I’ve been meaning to write this post since Tuesday. I was riding up the hill on Wellington downtown, playing leap frog with the buses from Gatineau. At a red light, a cyclist riding on the sidewalk asks me if I’m suicidal because I’m sharing the road with buses. I thought about it a bit, then decided to try different routes home using paths and roads  along the canal to see which is more relaxing.

While it’s never fun when traffic doesn’t respect you, if you’re predictable and ride defensively, I think you’re better off on the road if:

  • you have a road bike, not a mountain bike,
  • you travel faster than 20 km/h, and
  • the road is in better shape than the path.  \

So to test my theory I did the road route one day and the path the next. The day I was thinking about it, there were two fairly quick cyclists on the path that I could watch to see if we were keeping pace. Here’s the comparison:

Road Ride: leaving downtown by heading east on Laurier, to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. South on the Driveway, past Dow’s Lake, up the hill, right at the traffic circle, on to Island Park, then home. Here are the challenges:

  1. Cab drivers like to take out cyclists just before the Queensway. Watch for them. They don’t signal and turn right to get to the Queensway.
  2. You have a set of lights that cyclists don’t, but it’s only one along an 8-km stretch.
  3. Drivers getting of the Queensway at Island Park don’t realize how fast you’re going and like to cut you off instead of yielding.
  4. Drivers on Island Park at Byron don’t shoulder check before going into the bike lane if there’s a left turner.
  5. Other cyclists don’t necessarily follow the rules of the road (i.e. stopping at the red light on Island park at Merivale), which means you could be the target of the road rage for somebody else’s bad behaviour.

Benefits:

  1. You can go a lot faster. Most people don’t know there’s a speed limit of 20 km/h on recreational pathways.
  2. Once you’re past the problem spots, there’s not much traffic so you can zone out and focus  on riding.
  3. You don’t have to use your breaks as much.
  4. You don’t have to cross over to the path and then back again.

Pathway ride: One of the challenges in Ottawa is getting to a path from downtown.  There’s a great path along the Ottawa River, but it doesn’t really help commuters. There are two one-way streets with bike lanes, but they have too many stop signs to be commuter-friendly. But I’m rambling … the pathway route is along Queen Elizabeth Driveway until Preston Street, where you have to cross back to the road to climb up the hill.

Challenges:

  1. Way too many cyclists are oblivious to their surroundings.
  2. They have headphones so don’t think your “ping-ping” bell will be heard over the music.
  3. Many don’t signal, don’t shoulder check and don’t have mirrors.  So anticipate their actions
  4. Some cyclists on the path should be on the road because they’re going too fast. Assume that oncoming cyclists will overtake towards you.
  5. Some cyclists have no etiquette and will ride in your lane as oncoming traffic and not move because they’re chatting and oblivious to oncoming traffic.
  6. Watch out for dog walkers, joggers and pedestrians (especially those who are walking into oncoming traffic). All can be unpredictable.
  7. Paths can be bumpy in spots.
  8. Some intersections aren’t well sign-posted so nobody knows who has the right of way. It can be a bit like RCMP musical ride.
  9. Because of all of the above, you really can’t go very fast.

And the benefits:

  1. I guess if you’re a slower cyclist or out for a scenic ride, it’s a great option.
  2. You’re on the restaurant side at Dow’s Lake.
  3. If you don’t like traffic it’s good too.
  4. Well, you are still getting a workout.

Ottawa really needs to fix how the bike network works downtown. We have a lot of great paths that go to a lot of interesting places: behind the Parliament Buildings, past four beaches, several museums and along waterways, including a World Heritage Site (the Rideau Canal). We just need to make it easier for cyclists to get THROUGH downtown.

That’s my thoughts on … cycling in the city.

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