A new design for University Avenue and Keats Way – Waterloo

When I was in my third year at the University of Waterloo, I lived in the west end of town, off Keats Way.  My commute by bicycle commute was generally quite enjoyable by North American standards, it took place almost entirely on quiet streets or in dedicated bicycle lanes.  And it was very fast too!  The 2.1 km trip took about 8 minutes, and if I was lucky with the one traffic signal, I could make the entire trip home without stopping once.

Here was my route, categorized by my comfort level (green is relaxed, red is stressed):

The worst part of my journey was making the right turn off University Avenue onto Keats Way.  Right-turning cyclists share the right turn lane with motor traffic turning right, which often results in motorists speeding past and cutting in front of cyclists to save a few seconds.  Even when drivers would remain a safe and respectful distance behind, I felt pressured to ride quickly to avoid delaying them, adding stress to my otherwise relaxed commute.

Cyclists travelling straight along University are also exposed to this same conflict, as the bicycle lane runs between the through lanes and the right turn lane.  While it’s not statistically clear that this is actually a dangerous situation, it certainly feels very unsafe – making cycling along this route an unattractive prospect for the majority of people.

Keeping the bike lanes always on the right of the traffic lane rather than merging them together would completely eliminate interactions with motor traffic for right-turning cyclists.  This would move the conflict point onto the actual intersection for through cyclists, where it can be addressed separately.

I think that the best solution here would be fully-protected signal phases.  This means that turning cars and bicycles would each have their own dedicated signal, which only allows one to proceed while the other is stopped at a red signal.

The usual way of managing this conflict – where turning cars yield to bikes and pedestrians – would be considerably more dangerous.  In order to allow large vehicles such as GRT’s Route 29 bus to make the turn, the corner radius needs to be very large.  This would then translate to high turning speeds for cars, which increases the risk that a car fail to yield to a cyclist or pedestrian crossing Keats Way.

Here’s what the intersection could look like with protected bike paths and traffic signals:

Overhead view of a fully-protected Keats Way and University Avenue

Overhead view of a fully-protected Keats Way and University Avenue

Protected signal phases can actually be implemented efficiently here because the bulk of the movements are compatible with each other.  For the most part, people are travelling straight along University or turning off Keats Way to/from the east.

KeatsUni_WatBikes3Phase_KW KeatsUni_WatBikes3Phase_Uni

Hardly anyone makes a left turn from University to Keats Way or a right turn off Keats Way onto University since this would be basically sending them back the way they came.  This last signal phase would therefore hardly ever occur:

Phase 1

Elaborating on the idea

(For the more technically-interested)

Since this intersection has bothered me for years, I’ve had plenty of time to come up with a potential signal operation that provides a decent balance between safety and delay for all modes.  I’ve preferred a variety of different layouts over the years, but this is the one that I favour at the moment.


The co-ordinated (default) phase for the signal is east-west along University Avenue.

With protected signals, no right turns would be permitted while the bicycle and pedestrian signals are green and walk.  Since that would be really annoying when no pedestrians or cyclists are around, pedestrian and bicycle phases could be provided on-demand, with the right turn signal resting in green the rest of the time.

To minimize delay for cyclists, bicycles would be detected about 40 metres* in advance of the intersection, giving the signals enough time to terminate the right turn phase and provide a green bicycle indication before the cyclist arrives.

*Assuming 3 seconds amber and 2 seconds all-red for the right turn signal.

Phase 2/6/OLA

Phase 2/6/Overlap A – Fixed/Coordinated

Phase 2/6/10: Callable by upstream bicycle detector, bicycle pushbutton or pedestrian pushbutton

Phase 2/6/10: Callable by upstream bicycle detector, bicycle pushbutton or pedestrian pushbutton

To further increase the efficiency of the intersection, a shortcut path could take right-turning bicycles off University Avenue before the detector, keeping them from unnecessarily calling the bicycle phase.

The next phase group is the protected left turn off Keats Way, which is paired with the right turns off University.

Phase 7/Overlap A (Leading Pedestrian/Bike Interval)

Phase 7/Overlap A (Leading Pedestrian/Bike Interval)

I think the low-volume right turn movement off Keats Way could be effectively managed with a Leading Bicycle/Pedestrian Interval rather than fully-protected signal phases.  An LPI/LBI is where the bicycle signal turns green a few seconds before the main traffic signal, giving cyclists a head start to reduce the chance that a turning vehicle fails to yield.  To further manage the conflict the road geometry is such that bicycles and turning cars cross a right angle, keeping both groups out of each others’ blind spots.  The corner radius is also kept to a minimum to keep turning speeds low.

Phase 4/7/Overlap A - Callable by bicycle or pedestrian pushbutton, callable/extendable by vehicle detector

Phase 4/7/Overlap A – Callable by bicycle or pedestrian pushbutton, callable/extendable by vehicle detector

Not using fully-protected phasing for this movement reduces delay for everyone because it eliminates the need for these vehicles to call the next phase.

The final phase group is for the unlikely event that someone wishes to turn left off University Avenue onto Keats Way.  Although this movement is extremely low-volume, it needs to be fully protected because I included a 2-way bicycle path on the north side of University Avenue between Keats Way and Westmount.  This path eliminates the need for cyclists to make two left turns to get from Keats Way to the University of Waterloo.  At the moment many people accomplish this by riding the along the north sidewalk, placing both themselves and pedestrians in danger.

The conflict between left turning traffic and bicycles travelling the same direction to their left is one of the most dangerous situation that can exist in bicycle infrastructure.  Fully-protected phases for left turns across 2-way bicycle paths are therefore an absolute necessity.

If there is a bicycle waiting to turn left onto Keats Way, that bicycle signal would come up concurrently with the corresponding left turn signal off University, otherwise the through vehicle signal would come up.

Phase 1/5

Phase 1/5 – Callable by bicycle pushbutton (rarely called)

Phase 2/5

Phase 2/5 – Callable by vehicle detector (rarely called)

I have not included a pedestrian crossing on the north (grid east) side of the street since it would massively increase the chance that this phase gets called, and it would nearly double the amount of time it takes.  The amount of inconvenience caused to pedestrians by eliminating this crosswalk is minimal because pedestrians heading southwest can just as easily use the west crossing here, and pedestrians heading southeast can just as easily use the crossing at Westmount.  And in return pedestrians benefit from increased safety while crossing the street on any side.

More Pictures!

Looking southbound (grid west) on University Avenue: The rightmost pair of motor traffic signals are Right Turn Signals.

Looking westbound on University Avenue - note the separate right turn signals.

Looking eastbound on Keats Way. The rightmost pair of signals are ordinary (green ball) signals – turning cars must yield to cyclists and pedestrians.  Alternatively, 4-section heads could be used (as in my phasing diagrams above).

Looking eastbound on Keats Way. This approach could alternatively use ordinary 4-section heads rather than separate left turn signals.

Looking northbound (grid east) on University Ave, the left pair of signals are Left Turn Signals.


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14 Responses to A new design for University Avenue and Keats Way – Waterloo

  1. Pingback: Region’s concerns about off-street bicycle lanes fail to withstand scrutiny | Waterloo Bikes

  2. What are the chances we can get the region to implement this, or even something like this.


    • reaperexpressblogs says:

      I’d say that with well-researched and well-argued support, we could get regional council to direct staff to look into such an alternative, just like we did on King Street in Uptown.

      This style of intersection design is obviously transplanted from The Netherlands, but it is rapidly being adopted in North America as well. In fact, Canada is home to the best example I’ve seen outside the Netherlands – at Burrard Street and Cornwall Avenue in Vancouver.

      As revolutionary as this design might seem, it really isn’t anything new. It merely applies familiar practices and technologies in a slightly different way.

      Protected signals are not new, they’re currently standard practice for high-speed traffic conflicts (such as at King & Montgomery/Dixon in Kitchener). Nor is vehicle detection, obviously, though it typically isn’t used in the form of an upstream bicycle detector that terminates a right turn signal phase.

      As far as drainage and construction is concerned, a bicycle path is identical to a multi-use path except for the fact that there’s a separate sidewalk.

      I don’t know of any Leading Pedestrian Intervals in Waterloo Region, but there are many nearby in Toronto.


      • Oh, I do know that there’s nothing new here. Not even for Canada (Montreal also has a few good examples. However, I’m just really cynical right now, when I see brand new roads build with bad infrastructure, and in many cases, no infrastructure. But I suppose we will see.

        I would note, the paths presented here are *not* similar to multiuse paths currently built in our region. Whoever does planning/design/construction treats multi-use paths as sidewalks, with awkward curb cuts or no curb cuts. The design shown should treat the path as a continuation of the road, with smooth transitions and limited curbs. There is separation, but between cyclists and cars, but not between cyclists space and cyclists space. I believe it stems from the mistaken belief that cyclists are pedestrians, oh and that they dismount at all crossings. If you want an example of the worst of this, checkout Weber St. Technically the sidewalk on the west side under the new overpass is supposed to be a multi-use trail. Cycling on it is darn near impossible. Trust me when I say, if the region implemented a multi-use path here as they do in other places, while it will probably work for less confident cyclists, I wouldn’t use it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris Klein says:

    How well does this fit with Book 18 and the current state of legislation in Ontario? Is there anything here that would be viewed as problematic from that viewpoint?


    • reaperexpressblogs says:

      I’m not aware of anything in the Ontario Traffic Manual or Highway Traffic Act that would come into conflict with such a design. Like I said above, it’s based on standard stuff.


      • Robert says:

        Book 18 is usually not a smart thing to follow. Turn boxes make you stay in the intersection and a similar design in Copenhagen has killed 7 per year. That is not very safe! Protecting cyclists, pedestrians and people (emphasis on people) with protected intersections and separate signal stages as much as possible. Cycle lanes are used where cycle tracks should be used instead. There are some nice things about that document, like suggesting dashed yellow lines on multi-use paths where possible, having separate signals for bicycles and pedestrians is also nice. I suggest adding into your design some inductive loops for the cycle tracks right before the stop line too, as a way to allow cyclists to avoid having to press the button which can take time.


      • reaperexpressblogs says:

        I certainly am not “following” Book 18. In fact, the original purpose of this website was to be a venue for my own “alternate” Book 18 where I’d go in detail about how that manual would look if it actually set a reasonably high standard like the other OTM books do.


  4. Living off Keats and going to UW, I like this plan, but I know that the majority of car-pedestrian accidents happen within 100m of an intersection, a lot of times because people don’t want to bother walking to the crosswalk. Therefore, I question the wisdom of getting rid of one of the crosswalks. I suspect that instead of walking to the other crosswalk, people would just cross the road outside a crosswalk or use the protected bike crossing which makes the intersection less safe for all involved.


    • reaperexpressblogs says:

      I suspect that you may be right in that this could increase jaywalking near the intersection. That said, this design is much safer for pedestrians that do use a designated crosswalk. Crossing Keats Way along University Avenue vehicles are no longer permitted to turn across the crosswalk during a Walk signal. Crossing University on the west side, there is a Leading Pedestrian Interval as well as improved road geometry that reduces speeds and improves angles of conflict.

      Even in the current 2-phase design it might be worth removing the east crosswalk across University, because it is considerably more dangerous than the western one. It conflicts with the fast-moving left turns off Keats Way as well as right turns on red off University, whereas the west side crosswalk conflicts only with the basically non-existent right turn off Keats Way. In most cases, both crosswalks are equally convenient so even in the current situation, removing the east one could improve pedestrian safety by encouraging people to use the other, safer, crosswalk.

      An east side crosswalk could be added to this protected-signal design to operate concurrently with the left turn bicycle signal. However because it massively increases the length of the phase while also massively increasing the chance it would get called, it would substantially increase delay for everyone, pedestrians included.


      • Robert says:

        Let us compare having the delays caused by a pedestrian being killed and a pedestrian pushing the button at a crosswalk if it were provided shall we? Lets see, the entire afternoon if a pedestrian was killed, 25 seconds per call for pedestrians. 25 seconds beats 18000 seconds.


  5. Most of your commute actually belongs on a cycle track, either 2.5 metres wide for the one ways and 3.5-4 metres on the two ways, protected by at least a metre of curbing, in my opinion. Cycle lanes are just not good enough for all but the lowest volume 40 km/h collector roads (if there is so much volume that a turn lane is needed, it is not low volume enough) (under 1000 vpd). The part between Amos Ave/Keets St and your home should be a traffic calmed 30 km/h zone.


  6. You forgot the no turn on red signs. A small painted island can create a channelization, or maybe a mini curb with rolled edges, so that right turning cyclists don’t need to stop and wait.

    I want to know how wide the bidirectional paths are. I am hoping that it would be 4 metres given the proximity to the university. The single direction path widths look good, but why transition back to bicycle lanes on street? At least you could have used 2-2.5 metre wide bike lanes and a 50 cm-1 metre wide painted buffer with some red surfacing for the bike lane (and the bicycle crossings).


    • There are not supposed to be any no-right-turn-on-red signs. Right turns onto Keats Way have a dedicated traffic signal, and right turns onto University are accommodated by the 6-metre setback so cyclists can pass behind cars waiting to turn right on red.

      In this design bicycles are can already turn right on red without stopping because they never actually go through the intersection.

      I have shown 3.5 metre bi-directional paths and 2.5 metre uni-directional paths along University Avenue. Note that the north side path is only bi-directional for a block so eastbound traffic will be relatively light. The path leading up to the intersection on Keats Way is 1.8 m because that’s the width of the existing bike lane leading into it. No point in widening for that last few metres, better to have people wait to overtake after the intersection. I transition onto the existing bike lanes east of the intersection because this project does not extend any further east.


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