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  • Writer's pictureMatthieu Gagnon

Active Transportation in Orléans North: Journey to the West (Downtown)

This is the final installment in my Active Transportation in Orléans North series where I outlined my objectives, discussed how to attend them and made a prioritized list of where things should be improved. This post will look at the last priority which is getting downtown from Orléans North (Greenbelt to Trim, St-Joseph to the River). To do so, I will consider the following corridors out of Orléans:

  • Ottawa River Pathway/Sir George Étienne Cartier Parkway

  • Montréal Road

Unlike previous posts which dealt with both walking and cycling, this post is exclusively about cycling since walking downtown is not something that is reasonable as part of day to day life for enough people that we should invest in infrastructure to support it.

The south of Orléans should also get a connection. It's not even possible for residents of Blackburn Hamlet to safely get to Trainyards which is 6km away. However, I don't know the possible routes and I will let people with a better understanding of the sector to comment.

Getting in and out of Orléans

Map of Eastern Ottawa centered on the Greenbelt showing a lot of bike traffic on the Ottawa River Pathway and significantly less traffic on other east-west routes.
Strava Heat Map of Eastern Ottawa showing only bike traffic

Ottawa River Pathway/Sir George Étienne Cartier Parkway

I decided to combine these two routes since they are generally parallel. I also previously stated my position that multi-use pathways (MUP) are not great. I think that we should separate bikes and pedestrians because people enjoying their walks should not be expected to dodge bikes and people on bikes should not be put in danger by loose dogs (a personal pet peeve). Both routes would need bike specific infrastructure but I am not sure that it would make sense to build both.

To get to these routes, you can use a lot of local MUP network and a lot of residential roads. However, if you are south of the 174, you will have to use one of the overpass on Jeanne D’Arc, Orléans Boulevard or Champlain which will get you to the Orléans part of the Ottawa River Pathway (River Pathway) which leads to the Sir George Étienne Cartier Parkway (SGECP). The major issue with the River Pathway is that it is not winter maintained and is unlikely to be because Ski Heritage East builds and maintains a great cross-country ski trail. Because it is groomed, it takes a long time to thaw in the spring making it inaccessible even when the weather is favourable for a bike commute.

The construction of the Stage 2 LRT does provide us with an opportunity to create a new connection to the SGECP through a gap between houses on Vineyard. The gap is a right of way to allow the maintenance of a stormwater sewer that goes from the other side of the 174, through the neighbourhood and to the river. The sewer is currently slated to be upgraded in the near future so there is an opportunity to include a path as part of that work. The route could then re-use the utility road built to build the sound walls to get to the NCC farm road which could simply be paved to provide safe, direct and  separated access to SGECP.

Map showing a potential connection from Convent Glen to SGECP through the NCC farmland.
Map showing a potential connection from Convent Glen to SGECP through the NCC farmland. (credit: Juan Lavin)

From there, a MUP built as part of Stage 2 leads to the Shefford/Canotek area where another MUP can lead you to the River Pathway. Regardless of the route deemed best, making Shefford the best route for bikes would be best because it is more direct and would not require any work except for a better crossing at the parkway. 

Then, regardless of whether the best route would be along the parkway or the pathway, some bike infrastructure should be built. Whenever I have ridden on the parkway, I have always had close passes. Every single time. No exception. At a minimum, given that the route is mostly used by experienced riders, some plastic canes could be used to narrow down the traffic lane to 3.2m from 3.5m giving riders a lane that is about 1.3m which is narrower than the recommended 1.5-1.8m but would still be an improvement.

The pathway is currently very rideable and is wide enough to accommodate foot and bike traffic even though some conflict does occur especially on nice sunny weekend days. The NCC already does a good job of limiting that conflict by removing access to the parkway to cars on most of those days. During the week and the commute, there are few problems. The stone dust path however is very damaging to bikes so paving the path would go a long way to improving the commute experience. It would also extend the season by making it rideable later in the fall and earlier in the spring when the path is muddy.

The access to downtown itself either through Sussex or Beechwood, St-Patrick, Sandy Hill and Laurier, need a lot of work. There are painted bicycle gutters on St-Patrick and the eastern side of Beechwood that have canes part of the year but they are typically full of debris. A raised bike lane would help reduce the amount of debris and could be winter maintained. I see a lot of bike traffic on Beechwood to warrant permanent bike infrastructure. The section of Beechwood between the cemetery and St-Patrick keeps going on and off the sidewalk which is a bit confusing and I often have to dodge cars parked in the bike lane and cars trying to right hook me. There are also issues with the right turning lane from St-Patrick to Vanier Parkway which is the most dangerous part of my commute home. It requires bikes to make a blind left turn across the lane and hope cars don’t run you over (a colleague of mine had her arm broken by a driver who did not stop in time).

Montréal Road

To get to Montréal Road, the same infrastructure that would get you to Shefford and the SGECP would need to be built. Currently, I believe that only the section between SGECP and the Montréal Road LRT station is being built and should be commissioned soon. There are also plans for bike infrastructure on Montréal Road. I decided to check out and record what currently exists and I wasn’t very impressed. The city was so unwilling to take space way from cars that the route is slow with a lot of lights, conflicts with people trying to get on the bus and traffic turning on and off Montréal Road that I don’t think any amount of infrastructure would divert me away from the MUP even if I have to clean and lube my chain regularly because of the stone path. I would also rather take public transportation than ride this corridor and I probably keener to ride than most. It could be useful to access businesses on Montréal Road and Canotek.

Getting in and out of the Core

I am going to focus on accessing the core from Hemlock and Beechwood since it is the most direct corridor downtown. I have a few improvements that would make the experience safer and much better.

Let’s start with the minor bordering on trivial. There is a stop sign on the Aviation Pathway where it intersects with the C.H. Airport-Marina Road. The few people driving to use highly polluting vehicles for leisure should not be prioritized over the people who choose to walk or bike along the pathway. Cars should be the ones stopping.

The intersection of Aviation Parkway and the Aviation Pathway is also problematic. The intersection is fairly busy with people trying to get on and off the parkway and people walking and cycling trying to cross it. The intersection is very complex for all users. Given that it is located in the middle of a field with ample room, it could easily be transformed into a Dutch roundabout.

The next improvement is the bike infrastructure on Hemlock. You do have to ride on a small section of unprotected by a very deserted stretch of Hemlock Private before you get to St-Laurent and then cross over to Hemlock Road. The intersection is ok with a bike box and I never had issues. There is a bike lane on Hemlock but it is only “protected” by those little blue plastic canes that mostly just end up littering the bike lane because cars just run them over. The canes are also removed for winter maintenance and have not been put back as of April 25, 2024 despite many weeks without any snow accumulation. Given that it is the only reasonable corridor downtown and appears to be fairly well used, it should be properly separated with a cement curb in the short term and with a proper raised bike lane in the future. The intersections should also be reworked to avoid right hooks.

As you get to Beechwood and closer to St-Patrick going west, you do get a bit of a raised bike lane which is nice but the crossings for the side streets should again be better protected. On St-Patrick, you have a bike lane with no protection except for a buffer which is not ideal.

Going east from St-Patrick to Beechwood, is the only spot in my commute that I feel is dangerous, which is the slip lane that allows cars to turn onto Vanier Parkway while avoiding the intersection. As a cyclist, you are raised onto the sidewalk and expected to blindly cross the slip lane by turning left and hope that cars yield to you. A colleague of mine was not so fortunate and got her arm broken by a driver who failed to yield. The city really needs to stop jeopardizing the safety of vulnerable road users to shave off seconds for car commuters. That intersection needs to change.

Google Streetview capture that shows the slip lane from St-Patrick to Vanier Parkway. Bike lane painted in green rises to sidewalk level and then turns left abruptly towards the intersection.
Google Streetview capture that shows the slip lane from St-Patrick to Vanier Parkway.

Going east on Beechwood, the painted bicycle gutter is very narrow to the point where it is completely unusable until after the Metro. I have also almost been right hooked a few times on that stretch so intersection design should be improved. There is also a frequent problem of cars parked in the bike lane which forces cyclists to go into the traffic lane. You can see on Google Maps that those bike lanes are well used and should be improved. It would do wonders for this very nice neighbourhood with a lot of fun small businesses.

I usually cut through Sandy Hill to get to Laurier. I have no problem with Sandy Hill. If Ontario adopted the Idaho Stop, it would line the laws up with actual behaviour which would be great. The much touted Laurier bike lane does not start until after you get to the university and is only a painted bicycle gutter until you get past Elgin. Again, this is a well used route and should be given proper protected bike lanes. The lane to get from Queen Elizabeth Driveway often leads to conflict with cyclists and should be redesigned. The traffic light allowing pedestrians to cross from Confederation Park to City Hall should, in my opinion, have an exception for cyclists since a cyclist moving slowly and carefully through the intersection carries little risk.

Commuter trip priority list

The commuter trip deserves a separate list. Here is my priority list as an Orléans dweller but I will concede that the improvements closer to the core should be a much higher priority for the city. Luckily, improvements along the SGECP are in NCC jurisdiction so please reach out to them and our MP if you would like to see them happen.

  1. Protected bike route along SGECP

  2. Laurier bike lane improvements

  3. Protected bike route along Hemlock and Beechwood

  4. Nuisance improvements

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