A new infrastructure project in downtown Ottawa is paving the way for a safer, healthier commute, according to advocates of the East-West cycling initiative.
The East-West Bikeway, the product of several years of community campaigning and municipal planning, is in the last stages of development and city officials expect to see construction begin next summer.
Eric Darwin, vice-president of the Dalhousie Community Association and an avid cyclist, says he has been pushing for the bikeway since early 2010.
“A few years back I wrote a report calling for systematic improvements to existing bits of cycling infrastructure west of downtown,” says Darwin.
Darwin says early conceptualizations of the bikeway emerged at the perfect time, as support for improved cycling measures was growing exponentially.
The enthusiasm for new infrastructure remains strong and this year’s municipal budget includes $12.1 million to invest in cycling initiatives over the next three years, according to budget summaries.
New developments such as the bikeway, which will cross the downtown core from Westboro to Vanier, aim to provide cyclists with safe but also healthier ways of cutting across downtown Ottawa.
The proposed cycling route is expected to span more than 12 kilometres along Scott and Albert streets, and Laurier Avenue before crossing the Rideau Canal and the Golden Triangle.
Cyclists will cross the Rideau River at St. Patrick Street and Beechwood Avenue before travelling along Hemlock Road to St. Laurent Boulevard.
The health benefits of regular physical activity are part of the attraction for novice cyclists, says cycling advocate Alex deVries.
DeVries is the vice-president of Citizens for Safe Cycling, a local organization that has been working for almost three decades to promote cycling as an alternative to motorized transportation.
“Some are concerned that the increased risk of injury from collisions makes cycling unsafe, but the health benefits far exceed the risks,” says deVries.
The risk of injury to cyclists is minimized by the route design and the new infrastructure is likely to attract novice cyclists looking for a healthier commute, says deVries.
“(New cyclists) often feel more comfortable in cycling away from motor vehicles,” says deVries, referring to the segregated bike lanes that will make up much of the bikeway’s route along Albert and Scott streets.
This same style of bike lane has been in place along Laurier Avenue West since its launch as a pilot project last summer.
Almost 200,000 trips were recorded along the Laurier Avenue corridor in the first eight months of the project, according to Citizens for Safe Cycling – further evidence of the link between good infrastructure and increased cyclist activity.
Michael Powell, former chair of the roads and cycling advisory committee, says the city is committed to developing better cycling infrastructure.
“(The committee) is going to keep busy making sure that money is being used in a way that is useful for cyclists,” Powell said earlier this year. “(We) just want to keep seeing progress.”
Construction on the Ottawa East-West Bikeway is scheduled to begin next summer and be completed by November 2014.