This document summarizes the problems for cyclists at Ottawa’s on- and off-ramps to Hwy. 417. This problem exists everywhere there are on- and off-ramps from fast-moving roads. You can also find this problem at locations where traffic is merging from or to roads with speed limits of 80 km/hr, but most of the problem occur at the 417.
It is illegal for cyclists to ride on 400 series highways, so to cyclists these roads are seen as obstacles. Anytime there’s an intersection with these highways, a cyclists’ goal is always to get across, whereas for cars it is often to get on or off the highway.
2. The roads
The 417 (Queensway) runs east/west and is a major divide through the city for cyclists. There are only so many places that cyclists can cross it. In some ways, it is analogous to a waterway.
In this survey, all intersections between Eagleson and Innes were considered. This includes intersections at:
The 416 is less of a problem because it is located further west in the city, and cuts down south where there are destinations for cyclists. The following intersections were considered:
Other fast roads
There are other 80km/hr roads that have similiar problems, and they are located throughout the city. Some of these are on cycling routes designated by the city. Although the problem is similiar, it won’t be considered in detail here.
3. On-ramps and off-ramps
On-ramp problems arise when a right (sometimes left) lane forms for cars to enter an on-ramp. Cars are accelerating to approach the speed of the road they’re joining (80 or 100 km/hr).
Let’s consider two kinds of on-ramps.
A. With no breakout lane
Here, the right hand lane turns into the on-ramp. The cyclist must cross the ramp lane to proceed. Vehicles are accelerating and surprised to see bicycles, since there are no markings or signs to suggest that bicycles might be there. A timid cyclist may wait for a long time to find a break in traffic. Also, traffic sometimes backs up, and cyclists must weave between slow-moving cars to make it through.
For cyclists, there should be a marked and signed cross-over lane where drivers can see where cyclists will cross, and cyclists are clear on where they need to cross. While cyclists still need to merge with fast traffic, it is at least indicated where this will be.
B. On-ramps with a breakout lane
Here, a breakout lane forms earlier, giving cyclists a straight line to follow. The problem is that traffic entering this lane is accelerating and not expecting cyclists, who are then either cut off or approached from behind.
There is some confusion on where bikes belong in this environment. Some believe that bicycles always belong in the right lane, but this is not true in a designated right-turn lane. Cyclists who do follow the right curb have problems in merging to the left where the lane becomes an on-ramp.
A painted lane can make it clear — for drivers and cyclists — where bikes belongs.
Traffic on off-ramps is decelerating from high speeds. Motorists in this situation are concentrating on merging and slowing down, and may not expect to see a cyclist.
A. Off-ramps to a designated lane
Here, the vehicles exit into their own lane. Cyclists face the problem of being on the right side of the road before the merging point, then having to cut over further to the right of what was the off-ramp and is now the new right lane.
A designated bike lane can make it clearer to drivers and riders where cyclists should be.
B. Off-ramps with a merge lane
Here, the off-ramp becomes a lane that merges quickly with traffic. Cyclists going straight are in the path of motorists who may not expect to encounter a bike.
Having a designated bike lane can alleviate some of this risk.
4. A survey of what’s there now
The following table shows a sample of downtown intersections, with links to online maps. The on-ramp and off-ramp columns show the number of merge points and how many of them that have designated bike lanes. For instance, 417 and Moodie has the most lanes of all the merge points in Ottawa.
|417 and Terry Fox||4 of 4||0 of 4|
|417 and Eagleson||1 of 4||0 of 1|
|417 and Moodie||4 of 4||4 of 4|
|417 and Greenbank/Pinecrest||0 of 4||0 of 0|
|417 and Woodroffe||0 of 3||0 of 3|
|417 and Maitland||0 of 2||0 of 2|
|417 and Kirkwood/Carling||0 of 2 on the left||0 of 2|
|417 and Riverside/Vanier Parkway||None||None|
|417 and St. Laurent||0 of 4||0 of 2|
|417 and Innes||0 of 4||0 of 0|
|417 and Walkley||0 of 4||0 of 0|
|416 and Hunt Club||0 of 2||0 of 0|
The intersection of Eagleson/March and Campeau near the 417 deserves a special mention as the most dangerous intersection for cyclists near the 417.
There may be two things that are confusing in the following diagram. First, Eagleson is actually March Rd. Next, Campeau is also called Teron on some maps. And the top of this diagram is actually south.
To go straight, cyclists need to cross over to the middle of the four lanes. The speed limit on Eagleson is 80 km/hr. While it is signed, it is pretty much impossible for a cyclist to change lanes in heavy traffic. At the light, the cyclist is forced to do this merge.
There is a consistent problem with the way the City of Ottawa has built intersections with the 417.
However, better signage and painting new lines would go a long way to remedying this situation.