It is as if designers of bicycle paths have never ridden a bicycle before. Such appears to be the case at the latest addition to a multi-use path being completed in East London, Ontario.
The extension of the multi-use path system in London has to be hailed as a much-needed improvement. For many years the path system formed a “Y” where the centre of the arms of the letter was positioned at the City’s downtown. The two upper arms of the “Y” are located in the north and south sections of East London. With a recent, short extension of one of those arms toward the other it would appear that the City is attempting to connect them and therefore form a ring around the City. And this approach is commendable. But someone seems to have forgot about bicycle safety.
In the vicinity of Trafalgar St. the new extension of the path was designed to travel beneath Trafalgar at the same location where the pre-existing bridge crossed over Pottersburg Creek. It was not a bad idea to simply run the new path within the same location as the creek. But the implementation of that decision led to a mistake in design which now plagues the safety of both bicyclists and pedestrians.
The photo below shows a view looking north at a newly constructed bridge that carries the new path over to the east side of Pottersburg Creek before abruptly changing direction so that the path will go underneath the pre-existing bridge of Trafalgar Road.
Below is a northerly view at a point just past the newly-constructed bridge. If bicyclists intend to continue using the path they must make a sudden left turn to travel underneath the pre-existing bridge at Trafalgar Road.
Another view shown below is from the top of the pre-existing Trafalgar Road bridge and here we can see the new bridge at the extreme right of the view and how cyclists will need to make a sharp left turn to go underneath the pre-existing bridge.
What is not obvious in these photos is that there is a persistent downslope in the several hundred metres leading up to the T-intersection. Anyone who is familiar with bicycling will appreciate the very large effect that vertical slopes have on the speed of bicycles. Thus bicyclists crossing the newly constructed bridge will likely be travelling a higher than average speed due to the downslope.
What may also not be readily apparent is that there is a washout of loose gravel and dirt in the above photo that has deposited loose material onto the path precisely where there is a steep down grade and cyclists must make a sharp turn to go under the pre-existing bridge. The extent of the loose material is more visible in the additional photo below.
The photo below shows another view of the new path as it travels underneath the pre-existing bridge. A sharp right turn is required to travel underneath the bridge precisely at a point where the loose gravel and earth have slid down onto the path surface. Even though this debris may be cleared from time to time it will undoubtedly become a continual problem.
If this location was only for one-way travel the problem would not be as great. But as can be seen in the southward view below, various pedestrians and other cyclists will be travelling toward this blind spot and will undoubtedly crash with the northbound cyclists because there is not a sufficient line of sight provided.
The designers of paths for pedestrians and cyclists seem to not understand that the various safety systems of design that exist on roadways must also apply to multi-use paths. Lines of sight, stopping distances, controls of vertical and horizontal alignment, signage, and surface conditions are just as important on these paths. Even at a speed of 25 km/h a cyclist colliding with a frail pedestrian or child can cause significant injury. Similarly a cyclist travelling at that seemingly slow speed can sustain serious injury when impacting an forgiving roadside object or from simply falling onto a hard surface.
Unfortunately, it has been our experience that the courts in Ontario have demonstrated a propensity to protect those responsible for creating unsafe path and road conditions for cyclists resulting in many unsafe scenarios that need not exist.