Westheights Drive is a “community collector street” providing access to the Forest Heights neighbourhood in southwest Kitchener. It is currently a 4 lane street, with parking permitted in the curb lanes.
A look at the streetscape quickly reveals that it is completely inappropriate for its residential context. The layout gives the impression of an arterial road, promoting speeds well in excess of the 40 km/h limit, and allowing aggressive driving such as overtaking on the right.
To fix these problems and create a street that is respectful of the neighbourhood it serves, the City of Kitchener is planning a “road diet” on Westheights Drive. The proposed design rearranges the street into two bicycles lanes, two motor traffic lanes and one lane of on-street parking.
This design represents best practice in on-street painted bicycle lane design. It provides lanes that are comfortably wide, with a further 0.5 m separation from motor traffic. Conflict areas at intersections are coloured for added visibility. And most importantly, there is a wide buffer between parked cars and the bicycle lane, keeping cyclists safely away from opening car doors.
The most striking negative aspect of the design is that the parking lane is positioned to the right of the bicycle lane, which means that cars will conflict with cyclists while parking. But this arrangement is warranted by the number of driveways along the street, which necessitate clear sightlines. And once the new road layout is in place, traffic will travel much more slowly and predictably, reducing the need for lateral separation between cyclists and motorists.
But there aren’t driveways everywhere. The segment in front of Westheights Park and Westhights Public School has no driveways on the north side of the street. This segment also includes the signalized intersection with Driftwood Avenue.
Through this segment, there is no reason to expose westbound cyclists to conflicts from parking cars and stopping buses. Moving the car parking and the bus stop to the left side of the bike lane through this segment would make it completely conflict-free.
In this situation, I allocated a bit more space to the westbound bicycle lane, since moving the parking to the left side creates a physical barrier that would prevent overtaking if the path were not sufficiently wide.
The city is proposing a fairly extensive reconstruction of the signalized T intersection with Driftwood Drive. The design shown in the March 2015 public consultation (below) includes curb extensions to reduce pedestrian crossing distance and slow turning motorists.
The big missed opportunity here is that westbound bicycles are controlled by the traffic light, even though there are no conflicting vehicle movements. Providing a pedestrian island between the bicycle path and the intersection allows it to be completely independent, with the pedestrian conflicts controlled with a simple priority arrangement (pedestrians yield to bicycles or vice versa).
An other side effect of the bicycle path being immediately adjacent to the roadway is that there is no apparent way for westbound cyclists to turn left onto Driftwood. If the path were further away, there would be room for turning cyclists to wait for the signal onto driftwood without blocking people travelling straight along Westheights.
Then there’s the issue of turning conflicts with eastbound drivers. The bike lane travels straight through the intersection, which results in cyclists approaching turning motorists in their blind spot. Shifting the bicycle path away from the intersection would make for better sightlines between both sets of road user.
Additionally, the bus stop could be moved from its current midblock location to the signalized intersection to provide a safe crossing opportunity for pedestrians accessing the stop.
Here’s what these ideas all look like put together.
Interestingly, the design shown in the “proposed design” sheets is different than the design shown at the consultation, including a left turn lane and a pedestrian island between the westbound bicycle lane and the intersection. But it still lacks any way to turn left onto Driftwood, and still has an unsafe angle of conflict between eastbound cyclists and motorists.
And it still places cyclists in conflict with parking cars and stopping buses for no apparent reason.
This roadway redesign is a great step in the right direction for a collector street such as Westheights. It demonstrates that the City of Kitchener is learning from its experience with previous road diets, most notably through the width of the bicycle lanes and the separation from parked cars. Just a few little changes would take what is already a very good design and transform it into an excellent one.