Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bronson deja vu all over again

Last night was the second PAC (Public Advisory Committee) meeting on Bronson. After the hard time the city planners and consultants got at the first meeting in April, the May meeting disappeared in favour of a mid-June date.

The city and consultants got ideas from the public (me: the Bronson 2 lane plus two way left turn lane model) and the community associations (2 lanes plus turn lanes at intersections, a livable streets model that has worked so well for fixing roads with similar volumes in Toronto) and a lot of pressure from the Councillor to do better.

So they came out in full force last night. The city or the consultants hired more consultants to review their work (guess what: given the same marching orders and look-up tables, they came up with the same results -- well, duh!). They dragged out a planning junior who offered to stand at intersections with PAC members to consider how to improve ped movements -- if feasible and not interferring with car traffic flow. They brought in a landscape architect with large maps with huge coloured blobs on them identifying areas for pedestrian improvement and landscaping -- many of the blobs were on the paved road surface which is not exactly ped amentity space.

To cut to the nub:  the city inisists Bronson must stay as four lanes all the way through, no alternative configurations can be examined.

They did claim to abandon their prior suggestion to widen Bronson by at least 2'. Well, sort of. In an effort to promote consistent lane width, they would still widen Bronson in the area south of Gladstone; and in the north portion of the street where there was more land available, they proposed chewing away at adjacent green space to make the road lanes 35% wider than elsewhere. Mere details. 

Our planning politburo continuously chanted that their priorities were peds and cyclists first, transit, then private cars. Even the most naive participant would have a hard time swallowing that. For example, their ped first plans didn't quite allow for consistent minimum width (2m) sidewalks:  near Gladstone that meant sidewalks combined with bus stops combined with traffic signals and wooden utility poles would be a princely 1.5m wide.  On a busy corner. With the commercial storefront door also opening onto the sidewalk. Better hope those pedestrian hordes are real friendly. And turning cars don't cut too close.

The city planners rushed through the traffic and lane width stuff at breakneck speed, anxious to get to the brightly coloured dots (three colours! -- but alas no daisy shaped flower dots like I wanted) and magic markers (many colours!)
with which the remaining PAC members were to mark up big road maps with "suggestions" for consideration and implementation "where feasible" after "review by the TAC" (Technical Advisory Committee, ie the traffic engineers).

The landscaping proposals were somewhat attractive but severely constrained. Nice architectural drawings (planning porn) of benches and planters were shown, but won't actually be built along Bronson -- all the space has already been taken up by the pedestrian priority car lanes. Instead, they will be located on private property set back from the sidewalk where private property owners are willing to sign legal contracts permitting the city to do so. No word on how many of these planters and benches we might actually see, and many PAC members expressed scepticism that absentee landlords would ever consider these. Would even quasi-public landowners be intersted? --  the community minded Bronson centre itself has been busy removing trees each year and expanding the car parking zone in front of its building.
Double click to enlarge. The top two views illustrate a typical section of Bronson. Don't forget the car is speeding along at +60. The ped light is on the curb line, which is good. The proposed tree is on private property, if permission can be attained. The lower drawings show proposed treatment where parking lots abut the sidewalk. The planter and tree are on land cheerfully ceeded by the property owner who didn't mind the loss of revenue space.

The plans also showed lots of trees along the sidewalks -- of the side streets. These were shown based on the assumption that the Bronson reconstruction project would allow them to be planted there, as they were outside the current bounds of the project mandate. Oh dear.
But on Bronson itself, there wasn't room for any trees. So the architects proposed mechanical trees, artificial trees, that would be "planted" along the curb line with mechanical shading devices for peds. In the pix, they look sort of like those big plastic banana leaves you can get at IKEA to decorate your kids room. The tree trunks will help separate peds from cars.
Double click to enlarge. The top illustrations of are of benches, planters, brick pavers and other "landscape integration opportunities" all of which are on private property provided by willing and eager property owners. The bottom illustrations are of the bus shelter (also likely located on private lands) and the "architectural feature" are the artificial trees that substitute for the real thing since the pedestrian priority plans lack space for much of anyting except roadway.

It wasn't all bad at the meeting though. Staff and consultants were eager to be nicer than they were at the first meeting. They agreed to ped lighting along Bronson, with the posts located on the curb line (this is important as it restricts the apparent lane width, promotes subjective ped safety, and goes against the engineering view that the street and sidwalk should be one large open space for the safety of motorists and convenience of winter snow removal).

They proposed coloured concrete paving in the major intersections (easy to do! economical! they do it all the time!) even though that idea went down in cost and maintenance flames when studied for four years on Preston. Sidewalks will be made of concrete, perhaps stamped with a pattern, because interlock pavers like used on West Wellie, Richmond, Preston and other west side sidewalks "just won't stand up to our climate and heavy sidewalk plows and will look awful in ten years" (on this I share some sympathy: the city frequently demonstrates it is unable to maintain interlock pavers, whereas poured concrete is pretty simple stuff).

Summary: Car commuters to Pointe Gatineau win big. Peds get some lighting and fake trees. Adjacent land owers might get their front properties relandscaped provided they are willing to give up the space. Cyclists get nothing. PAC gets to hear more "mights" and "where feasibles" than normally treated to. Sidewalks get rebuilt, sometimes narrower, a few times a bit wider provided the room can be appropriated from green space. Decorative overhead wiring will stay on this "scenic entry route" to Ottawa.

C'est la vie in Ottawa.


  1. The City is doing a lane-reduction study on King Edward; why can't Coun. Holmes introduce a motion at council to do a lane reduction study on Bronson?

    I hope she is considering this- if not you should insist that she does.

  2. Eric,

    Were there actually any bona fide 'planners' at this meeting, that is people who have a planning degree and/or are members of the Canadian Institute of Planners, or were they really highway and traffic engineers masquerading as "planners"?

    These so-called "transportation planners" seldom seem to be aware of city policies and even once made aware have no interest in carrying them out. What we need are real planners in charge of such things who are able to tell the engineers to "make it happen" rather than engineers without planning training dabbling in their limited version of planning.

  3. I was lucky that I met with them beforehand. That way, they could dismiss my concerns personally.

  4. Holy crud!

    That's some pretty pathetic consultation. They're giving lip service to the idea, while doing whatever they feel like.

    Eric, have you ever thought of running for council. We need to straighten those folks out. I'd volunteer for you.

  5. No, I won't run for council. I have a real life, i'm sane, I get to bike and garden some evenings ... why would I give that up? ... and the ward I'm in already has a good councillor. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing, no thanks for that bit of advice!