It needs to be emphasized that the segment of the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) south of Trafalgar Street in London, Ontario has been poorly designed and has created several safety problems. We will review some historical background before focusing on the latest construction which will increase the safety problems in the future.
Background of Historical Safety Problems
By the year 2018 a bridge was erected on the TVP that crossed over the CNR railway and thus provided a connection of the TVP between the north and south segments of Kiwanis Park in east London, Ontario. That decision elevated users to a substantial height and caused heightened cyclist speeds on the downgrades of both sides of the bridge.
The following GoogleMaps images provide some general views of the segment of the TVP that was being completed in 2018. During observations and cycling tests performed in 2018 it was noted that cyclists reached a maximum speed at approximately 150 metres north of the north end of the CNR bridge. The location of this 150-metre-marker is shown in several of the images below.
As the new segment of the path reached Trafalgar Street it was connected to a pre-existing underpass. As a result of the new construction cyclists travelling northward along the path needed to make a sharp left turn at a T-intersection of the path just before the underpass.
The required sharp, left turn was a safety problem as there was limited visibility in the area, cyclists were travelling at a heightened speed from following the downgrade from the CNR bridge and cyclists often crossed onto the wrong side of the path to “cut the corner” as they made their turn. Furthermore, users often stopped within the dark shadows of the underpass at a location where they could not be seen by northbound cyclists.
The following photos were taken in July, 2018, while construction of the new path segment was being finalized. These views take us northward from south of the CNR bridge and proceed to the junction with Trafalgar Street.
The image below is taken on a northward approach to the 150-metre-marker which is located in the left curve of the path. This was the approximate location where the downgrade from the CNR bridge was flattened out.
The views below show the approach to the Pottersburg Creek Bridge just before the T-intersection of the path at Trafalgar Street.
The view below shows the conditions as cyclists made the sharp, left turn to travel into the underpass of Trafalgar Street. Pedestrians and cyclists often stopped within the shadow of the underpass and, in doing so, it was difficult to detect their presence.
In 2018 measurements were taken of the slope of the TVP northward from the CNR bridge to the T-intersection at Trafalgar Street. These slopes are shown in the table below.
Testing was performed in 2018 whereby a Trek hybrid cycle was coasted, from a stopped position at the north end of the CNR overpass, down toward the Pottersburg Creek bridge. This was over a distance of 295 metres. The table below shows the speed, in kilometres per hour, that the cycle attained while coasting.
As can be seen the cycle reached a speed of 39.1 km/h as it passed through the 150-metre marker.
Next, cyclists were videotaped as they descended northward from the CNR bridge and their speeds were determined by noting how long it took them to pass between markers that were set up at 25-metre intervals. The table below shows the results of these observations. As a comparison, the speed of southbound cyclists, travelling on the upslope, were also documented and these are also shown in the table.
The average speed of northbound cyclists was lower compared to the coasting tests. This difference was largely due to the presence of other users of the path that caused riders to reduce their speeds. In contrast each of the coasting tests was commenced when no other users were visible on the path or their presence did not cause the test rider to apply braking.
In June of 2020 further observations of northbound cyclists were made as they approached the Trafalgar Street underpass. Over a period of two hours 32 northbound cyclists were documented. Twelve of the fastest riders are documented in the table below, along a distance from the 150-metre-marker to the south wall of the Trafalgar Street underpass which was at the 345 metre distance.
The Pottersburg Creek Bridge was located between the 295 and 325-metre markers and then cyclists made the sharp left turn at the 325-metre marker. It can be seen that throughout the distance commencing at the 150-metre-marker the cyclists were travelling at elevated speeds. These speeds were originally attained from travelling down the slope from the CNR bridge.
Below are three images showing examples of the high speed cyclists while they made the sharp left turn toward the underpass. Each of these cyclists crossed well over the centre-line of the path at the 325-metre-marker.
The following two photos were taken in August, 2018, shortly after the new path was opened to the public. The photos below are not a picture of a dead body. They show a young girl who is pre-occupied by looking down into the contents of Pottersburg Creek, precisely within the shadows of the Trafalgar underpass.
It should not take much imagination to appreciate what would happen if a cyclist travelling at heightened speed were to approach the body in this position. Not only would the child be injured but the cyclist would likely strike the non-yielding railing, resulting in substantial injury. This is why we expressed our concerns.
Several articles had been posted on the Gorski Consulting website dealing with these tests and observations. The City of London could have reviewed what we had posted. In the fall of 2019 Zygmunt Gorski volunteered, and was appointed, to two London advisory committees, one of which was the Transportation Advisory Committee. At that time Gorski put forward requests to include results of various testing and observations made by Gorski Consulting to the agenda of the Transportation Committee meetings. These inclusions were denied by the City’s Clerk. These actions eventually led to Gorski resigning from these committees. Had the City of London been open to allow discussions about safety problems they would have benefited, at no cost, and could have made improvements. And the site of the problems at the Trafalgar segment of the TVP could have been explored and corrections could have been considered. Importantly, a focus toward better design for the future could have been created. That did not happen as will be shown in more current developments at the site.
New Safety Problems Created At The TVP Site
In the week of June 1-6, 2021, Gorski Consulting volunteered to conduct cyclist counts as part of the Canada-wide Velo procedures. Due to its convenience the Trafalgar site of the TVP was selected as one of the sites where counts would be made. Upon preparation for videotaping at the site it was observed that some new construction was taking place near the south end of the Pottersburg Creek Bridge. This area is shown in the two photos below, taken on June 2, 2021.
The City of London has proceeded with constructing a playground near the bottom of the downgrade from the CNR overpass. The climbing apparatus in the playground is clearly designed for use by small children and toddlers. Photos of the planned finished product are displayed on the fence at the construction site and they clearly show the use of the facility by very small children. This is poor planning as the play area is just a few feet away from the edge of the cycling path where cyclists will be travelling at high speed while descending the CNR overpass. Furthermore, new developments in the population of cycling units have taken place where more cycles are pedal-assist, heavier and faster units. Combining these facts the City ought to have known of the dangers they have created and these dangers will be difficult to correct. It is an example of a lesson to be learned when planning for future cycling infrastructure.
The photos below were taken on June 2, 2021 and show the progress of the construction of the playground. Views of a placard attached to the construction fencing illustrate what the playground will look like when completed and the small children it is intended to attract.
The photos below provide further details about the precise location of the playground with respect to the markers that were laid down during the Gorski Consulting testing in 2018. The photo below shows the location where work vehicles have been crossing the path while transporting construction materials near the north end of the construction area.
A side view of that location is shown below along with the painted “275-metre-marker”. Thus the north end of the playground would be slightly north of the 275-metre-marker.
The next photo below shows a view looking north and the “225-metre-marker” can be seen in the foreground.
The side view of the 225-metre-marker shown below confirms that the south end of the playground is approximately adjacent to that marker.
So the above photos confirm that the new playground will be located between the 225 and 275-metre-markers. How does that relate to the northbound coasting tests and the observations of the northbound cyclists that were mentioned earlier?. In the coasting tests the Trek hybrid cycle attained a speed of 33.1 km/h at the 225-metre-marker and this was reduced to 29.1 km/h by the time the cycle reached the 275-metre-marker.
In the table from the 2020 observations, showing the fastest 12 riders, the average speed achieved between the 150 and 175-metre markers was 39.9 km/h while the highest speed by a single rider was 46.6 km/h. In the zone between the 225 and 275-metre-markers the average observed speed was 29.6 km/h while the highest speed observed from a single rider was 40.2 km/h.
To some these speeds may appear unimpressive or insignificant. Motor vehicles drive on freeways at well over 100 km/h. Professional cyclists can achieve speeds approaching 100 km/h on steep downgrades during professional races. But the speeds being discussed here are not being achieved by professional riders. They are achieved by riders of experience and ability that could be at the extremes of incompetence. There are no licenses required to ride a cycle on a public path. A recreational rider who must struggle to attain a heightened speed on a flat path is quite happy when the opportunity presents itself to increase their speed on a downgrade with no effort expended. And there is little willingness to reduce that speed because physical effort must be expended to bring the speed back up at some distance further up the path. While no special skill is required to attain a heightened speed on a downgrade many recreational riders do not have the skill to control their cycle at that heightened speed. And their judgment of relative safety may also be compromised. Furthermore, there is essentially no enforcement of cycle speeds on the TVP.
The following is an example of the safety problems that are likely to be encountered in future years. These events were captured on June 6, 2021 during our videotaping session on the TVP south of Trafalgar Street. The sequence of photos shows a family which initially travels northward past the area of observation and then returns walking south. The initial photo below shows the family walking northbound on the Pottersburg bridge. The mother is pushing a baby carriage. The father is busy attending to a female toddler who is riding a small bicycle. Zygmunt Gorski is seen standing against the bridge railing on the right side of the view.
As the family continues its walk a northbound cyclist approaches from behind. Gorski recognized that the speed of the cyclist was high and he called out “Look out behind” to the family and they began to move to the right of the path as shown in the video frame below.
As the cyclist passed the markers at 295 and 325 metres the video cameras noted the timing. Thus an average speed of the cyclist was determined to be 32.4 km/h over that distance. It is quite likely that the cyclist braked in the latter portion of the distance such that his speed upon reaching the 295-metre-marker was likely higher than the calculated average. Fortunately the father was near to the toddler and was able to redirect her away from the cyclist as shown below.
The cyclist was travelling on the wrong side of the path as he passed through the sharp left turn. Given that he was riding a pedal-assist, electric bike it was substantially heavier than a typical cycle. Had there been another cyclist headed southbound at this location a collision could have occurred.
Within seconds of this occurrence another northbound cyclist approached the family, as shown in the video frames below. Once again Gorski called out “Look out behind again”.
The speed of the second cyclist between the 295 and 325-metre-markers was 30.3 km/h. This second rider was not riding a heavy pedal-assist cycle however his speed was still elevated. As he made his left turn toward the underpass, as shown below, he was well into the opposing lane of travel in this area of poor visibility. Again the presence of any southbound cyclist or pedestrians could have resulted in a collision.
Some 27 minutes passed by and the family was observed to be returning on the path in a southbound direction. This incident began when the toddler was first observed running on her own near the 325-metre-marker as shown in the two video frames below.
The toddler continued to run across the Pottersburg Creek bridge with the rest of the family some distance behind. She managed to reach the area of construction where the playground was being built, as shown in the two video frames below.
As the toddler was approaching the construction zone the remainder of the family began to appear just north of the Pottersburg Creek bridge, as shown in the two video frames below. The father was carrying the toddler’s little bicycle suggesting that, at some point, the toddler became bored with riding and decided to run instead. This is not an uncommon or extraordinary situation but it presents safety problems because of the design of the path. A small child like this cannot understand that she is in danger from being struck by a northbound cyclist travelling at high speed. And parents cannot be within arm’s reach at every occasion to protect such a child. Small children will be playing in the playground and will inevitably cross onto the cycling path. It is only a matter of time before a dangerous situation potentially becomes a tragedy.
Families with small children should be able to use a multi-purpose pathway such as the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP) without having to be constantly alert to the possibility that they could be struck by a cyclist travelling at high speed. In many portions of the TVP there are flat areas with good visibility where such dangers are minimized. However when the tall overpass was created over top of the CNR tracks this created the danger that cyclist speeds would be increased on the downslopes from that overpass. Those who design multi-purpose paths need to understand that downslopes crease high cyclists speeds. Those heightened speeds just do not exist at the bottom of a downslope but they continue for several hundred metres past that point. Testing and observations by Gorski Consulting at several sites in London, Ontario has proven this fact.
The construction of the playground in the vicinity between the 225 and 275-metre markers has not been well thought out. As shown in our tables average speeds of northbound cyclists passing through this regions were about 29.6 km/h. And the highest speed observed in the two hours of observation on June 2, 2020 was 40.3 km/h. It is not unreasonable to believe that every two hours a northbound cyclist could be passing through this area at over 40 km/h. At the same time children of very young age could also be located in this area due to the presence of the playground. It is unreasonable to expect that every small child will have an adult hovering over them and whisk them away from danger in an instant. Yet this is the type of effort that might be required to prevent a future tragedy. The result may be that parents may blame the high speed cyclists and the cyclists may blame the parents for not being more attentive to their children but ultimately poor design is the originator these future conflicts.