Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bike-friendly Westboro?

I noticed quite a few of these signs in Westboro the other day. The bike basket with wine and baguette conjures up a nice image of a bike-friendly neighbourhood. And Westboro has certainly become one of Ottawa’s most attractive and interesting destinations in the last few years with vibrant shops and quiet streets. But I started to think when I saw these banners, just how bike friendly is Westboro?
The surrounding streets and paths are easy enough to bike on. You can cover plenty of ground on the multi-use pathway along Byron Avenue (the old street car line) or you can meander your way to Westboro by way of the Ottawa River Parkway. And there isn’t a lot of traffic on Athlone or Piccadilly or any of the other Westboro streets. But I think the signs, likely put up by the BIA, are meant to convey the idea that you can easily shop on the main street using your bicycle for getting around. Otherwise, why the bike? Perhaps the BIA envisions you stopping for a treat at Louise’s Belgian Chocolates after you have been to Bushtukah to pick up your carabiners and before you stop by Bridgehead to grab a latté. This would doubtless be an easy walk for a pedestrian. A cyclist could also easily leave their bike locked at Bushtukah and walk to most of the shops along Richmond Road. I’ve certainly done this. But I also have an expensive bike and I don’t like to leave it out of my sight for too long, so what if I were to pedal to these places? That would mean riding down Richmond Road.
I’ve only been in one cycling accident in my life and it was of the type most cyclists have experienced or spend quite a bit of time avoiding: being hit by a driver’s side car door suddenly being opened with no regard for the passing cyclist. It happened on Richmond Road near Churchill Avenue. Luckily, both my bike and I came out of it reasonably unscathed. This was years ago, but it’s always made me feel unsafe on that stretch of road.
I really feel the city missed a chance when they fixed up Richmond Road and Wellington West Street. They installed recessed parking spots and made better sidewalks and even installed artwork but there were no improvements to the cycling infrastructure. How nice would it have been to have segregated bike lanes between Somerset Street downtown and Westboro?
The city has made some good moves for pedestrians and cyclists in the last few years. The Corktown footbridge and the soon-to-be Laurier segregated bike lanes are good examples of this. But the “village” main streets like Richmond Road, Wellington Street, Bank Street (Glebe and Old Ottawa South) and Main Street in Old Ottawa East have remained car oriented. It’s rather ironic that while these types of communities attract cyclists and other ecologically-minded consumers, their main streets remain so unsafe for cyclists.

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