Jeff Leiper Takes On The Bulldog



Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper has made a great effort to respond fully to The Bulldog post ” Cycling: The Half-Year Mode Of Transportation.”

Thank you for your time and consideration.

To read the Bulldog post, click here.

Here’s Jeff:


I’d respectfully submit that the reason cycling is (at least for mainstream riders) mostly a fair-weather commuting choice is because we don’t have the infrastructure in place to encourage people year-round. Chicken-and-egg.

We hear over and over that there is a core group of riders who will ride no matter whether there’s infrastructure like segregated lanes or not. But, getting the mainstream out depends on helping them feel safe enough to ride. I think we’re seeing the indication of that as cycling is the fastest growing share of commuting, and it seems to be in lockstep with the growth in infrastructure.

As the connections get made between people’s homes and downtown, more people seem to be choosing to ride. Take a look at the big numbers being posted at The summer numbers show a couple of thousand people a day riding – that’s not nothing. I’d argue that people ditching their cars for the bike are an important part of reduced congestion in the summer. There’s a lot of factors, of course: construction and OC Transpo delays are a big part of it. But many of the new riders I see around me on my daily commute are probably not going back to their cars once they’ve gotten used to the flexibility of bike-commuting, especially when the weather is nice.

As those connections become better, I think we’ll see what surveys from groups like Citizens for Safe Cycling seem to demonstrate: that people want to cycle more often, including winter, and are waiting for safe routes to do so. In our ward, we’re well-served by a growing amount of infrastructure. If you can get to the O-Train path, Scott Street or Churchill within a few blocks, you’ve got a clear ride to downtown. As our winters become milder, don’t be surprised to see a lot more people taking advantage of new infrastructure to become winter cyclists.

I think people who don’t ride in winter, and especially non-cyclists, have an apocalyptic vision of cycling when there’s snow on the ground.

There are definitely some considerations around winter cycling if you want to make that choice. You likely need a winter bike – a cheap beater – since the salt is deadly to your nice summer bike. I put on studded tires that cost me about $150. It’s dark when you ride, so you need good lights. But, you really don’t need any special clothing. I throw a pair of rain pants over my pants, wear hiker-style waterproof winter boots that I’d be wearing anyway, and picked up a pair of lobster-style mitts that keep my hands toasty. It takes me a couple of minutes longer to get to work (20 versus 17ish), but my schedule is my own and I get to the office awake. On cleared, segregated, lit lanes, it’s really not a leap from summer to winter cycling. The new paths around Tom Brown basically made it possible for me to get to work 365 safely and easily.

I’m a city councillor and if I can do it, so can thousands whose day is basically just downtown and back.

But, we’re not going to achieve that without building some new infrastructure. Even sharing a few blocks of busy arteries is enough to keep people off the road and in their cars. But once people find a safe route, they’re hooked. A couple of minutes of “hoo boy it’s cold” is well worth it not to sit in rush-hour traffic or have to wait for a bus that’s packed to the roof and crawling through downtown.

If any of your readers are interested, I post ride videos from time to time. Here’s a February video: It would have been a typical -10 or so that morning. You can see the clear difference between being on the road, and being on the paths and lanes. If we’re going to get more people off the roads in their cars, we’re going to need to do a much better job of connecting the places people want to go with the segregated, lit and plowed infrastructure they’ll need.

You’ve asserted the same argument that often comes up. “We’re not Amsterdam”. Well, when paths are plowed, we’re really not that much different. The key is that the Dutch have built the infrastructure to make winter cycling possible.

You’ve made a number of very important points with which I agree, including the design of the bike lanes. You’ll see, in fact, in the video, that a driver didn’t see me at O’Connor. But, the question of design is separate from the rationale. If we build it they will come, but we also need to get much better at building it safely.

Forgive the singing at the end of the video. When I say the ride wakes me up, I mean it.



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28 thoughts on “Jeff Leiper Takes On The Bulldog

  1. Who is Councillor Jeff Leiper trying to fool?

    The O’Connor Street multi-directional bike lane design failure was approved by Ottawa City Council. There are no excuses, like for example: “We’ve always been told to look both ways before crossing streets and to know where vehicles are around us,” said Councillor Keith Egli, chairman of the city’s transportation committee. “Being aware is more important than ever as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians interact with each other in new ways on city streets, especially downtown.”

    This bike lane is right out of a Hollywood set of an ancient temple passageway full of booby traps. Pedestrians should not need the help of Indiana Jones every time they need to cross O’Connor Street. Indeed, one almost gets the feeling that this was designed with George Costanza in mind, i.e. his failure to safely get his Frogger arcade machine across the street.

    It is obvious that segregated lanes (from car traffic) are most easily achieved beside public transit routes. However, the $2-million bike-path oversight by the Pimisi Station gives no one any confidence in the city’s ability to do this properly. Indeed, are there plans for new bike lanes along the proposed $200-million Baseline BRT?

    It is time for Mayor Jim Watson to be honest about the cost of a comprehensive, and safely designed, bicycle route system for this city. It will be expensive and won’t happen overnight, however, being honest about the cost is the first step.

    How hopeful can we be on this front? For example, Watson tried to push through a $6-million reduction to the snow-plowing budget this summer. Or, is Leiper claiming that he easily bicycled to work last winter, the day after the “perfect” snow storm? Where’s-my-plow app, and other Ottawa innovations brought to you by Ottawa City Council.

    1. To answer Sheridan’s question on the proposed Baseline BRT, the plans I saw earlier this autumn showed:
      – buses only lanes in the centre of the transportation route, but not separated from each other by a median (this design would allow one bus to pass another, stalled/disabled bus);
      – two or more lanes for vehicle traffic, separated by a median from the bus lanes;
      – a grade-separated bicycle lane along most of Baseline – the exception being between Merivale and Prince of Wales, where a meandering multi-use path will run parallel to Baseline, through the Experimental Farm; and
      – at the same level as the bicycle lane, a sidewalk for pedestrians and skateboarders. The sidewalk and the bicycle lane are to be separated by a rumble strip, to discourage cyclists from passing one another by accessing the pedestrians’ sidewalk.

      In short, the Baseline BRT appears to have achieved a balance between utility and safety.

      1. Ron Benn,

        Thank you for that information. I certainly hope that those bike lanes stay with that plan in its final design.

        The Baseline BRT is about the only sane measure that the city seems willing to take to increase OC Transpo ridership.

        It is still being studied, i.e. it is not a done deal, so I better not get my hopes up too high.

  2. Who is kidding who?

    Bike lanes running in two directions on your right can never give anything more than an illusion of safety.

    Studded tires are banned in Ontario unless you are in the designated Northern Ontario region, so is Ottawa in the designated area or are bike riders allowed to do anything they want?

    A “couple of thousand people a day riding” = insignificant. There are probably more golfers than bike riders? Does the city fund golfing?

    Motorcycles and scooters have two wheels, are a lot lighter than cars and are very efficient on gas. Why not build a segregated lane for them too?

      1. Ken,
        Did they own it because they took it over for back taxes or an expropriation?

        If your city actually got into providing golfing as a municipal service then you have more problems than LRT, bike lanes and sodded bridges.


        1. Chaz,
          No, it was intentional as part of the range of recreational services provided to residents. In recent years, it started to lose money and the decision was made to turn it over to the NCC who own the land. They found another tenant and, as far as I know, it’s still a golf course.

  3. Riddle me this Batman – What are the goals of building bike lanes?

    I would like to see a list of goals that are measurable and defendable. Just saying that they are needed is neither.

    1. Chaz,

      The goal is to provide the public with the opportunity for another safe mode of transport. This will help reduce automobile traffic and the stress (and cost) that cars and trucks place on road maintenance. Once the bike lanes are established, then they will take far less maintenance than the motor vehicle road system which is brutalized by the combination of tons of moving weights and the Ottawa weather — potholes are an Ottawa specialty.

      Why would someone choose to bike? Biking is often faster in rush-hour traffic. It is good exercise. It does not pollute the atmosphere. And it is vastly cheaper than owning a car, as well as being cheaper than a monthly bus pass. And biking is faster than walking.

      There are a lot of people in this city who cannot afford a car and public transit isn’t getting any cheaper. Ottawa is also a university town and many students on a tight budget take advantage of cycling.

      Also, as I have mentioned, downtown parking is going to be at a premium, especially with fewer parking spaces being allowed under intensification. Indeed, a good example of this shift in development will be the new Sens NHL arena on LeBreton Flats where parking space will be greatly diminished compared to its current location.

      1. If safety is the true issue then painting the road does nothing.

        If environment is the issue then there are many other things that can be promoted besides bikes.

        If exercise is the issue, then there are other things that provide year-round safe exercise without the worry of banging a bus into a bike.

        If reducing wear and tear on roads by cars and parking are the issue then promoting SMALL cars ( I mean small not compact ), car-pooling, motorcycling all to to mind.

        Again, the problem must be identified, quantified and then justified solutions applied.

        Paint on the road is a non-fix.


        1. “If safety is the true issue then painting the road does nothing.”

          False. Research conducted by the University of British Columbua shows that painted bike lanes reduce collisions, and mark space for cyclists.

  4. If Jeff Leiper wants to risk life and limb by cycling in the winter, that is his choice. He should not encourage others to engage in such a risky activity. It is irresponsible.

    1. robert roberts,

      I think that cost is always an issue. And we have seen how Mayor Jim Watson and the rest of city council have treated the snow budget for years now, namely running a deficit. Indeed, many would argue that the frequency of the snow-plowing service is also lacking for many residential streets and sidewalks. Therefore, it may be advisable to close the bike lanes for several months a year in order to avoid having to plow and salt them.

    2. Robert,
      People were cycling in the winter long before Jeff Leiper came along and, I suspect, will continue doing it for many years to come without needing any encouragement from him.

  5. A couple of quotes from Ontario’s Book 18 – Cycling Facilities (the Province’s official design guide) concerning the type of bike lane on O’Connor.

    “The introduction of bidirectional facilities also leads to considerably greater conflicts with turning motor vehicles at intersections …”

    “Conflict points exist at roadway and driveway crossings, creating operational and safety problems for both cyclists and motorists using two-way facilities …”

    I’ve seen videos of experienced ordinary cyclists riding down the O’Connor bike lane and even they had to take counter measures to avoid collisions. The mayor and (some) councillors are playing with people’s lives by offering new and inexperienced cyclists a false sense of security with these inherently dangerous bike lanes.

    1. Avery,

      As another cyclist was struck on O’Connor this afternoon, it would be extremely relevant for us to receive detailed information on the factors. I doubt that we will as this council does not truly believe in transparency.

      I find it very commendable that Leiper took the time to write a well-worded commentary. He is a avid supporter of cycling and the program and he did not hesitate to put his comments forward. Is there even one other councillor that will do that. I doubt it.

      1. Anne Marie,

        Leiper is part of the problem. In his zeal to get more “butts on bikes” he continues to listen to only the activist (anti-car) sector of the cycling community.

        He is deaf to the advice of another sector whom I represent – ordinary but experienced cyclists all of whom are motorists, too. This past September in an email message following the tragedy on Laurier Avenue, he dismissed suggestions to ” … refocus efforts towards a campaign of risk awareness, education, and cyclist skills training aimed at all road users”. Instead he launched into a personal attack on me using straw-man arguments and epithets he could only have obtained by hearsay and gossip.

        Nothing will change while those on council responsible for the mess are in charge of fixing it. We will continue to point out the inherent dangers of the bike lanes that Leiper and others promote for ideological reasons and provide solutions that have been proven to work. It has to be done. As demonstrated on Laurier Avenue and today in the O’Connor bike lane, lives are being put at risk.

          1. If you mean Citizens for Safe Cycling, other than member fees, I don’t know their current source of revenue.

            You’d have to ask them. It is a non-profit, volunteer organization. I was a director in the early 1990’s a couple of years after they were founded. Then they had a grant from the city to deliver Can-Bike training (“cyclists ed”). Skills acquisition and road-sharing was its focus. It was opposed to the kind of infrastructure now being built in Ottawa and I was a supporter of an “education-not-engineering” philosophy.

            I quit a few years later because of the direction it was taking – getting mixed up in Green ideology and politics.

            Its current approach would be an anathema to the founders.

            1. Thank you Avery. There tends to be a strong correlation between the strength of the lobbying activity and the amount of funding. The old adage “follow the money” can sometimes be quite revealing.

        1. “He is deaf to the advice of another sector whom I represent – ordinary but experienced cyclists all of whom are motorists, too”

          I am an ordinary, experienced cyclist who is a motorist too. You certainly don’t represent me. In fact, I’m not sure who you claim to represent. Do you have a membership list?

        2. Avery,
          How do you “represent” ordinary, experienced cyclists who are motorists too? Is there such an organized group? What form does their advice take – is it publicly available?

      2. Hi Anne Marie. I don’t have all the info, but I do know a car leaving a private driveway on the east side hit a northbound cyclist near Somerset.


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