City knew bike crash site was dangerous, cycling advocates say

Ottawa cycling advocates say they've been telling the city for some time that a redesigned stretch of Elgin Street where a cyclist suffered serious injuries Friday night needed better protection.

Advocates say design was flawed from the start of the Elgin Street reconstruction

Sharrows like these were painted on Elgin Street near the site of Friday's serious crash instead of a dedicated bike lane, which cycling advocates had wanted instead. (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Ottawa cycling advocates say the city should have known that a redesigned stretch of Elgin Street where a cyclist was seriously injured Friday night needed better protection.

Just before 8 p.m., a 20-year-old woman was struck near Catherine Street by the driver of a pickup truck, outside Ottawa Police Service headquarters.

The cyclist was taken to Ottawa's trauma centre with a broken femur and possible ankle fracture. 

"A lot of cycling advocates had noticed during the plans that the design for that area was going to be dangerous for cyclists," said Jordan Moffatt, a board member of Bike Ottawa who lobbied for the plan to be changed. 

Warnings during design process

As part of the reconstruction of the busy commercial strip, which got underway in 2018, the stretch from Lisgar to MacLeod streets was reduced from four lanes to two and given a 30 km/h speed limit.

No dedicated bike lanes were added, with cyclists instead required to ride alongside traffic in what are called "super sharrows": bright green boxes painted with the emblem of a cyclist. 

Moffatt said that south of McLeod Street, where Friday's crash occurred, the speed limit increases to 50 km/h and the number of traffic lanes goes back to four — but there is still no dedicated bike lane.

He said cycling advocates have been pointing out problems with the road design since 2017, when it was approved by city council.

While he doesn't know what caused Friday's collision, Moffatt said he believed such a lane could have helped — and is now calling for one to be installed south of McLeod Street to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway.

"When you're building separated bike lanes, or you're building safe roads, what you're doing is you're minimizing the possibility that something bad can happen," he said. 

"Even if someone made a mistake, what you're doing is you're creating the possibility that mistake won't create a huge, catastrophic injury or fatality."

Coun. Catherine McKenney, seen here in 2019, is planning to once more take concerns over the design to the city — concerns McKenney said the city knew about during the design process. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Councillor 'furious'

Friday's crash was one of two serious collisions involving cyclists last week: on Wednesday night, a cyclist was killed and a pedestrian seriously injured when they were struck while riding near the Champlain Bridge.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney took to social media to unleash their anger over the Friday crash, tweeting they were "furious" and later noting it could have been prevented had the city listened to the criticism over the road configuration.

"I sent that back four times with the engineers," McKenney told CBC News, referring to the design progress. 

That's what we do as a city. We wait until somebody is critically injuredor, even worse, killed — and then we go back and redesign.- Coun. Catherine McKenney

"We continue to prioritize driver's speed over cycling and pedestrian comfort and safety."

McKenney is now planning to bring the matter to the city once again. 

"That's what we do as a city. We wait until somebody is critically injured or, even worse, killed — and then we go back and redesign. So we will go back. We will ask for something better." 

Director of infrastructure services Carina Duclos said in a statement Saturday the City of Ottawa would not be commenting on the Elgin Street crash as police are still investigating.

Will be reviewed

Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday city staff would immediately review the incident with police, and any recommendations that come from police or the city's traffic engineering department would be "implemented for greater public safety."

Watson also noted the road configuration went through a full public consultation before it was approved.

"There was a real desire to widen the sidewalks for pedestrians ... which unfortunately left not enough space to create the cycling lanes," he said.

"As you know, there's a cycling lane a block off on O'Connor [Street], which is a segregated lane as well. It's available for people who are going to north-south."


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.