Building Cycling Infrastructure in a Car Culture. A Look at a Roundabout.

On my bike commute from Waterloo to Guelph, I drive through a roundabout at Bridge and Lancaster streets in Kitchener, just before crossing the Grand River towards Bridgeport.  I try to ride my bike to work about once a week while the weather is “decent”, but on days I drive my car, I also take this route.  Of all the roundabouts in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge areas, this is the one I drive/cycle the most.

The roundabout was built in about 2009 and it replaced a traffic light that was basically a three-way stop light for two directions of Bridge Street and the end of Lancaster Street.  Automobile traffic would often be backed up in different directions while drivers waited for the light to change.  The roundabout allows cars to move through more regularly, although there still can be some backups.  

In 2017, there was an incident involving two drivers of motorized vehicles in this roundabout.  One driver ended up with her SUV flipped over, down the embankment of the Grand River.  I imagine she was heading south, down the hill on Bridge Street, based on where she ended up.  Fortunately, she survived the incident.

At this same roundabout, earlier in 2018, there was another incident involving the driver of a car.  Just north of the roundabout, Laurel Creek flows under Bridge Street before draining into the Grand River.  There’s an embankment down to Laurel Creek and somehow, the driver ended up driving his vehicle from the roundabout, through a fence and down the embankment.  Fortunately, he was OK, but his car had to be lifted out with a crane.  

Within about one year, two separate incidents saw drivers and their vehicles ending up down steep embankments into the Grand River or the creek.

The response from the Region of Waterloo was to erect barriers so this won’t happen again.

I support infrastructure that improves the safety for all humans.  We make mistakes which can cause harm to ourselves and to others.  Every time we get into a motorized vehicle, mistakes have the potential to injure or even kill ourselves and others so adding safety features makes sense.

For these modifications, they brought in large landscaping stones.  First, in these two photos, let’s look south toward the bridge across the Grand River.  The photos show “Before” and “After” photos (the “Before” shots are from Google Maps).  In front of the concrete bridge, you can see a few small trees and some low bushes.  I believe the car went into the river next to the small trees. The “After” photo shows the large landscaping stones that were installed to prevent a driver from falling into the river if they lose control in the roundabout. 

The second set of photos look from the roundabout northwards, up Bridge Street.  The “Before” photo (from Google Maps) shows a fence with wooden posts, then some grass, and bushes.  Just beyond those bushes lies Laurel Creek, close to 10 feet below the road elevation.  The “After” photo shows that three of those wooden fence posts have been replaced because of the incident, as well as the large landscaping stones that have been added to prevent another driver from plunging their vehicle to the creek below.

I have no idea what costs are associated with this type of infrastructure change, but it took at least a couple of days to install. 

To tie this story back to cycling, as I mentioned, I ride through this roundabout every time I ride to work.  I am very alert when I approach and enter any roundabout.  Once this past summer, I entered the roundabout from Bridge Street, travelling north to south.  I waited my turn and when riding past Lancaster in the roundabout, I saw a car approaching the roundabout at considerable speed from Lancaster.  I made eye contact with the driver, but they clearly didn’t see me and they were preparing to enter the roundabout where I was heading.  I shouted at the top of my lungs, and the driver stopped in their tracks, avoiding me by about 10 feet.  My blood rushing, I continued my bike ride to work. Again human error on the part of the driver almost cost me my life.

I can’t help but wonder what might happen if, in this same roundabout, a cyclist is struck by a driver.  If it happens, it will again be human error that results in injury or death.   However, I have my doubts about whether the Region would be as quick to install infrastructure that would make things safer for cyclists as they are when they’re considering drivers.  A human life is a human life, whether driving a car or riding a bicycle.

I would hope that the Region of Waterloo would examine their roundabouts and design safer ways for cyclists to get through them.  I’m sure there are some forward-thinking politicians and some brilliant transportation engineers who can come up with a better solution for cycling in roundabouts.  In fact, I bet that some advanced European countries have already designed roundabouts that are cycling friendly.  

And I hope that the Region would respond to this kind of incident in a way they responded to the incidents involving drivers of motorized vehicles, which I’ve described above. 

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2 thoughts on “Building Cycling Infrastructure in a Car Culture. A Look at a Roundabout.

  1. Good article. I take that roundabout every week. I come down Lancaster and blast through onto Carisbrook. Getting a gravel bike this year has made my commute WAY more enjoyable and safe.

    Like

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