My second outdoor bicycle ride of 2020 was a solo jaunt through the City of Waterloo on January 3. The weather was mild (for January in Ontario) and the roads and bike paths were clear so I decided to take out my gravel bike and ride around the city to explore the new protected bike lanes.
The Region of Waterloo has a map online that shows the layout of the new protected bike lanes (link here):
The first thing I noticed on this map is the big green loop, which includes some existing trails. I’ve cycled on a lot of this route, including the Laurel and Forwell trails. There are still some places where these two trails cross busy streets, which likely deter some cyclists from using them.
The bright red line is on King Street in Uptown Waterloo. During the re-build of this section of King Street in the past several years, this street has seen a lot of change. My first criticism is the re-installation of on-street parking. There’s no need for this kind of road parking in this type of street/neighbourhood. If we are serious about climate change and alternative modes of transportation through the core, we need to get rid of on-street parking. Second, the bike lanes in this area weave back and forth and there’s some confusion between pedestrians and cyclists (i.e., pedestrians walking on the bike path and vice versa). When I cycle on these types of paths, I slow down and pay attention to the slower-moving humans, but at times, I was still confused as to where I should be cycling. I should also note that I did this ride when there was no snow on the ground, so I don’t have a good idea on how these paths and walkways are maintained after a heavy snowfall event.
On the map above, the blue roads are part of a separated cycling “pilot” project. By “pilot”, the Region means that these separated bike lanes have been installed and are fully functional. This will continue for about 18 months, at which time, they’ll be evaluated, and I believe a decision will be made to keep or remove them. These roads include sections of: Columbia St., University Ave., King St. North, a short section of Albert St. and Erb Street (note the short blue connector-line in the south of the map above).
Columbia Street West (King Street to Hagey)
I rode east-to-west on Columbia St. Because this part of Columbia already included bike lanes, only the bollards and painted buffer are new (see the photo below, from the Region webpage).
I didn’t have any issues with the previously unprotected bike lanes but I felt a little safer with this visual barrier. I suspect that motorists pay more attention with these barriers. I noticed that the road condition in these bike lanes can be an issue. There are potholes and sewers to watch out for. Heading east on Columbia past Albert St, the painted buffer disappears but the bollards remain.
University Ave. (King St. to Seagram Drive)
This section of University Ave. can get very busy with buses, commuters, pedestrians, students because it’s the main road between the two universities. Having protected bike lanes along here makes sense. An unprotected bike lane existed on this stretch of University prior to the physical separation that was installed last fall (2019). The Region website describes these installations as “concrete curb and flexible bollards” (see photo below from the Region webpage).
I didn’t have any problems with the previously unprotected bike lanes on this stretch of road, but I hope that more people will use these protected lanes and I hope drivers pay more attention with the bollards and curb in place. One spot along this stretch of road that always scares me is University eastbound approaching the intersection at Seagram Drive. Many car drivers turn right here into the University of Waterloo and don’t pay attention to cyclists. I always approach this intersection cautiously, both on my bike and in my car.
King Street (University to Columbia)
This new protected bike lane has been designed with painted buffers, bollards and rubber delineators (see below). I don’t frequently ride on King Street in this area. The south end of this protected bike lane is at the busiest intersection in the area: King and University. I’m not sure the rubber delineators do much, and I hope the bike lanes remained plowed in winter.
Erb Street (Caroline to Peppler).
This section of Erb Street is one-way, flowing west to east. The Region has taken the left-most lane and made it into a two-way, separated cycling lane (see below).
I like this idea, but the first time I saw this bike lane, I was in my car, driving along Erb Street, just east of Regina St. To my surprise I saw someone driving a CAR in the OPPOSITE direction on this two-way bike lane! This speaks to two things. First, the driver’s confusion. Second, the design somehow allowed this to happen. Another point is when I was nearing the east-end of this separated bike lane at Peppler St. I was confused as to how I was supposed to navigate from the traffic light to the Laurel Trail. Plus, to my right, a driver of a minivan was stopped at the light, looking to turn left in front of me. We were both confused, but thankfully, he was patient while I got my bearings.
Overall, I like that the Region is trying to improve cycling infrastructure. I make use of the bike lanes on both University and Columbia on a regular basis. My main issue with this infrastructure is that they’re not connected to the east side of town. From my neighbourhood, I cycle across the city on either Lexington/Columbia or on University. Both options have dangerous stretches for cyclists (University at Highway 85 and between Weber St. and King St. and on Columbia between Dearborn and King.). It’s also important to identify the potential danger zones. I’ve mentioned a couple of them here, but the only way to identify these dangerous areas is to get out there and experience the bike lanes on a bicycle.
The Region is looking for feedback on this Pilot Project, and you can find the link here.