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Ottawa bike lane in front of U.S. Embassy going unplowed, cyclists say

Several inches of snow force riders to detour around security bollards, taking them on to the sidewalk.

Image: Google Maps

On May 19 of this year, a new bike lane opened in the heart of downtown Ottawa, passing a very important site in the city’s vast network of government and consular buildings The bike lane extends along Mackenzie Avenue, and pass in front of the Embassy of the United States of America where security bollards line the path.

Since the snow started falling on the nation’s capital, that bike lane, cyclists say, isn’t being plowed — but only the stretch in front of the U.S. Embassy.

According to reports published by the CBC, the bike lane is buried under “several centimetres” of snow, creating a glaringly disproportionate situation for cyclists approaching the embassy. The track in the immediate lead-up to the U.S. embassy is clear; it was recently plowed. But once riders start to pass the Embassy, they’re forced to detour around the impassable, slippery mess of snow at its perimeter — a maneuver that takes them right on to the sidewalk.

“We saw somebody coming the opposite way of traffic,” said Marie-Claude Lacombe in conversation with the CBC, a rider who uses the bike lane on a daily basis. “He couldn’t go on to the road to continue once he got to the part that’s blocked so he had to go to the sidewalk.” Most riders in her experience, she said, don’t like doing that.

“I want a safer route to get to places and that cycle track provided that for me,” Lacombe added. “But because it’s not being plowed I can’t use it.”

When the bike lane was opened, it was heralded as a vital connector for cyclists, linking riders from Ottawa to Gatineau via the Alexander Bridge, as well as communities east of Ottawa with the city itself and its paths along the Rideau Canal. But with the stretch of the lane at the U.S. Embassy going without the benefit of plowing, it’s become a “missing link.”

“Over the summer period, we were adamant for cyclists not to use the sidewalk along Major’s Hill Park,” said Rideau-Vanier city councillor Mathieu Fleury. “There were a lot of fines that were given to cyclists using the sidewalk. Now we’re creating a behaviour change.”

Nevertheless, the City of Ottawa has no plans to plow the Embassy stretch of the bike lane. In a statement, the city said that the National Capital Commission and the U.S. Embassy were not deciding parties in whether or not to plow the lanes during the winter. It was not part of the winter maintained cycling network and while Fleury pushed for funding to clear it in the 2018 budget, for the foreseeable future it will remain a missing link in Ottawa’s winter bicycle network.