Laurier bike lane safety audit shows increased safety, but concerns remain

Laurier Avenue

A new study, made public by the City of Ottawa, suggests a safer ride for cyclists, but there are still issues to address.

The study, which was conducted by Dutch cycling consultancy firm Mobycon, looked at several factors involving the lanes, both before and after they were installed in 2011. It was commissioned after a 23-year-old cyclist was killed in a collision with a truck at Lyon and Laurier in 2016.

It found that the number of cyclists traveling along Laurier Avenue West increased by 330%. That jump in volume accounts for an increase in the net number of collisions, but when compared to the overall volume, the relative number of collisions involving cyclists went down.

There were 20 collisions involving bicycles on the stretch of road between 2007 and 2010. That number rose to 35 collisions between 2012 and 2015. However, the report points out that when measured against volume (a metric known as collisions per 1 million bicycle kilometers) the amount of collisions went down roughly 32 per cent.

That increased volume also means cyclists are at greater risk of collision compared to the city-wide average. Cyclists and pedestrians were involved in 22 per cent of all collisions along the Laurier Avenue corridor, compared to 3 per cent City-wide. Cyclists and pedestrians also accounted for 76 per cent of all injuries. The situation has improved significantly for pedestrians, however, with a 50 per cent drop in the number of collisions involving them.

Some of the concerns presented in the report include right-turning motor vehicles and private driveways. Right-turning cars were involved in about half of all collisions on Laurier. 31 per cent took place in the vicinity of private driveways.

Another item the study found was a dramatic change in the behaviour of drivers and cyclists involved in these collisions. The report says, between 2007 and 2010, a majority of both cyclists (60 per cent) and motor-vehicle drivers (67 per cent) were following the rules of the road before the 20 collisions recorded. After the bike lanes were installed, that behaviour changed. Between 2012 and 2015, the report found 94 per cent of cyclists were obeying the rules of the road, while only 7 per cent of drivers were found to be doing so, ahead of the 35 collisions recorded. Most drivers, 70 per cent, were failing to yield the right of way at the time of the crash, while 19 per cent were making an improper turn. 3 per cent of cyclists lost control of their bicycles before the crash. The collision factors are unknown in 3 per cent of cases of cyclists and 4 per cent for drivers.

Still, the study found that in other cases, which did not involve collisions, cyclists were seen traveling in the wrong direction on the bike lanes or running red lights, and pedestrians were seen walking or standing in the lanes. There are no numbers given for the frequency of these behaviours, but the report warns they could jeopardize safety.

Other issues presented include the fact that Laurier Avenue is a designated truck route with a segregated bike lane, something the report calls “incompatible” in a “safe system approach.”

The report also says there are inconsistent markers and paint jobs along the corridor. Cyclists are given some visual cues that driveways are approaching, but the green paint on the bike line at intersections is not present on all private driveways. Furthermore, plastic markers showing a break in the bike lane are of different colours, including orange and white in some cases, which may be mistaken for construction markers.

In a memo to City Council, Transit boss John Manconi says there are several short-, medium-, and long-term plans to improve safety on Laurier. In the short and medium terms, these include adding advance bicycle signals at the lights, extending buffers on driveways and painting them green where they intersect with the bike lane, and launching an awareness campaign next spring.

In the long term, plans include a raised cycle track, protected intersections and narrow vehicle lanes. There is no timeline for these changes, the memo only says, “at the time of reconstruction.”