Thursday, February 3, 2011

good news for Ottawa cyclists...

Soooo, here I sit nursing a pulled muscle in my lower back and gazing out my back door. I see the silent white blanket of yesterday's snowstorm sparkling under an early February sun. The contrast between the pearly silver white snow and the cool cerulean of the skies is both breathtakingly beautiful and inviting.

I would go skiing at the wetlands as we did two days ago. The conditions then were actually pretty good so today's would be utterly perfect. However, as I said, I pulled a muscle in my lower back (nope, no idea how) so I will give it a pass today. I just need a couple of days to let this heal...just a couple...

Yet, despite my not being happy about missing out on such perfect conditions, I was much heartened to learn that City of Ottawa's transportation committee approved the installation of a dedicated bike lane on Laurier Avenue. Indeed, the lane itself could be complete and ready for cyclists by later this summer. That works for me though I wouldn't object to seeing it done sooner (of course). The stated price tag of $1.3 million is seen by a number of people to be excessive but it should be noted that the building of dedicated bike lanes isn't merely a matter of some masking tape, a high contrast paint and a couple of rollers. I am under the impression that traffic lights specific to cyclists must also be installed.

The proposed dedicated bike lane is to run from Elgin to Bronson along Laurier - not very far even by Ottawa standards. I should take a sentence or two here to note that the actual downtown core of Ottawa isn't very large. Ottawa is a fairly compact city despite the suburban sprawl many of us would rather see less of. This compactness would actually work very well for urban cyclists as the relatively short distances involved would also result in a relatively small amount of inconvenience to other drivers.

The stated impact on car drivers isn't expected to be voluminously huge though some business owners along the proposed street have argued that a dedicated bike lane will have a negative impact on their businesses. While I find their arguments of questionable validity do concede that I have a personal interest in the building of these dedicated lanes. I've seen them in Montreal and nobody has had to be sedated as a result of those bike lanes being there. Dedicated bike lanes are so common in places like Denmark and Holland as to be expected.

The turmoil in the Middle East and the issue of peak oil means that the price of oil can only go up. By logical extension of this reality, the price of gasoline will surely follow suit with the result that it will become a lot more expensive over time to drive to work. More and more people have indicated that they will either have to move closer to where they work, carpool, take public transit or haul out that old bike of theirs that had been collecting dust and start using that. I should add that this is based on the casual conversations I have had with people over time and not based on any hard numbers. I don't have such numbers to support my argument but I don't pretend that I do.

Ironically, it is this sort of equally vague "feeling" that no good will come about from having a dedicated bike lane that has fuelled the arguments of some who are against such bike lanes in the first place. According to the CBC article, "...The Bank Street Business Improvement Area has complained the proposed lanes will affect their parking and loading bays..." Yet, that same article doesn't provide a specific example of what the Bank Street Business Improvement Area means by any negative impact. In reading the item, the closest actual genuine concern I could find is that hotel patrons or anyone doing business with anyone in the affected area may have to (horrors!) cross the bike lane. What's really funny about that example is how little anyone anywhere could even think about caring about that.

A dedicated bicycle lane is just that: a lane set out specifically for bicycles (and, I assume, catrikes). It is not some kind of territory being ceded to the cyclist so that car drivers require a visa or a passport to enter. As it stands now, cars and bicycles have to share the road and there are no plans that I'm aware of that include the construction of a physical barrier like a concrete wall. I would think that car drivers, unhappy about having to share a lane with bicycles, would be pleased with the building of a bike lane.

There are other equally vociferous opponents to the Laurier Avenue bike lane and those come from, oddly enough, some cyclists themselves. The argument they put forth tends to be (something like) that cyclists should know how to drive in car laden lanes and that if they don't then they shouldn't be riding in the first place. Well, in a perfect world, cars and cyclists would get along just perfectly but ours is not a perfect world and there are enough cyclists who think it's okay to ride on the sidewalk and enough car drivers who think cyclists should be banned from using the road and refuse to share any of their lane with a cycle.

For my (tax) money, I would gladly support the building of dedicated cycle lanes throughout the city. It just makes a lot of sense and, I'm sure, will not cause nearly the level of anguish some business owners or fundamentalist cyclists may believe. Just ask anyone who lives in Montreal, Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

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