Laurier bike lanes may slow emergency vehicles

Dedicated bike lanes on Laurier Avenue worry Ottawa's firefighter's union.
Congestion on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa with pylons marking the bike lane, which will open later this week. ((CBC))

Dedicated bike lanes on Laurier Avenue worry Ottawa's firefighter's union.

Even though the lanes are not yet officially open, the concrete barriers separating cyclists from traffic are in place and are causing congestion on the downtown street, reducing it to one lane in each direction.

Moreover, turns on to side streets have been limited.

"That can be very dangerous" if emergency vehicles are forced to make detours, said Peter Kennedy, president of the Ottawa Professional Fire Fighters Association. "If it takes us longer to get there, then that emergency is going to escalate, no matter if it's a medical call or a car accident or a fire call."

Traffic engineers consulted with fire, police and emergency services before the plan went ahead.

Ottawa Fire Services Chief John deHooge said he doesn't share the union's concerns, and points out that along most of Laurier, the new bike lanes replace on-street parking.

"From our perspective, nothing's changed. We're still basically travelling in one lane of traffic," said deHooge.

But Gilles Beauchemin, who works as a security guard on Laurier, said the lanes are already causing delays. "With the barricades, people can't go anywhere" when emergency vehicles need to get by, he said.

DeHooge said the department will watch the situation, and if there are any problems, request that the city will make changes.

The bike lane will officially open this weekend. It runs along 1.3 kilometres of Laurier from Bronson Avenue to Elgin Street. It's a two-year pilot project designed to encourage cycling.

With files from the CBC's Judy Trinh