Here a pole, there a pole, everywhere a pole pole.

Ottawa. Let’s talk.

Bollards are the new “it” accessory for marking the beginning or end of your bike path. They are the stiletto heels of bike path design. Sure, stiletto shoes look nice to a certain segment of the population, but mostly a stiletto heel is just a hard metallic wedge that impedes being able to walk like a human. And Ottawa has gone totally gung-ho on sticking these stilettos at the ends of new pathways.

They are very metal, very hard, very black, and very NOT AT ALL reflective.

The reasoning behind these pathway “stilettos” is two-fold:

  1. To prevent vehicles from driving on the pathways
  2. To prevent cyclists from not stopping where the path meets the roadway

Now, I cannot think of a single road in Ottawa where a traffic engineer would place a black metallic bollard in the middle of a lane to ensure that a driver stops at a stop sign. Can you? In fact, traffic engineers don’t even like placing poles near the roadway in case a vehicle were to, you know, jump the curb.

But you know, “cyclists don’t stop” for red lights or stop signs. Stereotypes engrained into infrastructure. Great.

I have yet to see a vehicle (aside from an NCC truck) drive on their pathways downtown, which until you hit the greenbelt, is bollard-less. (Apparently things get a bit more wild in the outskirts and teens drive on the pathways to host bush parties.)

But our city-owned pathways seem to require over-bollarding. The great nannyfication of things that are not actually dangerous activities because the law sees cycling (and walking) as inherently dangerous and a liability black plague that will surely consume all of our financial resources. Really, letting people walk and bike freely around the city is akin to letting tigers run wild.

When the O-train pathway opened up, the city placed temporary bollards where the pathway meets a road. They filled old tires with concrete and placed a non-reflective metal pole in the centre. For cyclists’ safety, you see.

O-train pathway

They evolved with cones for a while:


I knew the day was coming where they would replace these concrete makeshift bollards. Sure enough, now there are official black bollards. Not one in the centre line to prevent drivers from using the path. Not two. Not three. Not four. Five. Five bollards at Gladstone. Apparently spaced at 1.5m between each pole, because if they were any wider, a vehicle “could” pass through.


September 26: Gladstone update

The City decided to add another pole at the Gladstone entrance bringing the number of poles on each side of the roadway to 5. It doesn’t match the other poles – for some reason it’s taller – and it lacks the reflective strip around it. Also, they’ve left the tires with concrete in place.



Suffice to say, I think we can say that winter maintenance will not occur on this pathway. I’m not even sure I could navigate a bike with a trailer through the poles if I was turning from Gladstone onto the pathway. Sigh. SIGH!

Here’s the end by the Somerset bridge. Outer AND inner bollards. Fantastic. Bike slalom!


Meanwhile, over in the Netherlands, they are actively removing all but the most essential of bollards and asking residents to comment on their placement.

Which brings me to my next question – why do we insist on designing things by trial and error in our steadfastly North American way when we can look for countries with solid cycling “cultures” for best practices. Why must we do things poorly first? There is no need. Design once. Design well.

We’re not at English levels of bollard-headedness, but we’re on our way. (If you enjoy facepalms, check out the Warrington Cycle Campaign “facility of the month” webpage.)

Last week, I was riding with Alden in the bakfiets west along Gladstone. We tried to turn right onto the O-train path, but had to stop in order to make the turn. Our bike was too long to navigate easily around the bollards. (It’s equally as tricky at the Somerset bridge.)

I know my bike is an unusual length as a single bike, but there are lots of parents towing trailers or trail-a-bikes that would be equally as long (if not longer). I didn’t feel it was an odd request to ask the bike planner if the bollards were too close together since it was an annoyance on an otherwise fantastic stretch of infrastructure.

The reply came that the bollards were placed correctly at 1.5m and an apology that they were an annoyance. Yes, we consider the radius at corners for different types of vehicles on our roads, but on our recreational paths, it’s best to treat them like an agility course for dogs. Be the terrier. Be more dog.

When cars need to cross a sidewalk, we don’t put bollards in the way. In fact, we tilt the sidewalk so that the driver need not go over a bump.

Yesterday, I went “recreational biking” using the NCC pathway doing my farm and Lincoln Fields loop. I came to the intersection at Woodroffe that’s been under construction for upteen months only to find no improvement to the way the pathway intersects with the road. Sure, there are no bollards, but the city left the traffic pole mid bike path. And they kept the pedestrian ‘beg button’ on the west side of the pole. Out of sight when you’re biking.

This is a murky zone. An NCC pathway meets a city road. Best to just pretend the pathway does not exist it seems.


Pole and bollard free Carling Avenue. OMG. HAS THE WORLD ENDED?

Crossing Carling

Paranoid me thinks this bollard-ication of the pathways is a way to make segregated bike paths feel inconvenient in comparison to the riding on the road.

Sigh. Bollocks to bollards.