Narrow Booth Street bike lanes aren't really bike lanes after all, city says

Hastily installed bike lanes on Ottawa's new Booth Street bridge don't meet the minimum width suggested by Ontario's Traffic Manual, creating a situation many cyclists describe as dangerous.

Hastily installed lanes measure just 1 metre wide, well short of provincial guidelines

The bike lanes on Ottawa's newly opened Booth Street bridge measure an average of just one metre in width, well short of provincial guidelines. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Hastily installed bike lanes on the new Booth Street bridge in Ottawa are too narrow to meet provincial guidelines, but that's OK — they're not "legally" bike lanes anyway, according to a top city official.

Book 18 of the Ministry of Transportation's Ontario Traffic Manual suggests bike lanes should measure 1.8 metres wide, and no less than 1.5 metres.

But the marked bike lanes on the Booth Street bridge, which opened Sept. 4 after two years of construction, measure on average just one metre wide. At one spot on the west side of the bridge the lane was found to be just 90 centimetres wide, or half the the width recommended in the manual.

Amitabh Mukerji biked on the lanes Tuesday and said he immediately noticed they're narrower than what he's come to expect in Ottawa.

"This is a joke. Just painting a line does not mean a bike lane," said Mukerji.
Amitabh Mukerji says he plans to bike on the bridge's sidewalk, which the city plans to allow so long as cyclists yield to pedestrians. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

While some cyclists using the bike lanes on Wednesday said they were happy to have at least some dedicated space, many more said the narrow lanes leave very little room for error.

The lanes are adjacent to a large curb and are not physically separated from traffic, including large trucks and OC Transpo buses rumbling along the four-lane road.

'Legally' not a bike lane

The City of Ottawa added the bike lanes following an outcry from cyclists and safety advocates, after they learned the new bridge would not include dedicated cycling infrastructure.
According to the Ontario Traffic Manual, bike lanes should be 1.8 metres wide, and no less than 1.5 metres wide. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

By then, construction of the bridge was almost complete and too far along to add segregated lanes. Mayor Jim Watson and members of city council have since acknowledged it was a mistake to omit segregated cycling lanes.

Booth Street was closed for two years of construction to build the overpass to accommodate the city's light rail system. 

Reached for comment Thursday, Steve Cripps, director of Ottawa's Rail Implementation Office, acknowledged the lanes are narrower than the provincial guidelines.

Legally it's not a bike lane ... It is an area that has been identified as a space for cyclists.- Steve Cripps, Rail Implementation Office

Cripps said that's OK though, because technically they're not bike lanes. 

"Legally it's not a bike lane as per Book 18," said Cripps. "It is an area that has been identified as a space for cyclists. It's really an interim measure given the widths available on that bridge."

Cripps said the decision to install the painted lines and markings was made following consultations with the Ottawa's cycling community, who preferred the measure over painted sharrows in the traffic lane.

"What we looked at with the cycling community was what improvements could we make given that width," said Cripps. 

Over the coming weeks, said Cripps, city staff and members of the cycling community will be observing traffic patterns and adjustments will be made as required.

'It's false advertising'

Gareth Davies, president of the Ottawa advocacy group Citizens for Safe Cycling, was part of those consultations.

"It's not the standard of what we expect for bike lanes in Ottawa," said Davies. "I don't really think there's a place for painted bike lanes that are a metre wide."

Whether it's a legal bike lane or simply a "space for cyclists," Mukerji says the city should never have painted lanes that are below standard. 

"It's false advertising, and it's extremely poor planning," said Mukerji.

He vowed never to use the lanes again, and instead will ride on the bridge's sidewalk. The city is in the process of making it legal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, as long as they yield to pedestrians. 

The city said the long-term plan for cycling on the Booth Street bridge is to install segregated bike lanes by 2018, at a cost of $2 million.
The narrow bike lanes make for a tight squeeze when large trucks pass by. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)