The first segregated bike lanes in Ontario are now open on Ottawa's Laurier Avenue, changing the way vehicles and cyclists interact in the city's downtown.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday afternoon at lanes' official opening that he's seen the dangers of cycling downtown.

"I've seen cyclists who have been knocked off their bikes by mirrors on cars, by people opening their doors," he said. "This gives cyclists some protection, and they deserve safety and protection in the downtown core."

Cyclists said they've never felt safer.

"You're segregated from the cars," said Linda Ryan. "With the barriers there, it prevents cars from coming in and hitting you like in Kanata a few years ago."

"Before, if people wanted to cross town, it would be hard coming through or they would have to go by the river or across to the other side," said Shannon Clarke. "Now it's good because you can go straight through."

City council voted in February to install the lanes, which run east to west from Bronson Avenue to Elgin Street, in a two-year pilot project that will cost $1.3 million.

However, those curb-like barriers that separate vehicles from the bikes have drawn criticism for reducing access to Laurier Avenue's buildings.

"There's no curb cut, so a person walking off Para Transpo could actually lift their foot and get on the sidewalk," said Catherine Gardener with the Ottawa Accessibility Committee. "Someone in a wheelchair or scooter may not be able to do it."

Watson said segregated lanes work well with people with disabilities in cities around the world, and they'll be open to suggestions from citizens throughout the process.

"The fact it's a pilot project, we're going to learn from residents, from merchants, cyclists, the disabled community on how we can do a better job," he said. "Let's give it a fair shot on day one and any changes, obviously we're open to them."

The lanes have changed how traffic flows on Laurier Avenue – right turns on red lights are no longer permitted in the bike lane zone, and left turns from Laurier Avenue onto Metcalfe street are restricted during peak periods on weekdays.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee