Walkabout for a safer Main Street

DON FUGLER

Main Street has undergone a total transformation from a congested thoroughfare to a “complete street” in the last couple of years. The changes we have all witnessed on Main Street represent a successful design to some, and an irritation to others.

No longer are there four lanes of car and truck traffic. According to an engineering study, the time needed for motorists to transit Main Street has increased by 1-2 minutes. At peak hour, there are about 100 to 300 fewer cars using Main Street than before the reconstruction. Cycling traffic has increased by at least 100% and often exceeds 900 trips per day. Cyclists now look forward to using the Main Street bicycle paths, while before it was a route to avoid. Pedestrians have wider sidewalks, well-separated from vehicles.

The City of Ottawa defines “complete streets” as ones that “incorporate the physical elements that allow a street to offer safety, comfort and mobility for all users of the street regardless of their age, ability, or mode of transportation.”  The City notes that a complete street will accommodate multiple modes, incorporate context-sensitive design principles, and can be used as a way to improve neighbourhoods and support liveability.

The measure of how “complete” a street the new Main Street really is turns to a great extent on the safety of the street’s re-design for all users.  To assess this critical aspect of the Main Street re-design, the City commissioned a road safety audit that was conducted earlier this year by the engineering firm, CIMA.

CIMA’s draft engineering report on Main Street safety was presented to the City in mid-August and, in September, to a meeting of the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA). The draft report details the remaining safety problem areas on Main Street where there are conflicts between the three user groups: motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. The report identifies the location of each conflict area, whether the safety risks involved are extreme, high, medium, or low, and advances possible solutions to alleviate the problems.

A review of the draft report shows that many of its 25 recommendations are straightforward and not contentious. If tree branches loom over the bike path, they can be trimmed. If a sign or signal light is not visible by the users, then it should be relocated. Cyclists going the wrong way on the paths should have to suffer the consequences of enforcement.

Here are some of the more substantial recommendations made by the CIMA consultants, grouped by affected parties.

Motorists:

  • There can be congestion caused by southbound cars on Main Street turning left onto Centennial Boulevard. Two possible solutions are an extension of the second lane southbound to permit passing of stopped cars or turn restrictions on Centennial during peak hours.
  • Motorists can be confused by signage clutter. With too many signs to read at 50 km/h, a driver may miss the most important instructions. Signage can be improved and optimized.

Cyclists:

  • There is a problem with the intersection of Main Street and Riverdale Drive. Southbound motorists on Main, turning right onto Riverdale, may not notice a cyclist coming down the parallel bike path. The cyclist has the right of way but will be the one injured if there is a collision. There is also the problem of motorists northbound on Main waiting for a chance to turn left at Riverdale. Both cyclists and pedestrians are at risk in this busy intersection. The report talks about better (or increased) signage or turn restrictions.
  • Southbound cyclists on Main Street need a good connection to the entrance of Saint Paul’s University.
  • The green bike box at Lees Avenue should be closer to Main with the pedestrian crossing behind it, not in front as it is now.
  • The intersection of Main and Colonel By Drive probably needs a separate study: there is no obvious or safe way for cyclists to connect to the Canal path from the north end of Main.

Pedestrians/bus riders:

  • The cross-hatches on the bike path indicating bus rider loading are not effective. There has to be a more explicit signage or markings to keep cyclists and bus riders aware of each other’s requirements.
  • The pedestrian refuge area on the southwest corner of Main and Hawthorne Avenue is too small and subject to truck turning. The obvious solution, making a larger bulb-out for protection, will reduce the number of traffic lanes.

Readers concerned about the safety of Main Street should attend the regularly-scheduled meeting of the OOE Community Associaton second Tuesday of each month (with the exception of July and August) at the Old Town Hall, 61 Main Street.

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