Thursday, June 23, 2011

A cyclist's take on Lexington upgrades

By any standards, cyclists in Waterloo should be pleased that Lexington is getting attention right now. Though, cyclists won't be entirely pleased with the proposed alternatives. How you feel will depend a lot on how you perceive the proverbial half-empty, half-filled cup.

Four alternatives were on display at the PIC session on Lexington Drive tonight. One was a "long-term" preferred plan, and unless the City of Waterloo suddenly realizes it left $7 million in its other pair of jeans, it won't happen for 5-7 years.

Three short-term plans were shown. Their budget is much more modest, closer to $300,000, and one of them will be underway next year if it gets council approval. They are compromises, trying to build a decent cycling and pedestrian connection between Weber and Davenport.

One alternative, a multi-use trail on the south side of Lexington from Weber up to the bridge, was already mostly out of the running. It's a two horse race between two other options.

Alternative 2: North-side Multi-use Trail to Lexington Ct., cycling lanes and "Modified Road Diet" from Lexington Ct. to Davenport

Here, Lexington remains 4 lanes until Lexington Court, at the top of the hill. There, it moves to a 3-lane road diet configuration with bike lanes. Along the 4-lane section a multi-use trail is available. At the Lexington intersection, the trail ends and a crossing to the eastbound bike lane is provided, with a pedestrian refuge island.

Alternative 3(a): North-side Multi-use Trail to the edge of the Highway 85 bridge, cycling lanes, 2 east-bound and 1 westbound lane across bridge to Davenport

In this option, Lexington remains 4 lanes up until the bridge. From Davenport to the west side of the bridge, there is only one lane for westbound traffic. This gives room for bike lanes, which terminate after the bridge. Westbound cyclists move over from the cycling lane onto the trail, while eastbound cyclists would come to the end of the trail and would have to wait to cross over to their bike lane. There is no room for a pedestrian refuge here.

I'm not really happy with either of these options, though both represent an improvement from the status quo. I challenged the representatives on a number of points:

1. Why not cycling lanes all the way through?

Their answer: That is the "long term" plan which requires widening of Lexington and is not expected to be supported due to cost currently. Outlook for the long term plan: 5-7 years.

2. Why not carry the multi-use trail past the bridge?

Their answer: Engineering and drainage issues complicate changing the bridge's surface configuration. Politics as well: Lexington is the city's, the bridge requires going to the MTO.

(I got the impression that anything beyond repainting the bridge's lanes would be a tough sell because of the MTO.)

3. Terminating the trail at the bridge will result in a lot of cyclists crossing on the sidewalk. Potentially very dangerous given the height of the guardrails.

They did not have a good answer for this. Though they did point out that cyclists do this now, which is true.

4. Why no pedestrian refuge on 3(a) like on 2?

Their answer: This can only be done at the intersection where the turn lane shadow exists.

(Not sure I buy this.)

Overall, I had a slight preference for alternative 2, the road diet option: it provides a better crossing point at an existing intersection with the refuge island, and reduces the amount of cyclists who will shortcut on the sidewalk (or worse, in the oncoming bike lane). I'd also really like to see the effect of even this limited road diet.

I had one constructive suggestion for this option: terminate the westbound cycling lane before the Lexington Ct. intersection and provide another ramp there for westbound transfer from bike lane to trail and to connecting paths into the subdivision... and extend the trail to meet that point (leaving the other crossing and bikelane unchanged.) This suggestion was well-received.

Not clear which option will be recommended. One person told me 3(a) was preferred currently but another said that 2 was the leader going into this meeting.

Overall, the possibility that even these imperfect solutions could be acted on next year is something that makes me guardedly optimistic. The reconfiguration really is to the benefit of cyclists and no one else, and even if it isn't ideal, a good plan now is better than waiting for a better plan 7 years hence. And Lexington is the key crossing point for cyclists over Highway 85. Either enhancement would be welcome to me.

What do you think?


  1. Thank you for this incredible analysis, considering that the city's Communications Department refuses to put any recent information about these developments on the website. I could not attend PIC1 or PIC2, and I've been desperate for details. You did in an hour what they could not do in over a month.

    As a driver: Make sure the light timings favour Lexington over Davenport compared to now - I love the bike lanes, but drivers are now experiencing an unnecessary large delay due to reduced E-W bandwidth at that intersection, being only one lane wide now.

    As a cyclist: The bridge is still the scariest part from Dav to Lex Ct. I use the roads, but I'm really tempted to use the sidewalk over the bridge because it's too narrow. The sidewalk is wide, but I'm also afraid of the low guardrail. It should be a multi-purpose trail with a high guardrail. Are we really handcuffed by MTO, or is there someone in the provincial government who cares and can approve a minor change?

    I don't like having to cross the street Eastbound, but I guess it's no worse than today, because I normally divert to Forwell Creek pathway from Weber, and end up having to cross Lexington when Eastbound anyway.

    It's really important for them to remove the curb at places where a bike would want to go up or down. Right now when Westbound, (because I am not suicidal and don't want to stay on Lexington through its lowest point, which is narrow and drives fast), so I go to the Forwell Creek path. However to get there, I need to go on the sidewalk for a big stretch starting at Dearborn, because there is a curb which stops me from getting up to that sidewalk triangle here: [google maps].

    Similarly, as it is now, I'd like to ride my bike WB through the Dav intersection and then only go up onto the sidewalk for the narrow highway bridge portion but I can't due to the curb. There are never pedestrians there anyway, and if there were, I'd avoid them by either owning the lane and staying on the road, or slowing down if I have to.

  2. On cutting the curbs: I've made the same observation (I've had to mount the sidewalk at Dearborn as well, it's probably the only time I feel justified riding the sidewalk.) The plans shown definitely include curb ramps for accessibility, and I got an email saying that they've incorporated a suggestion of mine into "Alternative 2" for an additional ramp for westbound cyclists to easily access the MU trail as they approach Lexington Ct.

    On the eastbound street crossing: I said it wasn't ideal but I did observe that having to stop on the MU path, and make a crossing to a bike lane is better than vice versa because you can wait off the road. With the south-side MU path proposal (not being seriously considered) you would end up having west-bound traffic need to stop because the bike lane ended, and cross to the MU path, which would be much more dangerous.

    No argument from me that the bridge is a problem. But my impression was that this project was being done on a shoestring ($300K), with short project timeline, and under city jurisdiction. They can't touch the bridge (beyond line painting) without the MTO getting involved, and that could delay the whole thing an arbitrary amount of time or scuttle it entirely.

    I haven't come up with any better ideas than they have if you constrain the project to no bridge changes.

    I'll take the cup-half-full view and say that if they can do this project to the budget they propose, then they should be commended-- because we need more cycling upgrades sooner. If they can be done cheaply without rebuilding the road ($300K vs. a full $7M rebuild) then we end up with a wider cycling network even if it has idiosyncrasies and compromises.

    I really want to see this project go through. Alas, I'm not a City of Waterloo resident! I just work here.

  3. Just saw your latest post - you are perceptive and accurate as always. I live in Eastbridge, and it is amazingly cut off except for arterial car-focused roadways that are much more dangerous to a cyclist than the average street.
    So I agree, Lexington improvements need to be made fast, and even if less than ideal.