Ottawa: Impressions of Ontario’s First Green Bike Box


A new for Ontario, the bike box. Cyclists can wait in front of cars to turn left onto Wellington heading west (left)

Something new appeared on the streets of Ottawa, the very first bike box in Ontario. Earlier I had seen them in Vancouver, but this is an Ontario first and judging by the 50 thumbs up on Citizens for Safe Cycling’s Facebook page, it is solidly approved by cyclists. The green material is similar to the paint used in Laurier and should last quite a while, even through the harsh winters (which are getting less and less harsh anyway although I don’t have the evidence [citation needed].)

I hadn’t really planned to go out and see it, but I had to go to the war museum to participate in sending off Canadian troops to Nijmegen in the Netherlands for the four day 160 km march; traditionally Canadian military participates in this event, the world’s largest. You were probably wondering why they were marching around Ottawa lately, so now you know why.

The Vierdaagse

The “Vierdaagse” (Dutch for “Four day Event”) is an annual walk that has taken place since 1909, being based at Nijmegen since 1916. Depending on age group and category, walkers have to walk 30, 40 or 50 kilometers each day for four days. Originally a military event with a few civilians, it now is a mainly civilian event. Numbers have risen in recent years, with over 40,000 taking part – including about 5,000 Military. It is now the world’s largest walking event. Due to crowds on the route, since 2004 the organizers have limited the number of participants. The first day of walking is always the 3rd Tuesday in July. Many participants take part every year, including several that have taken part in 50, and even 60 different annual marches. More

A big sign explains the new situation. If you plan to go to war, turn left too.

On my way back from the museum, I happen to pass the bike box. The box is designed to give cyclists  an advantage (O horror) when they want to turn left, while the cars next to them may turn right, thereby crossing each others path. The idea is that you have a bit of a head start, without adding extra bicycle traffic lights. I thought it was interesting to watch traffic behaviour for a bit, thereby delaying my work behind my desk for a bit as the weather was too nice to be inside. Some people must have been wondering what the guy in the dark suit with the Canadian flag on his lapel was doing there.

This cab is not sure yet…
What is it with cabbies…?
Dark grey car: first waiting inside the box, then right through red….where did the driver buy his/her license?
then the SUV pulled up (licence plate from the US) and waited partly in the box.

There were a fair number of drivers who seemed to be oblivious of the large green box with the white bike painted in it. And there was also a cyclist who just kept rolling towards the intersection without waiting in the box. I was surprised to see how many cyclists were actually out there (also on Wellington) at 11:15 am, I had not thought of that time of day as busy with cyclists.

But also drivers who do get it:

Like this woman…
…and the van driver, but not the cyclist, who rolled towards the intersection anyway.
After you’ve crossed Wellington and you are actually cycling on it, the lane becomes segregated towards the traffic lights in the next picture to keep the Gatineau buses at bay.
This is somewhat confusing: straight ahead: stay in the left lane. Turning left, get off your bike in that little bay, wait for the green light and walk your bike across.  Many cyclists will likely break the law by cycling through red anyway if they go straight ahead as other than the occasional pedestrian, there is nothing to wait for. Pedestrians can actually go underneath this intersection too.

Of course, you can also share the lane with the buses if you prefer that. In front of the white bus, there is a bike lane designed for cyclists coming from Quebec who need to cut across the intersection to get on to down town on Wellington. As the bike lane over the bridge is bi-directional, this whole intersection will remain somewhat odd. I foresee a lot of traffic violations here.

It would have been much neater to keep it bidirectional all the way up to the Library and Archives, cross rides on Wellington and then a two way street for bikes into Bay until Laurier. From Laurier you can then turn into Percy all the way down into the Glebe to see a ball game at Lansdowne. From Portage to Lansdowne is only a 4 km ride after all.

There is space for a number of cyclists in the bike box.

Cycling advocacy is a balancing act. There is ‘not enough space‘ for a bike lane on Wellington coming into town, but look how wide that side walk is….

Entertaining…….and good to see that Ottawa once again begins to take a lead in cycling promotion. Also read segregated bike lanes in other countries.

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8 thoughts on “Ottawa: Impressions of Ontario’s First Green Bike Box

  1. I cross this corner every day. So far, I’ve found most people in morning rush hour traffic get the bike box. The part I find very confusing is coming into Ottawa from Quebec. I almost got killed twice before I realized that the light doesn’t change so I can cross the street, it changes so I can cross half the street. Cyclist then have to wait in the middle to cross again. I doubt many people will follow the law here because (1) it takes CONSIDERABLY longer to get up Wellington than taking the sidewalk (2) you have to stop at the bottom of a hill while waiting for the light to change and (3) it is really confusing and if you get it wrong, you are in danger from cars going 60+ km/h!

    1. It is important to share you experiences. I found that coming from Quebec, it was not very clear how to move around the intersection. You are not really suer where the traffic is supposed to come from. I think few people will stop at the bottom of the hill after that nice downhill ride from Bay….They often say that cyclists are like water and will search for the shortest way and basically can go everywhere in terms of size. This is a perfect example where I expect that to happen.

  2. Sorry to burst your bubble but a first for Ottawa doesn’t mean a first for Ontario 😛

    Waterloo has had a bike box for the better part of a year on Davenport and Lexington.

    Here’s a post from WaterlooBikes last august and includes a picture – http://waterloobikes.ca/2011/08/08/complete-street-celebration/

    My biggest complaint with Waterloo’s bike box is that it’s not painted and my tag for it is ‘Bowling for Cyclists’.

    Ottawa’s may well be the first painted one, but I can only speak for Waterloo Region.

    Cheers,

  3. In some spots I agree, the sidewalks are much too wide and streets too narrow. Many times there is a meter of grass between the road and the sidewalk…This could have been a bike lane! Now it would cost millions to tear up the street.

    I did use the bike lanes on Laurier the other day; they were very nice.
    And I do love the idea of turning left in an intersection! I never do it unless its not a busy area.

    1. The lanes are indeed pleasant to cycle. It is interesting to see how most people adept and stick to a calm approx. 20-22k/hr ride, rolling behind each other. And if you want to go faster, you can always cycle outside the lane.

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