestrians and slower cyclists. I rarely hear a bell these days.”

The NCC says that since the renewal of its previous pathway network strategy, a 20 km/hour speed limit has been implemented on the pathways; however, there has been no enforcement of this.

Another suggestion for addressing the pedestrian–cyclist conflicts on the canal pathway is to build a pedestrian boardwalk cantilevered from the sides of the Canal where the existing pathway is dangerously narrow and there is no other means of widening it.

John Dance is an Old Ottawa East resident who keeps Glebe Report readers informed about city affairs.

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