According to a recent report in the Ottawa Citizen the NCC is looking into creating separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. Apparently this idea is being considered as part of an exercise to rewrite NCC’s strategic plan for its network of pathways in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
The idea of building separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians in the National Capital Region has come up before. I have also seen separate cycling and pedestrians paths next to each other in the Montreal and Quebec City areas, where the system seemed to work quite well. I have also seen the idea implemented in Florida, where it doesn’t always work so well. In Florida, pedestrians regularly walk on the path reserved for cyclists, sometime four abreast, while ignoring the pedestrian pathway a few feet away. (It seems they are drawn to the bike path because it is slightly wider than the pedestrian path.)
Whatever the case, it’s high time that the NCC increase the capacity of its pathway system, and do so by building separate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. The population growth over the past three or four decades by itself is enough to justify expanding the capacity of the various pathways. (Think of how many times they have widened the Queensway during this period). On top of this, there’s evidence to suggest that the pathways are now being used by a greater proportion of the population.
It seems that the impetus for considering separate pathways on the NCC system is being driven by a desire to reduce conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. I’m sure that such conflict is increasing, if only because there are many more users on the pathways. However, this issue is often framed in terms of a need to protect pedestrians from abuse and harassment by cyclists. This is one of the themes played up in the Ottawa Citizen report.
There can be no doubt that some cyclists are guilty of transgressions on the pathways, sometimes zig-zagging around pedestrians in a way that makes them feel vulnerable. Whatever the case, I’m a little fed up about hearing only one side of the story on this issue. You don’t have to ride on the pathways for long to realize that some pedestrians are also guilty of misdeeds, and do all sorts of ridiculous things that endanger cyclists.
I remember one mother who was instructing her young children to sit and play with their toys in the middle of the pathway. The young children, probably around 4 or 5 years old, actually wanted to play next to the pathway, but the grass was wet and perhaps a little muddy, so the mother was insisting that they play on the pathway. I could fill up many computer screens with stories of inappropriate behavior by pedestrians that I have witnessed on the pathways.
It would be wrong to think that my concerns don’t have any real bearing on the well being of cyclists. Last week my wife was seriously injured (two bone fractures) when she fell from her bike after turning quickly and braking hard to avoid an adult pedestrian that suddenly cut in front of her on the path without warning. A few years earlier she suffered a very serious concussion (which took weeks to recover from) when she fell after an abrupt maneuver to avoid a young boy that suddenly darted out in front of her. At the time the young boy was walking largely unsupervised about 50 feet behind his parents. (In case anyone asks, yes, in both instances, she was going under 20 km/h and was wearing a helmet.)
The lesson that can be drawn from all of this is that the time has come for the NCC to provide a safe environment for both cyclists and pedestrians by expanding the capacity of the current system and building separate pathways for each group.
Participate in an NCC survey about the pathways.
As part of its efforts to rewrite the strategic plan for the pathways, the NCC is inviting people to participate in an online survey about its pathway system. The substance of the survey is found in the first question, which ask people to select four items from a list of what they call “big ideas” for the pathway network.
Examples of the big ideas include keeping part of the pathway open during the winter and providing additional services such as toilets and drinking fountains. Surprisingly, the list does not include the idea of creating separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians, although this could be written in a box for other suggestions.
Click here for more information about taking this NCC survey (note that the survey is open for participation until July 16, 2018).