Sharing Ottawa’s Roads

Sharing Ottawa's roads mapWhen the first roads were built, it was impossible to imagine the types of traffic that would be on them today. From dirt footpaths to 8 lane superhighways, roads have evolved to take on modern traffic with efficiency and speed. In recent years, a push has been made to allow an alternative mode of transit to cars, such as walking or bicycling. This has created a fierce divide between cyclists and motorists, with each claiming that the other isn’t following the rules of the road. As you can see by this map of Ottawa showing the roads vs the bike lanes and paths, there’s going to be plenty of overlap where drivers and cyclists will share the road. Gary’s Automotive is here to help both sides know the proper rules of the road so everyone can get out and enjoy what this city has to offer.



Understanding The Road

Early automotive fatality Roads were initially designed as a means for people to move about. Before the Model T, cars were a rare sight on roadways, allowing for free movement of pedestrian, carriage, and bicycles. When the model T was revealed to the public, the modern motor car became something that anyone could afford, and their popularity skyrocketed. This meant that roads were quickly populated with these new motorized vehicles while carriages, as well as foot and bicycle traffic, were quickly edged out. Unfortunately, the quick adoption of the car left regulatory bodies with little time to catch up, and the amount of vehicle related fatalities quickly began racking up. In the four years after World War 1, more Americans were killed in vehicle accidents than were killed in Europe during the war (1914-1919 combat deaths for the United States = 53,402 compared to 1920-1923 vehicle deaths in the United States =  58,137). In these early days it was assumed that the person driving the larger, heavier piece of machinery was responsible for the safety of those around them, and pedestrians were given the right of way in all cases. Crosswalks didn’t exist at this time, and roads were essentially a free for all. As time went on, the view began to shift that people not in cars were not traffic, but rather something that is impeding traffic. Jaywalking was made a crime, and sidewalks began to emerge along with traffic lights and signs.

With the way some drivers behave on the road today, it can frustrating to read that as someone not in a car, your right of way has been reduced to being told when and where to walk about. Once you stop and realize how different modern traffic is from over 100 years ago, it really makes sense for both types of traffic involved. As a pedestrian, walking all over the road where ever you want would put yourself in danger. As a motorist, driving would be even more difficult in downtown areas, as pedestrians would litter the streets. For the most part, pedestrians and vehicles share the road pretty well. The problem begins when a pedestrian pilots a vehicle that weighs 3000 pounds less and can only travel at a quarter of the speed.

The Rights And Responsibilities Of Both Sides

We aren’t suggesting that either side of the bicycle vs car debate has more of a right than the other to the road. In accidents involving the two, motorists are just as likely to be in the wrong as cyclists (several reports have findings favouring either side). Just as vehicles have evolved over time, so have roads, and the rules that govern them. Everyone should be thankful that roads are no longer the free for all they were at the dawn of the Model T, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t continue to be shared. This does mean that both sides have expanded responsibilities when it comes to sharing the road. Lets take a look at what needs to be done in order to properly share the road.

The Responsibilities Of Motorists

Under the Highway Traffic Act, bicycles are considered vehicles. This means they have a legal right to be on the road, with the exception of highways 416 and 417, the 174 to Orleans, and the transitway.

  • When driving on the roads, bicycles have the right to be in the lane, not on the shoulder or sidewalks. As a general rule, cyclists will try to stay to the right hand side of the lane, slightly away from the curb to allow motor vehicles to to pass them. This isn’t a rule, and a cyclist can drive in the centre of a lane if they feel they side of the road is dangerous.
  • In rural areas, a cyclist is permitted to drive on the shoulder of the road.
  • In an attempt to make cycling safer, Ottawa has been expanding bike lanes across the city. As a motorist, you are not to drive in or park in these bike lanes (doing so will result in a fine).
  • Finally, the most important thing to remember is that cyclists do have a right to use the road, and to exercise patience and caution when driving near one. All too often distracted drivers are the cause of vehicle and cycling related accidents. Passing a cyclist is perfectly legal (when safe to do so) just be sure to give them sufficient space when doing so. Remember, you’re in a 3000 pound chunk of steel, they’re holding on to a 15 pound handle.

The Responsibilities Of Cyclists

Bicycle hand signalsUnfortunately, the debate between cyclists and drivers stems from distracted or impatient drivers and cyclists alike. Many cyclists are not aware of the basic rules of the road, or they think that they don’t apply to them.

  • The first thing to know is that the rules of the road do apply to you. This means you drive with the flow of traffic (not against it) in the proper lane, not on sidewalks. If you wouldn’t drive a certain way in car, then certainly don’t drive like that on a bike.
  • When you come to a crosswalk, yield to pedestrians and don’t stop in the actual crosswalk. While it’s a unwritten rule that a cyclist will stay to the right of the road, don’t drive in a right turning lane only to cut across an intersection.
  • Another important point is to hold your own in a lane. Weaving in and out of parking spots along a road or on and off the shoulder can make you a hazard. Staying to the side of the road makes you more predictable to drivers, which makes you safer.
  • You can further increase this safety by remembering to use your proper hand signals, wearing proper clothing (reflective and bright), having lights if you plan on driving at night (legally required) and remembering to always wear a helmet.

A common debate against cyclists is treating stop signs like yield signs. In some states, this is legal for cyclists. In Ontario, cyclists are still required to obey the rules of the road, including stop signs and other traffic markers. Toronto Police recently held a blitz where over 650 cyclists were ticketed for failing to obey the posted stop signs, a fine worth $110. This is quickly becoming a legal grey area, with more and more support arising for the yield stop for cyclists. For now, obey the rules of the road and share the responsibility with motorists.

Sharing Ottawa’s Roads Is Easy

Sharing our roads isn’t always easy, but with patience and understanding motorists can enjoy driving and cyclists can enjoy cycling. There will always be bad drivers and bad cyclists, but no side should let a few bad examples ruin the experience. As the push for more eco-friendly options increases, more and more bikes will appear on our city’s roads. Together, both sides can help reduce the amount of accidents and fatalities and share the road.

Do you have any other advice for sharing Ottawa’s roads? Let us know in the comments!


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