Thursday, June 10, 2010

Caring about Carling

Last night was the first Public Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting for the Carling Avenue reconstruction project from the O-Train to Bronson Avenue. Scheduled for 2011, its for a complete rebuild of the street: new sewers, water mains, dozens of cable and gas pipes, curbs, sidewalks, lighting...everything.

The handout emphasized the following priorities in this order: pedestrian, cycling, transit, vehicle. Of course, the the Technical Adisory Committee (TAC) had first whack at the project and they specified two through lanes in each direction, a bus lane, a cycling lane,very generous turn lanes, etc etc all of which exceeds the available right of way. Now, which elements do we guess might get dropped? No points for the correct answer: car lanes, bus lane, bike lane if room, "2m sidewalk (where feasible)". So much for ped priority. And for streetscaping ... to be added in at the end on the leftover spaces.

So, I spent the evening in plesant dialogue with the city planner and his consultants, educating them as to local pedestrian desire lines, questioning them on traffic volume assumptions, and suggesting the ideal Carling-Avenue-according-to-Eric plan.

These discussions can have fun elements. I pointed out the out drainage outlet for Dow's Great Swamp BEFORE the Rideau Canal was built and the dam built to create Dow's Lake, as it crosses Carling Ave it will present a "soft" layer of surficial geology (you can trace all through the neighborhood, its location revealled by the map and along the streets by the tilting houses on unstable foundations). I also pointed out the very busy Tim Horton's located on that strip, one which they (and many neighbours) are unaware.

Some agreements come easily: get rid of the acceleration or merge lanes at Carling EB at Preston, and Carling WB at Booth. This will also reduce the pedestrian crossing distances.

The TAC proposes this cross section: two lanes of traffic (plus turn lanes, some of which are VERY lengthy) plus one transit lane, plus one bike lane along the curb. The difficulty with the curb-side bike lane arises at Commissioner's Park (Dow's Lake tulip festival) where tour buses park against the curb ... and will be parking on top of the bike lane. Maybe the bike lane should be between the car lanes and transit lanes?

An idea well received was to replace the median lighting fixtures (which are sort of freeway style) with either outside curb  poles (located right on the edge of the curb, this helps close in the perceived road width thus calming traffic and protecting peds) OR with more decorative fixtures somewhat like was done on King Edward (but not with those particular poles), OR mid-height dual purpose lighting poles as was done along Bank Street south of Gloucester. The current lighting style is too freeway-like and must go.

 Does Carling have enough ped traffic to warrant ped lighting all the way along the sidewalks? Or would it be sufficient to mark intersections and where pathways join the sidewalk with clusters of lights and brick pavers in a ped scale, ie treating the sidewalk lighting as a series of nodes rather than a linear strip.

There is a grass median from the O-train to Booth. As we go east up the hill to Bronson, that shrinks to a dusty, dirty, heaved concrete wasted space. Since traffic volume decreases drastically east of Booth, to be 16,000 or so vehicles per day, I suggested two general traffic lanes are not needed, leave it as one lane(plus turn lanes) plus transit lane plus bike lane (since going up hill I have a harder time keeping to a straight line). This would allow for wider sidewalks, a side boulevard, or a landscaped centre median.

The centre median  itself is pathetic. The soil is compacted, the greenery is "naturalized" (ie, weeds). I suggest that the first foot in from the curb be porus pavers, then there be a 2' high concrete wall, creating a giant planter along the median. This planter would be filled to a depth of two or three feet with structural earth or planting mix, and planted with locust or russian olive trees (very salt hardy) and a dense underplanting of shrubs. [note that the city does not plow snow onto the median, only to the road edges, so the one foot setback from the curb should function fine].

The consultants were less than thrilled with the planter idea. Too much salt spray, it will kill it all. My response: the examples they cite are all suburban with huge rights of way and windy conditions, this is a more urban street with a lower speed limit (which could be made even lower, please) and the wall will reduce salt spray. If the trees die, then leave the planter with grass -- it will thrive better than it does now! Or plant something like decorative grasses that grow in clumps 12 and 24 and 35" high for a textured landscape, and that die back in the winter and are immune to salt spray.

I understand the engineer mentality might find the planter idea offensive at first glance. But let's be imaginative, experiment, try something .... even if it is only for two of the blocks (one east and one west of Preston?) at first. Build it. See if it works. Expand a year later if successful (this would require setting aside some budget for that from day one). Too often the city takes the cheapout route: the NCC will make nice landscaping over there, so we don't have to do anything at all over here.

Here are few other ideas to consider: ban right turns at Preston and at Booth on red lights, to calm traffic and make it safer for cyclists; don't make the sewer upstream from Preston the same size as Preston, make it one size smaller, so the upstream people (ie Glebe) don't fill it to capacity so it floods the downstream end.

And here's one idea that needs to be killed: the TAC wants a continuous left turn lane on Carling EB from Preston to Booth; AND a continuous left turn lane on Carling WB from Booth to Preston; AND a Carling WB right turn lane onto Preston. Will there be any median left? This proposal takes catering to rush hour traffic to the extreme. Why does the whole street have to be built to handle the ninety minutes of rush hour volume, and why are Pointe Gatineau commuters so privilaged as to determine the whole design of the street and intersections? Heck, they aren't even paying for this!

Our streets cannot handle 30-50% more traffic as the city grows over the next few decades  ... there just isn't room ... so why do we try? Build the roads for a balance of users (peds, cyclists, cars, transit) and balance of liveable city concepts, and drop the urgency to cater to suburban commuters. That means the rebuilding of Carling could handle the current traffic volume OR less. Then there would be no need to widen Carling as is in the current plan with its generous turn lanes. Unwidened, it can be made friendlier to peds, transit users, cyclists...and the environment.

Last note: the PAC set up for Carling consists of invited groups, individuals, property owners, BIA's, councillors. I represented the Dalhousie Community Assoc.  I was the only invitee who showed up for the meeting. There will be a general public meeting on June 22nd. In the meantime, let your councillor and community association know what you want, if you care about Carling.

13 comments:

  1. Hi. Love your blog. Any chance you know anything about the repaving that took place at Preston and Gladstone area this week?

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  2. re Preston/Gladstone: Preston is not yet finished. The final topcoat of asphalt was laid at the Carling end a few weeks ago; then the middle section last week; shortly they will do the north end. Then the crosswalks of concrete or pavers will be cut into the asphalt and laid. Then it will be sort of finished.

    - Eric

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  3. Can you update with the meeting location Eric.

    This was a very informative post. I work at the Booth St. complex and am frustrated with way Carling is designed.

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  4. Tyler: dont have location yet, but you have the date. Our PAC was in the dows lake pavillion on the ground floor. You can contaact the city mgr for the project Luke.Foley@ottawa.ca.and get on their mail list.
    thanks for reading

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  5. 2 things I think dearly need to be addressed that would be covered by widening the sidewalk on Carling...
    1) The bridge over the O-train. Specifically the width of the sidewalk along the W-B side of Carling. The sidewalk there is so narrow and the drainage so non-existent that pedestrians are drenched every time a vehicle passes by.

    2) Also the bus shelter there is too close to the sidewalk so the only room for passengers to wait for the bus is on the extremely narrow sidewalk.

    As for the question of how many pedestrians are using the sidewalks planners should keep in mind there are at least 2 huge condo developments going up in the neighbourhood. That will surly increase the number of users.

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  6. James: the project will not be looking at widening the sidewalk over the Otrain. There is a FUTURE project to replace the Otrain underpass with one twice as wide when the corridor is converted to electric LRT. At that point cylists want the north-south bike route (currently being studied) to go under Carling (and POW) to connect to points south. And the City wants to widen the overpass by a significant amount to accomodate a wider sidewalk and transit crowds. Recall too that a ped bridge over the Otrain is planned at Hickory, just north of the Otrain Carling Station, to facilitate condo and office workers accessing both the station and the commercial zone along Preston.
    But for the forseeable future, its puddle splash time on a narrow sidewalk.
    Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  7. Wallace in WestboroJune 11, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Eric: I'm certain not a single member of the TAC has even heard of the concept of "complete streets"??? Here's a link to get them started: http://www.completestreets.org. Suggest you forward it to everyone involved with the Bronson project too, but warn the traffic engineers it may cause them sleepless nights.

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  8. Eric

    I'm not certain about the current transit use of the bus lane on Carling east bound from Booth to Bronson, but I do know that the whole time my taxi in the centre lane patiently waiting to make it up the hill to turn south and head for the airport at 4:30 last Friday, not a single bus used the lane. If one had, it would have scooted up the hill and then, created further delays as it changed lanes to get around the bulbout so it could either proceed down Glebe or turn north on Bronson. One hopes this problem can be corrected in the post 2011 world on Carling. Someday in the very distant future, I know I could walk down to the station on the Flats and take a LRT to the airport, but then someday I might be able to fly there by myself ...

    albert

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  9. Albert: the bus lane going up the hill is not heavily used right now, but is useful in keeping the buses that do use it on schedule. Planning is, of course, about tomorrow more so than today. By time Carling is repaved it will be 2012 or 2013, just in time for the rerouting of vast numbers of buses off the transitway which will be closing to convert it to LRT. Look for lots of buses right through to 2019. In addition, OC transpo talks of upgrading Carling service to be more frequent, part of the grid of bus routes (transitway, Carling, Qway, Baseline, Huntclub, etc for east west rapid bus service.
    Thanks for reading, and keep agitating for LRT service direct to the airport in our lifetimes.
    -Eric Darwin

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  10. Eric,

    The span of the Carling overpass of the O-Train corridor won't be lengthened upon conversion of the O-Train to electric LRT. For some odd reason the NCC built that bridge 28' wide. That's 4' shy of being wide enough for mainline railway double track (2 X 16' = 32') but it's also 4' wider than needed for light rail double track (2 X 12' = 24'). As it stands, the bridge could accomodate one mainline track (16'), possibly time-shared with LRT, and one LRT-only track (12'). The bridge at Prince of Wales Drive however would need widening for double track LRT.

    What I've written above only remains true for conversion of the O-Train to electric LRT; it doesn't consider the construction of the Carling LRT line and what effects that might have, which is something the City scarcely considered itself until recently forced to.

    Speaking of the Carling LRT line, I don't imagine your engineering friends at the City have thought through the consequences of that project on the project at hand. In all likelihood the Carling LRT line will use up two lanes of Carling west of the O-Train, running in a dedicated transit facility in the median. With Carling narrowed to two lanes in each direction, it's extremely unlikely that any of the remaining lanes will be given over to buses. Instead, what is far more likely is that the buses will share the median lanes with light rail trains because if they don't they're going to get stuck in the more congested remaining lanes.

    With the current rebuild envisionning curbside bus lanes east of Preston, someone is going to have to figure out how buses are going to move between the median west of Preston and the curb lanes east of it in the future. Either that or they design the street east of Preston with the likely operational arrangement west of there in mind now, figuring out both the long term operational arrangement when the Carling LRT is in place and the interim operational arrangement until such time.


    I'm not actually opposed to the continuous left turn lanes between Preston and Booth - so long as they are not new lanes carved out of the median and they also implement your lane reduction idea between Booth and Bronson. So going east the lane nearest the median would become a forced left turn onto Booth, with only the two remaining lanes proceeding up the hill. Going west, two lanes come down the hill and are joined by a "new" lane (i.e. the current lane next to the median) starting at or very near Booth, which turns into a left turn lane at Preston. This would also see the current left-turn pockets at Preston and Booth removed.

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  11. David: thanks for the info on the bridge over the Otrain cut. It is bad news for cyclists, since I dont think the city is likely to fund an underpass just for cyclists except as part of a general road bridge reconstruction or replacement.

    I expect there will be a lot more bus traffic on carling up until the time the east-west LRT line is opened and the currently proposed lane config is for that time period, ie 2013 to 2019 then til 2031 or whenever it takes to extend the LRT west from its first westerly terminus. Only after the LRT is constructed on Carling median will the problems emerge outlined in your second last para., and I suspect that may be far off in the future.

    As for the continuous left turn lanes on Carling between Preston and Booth they are new lanes carved out of the median, the city's TAC calls for: "3.25m left turn lane, 2 x 3.5m general use lanes, 3.5m transit priority lane, 1.8m cycling lane, and a 2m sidewalk." Plus, westbound only, a 3.25m right turn lane onto Preston. Goodbye median.
    thanks for writing.

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  12. In my dreamy dreams there's a grade separated bike lane on Carling. It can be pretty hairy cycling on there. You get used to it, but it calls for some bravery, especially when the buses fly by, sucking you into their draft. I hate to admit it, but today I told my daughter to cycle on the sidewalks on Carling, just to be safe. Smart kid that she is, she immediately asked if I'd pay the fine.

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  13. Paul: teach her to ride courteously, and go for it. I sometimes hit sidewalks where the road is too scary for me. There is a city policy somewhere about letting kids or small wheeled bikes on the sidewalks sans tickets.

    It is better for the kid to learn to ride and share the sidewalk than not ride at all. (I hear the folks at CfSC screaming already).

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