Last fall, DCA President Toon Dreessen took part in a Strong Towns Crash Analysis Lab to look at the tragic circumstances of a pedestrian fatality on October 18, 2022, at the corner of King Edward Avenue and Somerset Street East here in Ottawa. The panel discussion included:

  • Suzanne Woo Professional Engineer; Co-chair of the Transportation Association of Canada’s Vision Zero and Safe System Approach Subcommittee; Former Senior Engineer of Road Safety Engineering at the City of
  • Rob Wilkinson, Road Safety Consultant; Former director of Safer Roads Ottawa program; Founding member of the Fatal Collision Review Committee in Ottawa
  • Chuck Marohn, President of Strong Towns
  • Tony Harris, Action Team Coordinator at Strong Towns (Moderator)

Over a lively hour-long discussion, it became clear that design played a crucial role in this tragedy that led to the death of the woman (and severe injuries to the second woman). The session highlighted several design issues and the impact of the role of design in creating our city:

  • The highway off-ramp from the 417 should funnel traffic to Nicholas.
    • There is an alternate offered by taking the King Edward/Lees traffic lane leading directly to King Edward, providing an easy way to bypass Nicholas’ awkward turns to King Edward.
  • This has been a problematic issue for years, as this route is heavily used by trucks in addition to many cars because this is the “most direct” route from the 417 to Gatineau
  • Traffic headed north on King Edward climbs a hill towards the University of Ottawa campus.
    • As the university has grown over the years, it is no longer contained west of King Edward but now includes academic and athletic buildings, as well as formal student residences east of King Edward, in addition to the many student residences in Sandy Hill, to the east. This leads to an increase in the number of pedestrians crossing King Edward.

Over the years, the city has made efforts to improve King Edward. On-street parking, signage, and a 40 km/h speed limit, the stretch from Lees to Rideau remains a challenge (not to mention the portion north of Rideau which is a different, and no less tragic, design failure).

Options that the city can consider to improve King Edward Avenue as a whole include:

  • Prohibiting Truck Traffic: King Edward (Lees to Rideau) is not currently a designated truck route but lacks explicit prohibition.
  • Reducing Speed Limit: Lower the limit to 30km/h or less, including photo-radar enforcement.
  • Raised Pedestrian Crossings: Especially at key nodes where there are pedestrian entrances to the main university campus. Pedestrian crossings should also be located at mid-block spots, so crossings are less than 200m apart.
  • Dedicated Separated Bike Lanes.
  • Improve Pedestrian Spaces: including wider sidewalks, rethinking street furniture and fixtures to improve sightlines and safety.
  • Narrow the Roadway: City of Ottawa buses require 3.25m of lane width and the total width of the road surface currently is more than 7.65m wide, more than a meter wider than it needs to be, even not counting for turn lanes (which could be eliminated, further improving the street).
  • Consider a Woonerf: A street designed to prioritize pedestrian traffic and cycling where cars are limited to very slow (walking) speeds. While radical, it would transform King Edward into an urban space, expanding the university campus.

A bigger solution is needed to address the nature of truck traffic more broadly in downtown. This needs design leadership to get trucks off of King Edward (especially the portion north of Rideau) along with a new interprovincial bridge, perhaps linked to a tunnel from the 417 highway or a relocated cross-river bridge. Linked to that, we should consider removing the Nicholas off-ramp and bypass, create a stronger connection between the Rideau Canal and University campus, improve the urban realm.

King Edward Avenue needs a radical transformation to become a true urban space, prioritizing pedestrians, and cyclists over high-speed traffic. By rethinking its design, we can create safer more vibrant #PlacesForPeople.


Legal notice: Architects DCA are not traffic engineers. The summary and notes below are an opinion on road design and safety, intended to spark public discussion on creating #PlacesForPeople. This is not a professional testimony to assign fault or blame.



Photo credit to Wikipedia’s mosbo6.



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