Monday, May 31, 2010

Cornerstone foundation

The basement foundation for Cornerstone supportive housing for women apartment building on Booth, just south of Somerset, has been poured in place.

Boston bike box

A bike box is a painted area in front of the stop line. It permits cyclists to advance to the head of the queue of vehicles and go into the intersection first. It is especially useful when making turns. The motorist must stop at an advanced stop line considerably short of the intersection where motorists are used to stopping. It protects the safety of cyclists for left, right turns and straight through motions.

In Boston, I saw one hundred percent respect by motorists for the bike box. Otherwise, motorists were quite aggressive. Every car stopped at the advanced stop line. In London England, no motorist would be caught dead respecting a bike box.

Boston motorists were aggressive. So were pedestrians. Walk signals at most intersections were pitifully slow, late, delayed, or otherwise made inconvenient for peds and catered to motorists. The walk signals counted down from the first moment the walk signal came on (Ottawa's count down only on the dont-start phase).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Garden delight

This snap is of the the poppies growing in the community garden in front of the Dalhousie Community Centre, tended by Ida H.

She started another garden at the corner of Upper Lorne and Somerset, which is also thriving.

Fenway Park, Boston

Note how the stadium seating cantelevors out over the public street. This would certainly save space at Lansdowne Park and add some interest to walking along Bank Street.

Advertisement outside the stadium. Click to enlarge and read the text.

How would Ottawa bureaucrats cope with signs that prohibited stopping on such variable dates, times, and durations?

Around the outfield there were bars. Entrance was off the street. There was a garage door that opened up to permit viewing of the field. A wire mesh kept the balls away from the customers. I do not know if a game ticket was required for these bars, or if the show was free. At the back of the bar, was a raised washroom with a window above the men's facilities so that patrons never lost sight of their beer, their table, or the game.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sidewalk sales

One of the purposes of the new wider sidewalks on traditional mainstreets is to encourage merchants to display merchandise outside, which enlivens the environment with changing displays. Recently, Preston Hardware has started taking advantage of the very wide sidewalk in front of their store.

Part of the display is pretty ordinary hardware stuff: wheelbarrows, lawnmowers. The BBQ on a stone-faced cabinet is more different, and reflects the trend to "outdoor kitchens", although a visit to any of the remaining Italian households in the neighborhood will reveal a kitchen in the garage for summer cooking and pickling. There is a house near mine where the Asian residents have a large outdoor grill (perhaps removed from a chip wagon) attached to the window frame and they cook outside by reaching through the window.

In the fall, I expect the hardware store to have wine barrels, crates of grapes, etc on the sidewalk, like Musca's does now on Somerset Street.

What else would be interesting for a hardware store to put out on the sidewalk? Sledge hammers? shower stalls? waterless toilets? A door knob display? Let me know what you think would be neat on the sidewalk, and I'll pass the suggestions on to Preston Hardware.

Boston trash

Conventional plastic-bag-lined garbage containers were rare. These compactor models were ubiquitous. There are solar panels on the roof of the can to power it.

It was necessary to pull the door open quite a way before placing the garbage in the compartment and closing the door. It was not possible to insert a hand or arm into the container.

Periodically, the compactor compresses all the garbage into a smaller pile, so the can needs not be emptied so often. Nothing blows around either. Here is a row of three containers, for bottles/cans, trash, and paper.

The top two pictures were of models used in Cambridge MA and the bottom one is of the WMI containers used throughout Boston itself. The end panel has an advertising sleeve with a Boston U advert.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Postal Presence

All along Preston new posts shrouded in plastic have appeared. They are the new pay and display parking system to be rolled out all over the city in the coming months.

They are coming by the truckload. Once operating, the old meters will be left in place for bit, but with the inside payment mechanism removed, so that parkers who migrate to the old style meters will be met with a sign advising them to go to the pay and display system (example on the middle meter below):

Boston granite

Boston makes impressive use of granite for many things. There were granite curbs everywhere, and granite bollards:

This low curb lining the pedestrian sidewalk on a recently redone street has generous use of granite for some pavers and low curbs. Note the little post to mark the indent for the bench. Also envy the lush planting in the boulevard.

In addition to this little granite posts, big ones were used for street signs in a few places.

Granite curb marked with rust from the snow plow blade. This was in a park and ride lot for the LRT/subway.

Here is granite milled into a curb for the end of planter strip separating aisles of parking in the park and ride lot.

In Ottawa, granite curbs are used on Parliament Hill and parts of Confederation Boulevard.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cycling Progress

The Public Advisory Group for the proposed downtown-area segregated cycling track meet last night. It's a diverse group including 3 BIA's (Chinatown BIA, Somerset Village BIA, Bank St BIA), two community associations (DCA, CCA), cycling advocacy groups (Cycle Vision Ottawa, Citizens for Safe Cycling), politicians former and current, etc.

City planners unveiled the route choices and the criteria they used to narrow the list down to a smaller set of five leading options. They applied a numerical rating scheme to winnow the choices, which came in for a lot of discussion. The selection remains somewhat arbitrary and contestable.

The most remarkable thing about the two and half hour session was the dialogue between the various parties. Unlike some recent public meetings I have attended where the focus is on loud sound bites establishing positions, the discussion last night revealled that the cyclists understood business owners' concerns, the attendees could see the political minefield, there were some admissions from the BIA's that segregated cycling tracks might actually have some benefits for the downtown community and businesses.

Councillor Holmes emphasized that rather than the top scoring project being selected, it had to also satisfy all 3 key stakeholder groups (business, residents, cyclists), but her preference for putting the track on quiet residential streets parallel to the main streets like Somerset, met with determined opposition from cyclists who felt the track had to be where cyclists want to go. And cyclists want to go to the same places as motorists -- the main street.

A couple of key observations:
  • the city's technical criteria were very tough, as it sought to minimize car displacement. But the downtown isn't exactly overflowing with spaces not already dedicated to some current use, especially the car. Something's gotta give.
  • the city's criteria considered cyclists' desires only within the designated study area, and while they were aware that cyclists connect with adjacent areas, this was not measured. Obviously the Corktown Bridge over the canal and future Somerset bridge over the Rideau River to Overbrook were big on cyclists' minds.
  • the criteria evaluation form was too complex to present at a public meeting, yet on closer examination by the PAC was found to be too simple and too easily contestable. In short, it would satisfy no one.
  • all the top five route options use Somerset west of Bronson. This is a major problem for the Chinatown BIA as the street is the major parking supply and delivery area, and there are no nearby alternative parallel streets and residential streets are already overrun with cars. Suggested solution: limit the segregated track, from Percy/Bay to the Canal.
  • the business of business is business, regardless of what mode the customer used to get to the business. Business owners have to move beyond car parking focus. I was surprised to hear a BIA rep complain that off street parking lots were being "lost" to condos. Does anyone contest that the condo delivers more customers than the parking lot ever could? Question: will a bike lane here deliver more customers than on-street parking does?
  • I cannot imagine that the Merivale strip (or similar suburban strips) would be made atttractive to pedestrian shoppers or cyclist shoppers by improving the landscaping along Merivale. Face it: it is a car-oriented form of development. Downtown BIA's have to stop trying to provide more parking than the suburban big box lots -- it just cannot be done without destroying the very urban features of the downtown neighborhoods that attract residents in the first place. Downtown businesses have to get over thinking of themselves as "regional attractions" for suburbanites and focus on their real market. This includes tourists visiting the core, local residents, local businesses, etc. Merivale strip will never be a tourist destination; downtown shouldn't cater to cars.
I found myself wonder, where do business owners live? Too many that I know live in the suburbs while having their businesses in the central city. Thus they commute by business-expensed car. They live their evenings and weekends in a suburban lifestyle. It's not surprising then that they want convenient parking (preferably provided free, by the taxpayer) for their business, as that is how they structure their own lives. I wonder if business owners who live in the core, who walk to work, have the same mind-set that favours car shoppers and car parkers, or if they are more open to the benefits of wider sidewalks and improved cycling facilties as being the cheapest way to get more customers coming by their place of business?

If there was a consensus last night, it was that dialogue was good, the groups understood each other, that a rushed choice might well be a bad choice, and maybe it would be better to talk more and select the route mid-winter for install in spring 2011 rather than late fall 2010.

Note: for 20-some years I ran a storefront business. Only a tiny portion of my customers came by car. But 99% of comments about location came from car drivers. I think in many ways its like the weather: people seek safe topics for small talk, chit chat, and "isn't parking awful" is a safe, seldom-contested tongue flapper. Downtown businesses need accurate data about who shops and what the future can be. They have to ignore the "noise" about parking and focus on improving business. Businesses fail all the time, for a variety of reasons. During construction, it is easy to blame the road work. Post bike track, it will be easy to blame the cyclists.But mostly businesses fail because the owner misjudges the market. Correlation to road work, or cycling tracks, is not causation.

Boston artwork

Many buildings in Boston (and neighboring Cambridge) are old, and require regular maintenance to the exterior brick, granite steps, stone foundations, etc. So I was not surprised to see these piles of sorted construction materials in the yard of Radcliffe College (Harvard U).

All around me was the steady clink clink of bricklayers and masons restoring the steps and walls of one of the ancient colleges.

But upon closer inspection, I noticed this sign:

                                                     Please don't climb on the exhibit

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Boston bike priority

Construction on a bridge made for narrower lanes and congestion. Cyclists were encouraged to take a full lane. Motorists fell behind them patiently.

Bike rack choice

There is an imposing architect-designed bike rack in the foreground that complements the building style. Despite the generous locking rings, the rack is not popular, as evidenced by the jam of cycles on the traditional rack just beyond.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Boston cycle path

The following pictures were taken on the cycling path along Vassar Ave in Cambridge (Boston) MA. Vassar goes through the MIT campus, and recent streetscaping had been done to narrow the road, add boulevard trees, and a bike path which was heavily used when I viewed it on several occasions. In the picture below, it transitions from on-road to being at the same grade as the sidewalk, set back from the street by a row of trees.

Despite being in front of the most prestigous engineering school in the world, there is a puddle in the path.

The path was blue asphalt where cars and cyclists shared pavement. Here is a car crossing of the path. Note the car has to rise up a slope about six inches which helps convey the message to the driver that they have left the car realm:

Note also the paving change where the sidewalk is crossed by the driveway.

The photo below shows another example. The path is set back from the travelled portion of the road about 16' -- the width of the parking space plus the boulevard with trees. The example below allowed vehicles to access a small parking and loading zone. Other crossings were at building entrances (drop off and pick up zones) and into very large parking garages which would have a similar traffic volume to many residential streets.

Here is a closeup of the sign that advises motorists to watch for cyclists and yield to them:

Here the path passes by the parked cars in the distance, the path is blue where it crosses a driveway, and has rougher textured pavers and then ped pavers where it crosses a major pedestrian path at an intersection (foreground):

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Bell tolls for Peyton Place (ii)

the new facade shows evidence of good planning. The brick facade and new storefront treatment gives the building weight at the bottom. From the sidewalk, the emphasis will be on a three storey height, with the glass tower slightly less visible above it.

the current store fronts at street level

proposed: steel arches, new glass facades

existing west facade seen from Gladstone

proposed: west facade

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Bell tolls for Peyton Place

One of the earliest apartment complexes built in Ottawa are the three towers on Bell Street. Back in the 50's, adult children usually lived at home until married. Those who moved out ... lived single ... without mom's supervision ... must have been immoral. There was a popular TV show at the time called Peyton Place, the term became attached to early apartment buildings that catered to singles.

The view below must be familiar to everyone:

Well, the bell tolls for Peyton Place. After years of deterioration, the building has been sold to a redeveloper who will renovate the interiors and put on a new exterior cladding. This will enclose parts of the balconies of many units, to make the inside space bigger.

view from the Qway, after renovation

More tomorrow.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stairway to Development

The forrested slope on the south side of the Primrose staircase up Nanny Goat Hill has been cleared. The stone retaining walls  that reminded me of Machu Pichu have also been removed. A multi-level infill house is proposed for the site, with entrances on the Upper Lorne side and onto the landing of the staircase. The previous staircase used to have an entrance onto its staircase also.

Ye Olde LeBreton Flats

click to enlarge

Notice Britannia Terrace (parallel to Duke street) which is now disappeared. The new Claridge condo on the Flats is right on the ACE of Terrace.

Note Queen Street is not shown as jumping over the cliff, but Maria Street (now Laurier Ave) apparently does. Suitable for Nanny Goats maybe.

Slater Street ends at Bronson (then called Concession). It was later extended just below the section of Albert that is shown on a diagonal. The extension was to permit the streetcar (Ottawa Electric Railway) to connect to Albert, which accounts for the narrow right of way on the part of Slater. The foundations of the old houses shown between Albert and Slater are still visible as depressions and hollows as you walk up Albert towards the downtown.

Note too that Empress, by the Good Companions centre, was called Nelson Street.

Bridge Street was later extended south over the aqueduct to incorporate Cortland Street, and after demolishing lots 22-27 became Booth Street. I remember when the five sided intersection was still operating at the corner of Albert-Rochester-Broad-Wellington (called Richmond Road here, when west of Broad).

Preston Street is barely visible below the parcel of land marked John Rochester (after whom the whole area was called the Village of Rochester, or Rochesterville as it is put on my original house deed as surveyed by N Sparks). The Rochester lot became a huge building, demolished c1982 (I have pictures of that somewhere) in which the transatlantic cables were woven and taken by rail and ship to Halifax and Newfoundland. It was the largest or longest building in the British Empire at one time.

Primrose Street was then called Maple, I have a "for let" sign used to rent the house I now live in, the sign refers to the address as Maple Street. Primrose used to be only the section above the cliff, it was changed to Primrose below the cliff (the only flower in the forest of street names) when the city incorporated the Experimental Farm which got to keep Maple Lane.

Notice how close Nepean Bay (the Ottawa River) is to Albert street on the far left. Huge portions of the bay were filled in in the 50's to create the land for the parkway.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lighting Up the Neighborhood

In ecology, we think it normal that there be a succession of land uses. The swamp gives way to the meadow, to the woods, and ultimately to the climax forest or mature ecosystem. The ecosystem is of course subject to external disturbances.

Retail main streets are similar. It wasn't many years ago that the stores along West Wellie and Richmond Road were ... shall we say, a bit sad. Since then, the area has rejuvenated with the fresh influx of a new species of shoppers. As part of the change, some existing businesses get forced out, no longer popular or doing enough business to warrant the increasing rents.

West Wellie is an interesting case where rents have risen a lot, so much so that there are many storefront vacancies along the strip. The supporting hinterland behind this street isn't strong enough to maintain certain businesses. Carbon Computing, for example, does not depend on Hintonburg for its life. In Chinatown there are also many vacancies, and for longer periods of time.

At a recent meeting, we were speculating how long before the developers who can't find developable space in Westboro or Centretown and move into Dalhousie. And we were predicting what types of businesses would be forced out of the expensive West Welllie/Richmond Road and perhaps there would be a migration over to Somerset.

I noticed Eric Cohen's Lighting store on Richmond Road just west of Churchill is moving. Where to? Spruce Street, which isn't exactly a shopping mecca, but is in an up and coming Little Italy neighborhood. Personally, I'd rather he had put his storefront on Preston, like Darryl Thomas Textiles did. Both are destination stores, where people come from all over the region and are willing to search out the business for its unique products. So people will find his business tucked away on Spruce. The building is attractive, heritage-looking, always has a dozen bikes parked in front of it (day and night). It also has a number of annexes and add-ons to the left of the photo - quirky and quaint might be the terms.

In some ways, this is a homecoming for the store owner. For a number of years he lived in one of the Bronson Hill mansions, at Laurier/Cambridge, a beautifully maintained house now much less well cared for. Welcome back.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Constitutional Privilage to Park Cycles

These two pictures are of the indoor bicycle parking facility at Constitution Square downtown. It is a three tower office tower complex. The bikes take up at least 8 car parking spaces. This photo was taken late in the afternoon, so many cyclists would have already left work. It certainly holds one lot of bikes.

I wonder how many other parking garages or hidden cycle parking lots are in the downtown, unseen by the public and thus contributing to the unseen and uncommented upon growth of cycling as a mode of transport.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eskimo roll

The picture above is the outlet below the water pumphouse on the aqueduct that runs through LeBreton Flats. The ped bridge is at the top, the beginning of the kayaking course is at the bottom. The water course is variously known as the Tailrace, or Bronson Creek (until the last decade the creek was actually the private property of the Bronson Corporation).

There are three signs in the area. Notice one in the lower centre left of the picture above. Here's a closer up:

It says:
Combined Sewer Overflow Area
Adverse Water Quality Can Occur

I think that is bureaucratic speech (note the lack of a noun, as in who might be responsible for the overflow or adverse quality) for:
Watch Out - Big Sewer Dump Right Here!

I wonder if any of the kayakers feel like doing an Eskimo Roll now??

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Toronto Late

The latest issue of Toronto Life magazine arrived. In it is a major article on the many reasons to love Toronto. Number 24 is the proposed building of an underpass art gallery. Upon closer reading, it consists of putting 24 mosaics or painted panels onto the walls of an underpass. This is definitely trendy and  cutting edge nifty stuff ... for Toronto.

For local West Side residents, it should seem familiar as the Preston underpass has had both painted panels (some with 3D elements) and murals showing the immigration process with a ship arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax, and Preston street life yesterday and today.

Welcome to the modern city, Toronto. Better late than never.

Monday, May 17, 2010

With a little blight from our friends ...

looking north on Preston, west side

looking north on Preston, east side

As Preston and West Wellington get their final batches of trees and shrubs installed, a few curious -- oversights -- become apparent. In this case, the south side of the Queensway facing the new Preston Square/Adobe building at 333 Preston Street. The area beyond the fence belongs to the Province, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to be exact.

Apparently, the MTO also has a say in what gets landscaped along the overpass too, as some of that is their land and some belongs to ... who?

The Preston BIA has no idea what landscaping might be going in on these slopes. That most of the planting has already been installed elsewhere suggests to me that the City plans to plant NOTHING here. That is a shame, given its bloody obvious prime location along the street.

Surely something can be planted here to finish off the streetscaping? Maybe Yasir Naqvi can work some magic here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preston street truffle hunt

Seen growing along the Cyclopiste de Preston trail along the O-Train corridor. Maybe they are truffles ... it is Little Italy after all. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

cycling is an art

On the Sparks Street Mall near Bank a store has this bicyle outside its windows. Clearly it is an advertisement, designed to draw people closer to the windows and shop door. It is nonetheless a welcome addition to the Mall. It also indicates the increased status of cycling in Ottawa and society in general, when bikes are now a suitable element of "art".

Downtown Ottawa is ... dull. I think a good part of that is due to gross over-regulation of everything: patios, signs, setbacks, mandated tinted glass so dark you cannot see into the shops, etc. Therefore the art cycle shown here, and the parked bikes at 240 Sparks shown in the previous post, actually enliven the mall. Imagine that: parked bikes enliven the mall.