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Extending bike paths through congested urban areas: How hard can it be?

How a designer and avid cyclist tackled bike path obstacles in Canada’s capital city

By Brian Harris, Ottawa, ON

It’s great to be a cyclist in Canada’s National Capital Region. Biking along the Parkway while the sun sets over the Ottawa River is priceless. Crossing the border of Quebec into Ontario on the Alexandria Bridge on your bike and seeing the Parliament Buildings standing sentinel over the Ottawa River? Awe-inspiring. Cycling through the experimental farm with the sun on your back and the smell of freshly turned soil in your nose? Glorious.

Then you hit Ottawa’s downtown core. Like many cities, navigating your bike through congested roads to get from one trail to the next is a real challenge—a challenge the City of Ottawa, Ontario, and the federal National Capital Commission (NCC), are committed to addressing.

The Challenge
The area’s bike network is complex, operating in two provinces and under both provincial and federal jurisdiction. To make it easier for cyclists to navigate these routes, the City has plans to develop key links between trails so cyclists can safely travel from one trail to another.

One of these key links is the Mackenzie Avenue Cycle Tracks project. Once complete, this cycle track will connect the Sussex Drive cycle lanes (with connection to the Eastern Parkway) with the NCC Rideau Canal (east shore) multi-use Pathway which passes through the City of Ottawa along the banks of the historic Rideau Canal.

As a cyclist, this is great news. As a designer, there’s not much I find as professionally exciting as creatively pulling together the many pieces of a project puzzle to fit the best solution for our clients and community

And this project certainly had a lot of them.

The Puzzle Pieces

  1. Maintaining Diplomacy - Adding bi-directional bike tracks along a portion of the east side of Mackenzie Avenue sounds easy enough. But along this relatively short route runs a lot of red-tape. The path will be directly in front of the US Embassy, as well as the venerable Connaught Building (Canada Revenue Agency headquarters) and Fairmont’s historic Chateau Laurier—a favorite hotel for many high-level visiting dignitaries. Needless to say, finding ways to keep construction disruption to a minimum so as not to disrupt visitors—and diplomacy (not to mention commuter traffic)—was essential.
    Fortunately, we work with a great team. We were able to work closely with all stakeholders to plan reasonable construction hours. We also found effective ways to mitigate noise, like using “vibratory” pile driving to install our temporary shoring instead of the more common (and much louder) “hammer” technique.
  2. Logistical Constraints - Space was in short supply. The road is already at capacity after losing a lane post 9-11 when the traffic lane closest to the embassy was closed to secure a larger safety perimeter. As a result the bike lanes could not be designed to consume any remaining asphalt—not without causing traffic headaches. This meant we had to design construction to take place within the limited confined area of the former traffic lane only, which meant designing safe, temporary shoring and preparing careful signage plans.
  3. Security Constraints - The US Embassy had strict security requirements, which they are currently meeting utilizing large concrete barriers that have long been a contentious subject in our city as they take up valuable traffic space and block views. So we partnered with our client and the US Embassy to accommodate the installation of high security (K12) bollards (barriers) that could withstand the impact requirements necessary for US security purposes. What’s more, the new bollards will satisfy the NCC Confederation Boulevard design standards and provide a more attractive street scene for all. Some of these bollards also retract to allow cars access to the Embassy’s ceremonial entrance—something the Embassy hasn’t been able to do since 9-11.
  4. Time - Ottawa, as the nation’s capital, is ramping up to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary in 2017 and needs the lanes completed before celebrations launch. This means that the time we had to complete the bicycle path extension was tight. What’s more, the road requires resurfacing. Since it wouldn’t make any sense financially to resurface and then construct the Security bollards and cycle lanes, resurfacing needed to be integrated into the design.

The Results
When shovels hit the ground June 17th, 2016, multiple dignitaries from all levels of jurisdictions—municipal, provincial, and federal (including the US Ambassador)—attended the opening ceremonies to speak to the value this project brings to our city and community. As a cyclist, I was excited to think how cycle route connectivity downtown will soon be easier and safer. And, as a designer, seeing the number of people and organizations that came together to make this a reality for our city really brought home to me the value of what we do at Stantec. We don’t just come up with creative technical solutions—although that is an exciting part of our job—we also find creative ways to bring our clients and community (or, in this case, several communities) together through projects like the McKenzie Avenue Cycle track.

Brian is a transportation engineer, working to make sure Ottawa’s transportation network does more than just reduce drive times across the city. He seeks to make his community a safer place to live.

Like many cities, navigating your bike through congested roads to get from one trail to the next is a real challenge

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