CBC: Councillor hopes new road policy will eliminate fatalities

Catherine McKenney urges council to adopt 'Vision Zero' after cyclist dies near City Hall

Less than a week after a man was killed while riding his bike in front of Ottawa City Hall, a downtown councillor wants the city to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries among cyclists and pedestrians by dramatically changing the way it approaches traffic safety.

Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney said that means putting the safety of the most "vulnerable users" of our roads, bike lanes and sidewalks before the convenience of motorists.

"We can't just keep waiting for cyclists and pedestrians to get killed and then take more action," McKenney told reporters after Wednesday's council meeting.

The unidentified man in his fifties died after he was struck by a van while cycling in the unsegregated lane near Elgin Street Thursday morning.

Police continue to look for the van driver, who they say abandoned his vehicle and fled the scene on foot.

The concept McKenney described is known around the world as "Vision Zero," an approach that aims to achieve a transportation system with zero fatalities or serious injuries by shifting the onus away from individuals and toward a shared responsibility between road users and the municipality.

Some Vision Zero measures and short-term solutions McKenney is proposing include:

  • Ensuring any road reconstruction includes infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists that meets the highest safety standards.

  • Installing segregated bike lanes or cycle tracks.

  • Reducing the speed limit to 30 km/h on all residential streets.

  • Eliminating right turns on red lights, or wherever there are bike lanes or heavy pedestrian areas.

  • Altering traffic signals to give cyclists and pedestrians priority over motorists.

Vision Zero was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, and has since been adopted by municipalities around the world.

"Other countries have done it, and we need to do it too," McKenney said.

Canadian cities including Hamilton, London, Toronto and Windsor have either adopted Vision Zero or are in the process of developing a plan to do so.

McKenney said she plans put the motion forward at next month's council meeting.

"Every floating bike lane has got to be eliminated in this city almost immediately," McKenney said, referring to the type of unsegregated lane that was the scene of last week's fatal collision.

"We often prioritize traffic flow over pedestrian and cycling safety and that has to be changed," she said.

Using cups to highlight danger

Earlier on Wednesday, safe cycling advocates lined the Laurier Avenue W. bike lane that was the scene of last week's fatal hit and run with red plastic cups Wednesday morning to demonstrate the often fragile delineation between cars and bikes on Ottawa's streets.

The stretch of Laurier where the cyclist was struck has a painted bike lane, but it is not segregated from vehicles along the street because it's between two lanes of vehicle traffic.

Protesters said the bike lane's design is unsafe and needs to be changed permanently. 

"We have set up a very temporary, very slight separation between the bike lane and the roads, [using] red cups with some water," said Marna Nightingale, the organizer of one of two Wednesday morning demonstrations ahead of a city council meeting. 

The temporary bike lane is showing drivers will not be confused or slowed down by new bike infrastructure, Nightingale told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

Although it's currently permissible to merge across the bike lane and crush the cups, she said few of the drivers in the first 15 minutes of the demonstration were doing so. 

Memorial ride

The other rally Wednesday morning was a memorial ride down that block of Laurier.

Andrea Harden helped organize the ride, which attracted about 400 cyclists through social media who pedaled under police escort at a slow pace.

"I feel like it was a really powerful experience," said Harden. "We had quite a large crowd for three days' worth of organizing and I think that's a testament to how people who ride bikes in this city feel."

Harden decided to help organize the ride after feeling frustrated last week by another death on Ottawa streets.

"I think this is the start of something and we will see change," she said.

The city councillor for the area, Catherine McKenney, has asked for changes to the road between the Queen Elizabeth Driveway ramp and intersection with Elgin. 

Mayor Jim Watson has said he wants city staff to review intersections with lots of cyclist traffic, including that block.

Catherine McKenney