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Linking infrastructure key to making Ottawa North America’s #1 Bike-Friendly City

By Alex Butler on February 29, 2012

The family of Ottawa cyclist Nathan Anderson, who died on Feb. 19 after being struck by an allegedly drunk driver, released a statement this week thanking all those who provided help following the accident. The family’s statement asked for privacy and also calls on citizens to keep Ottawa’s streets safe for travelers.

“In spite of losing him, we will remember Ottawa as the city Nathan preferred to live in and to get around by biking, walking and using public transit. Please keep on doing whatever you can to keep the streets of Ottawa safe for its cyclists and pedestrians.”

For an inexperienced cyclist, another accident can make biking in the city seem intimidating, especially in Ottawa’s winter weather conditions. But this reaction can overshadow the benefits of biking.

Alex deVries, the vice-president of Citizens for Safe Cycling, says their organization doesn’t comment on specific accidents as media attention for high-profile cases can call into question the safety of cycling and discourage riders. Cycling, says deVries, is a very safe activity and the long-term health benefits are far greater than the risks.

But despite the benefits of cycling, DeVries says Ottawa is lagging behind other North American cities with similar climates in the amount of travelling done by bicycle. Minneapolis has a similar climate to Ottawa and has been called the #1 bike-friendly city in the US. But the folks of Minneapolis are biking between two and three times as much as people here in Ottawa.

So can Ottawa replicate Minneapolis’ success? DeVries emphasizes the importance of proper infrastructure in making cycling safe and encouraging for riders. He says the NCC paths are multi-use recreational paths, but they often end up being used for commuting. He says an important aspect of creating a better cycling system in Ottawa is connecting the existing infrastructure to make for a better overall commute.

“We have some challenges sometimes in retrofitting our existing infrastructure to support cyclists… if you can make infrastructure that is designed for cyclists, people are going to feel much more comfortable and then people are much more likely to leave their car at home and bike to work,” he says.

DeVries says the Laurier bike lanes are an example of an improvement for cyclists, but “if you can’t get there, no one is going to use it… the missing link is how to get from the War museum to the Laurier bike lane.”

The City has recognized the need for linking biking infrastructure in the 2012 city budget. The Ottawa on the Move initiative has put forth a multi-year budget to improve cycling in the city, including the linking of existing cycling infrastructure, as outlined on the city’s website. 

The plan was well received by Ottawa’s cycling enthusiasts. Now, the city has put forward another way for cyclists to have a say in winter cycling. A winter cycling survey is up online, so cyclists can have their say on winter cycling issues, like path connectivity, Laurier bike lanes and multiuse paths, or leave a comment on things that need improvement.

Although Ottawa’s winter cycling season is almost at an end, with any luck, suggestions from cyclists will make the necessary improvements for safer year-round cycling.


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  • The northeast tip of Nepean is only 5 km away from Dow’s lake. It is important to pull those cyclists in too. As the experimental farm is closed for cycling in winter, although all infrastructure is there, cyclists can only take either Merivale, Fisher or Prince of Wales. Not very encouraging…a choice for the car is easily made.

  • Minneapolis is really a great city for cyclists. But as far as I know, now Denver is #1 bike-friendly city in USA according to Bicycling’s magazine rank. What do you think makes Denver so good?