Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Parole Office Political Decision Again

"This Government has listened to the concerns voiced at last night's Town Hall meeting organized by the Correctional Service of Canada, and is no longer considering relocation of the Ottawa Parole Office to 1010 Somerset Street," ministry of public safety spokesman Christopher McCluskey wrote in an e-mail to the Citizen.

Alternate View of Parole Meeting


On Parole - The Meeting

The Parole Office meeting was last night at the Bronson Centre.

Meeting Format
Correctional Services tried to have a series of little workgroups, but was talked out of it. Work groups are find when a large percentage of the attendees share a certain knowledge level, but when facts are scarce this format serves to create little silos of (mis)information and keep people unaware. The question and answer format instead allowed people to get some additional information and judge the agendas/merits of others and their opinions. The wiki format wins hands down in this case.

The Pros
The moderator was excellent. I found myself thoughout the meeting amazed at her calmness, flexibility, unobtrusiveness, and patience. Kudos to CSC for hiring her.

The representatives from CSC were calm and articulate. They didn't try to bore the audience to death. Their difficulty in providing some facts seemed to genuinely stem from the complexity of the situation. Nonetheless their credibility continually took a beating as the meeting went on and contradictions became apparent. Make no doubt they were selling 1010 Somerset as a site; their protests that no decision was made, it was a genuine consultation, etc didn't convince me.

The audience was an interesting mix. There were cheerleaders for the parole office, people seeking more info and expressing their suspicions, and a vocal NO WAY portion.
Everyone was polite, listened to others, and learned. It was not a "no" rally as I had feared.

The Cons
Fuzzy factoids: too much time was spent chasing down basic facts that CSC should have provided beforehand if they genuinely wanted discussion. And when CSC gave the facts, they too often proved elusive. Here's some examples:
1) less than 3% of offenders re-offend violently - but over what time frame? Is this in their lifetime or while on parole? how does one reconcile this to...
2) 36.6% of ex-criminals are sent back to jail
3) 20% (40 persons) are lifers, ie murderers. Are these the same ones that re-offend violently?
4) the parole office operates during normal business office hours. It won't attract parolees to the area at night. Oops, except for the occasional night it might be open. Which is maybe 3 times a week. This sort of slow extraction of information from CSC damages their credibility. The ordinary citizen has to wonder what else they are hiding/not acknowledging.
5) Only 8 to 10 offenders visit the office per day for meetings. Later this became 6 -8 per day. Then six. This is about 2000 visits per year. These are for interviews, programs, and other nice things. Oops, except for those invited back to the office so they can be rearrested. [My source working in the parole office estimates it's 16 people per day, if you include those who come in for urinalysis tests, and this number may increase as half-way houses exit the sampling market.]
6)they already live here. 75 parolees live within 1km of the site; 12 more if the boundary goes to 1200m; totalling 100 in "wider centretown", which later turns out might include Vanier. But a ten square mile area is not the same as one site on Somerset St.
7) the main advantage of the site is bus access. Few parolees ever need to visit the office.
8) another advantage of 1010 Somerset is it is PWC owned. So why not look at other PWC buildings, in the downtown, Tunney's, or elsewhere. This smells too much like CSC won't put them in a civil service office building but will put them in our community. What's wrong with 240 Sparks, where the Holt Renfrew crowd could brush shoulders with fellow citizens?
9)Fed offenders commit only 1% of crimes, so don't worry, its other people who are dangerous. This ignores the nature of the crimes (small property crimes vs crimes against the person, including murder) and skips over what percent of the population the offenders are. If they are .5% of the population, then their likelihood of committing crimes - and community risk - is twice as high. Fuzzy factoids >> distrust.
10) will the crime rate go up because of the parole office? (ie, risk). No, CSC says, because parolees won't hang around the office with its 30 peace officers. But their clients are the ones that got caught, ie are the stupid ones, the impulsive. And it won't cause any problems to treat pedophiles close to schools and daycares (except for the ones that can't come in because they can't be trusted to be close to schools...) or have alcholics walk past bars to get to the office.

Alienating Allies
I was glad to see a contingent of pro-parole office people at the meeting. It takes guts to go out for a unpopular cause. Unfortunately, they did not win over anyone because of their intemperate tactics. It doesn't help to call those questioning CSC "bigots", " buncha hicks", "moral panic", "NIMBY". I didn't hear anyone question the utility of the parole system let alone attack it. The focus was admirably direct: where should it be, should it be here, what are the risks. Yes, there were a contingent who were opposed; they were not a howling mob, and could have been won over. I understand why it makes some sense to locate it near the cons, I want to know what the risks are too; this is not intolerance: it's intelligence.

Bad Odor
If it hadn't been for all the fuss about the Elgin/Cooper (current) location, I probably would not have had much interest in the CSC office. But CSC is not proposing to put it in Rockcliffe, New Edinburgh, or the Glebe, where high concentrations of senior bureaucrats can run endless battles. They are proposing to put it in the lowest income neighborhood of the city, between its main public school and main park & rec facility, where all traffic is funnelled onto the one street that runs in front of 1010 Somerset. I just gotta ask myself: if the affluent and well-connected don't want it, if the civil servants don't want to share their office buildings with it, why should I want it? Recall in my previous post I asked a CSC parole office worker about locating it near their house: "NO! I think not."

Missing in Action
Devonshire School, the Plant Pool Rec.Assoc. and Hintonburg and Dalhousie associations, amongst others, were active in this issue. It was good to see local business owners out too: I recognized Luciano Gervasi and Silvano Musca. Councilor Holmes was there and made an admirably direct and platitude-free brief statement. Our MP and MPP had office assistants at the meeting, expressing "concern" but I did not hear the same firm degree of opposition to this site as they had expressed against the Elgin site. No mention was made of St Francois d'Assise school and the 280 kids there, have they been consulted? (Disclosure: one of my kids went to St Marys and the other to St Francois - both walked the Somerset route every day for years).

Also missing was any indication that CSC might engage in further community consultation. The short-notice consultation process seems to be done.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Signs of Protest - Parole Office

You dont't have to double click on the photo to hear loud and clear the signs of neighborhood discontent.
Meeting Monday March 30, 7pm, Bronson Centre with Correctional Services Canada.

Composting Thoughts on Garbage Collection Day

After putting out the full blue box of bottles/cans/tetrapaks I went looking for the Glad bag of household garbage. The garbage can in the driveway was empty. I went into the kitchen, and discovered the little plastic bag from Luciano's was stuffed rather full of household garbage. Once I gathered up the wastecans from the bathrooms and bedrooms, I still had barely half a green bag of garbage, and this is in a household of two adults, one teen (with a weekend crowd of five more teens living in). So I cleaned out some stuff that I otherwise hadn't yet parted with, in order to not waste the space in that garbage bag. I know this logic is somewhat ... lacking ... in coherence.

On garbage day through the winter I frequently had a stuffed-full green bag or sometimes two. The difference between then and now is composting. I went into the last winter with the compost bins in the backyard already full. Therefore during the winter I threw away the carrot peels, eggshells, potato peels, brocoli stems and other compostables. As the compost bins thaw, the piles inside are shrinking, and I have begun composting again. Can these organics really amount to half a green bag or more of garbage, per week? Guess so.

I am always impressed by the townhousers around the corner from me on Walnut Court. About 45 townhouses all put their garbage out at one curbside collection point. The pile of blue or black boxes, and leaf bags, is always several times larger than the collection of a dozen or so green bags. The sheer volume of recyclables is visible to even the dimmest observer. Once green bins are introduced, the volume of green bags should go down even more. Lesson: sell your shares in Glad Bags.

Now, if only whomever stole my black newspaper bin a few weeks ago would return it ...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tree Trimming from the Bottom Up

Earlier this week I posted some pictures of Mr Beaver's work on trees near the aquaduct. These trees are on Booth Street, between the CCOC apartment building and Laidlaw CoOp. Obviously not a beaver, but it must have been one hungry rabbit or mouse to do this much damage.
I will keep an eye on these trees this spring. Hopefully they will survive.

Friday, March 27, 2009

City Living Renovations (Lite)

City Living is renovating their housing units along Albert St. They were originally built in 1980 as the first part of rebuilding the LeBreton Flats neighborhood. Jim Watson, once and possibly future mayor of our fair burg, was recently on-site for a photo-op (when else do politicians come out into the real world?).

I thought it interesting that the Citizen story mentioned energy efficiency as part of the renovations. The renovations shown in the picture are exterior. New wood product siding is being put over the stucco exteriors. They are adding house wrap first, which reduces drafts and moisture infiltration, but why not put an inch or more of insulation on between the strapping? The answer, I'm afraid, is the same one as in business: the landlord owns the building and faces the cost of insulation, but the tennant pays the utilities. The landlord gets no financial benefit from insulation, and they make sure the poor tennants won't either in this case.

The picture also shows the new (last year) plywood fence along the front of the units. To build it, City Living removed a taller brick wall. I think it would have been cheaper and aesthetically nicer to have simply reduced the height of the brick wall. The wood wall will be as effective a sound barrier as a brick wall. Both the wood wall and wood siding is in keeping with the design guidelines for the LeBreton community which discouraged metal and plastic siding in favour of 'natural materials'.

As part of the renovations, the thirty year old solid wood casement windows are being replaced by plastic windows, many of them horizontal sliders, not usually noted for energy efficiency. I wonder if this go around of renovations will include finally installing some landscaping in the row of planters along the wall. They have remained unplanted for three decades.

Finally, have some pity and admiration for the cyclist shown. Albert Street is one of the most deteriorated in the City, the catchbasins drain slowly if at all, the road is narrow, and the City is proposing to increase bus traffic on the street by the order of over a thousand buses a day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

City Centre Tower

The City Centre Tower, constructed about 1965, lost its red letters around the roof line last week. Nothing was left but the dirt on the brickwork. Yesterday and today workers on scaffolding were cleaning the brick. In the photo, the north wall to the right has already been cleaned; and work continues on the east wall.
Double click on the picture to see it up close.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tailrace Kayaking

The Tailrace, aka Bronson Creek, flows out of the Fleet Street Pumping Station at the eastern end of LeBreton Flats. Bronson Creek was until a few years ago the private property of The Bronson Corporation.

It is used as a whitewater kayaking course. The kayakers have already been out this season. On Wednesday, a member of the club was adjusting the gates the kayakers pass through.

The kayak course is another hidden gem in the West Side area, and well worth putting it on your evening stroll, dogwalk, or cycling route.

Beaver Tales

Last year I frequently spotted one of our beloved national symbols, a beaver, in the Aquaduct that runs through LeBreton Flats.

He has been hungry. One of the few remaining trees that survived "soil remediation" has become lunch. Unless ... Mr Beaver is planning a lodge in the aquaduct.

I bet he gets his lodge finished before Claridge finishes anything it is building.

Spring Banners at 333 Preston Street

Work crews were busy today replacing the banners at 333 Preston Street (home to Adobe, Xerox, Government of Ontario offices, Starbucks, Heart and Crown).
I guess this makes it official: Spring is here.

Soil Remediation, Preston at Carling

Work crews have been busy this week at the former gas station lot located on the southeast corner of Preston and Carling. If one can guess from the signs on the trucks, its for soil remediation. Once all the oil and gas and other gunk is out of the site, it can be sold for development. It is a prime condo site, facing Commissioners' Park and Dow's Lake, and opening right onto the soon-to-be-glamorous Preston Street.
BTW, double clicking on the photo should enlarge it on your monitor.

Sir John Carling Bldg - demolish vs conversion

The Sir John Carling building is a large gray office slab rising out of the eastern edge of the Experimental Farm between Dows Lake / Prince of Wales Drive and Carling Avenue. Built in 1967, it is certainly a more-attractive building than many government cubicle farms. The distinctive brise soleil screens on the exterior (only on the west and south sides, the picture shows the east side without sun screens) were inspired by the trendy architecture of Brasilia, and promoted by the then minister of agriculture (Hees??), if my ageing memory serves me right.

The Feds plan to demolish the building in 2010. I can understand their claims that it is an inefficient building, even if I disagree with them. Public Works today wants large floorplates to challenge building occupants in finding their way through the maze of gray partitions, and far be it for me to reduce the mental challenges that might keep our civil servants alert. PubWorks also likes higher ceiling levels to pipe mechanical air into the warren.

I suggest they sell it to a condo developer. Seriously. There, I said it. The thin building floorplate is more suited to residential uses.

I don't see why having condos on the farm is any different from having civil servants in a highrise on the farm. In fact, the condo might generate more diversity of activity at all hours of the day and night.

And don't be mislead by the current appearance of the building surrounded by farmland to the west and greenspace to the east, because the greenspace to the east (the Dows Lake side, shown in the picture) is NOT PERMANENT GREENSPACE. It is not parkland, part of the experimental farm, nor part of Dows Lake / Commissioner's Park. It is, in City zoning, identified as MCF 1.5, ie Mixed Use Centre with a floor space index of 1.5. The (aborted) CDP for the area calls, amongst other good things, for higher density development here.

Recall too that the Carling Avenue LRT service promoted by Clive Doucet and others uses a part of this lot to swing the LRT from the Carling median under the (future) buildings down to the current O-Train line towards Bayview Station. As for the land to the west, isn't this one of the sites identified for a potential new Civic Hospital?

Please don't accuse me of wanting to pave over the Farm. The Carling Building is already there, the issue is whether to refurbish it as office space, demolish it, or my suggestion: a residential building. The (potential) land uses to the east and west of the Carling Building are already in the public forum. Can the Carling building be recycled, reused, repurposed? I hope so. Demolition is the recourse of losers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bayview Station - What's It For?

The Bayview Station isn't part of the original bus transitway; it didn't exist until 2001. It was built because the experimental O-Train service, using the existing rail tracks, needed a transfer point for passengers. From day 1, city planners assumed it was only a transfer station from buses to train. Little or no walk in traffic was expected. Yet anyone frequenting the station notices a continual stream of people walking into the Station. They come from the office and industrial buildings on City Centre Avenue, the residential areas to the southeast and southwest. They have worn paths accross the fields to make their own direct access to the station. All these paths are indicators of how badly the planners misjudged the neighborhood demand for the station.

A few years back, the city was planning for the now-temporarily-abandonned North/South LRT route that would have gone from the downtown to Bayview and then south to Riverside and Barrhaven. They planned to simply close up the Bayview Station for several years during construction, because the O-Train would not be running. I challenged them to notice the walk in traffic; and demanded they measure the pedestrian volumes to have a factual basis whether to keep the station open or not. No surveys were done, but the plans were soon revised to keep Bayview open for neighborhood access.

Now I am seeing some of the same attitudes as the DOTT team works out options for the Bayview Station complex. Their team bias, as I see it, is for a T-shaped station. The north-south vehicles (whether O-Trains or LRTs) would pull into the same spot as the current O-Train platform, and users would ascend to a upper level platform station where the transitway is now. Possibly, the N/S train service could be extended accross the Prince of Wales railway bridge to Gatineau. (Historic trivia: when built this was the longest bridge in the British Empire).

On paper this is a nice simple T-shaped station. But that choice carries a lot of ramifications for future rapid transit in Ottawa. To start, it means that there will be no continuous same-car LRT service between the downtown, its hotels, and convention centre, to the airport. Say goodbye to many large conventions as a result. Or maybe wave to them over in Hull, for if the Gatineau end of the LRT is extended along the existing rights of way, the Casino (and its convention centre) will have the one-car no-transfer direct-to-airport service.

It also means the future west side LRT network will consist of discrete lines with transfer stations. A future Carling Avenue LRT line for example, would also terminate at Bayview, and users would require another transfer. Commuters from Barrhaven would take a bus to the south LRT, transfer, LRT to Bayview, transfer, LRT to downtown. Despite all these transfer stations currently planned to be indoor heated facilities, I won't be surprised when some of them end up being bus shelters out in a field somewhere.

About the only quantifiable benefit the DOTT team can come up to justify a T-station is that it takes less land then the alternative layout, termed the Direct option. The alternative permits the N/S trains to continue to the south or north accross the POW bridge. AND it would permit trains from the downtown to turn onto either the southbound line towards the airport and Riverside or onto a northbound line over the POW bridge to Gatineau.

I much prefer this second option. It permits both Ottawa and Gatineau to have direct airport access. This alone may be the carrot that gets Gatineau on-board the LRT system. It gives commuters a whole new interprovincial bridge, with no congestion. It means passengers from the downtown won't have to transfer when they want to go south to Riverside or west on Carling, but will pick up their train from any downtown transit station. This direct-to-all-directions layout is much more flexible and well worth the minor additional land use, especially since the additional land take is in the "hole" under the Albert Street and transitway bridges.

The possiblity of direct service to Gatineau means that the first part of a soon-to-be-studied downtown-to-downtown interprovincial loop could be open at the same time the first phase of the Ottawa LRT opens, in 2017. We could replace most of those STO buses on downtown Ottawa streets with LRT service from the downtown to LeBreton to Bayview to Gatineau via the existing POW bridge. It wouldn't be a full loop at first, just a half loop, but it would deliver significant service improvements to interprovincial travel.

The DOTT planners don't seem to get excited by these possibilities. They seem to be still married to the idea that Bayview is merely a transfer station. Certainly, it is in an isolated location, rather like Hurdman. But when LeBreton Flats is eventually built out to the eastern edge of the Bayview Station, when the Bayview yards is developed as currently planned with a dozen highrises, if Phoenix developments gets their two high condo towers on the south side of the Station, and if City Centre is ever redeveloped into 2,000,000 sq ft of office and residential use (as is currently approved), then the Bayview Station will be the centre of a very busy, very dense catchment area.

The DOTT planners are fond of saying they are building a system for the next 100 years. I don't yet see them acting as if the west side of the core will be anything but empty fields. Perhaps they need to get their architects to sketch out the Bayview area incorporating the Phoenix, Bayview Yards, City Centre, and LeBreton proposed developments to drive home just how important this station location is.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Parole Office Shuffle (2)

"NO! I think not." That was the answer. You'll find the question further below.

The Parole Office has been controversial for some years now, since it opened at its Gilmore/Elgin location. Where was it before then?

For a long time it was located on Kent St at Albert, where the third tower of Constitution Square was recently completed. Back then there was a small office building there, occupied by the National Film Board. Apparently the NFB arty-types didn't exactly appreciate the Parole Office's clientele in the lobby. After that, the Office was located at Bank and Queen, above Laura Secord's. I am unaware if they had any friction with the AIDS Committee offices and The Living Room co-located there. From there, it moved to the Elgin site, which my source tells me their clients find too far from the transitway routes on Albert and Slater.

About 16 parolees come into the offices daily. On some days there is additional traffic to the offices because the clientele has to give urine samples which used to be collected by half-way and three-quarter way houses. Apparently the houses are retiring from this function and so its off to the parole office.

My source also opined that the Somerset location was too far from the transitway, which most of their clients use to access the offices. In addition to the distance, there isn't a direct enough route from the transitway to the offices. Interestingly enough, the Hull Parole Office is a storefront operation with an illuminated sign on the front of the building and has no (known) neighborhood association objections to its location.

My source thought that the previous locations on Kent and on Bank were ideal - anonymous, downtown, on the transitway. As for my last question, it was "would you want a Parole Office located within a block or two of your house?"

DOTT - Tunney's Pasture Transfer Station

DOTT refers to the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel project. I sit on the public advisory committee, with a particular interest in the LRT project from Bronson to Tunney's. Under the current plan, Tunney's will be the main place for bus users from the west to transfer to the LRT trains which will run roughly along the current transitway alignment to Bayview, LeBreton, and the downtown. Eventually the LRT train service will be extended further west to Lincoln Fields.

The City has come up with two concepts for how the bus users will transfer to the LRT trains. Keep in mind the size of this operation: we are looking at a station as big and busy as Hurdman, Lincoln Fields, or Baseline. Thousands of buses will arrive at Tunney's every day, discharge or pick up passengers, and after a time stop, cycle again back to the western suburbs. The station will be in use for a number of years, maybe decades. Both plans have the buses come up out of the transitway cut on the north side of the station (there is an existing exit ramp there).

Concept one is termed the Parallel alignment, with a Hurdman style station located to the north of the transitway; the Linear option circles the buses around to put some of the stops along Scott Street.

My preference is for a Parallel station design, ie north of the transitway. The volume of buses will be huge, and in place for an undetermined number of years or decades. In Ottawa, and for transit plans, ‘temporary’ can often turn into ‘forever’. It is important to get the buses off the street and into a contained area away from cycle and pedestrian traffic. Noise barriers and landscaping is also possible if the bus lay-by areas are off Scott Street. This will be a major transfer station; we do not see any other major stations such as Baseline, Hurdman, or Lincoln Fields built on the shoulder of a busy road with adjacent residential land uses.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Sanguiccio is a strange word to English eyes, but if you say it fast enough it sounds like someone with a strong Italian accent saying sandwich.

Owner Genio Ienzi is opening his sandwich shop at 183 Preston Street (the former Muscle Madness location) to cater to the strong take out market. He is supporting other local businesses too: his meats come from Luciano's Fine Foods.

Genio is currently negotiating with a small artisan baker to supply buns -- pannini -- and specialty loaves of bread. When talking to Genio, he gave me a sample of his last slice on hand: it's texture was incredible and light, full of yeast bubbles. He suggests patrons can buy a loaf, slice it, and freeze the pieces in separate freezer bags to be toasted or warmed up one delicious slice at a time.

Preston Construction Starts Soon

The Preston Street streetscaping project starts up again soon. Preliminary work by Rogers, Bell and Enbridge is already underway. Heavy construction begins on the sections south of Oak Street on April 14 (after Easter weekend).

Work on the section from Spruce north to Albert Street begins the beginning of May.
The intersections of Preston and Albert, Somerset, Gladstone, Beach, and Carling may not be given their decorative paving until 2010.

The City is holding a public briefing to remind residents and businesses of the scope of the project and what is being built where, on March 31st at 7pm at Plant Recreation Centre. That meeting will also cover the planned detour routes.

Falcon Sighting

On my way to Carleton U this morning at 9am on the O-Train I saw a large falcon perched on a tree just before the CU Station. It was on a low branch. When I left the train I walked back on the sidewalk to take his picture. He remained sitting there, surveying the snow-filled cut as the track ascends out of the Dow's Lake tunnel to the Carleton Station. He didn't budge as the northbord O-Train went by just a few feet from his head, so I'll chalk that up as another reason to support LRTs and O-Trains: low disturbance of wildlife.

My lesson from all this: you gotta charge your digital camera battery often. Who'd have guessed?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trees Along the Albert St path

From today's Ottawa Citizen: "OTTAWA — The city is so serious about getting 100,000 trees planted that it’s now willing to deliver the trees right to your house. All you have to do is go to ottawa.ca/TREE or call 311, and you’ll be able to select the species of tree you want to plant on your property. They aren’t saplings, either: Each tree delivered under the program, aimed reforesting and enhancing tree cover in the city, is 1.5 to two metres tall. The trees are available on a first-come, first-served basis for June 2009 delivery. If the city runs out of trees, you can be placed on a list for delivery in the fall." [bold text added by me -- eric]

This is an interesting offer. Unfortunately I don't have room on my city lot for another tree. But I do spy an interesting spot on city land that begs for trees. Readers familiar with Albert St will have noticed the landscaping along the new multipurpose path built last year from Bronson to Empress. It is wide, asphalt, and has trees planted on both sides of it. Nice trees too: a number of them are oaks and other hardwoods. Potentially, this path will look very nice as the trees grow and provide shade and separation from the commuter cars and buses. The path is even supplied with decorative pedestrian scaled path lighting, although they havent been turned on yet. That may have to wait until the politicians assemble for an opening ceremony and photo op.

Unfortunately, the treed section ends at Empress. Is this because they were only beautifying the sight line from the luxury condos built at the corner of Bronson, The Gardens? Or is it because this path was sketched in on the City's Escarpment Community Development Plan and the water works folks delivered on what the plan dreamed of? In either case, they didnt plant any trees from Empress to Booth to Bayview.

I wrote to the City's tree planting guru last fall suggesting planting along at least the north side of this section of path, but got no reply. I made the suggestion because acquaintenances at City Hall had said the city was having a hard time finding places to plant trees to meet their quota.

Despite the lack of answer, the probable answer will be "NO" because this section of Albert is subject to reconstruction (promised every few years since 1980), lacks a long term plan (darn, there's the need for a CDP again ... although the section from Booth to City Centre Ave is subject to the NCC's LeBreton Flats master plan, not that that seems to help). I have no doubt that if this path was in the Glebe, there'd be trees there today.

So, back to the City offer of trees. Can a neighborhood association, volunteer group of gardeners, or the BIA actually get a few dozen of these trees to plant along the Albert St path? Anyone interesting in greening the City?

Cycling along Albert / Scott -- path vs road

In my earlier blog on the proposed 801 Albert St condo development (corner of City Centre Ave, opposite Tom Brown and opposite Bayview Station) I mentioned I thought the site plan would be improved with the inclusion of a new multipurpose path set back from the curb. Most residents will be familiar with the Scott St multipurpose path, and the Albert St one built last year. I personally find both these paths very useful and cycle or walk on them every week. That is not to say they are perfect. The Albert path detours at every bus stop to pass between the bus shelter and road, a cyclist-pedestrian accident just begging to happen. The Scott St path does this bizarre bus stop thingy at Tunney's and Westboro Stations too, where the planners didn't seem to be able to think of way to get the path past the bus stop (which shows that not much thought or consultation goes into these things...). Of course, I and others complained about the City's design for the Albert St path months before it was actually built ... but alas, City Hall proved unable to accept suggested improvements (the excuses were creative, especially the one to post signs instructing cyclists to get off and walk their bikes at the approach to every bus stop or intersection).

Despite their inadequacies, I find both paths useful (and so do the cyclists that use these paths daily). And I much prefer them to cycling on the edge of the road, with or without a widened lane supposedly shareable by cyclists and commuters and buses. I have never have taken my young children on these roads, either on their baby seats, tag-a-longs, or own bikes. We used the sidewalks.

One day last November, I started cycling west along the Scott St path from the Bayview intersection. Parallel to me, on Scott St, was a bike commuter. Nifty tight suit, big colourful face shield, multi speed bike (I was on my heavy clunker six speeder). At green, the commuter was off like a bullet, swerving around the unsmooth catchbasins, passing the line of cars at each red light. And I caught up to him at each light, and we started off even again. I didn't race, I am incapable of that, I just plod along. We were still parallel at Parkdale, Holland, Island Park. Then at Lanark, he made the light and I caught the red. By the time he turned at Churchill I was still a few hundred feet behind. In my humble opinion, he gained nothing in speed or safety by riding on the road.

So ... why do I want a wider path on the south side of Albert in front of the new condos? Simply to provide a safe access to the Bayview Station for residents and workers on the south side of Albert. To someday, hopefully, connect to the maybe-someday-path from Dow's Lake to the Ottawa River. To provide safe, grade separated path to the river when the LRT blocks access across the Flats. Until we get the city to actually build paths, we gotta make due with the little that we've got or can get.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Shuffling the PAROLE OFFICE to Somerset St

The present location of the Parole Office on Elgin Street has been subject to a lot of complaint from area politicians and community groups. Corrections Canada has suggested addressing their unhappiness by relocating the office to 1010 Somerset (pictured above) conveniently located between the Plant Recreation Centre and Devonshire Public School.

They are holding a public consultation meeting at the Bronson Centre at 7pm on Monday, March 30th. Comments can also be sent to www.csc-scc.gc.ca/consultation.

The office will serve about 200 federal offenders a year. It employs about 36 parole officers and others.

Advantages of the proposed location (compared to the Elgin site) include the relative absense of senior bureaucrats living in our neighborhood [invaluable for throwing up bureaucratic roadblocks], the lower income profile of the area, and perhaps the on-street amenities. They also chose a spot that's almost out of each local councilor's ward, being on the boundary of Hintonburg and Somerset wards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

For Lack of a CDP - Community Development Plan

There is a deliberately vague planning environment for the two 30-storey condo towers proposed by Phoenix DCR for 801 Albert Street (the vacant lot beside the City Centre tower and opposite Tom Brown Arena and the Bayview OTrain Station ). The City has signalled that it wants development to be significantly better than the industrial zoning common along the Bayview to Carling rail corridor. Yet it lacks a comprehensive plan for developing the area. A Community Development Plan (CDP) was begun several years ago, and considerable progress was made. The Phoenix development in a number of respects honours the incomplete CDP, but the city shelved the plan process in favour of other priorities.

Residents are left with the worst of situations. The current zoning cannot be relied on. The new zoning is hinted at in the incomplete CDP but there is nothing official. We can now only look with envy at the Escarpment CDP recently approved by the city (for the lands running from Ottawa Tech site down Albert to Booth) or the Lebreton development agreements. The existence of a CDP allows developers to propose projects that fit into a larger neighborhood wide plan, which will make their projects more marketable and a result in a better neighborhood over time. Meanwhile Dalhousie residents, and those in adjacent Hintonburg, are stuck with ill-defined underdeveloped lands that become prey for any developer or politicians’ bright idea – including three (!) outdoor stadium-and-concert-hall proposals just last month. LRT train yards? Highest condo in the city? Parole office? Anything goes!

We must, yet again, nag the councilors and city to get the neighborhood CDP reactivated: neighborhood plans are supposed to be in place before developments are proposed.

[The Escarpment Plan, passed by the City last year, calls for a number of neighborhood benefits, including a bike/pedestrian path along the north side of Albert, and burying the LRT track underground starting at Booth St so that the City-owned development sites won't be looking into an open cut. The multipurpose path appeared like magic in 2008 as part of the new watermain project along Albert; the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel plans all start with the buried section of track right at the edge of the City's development site. Would Bayview-Carling corridor residents be so lucky as to have an effective CDP in place to guide developments!]

Woodpecker on Primrose

Saw the pictured woodpecker on Primrose St in front of St Vincent Hospital around 1pm on March 17th. He had created a significant litter of woodchips on the lawn and sidewalk, which is how I spotted him, since his pecking was silent. It was bigger than a robbin, smaller than a crow; much larger than the woodpeckers I normally see in this neighborhood.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

LeBreton Flats: landscaping in winter time

The much-criticized condo tower on LeBreton Flats near Wellington and the War Museum is the first new residential building on these brownfields in 25 years. The view of the building is not helped by its isolation and strip-mined surroundings. Until the condo apartment market heats up again, we won't see the second half of the first building (yes, second half: the first building is L shaped; the second joins onto it with another 7 storey yellow brick base and a 14 storey tower, making the whole building look like one, shaped in a U with the open end facing the valley).

The building is well set back from Wellington Street (replacing the old Ottawa River Parkway) to preserve the sight lines of Parliamentary precinct. Amongst other uses, the land is to eventually be the site of the Fallen Fire Fighters Monument. Until a few weeks ago, the site was a rubble-strewn depression about 3-5 metres deep. Freezing winter temperatures doesn't discourage the NCC however, and they have been busy landscaping the area. They filled the depression with packed-down fill and are topping it off with topsoil. I wonder where they get the so many truckloads of dry, unfrozen topsoil they are putting on the planting beds. I love the way they plant trees too: on Tuesday last, they dug a trench about 1 metre deep, 3 metres wide, all along the edge of the property facing Wellington, to make a deep planting bed. By today it too was filled will topsoil. They have also laid the gravel bed for the pedestrian and bike path that will (someday) extend between the new condos and the tailrace.

The photo is taken today from the sidewalk on Wellington looking South along the east side of the new condo building, it shows the new bike path curving as it goes toward Pooley's Bridge. The segments behind the condo are to be installed by Claridge, not the NCC, so we probably won't have a open path for several years when the second condo tower is finished. I am curious to see if the NCC will seed the grass or move in trees while the ground is still frozen.

Now, if only the NCC would address itself to the eyesore on the west side of the new condo. It's another open pit, about 3 metres deep, supposedly reserved for two office towers in the eleven storey height range. But with no construction in sight, they should fill it in and green it now.

City Centre Office Tower Loses Roof Sign

The City Centre office and warehouse complex, 250 City Centre Avenue, opposite the Bayview OTrain station and Tom Brown Arena, is often referred to as the ugliest in the city. While not pretty, its not so bad either. I should know, I look at it from my house, and until I sold my business a few years ago, was/is the largest tennant in the industrial bays.

The night time picture was taken at 2am a few weeks ago from a window on the third floor of my house, looking across the roof of the Just Rite Storage building, aka the former Champagne Streetcar Barn and aka the former Vimy House ateliers for the War Museum. The large red sign lettering above the eighth floor has not been illuminated for several years. Curiously, the Y in City was actually a V.

The daytime picture is taken from the Somerset Viaduct (bridge) today and shows that the sign letters facing east have been removed. Presumably the ones facing south, still visible, will go too.

Removing the letters doesn't really improve the view, as the very dirty brick spells out the name in absentia. I kinda liked the letters when they were illuminated: they reminded me that there is more to Ottawa than bland office towers full of cubicles, ie there are some industrial and manufacturing activities still here. The letters added a frisson of excitement to the skyline. Sniff.

801 Albert St Condo Towers - Bayview Station area

There is a vacant triangular plot of land at the corner of City Centre Avenue at Albert, just across from the Bayview OTrain Station and Tom Brown Arena, and beside the existing 8 storey City Centre office tower. The land has been owned by Phoenix development for some years. They have applied for rezoning for two 31-storey condo towers and a four storey office building. Each tower would be similar in height and size to the Metropole tower built further west on Scott near Westboro Station. The Metropole development, with townhouses clustered at its base, turned out well, despite its scary height. (I have an instictive distrust of developers bringing high towers).

How tall is enough? The City-owned lands to the northwest (now site of the snow dump) are planned for high rise apartments in the 23 storey range. The Escarpment plan, recently approved by the City for the lands along Albert between Booth and Bronson, calls for 23 storey (75 metre) heights. The site immediately south of the Phoenix property has been approved for similar heights for about 15 years. LeBreton Flats itself is zoned for 7 to 14 story buildings. This site should not be zoned any higher than 75m in my opinion.

The small office building component proposed at the City Centre Avenue/Albert St intersection does relate to the pedestrian on the street, but the set-back towers do not. We need to enhance the pedestrian environment, perhaps by structuring the towers more as a podium of town houses and having set backs as the tower goes upwards.

A wider multipurpose path, treed on both sides, should replace the current sidewalk along the curb. The development should also promote direct cycling and pedestrian access to the transit hub at Bayview and the NCC Ottawa River parklands, by integrating links along the O-train line under Albert and the transitway bridges. There is too much surface parking in the current proposal; putting all resident parking underground would improve the landscaping greenspace and promote walking and transit use.

(note: this post is based on my column for the March edition of the Centretown BUZZ community newspaper)