Friday, May 29, 2009

Funding Municipal Politicians

In the Citizen today: Cullen is preparing a "motion asking the provincial government to give the city the power to ban all corporate and union donations to municipal election campaigns, and it’s bound to be controversial. Cullen, and some other left-leaning councillors, already choose to reject donations from these groups, but other city politicians accept them."

It will be interesting to see the wording of this motion. Back in my civil service days, I was a union steward for about 7 years. Marion Dewar was running for office, and the union called all its reps out "on union business" for one day, which means we would be paid our regular CS wages by the taxpayer. The purpose of the union business? To go campaigning for Marion Dewar.

I didn't go.

Will Cullen's motion ban canvasing, donated materials (eg printing) or donated services (eg graphic services)?

Extending the O-Train

There have been many calls to extend the O-Train service north to Gatineau, or to increase its frequency using existing equipment.

At transportation committee next week, according to the Citizen: a motion by Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson will also be debated. She wants the city to extend the O-Train line, which currently stops at South Keys, south several kilometres to Leitrim Road. This is not called for in the city’s current rapid-transit plan, but there is growing pressure from people living in the southern part of the city for better public transportation options.

Guerilla Marketing

I love guerilla marketing - or as it is more often called today, viral marketing - when it is well done. Joe Contronio of Pub Italia is always amusing, whether its the faux-religious themes, the faux-Queensway signs or now, making the most of the construction fences. If you enlarge the picture, you will see his fence that separates the patio from the sidewalk, then the construction fence that separates the sidewalk from the road-now-dig-up-zone, and the third fence that separates the construction zone from the travelled road surface. All of them are festooned with his advertising.
Well done ! Keep that patio open and visible! What isn't visible in the picture is that the road workers have already dug a cut right through the middle of his patio, which is covered over with bolted down sheets of plywood so that patio remains open.
It reminds me a bit of those viral Most Interesting Man in the World commercials that show perseverence in the quest for a beer.

Little things make a difference


Winter ... then roadwork. How road reconstruction is handled makes a big difference to motorists and pedestrians too. Last year, on Preston, contractors used crowd control barricades to separate sidewalks from dug-up roads. These barriers, silver colored and looking vaguely like old bedsteads, have side legs that extended a full foot onto the sidewalk, narrowing the already chopped up walking space and rendering passage impossible for strollers, walkers, or wheelchairs. They also frequently toppled/were pushed over into the construction holes.
This year on Preston the preferred fencing is the thin high wire fence panel system. Taggart, working on the north end of the street, drills two holes in the sidewalk and bolts down the barricade foot parallel to the line of the curb. The result is neat, with much of the sidewalk available to pedestrians. Greenbelt, working further south on Preston, places the foot loose on the sidewalk. Sometimes, as shown in the top picture, the other half of the foot extends out over the street; in other cases the entire fence is pushed in a foot or two from the curb, leaving almost no space on the sidewalk. The feet can also be a trip hazard.
It is interesting how a little bit more care and consideration and installation expense works so much better for the Taggart method.
Now, the biggest problem remaining is that the fences are so high, and walks so narrow, that it is impossible to proceed while holding an umbrella. Either the fences need to be shorter, or for it to stop raining already!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Carlington Vet Houses celebration

click to enlarge and see the lady on the verandah

Carlington community association held a celebration last Sunday to honour the war vets, the veterans housing estates built just south of Westgate Shopping Centre (the first suburban shopping centre in Ottawa), and the renewal of the community.

There was a parade and march past of some veterans. The parade was lead by an Ottawa police motorcycle driven by an Asian cop. The tail was another police car, driven by a Tamil (?) cop. Some of the parade-route residents were Asian. The old vets were all white. It made a nice scenario.
I loved seeing the pictured elderly lady on the verandah of her house, watching the parade. She seemed excited by it, often waving. I imagined her a vet widow living for sixty years in the postwar housing, one of the dwindling cadre of second world war vet families. Imagination.

The area of small homes, once neglected and somewhat run down, is once again thriving with new families and some sensitive and expensive renovations leading the way. Some of the renovations do not include additions, proving once again that modest size housing is desirable. The new municipal splash pad and gazebo on Harold Place were especially unexpected.

After the parade ended at the Gowling school, there were the usual speeches. CMHC gave a presentation on renovating vet housing, and on the NowHouse, a postwar one-and-a-half storey house renovated to be zero-energy. Vets and ex-residents had front row seats. Each seat had some "thank you" cards or letters written by grade 1 students of the school. An elderly lady leafed through the collection of notes, covering the range of simple cut and paste artwork to thoughtful letters of thanks to the vets, while her uniformed husband stood with the other vets. As she leafed through the pile, she noted the "odd" names of the children (few Bills, more Bilals, you get the idea). One letter was longer the rest, more original, and she fondled it. She leafed through the rest of the pile, and the long letter came up to the top of the pile again. Again she read it, touched it, then carried on reading, until it came to the top of the pile again. I don't think she realized it was the same letter she kept coming back to. Eventually she took it, folded it in half, and slipped it into her purse. With that, my mom said it was time to go home.

New Apartments on Preston

A sign recently appeared at the now-vacant properties at 193 Preston, promising the construction of low-rise rental apartments above a storefront. Clicking on the photo may enlarge it enough to see the artist sketch of the building beside Photo Lux studio on the east side of Preston.

I am delighted to see some additional rental housing stock appear, and to see low rise too. It is a nice change from the high-rise towers frequently proposed for the area (Acquarello, the 31 storey Phoenix project for City Centre, the 18 storey proposal for Sydney Street, the seven story proposal for Balsam).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Leadman's DOTT meeting May 26th

Leadman's ward bumps up against Somerset Ward where I live, almost on the border of the two, which is why this blog is named West Side Action, since I try to cover events that happen on the west side of the downtown, regardless of fiefdom. Anyhow, I joined the big turnout for her forum Tuesday evening on the DOTT.

Her presentation and meeting themes covered two things: the DOTT in the downtown area, and the first-phase LRT in her ward terminating at Tunneys Pasture. She was accompanied by Renfrew Morrison, a transportation consultant that we recall was Clive Doucet's hired gun for his Carling LRT proposal earlier this spring, and who was Urbandale's hired gun in August 2007 when the developer lobbied to resurrect the southwest LRT.

What follows is not a report of the meeting, but my impressions of what went on. So, it is personal views, interpretation, and not "objective".

Leadman claims that council approved the Albert St routing for the LRT tunnel, including a surface crossing of the canal using the Mackenzie King bridge, with a sharp turn south, ie the current bus route through the downtown. And that the counsultants have gone off and "surprised" her and "shocked her" by examining alternative routes, and eventually recommending the Albert St - Rideau St - Ottawa U route. She claimed to be shocked that they had extended the terminus of the first phase LRT to Tunneys Pasture instead of Bayview, as council had directed.

Both Leadman and Morrison want an underground city in the downtown, connecting the stations with underground malls under office buildings. I wondered why the underground city idea never dies: council killed the plus-16 version of it years ago, and the city's developers have consistently refused to connect together their own malls. Minneapolis discovered you can have a lively plus-16 network or lively streets, but not both, and got the worst of both. I think Ottawa is way too small to support two lively streetscapes, or three, if plus-16 walkways are brought back in. Please "bury" this fantasy. And recover more of the surface from autodomination.

Morrison surprised me by claiming that 180m stations, capable of handling six car LRTs or future conversion to subway trains, would never ever be required in Ottawa, not in 100 years. I am in part puzzled by this because so many of the other blogsphere critics of the DOTT claim the system will not be able to handle the traffic proposed. Is the system undersized or oversized, on the short term or the long term?

I go to the DOTT meetings held about every two months as member of the public advisory council. The give the same presentation earlier that day to the business advisory council. And I thought they gave it to council members. But both Leadman and Morrison continually surprised me by their poor grasp of what I thought were well-covered items.

For example, Morrison chided the DOTT team for failing to include a spur at Rideau to extend the LRT east (along Rideau, or north to Gatineau), in fact, this has been frequently mentioned by the consultants.

More bizarrely, Leadman claims that by ending the first phase LRT at Tunneys, it forever "precludes any great circle line through Gatineau" (using the POW bridge) and will "eliminate potential for cross river transit forever". I guess this eliminates any potential for a n/s LRT line along the O-Train route too, but elsewhere in the meeting Leadman seemed to support that route, and the Carling LRT, even with the LRT going to Tunney's.

Well, maybe not to Tunneys. Her position alternated all night on that. Certainly building a major transfer station at Tunneys will be disruptive. But it will be very useful for the residential community, local bus transfers to the LRT, and Tunneys employees in the future, during the first phase LRT AND once the LRT is extended westward. Some citizens at the mike expressed appreciation for improved LRT service. It is not a "throwaway cost". It is, of course, perfectly fine to build a major transfer station at Bayview, in the neighboring ward, and she expressed no concern about throw away costs there. So does she favor ending the LRT at Bayview, or continuing to Tunneys? And in future phases, should it continue west past Tunneys? The answers varied all night.

Similar confusion prevailed on the use of Scott and Albert for BRT service. Recall that during conversion of the transitway to LRT service (at least two years) all the buses that use the transitway from Tunney's to the downtown will have to move off the transitway onto Scott and then onto Albert. This will certainly be very negative for adjacent residents, and I too question how the roads can handle all the buses. Staff suggests that the two curbside lanes will be bus only lanes, but I still see congestion hell.

Then, once the LRT is running, in theory most of these buses can be stopped at Tunney's and riders transfer to the LRT if going to the downtown, and for those going to Bayview or LeBreton, every third 95 would provide this service. However, Leadman and many citizen speakers derrided putting buses on Scott, derrided transfers at tunneys, and derrided evil-Kanata residents who want one-bus service from Kanata to downtown. Well, if they dont want transfers at Tunney's, they'll have decades of buses on Scott until the LRT is extended to Lincoln Fields and transfers are forced there. At some point you cannot please everyone, tradeoffs are necessary. There are hard choices here, and more leadership and consistency is required than was evident last night.

There was consistency though, in several aspects: Tunneys transfer station: bad; buses on Scott street: bad; LRT to Tunneys: good; no: bad; Kanata riders shouldnt be worried about making transfers at nice indoor stations; local riders wont stand for forced transfers; put the transfer station at Bayview, the city owns all the land around it (points to PPT slide that highlights land that is in fact owned by other parties like Phoenix DCR who have applied to build a condo on the land); its dumb to put LRT on the Ottawa River Parkway; the solution is to run all the buses on the parkway all the way to the downtown and not along Scott; look at the big picture, plan for the future and the whole city, but make decisions based on short-term local impacts. The tunnel selection should be based on city-building criteria, but give us the costs of each option first (so we can choose the cheapest?)

And the STO buses ... Leadman claimed the study ignores the STO buses on Ottawa's downtown streets, and claimed that there are more STO buses than Ottawa buses downtown. In fact, the DOTT projections always have counted all the STO users as being DOTT tunnel users, which gives some hint about the future of STO surface buses in the downtown, and some hint about the direction of the interprovincial transit study.

The audience asked many intelligent questions, and some whoppers. Members clearly disagreed as to whether transfers were good or bad, generally it seems Kanata residents should be prepared to transfer but local riders should not. The Byron right of way is useless for LRT, claimed a speaker, because it goes no where (gee, and I thought it ended so close to Lincoln Fields...). The LRT should run along Carling because there could be many stops serving local businesses and institutions (but no mention of why Kanata commuters would want such a milk run service). Use Byron, on the surface, no, put it underground. Leave the parkway only for cars, remove the buses, dont put LRT on it. No, keep the buses on the parkway. Even extend them all the way to the downtown on the parkway. A number of people spoke to the idea that the current transit planning too oriented to long-haul commuters at the expense of local transit (I agree heartily, but we still gotta deal with the folks in Barrhaven and Kanata). Keep the buses off Scott (cheers !) (how? by putting them on Albert, but hey, that's not our ward, it's someone else's problem).

Oh, that Bayview station, great place to put it, its in a field surrounded by no one. As for the Blair terminus, its stupid, its out in the middle of nowhere with vacant space around it, move it into a built up area. Morrison: London transit cited as doing great innovative tunneling work using the Austrian mine technqiue, and we are not considering it. He ignores that the tunnel-boring consultants for DOTT are from London Transport. Dont build the DOTT near the Langevin Block ... running it under the War Memorial would make a "nice" terrorist target ... but not to worry about running it along or under DND ...

Conspiracy theories abound, and are some of the reasons why going to public meetings can be so much fun. Did you know the LRT is intended for the Ottawa River parkway because they want to rezone it all for condos? That Hintonburg is always "targetted" because its poor? (I nod my head at that one ...) That it should be run on Byron so locals can use the LRT, but not on Byron because it is no longer a right of way but a park? That the urban core is the victim of suburban dominated council? (allright, I've gotta agree with that one too). Or that city staff is so incompetant that they continually bamboozle councilors and go off on their own tangents regardless of council direction and staff is secretly running everything ...

In summary, there were a number of valid concerns raised, in particular how well the DOTT will work at the great depth proposed; and how buses will be handled during construction and between phase and phase two. Yet if we are to focus on the big picture, the city-building one, we cannot continually nitpik on local impacts. The transit system has to serve a variety of needs and users, and cannot exclude the long haul, short haul, peak or off-peak users.

Leadman was listening, and giving people a chance to vent, and that is admirable. But she made no effort to reconcile her own mutually-conflicting options, and offered little leadership. I would have preferred her to have expressed some preferences for moving the system forward instead of just agreeing with every expressed concern. I think it is a leader's role to also temper public opinion, to acknowledge that with change comes disruption as well as opportunity. There will be some pain along with the gain. She could also try to reactivate the Carling-Bayview CDP so that vulnerable chunks of the neighborhood are prepared for change as the LRT is built out. She could also attend some more of the DOTT briefings (or send her staff, or get more community association people attending) because the significant factual gaps and misunderstandings undermine the quality of decisions and leadership we expect.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Urban Planning Nostalgia

Over at the blog The Ottawa Project is a story of visiting Lorne Ave and the not-unreasonable assumption that what is visible on Lorne represents that which was demolished on the Flats in the early 1960's.

I think that overview is overly sympathetic to the demolished areas. I do not wish to take the view that it was right to demolish whole neighborhoods/built up areas in favor of total rebuilding, which was the big government view of urban renewal then (note to today's amateur city rebuilders and commentators who too often wish for bigger govt action - be careful of what you wish for ... ).

The Flats was a mixed use neighborhood. There were grotty warehouses and rail tracks and SLUMS there as well as some nice houses. We dont do ourselves a favor by sugar coating or idealizing the old neighborhood. Granville Island or Old Montreal or old Halifax represent the effects of millions of dollars of disneyfication and not the normal evolution of old mixed use neighborhoods. Sometimes cheap housing is just that - it serves a purpose and then should be demolished and replaced by something better. As successful as Granville Island is, Vancouver is busy demolishing old stock in the adjcent neighborhoods for redevelopment from scratch. And who in Ottawa is clamoring to declare Hintonburg or Mechanicsville historic districts with every building preserved from demolition? If not Mechanicsville, then why LeBreton?

It is just plain wrong to assume that Lorne avenue represents what was built and demolished on the Flats. The NCC demolition targetted the polluted lands, the obsolete industrial uses and the structurally impaired housing. Their demolition continued south only as far as the worst structures went ... for eg they went half way up Booth and stopped at Primrose but left the houses backing onto these from Lorne because the Lorne houses were structurally sound (and when I moved here 30 plus years ago, certainly not nice nor trendy). Similarly, only some units were demolished on Rochester, Preston, Primrose ... leaving a gap-toothed landscape. But it was the bad-condition houses that were demolished and the good ones were left in place. Once a high percentage of the area is demolished, there were no doubt some structurally sound and maybe even attractive structures demolished simply because they were isolated in a non-functionable landscape.

Fortunately, the era of widespread urban demolition is past. Or is it? Will the Carling-Bayview CDP, which Councillor Holmes has agreed to try to resurrect, aim to preserve the old industrial buildings and every old house? Or will we view this area as a brownfields to be majorly redeveloped with townhouses and apartments and new park space?

Phase one of Lebreton flats in 1980 built new housing around some of the survivors and this makes a fortunate transition zone from new townhouses to old community. Note that it was the city/government that built the remarkably ugly and ill-suited townhouses at the Albert St end of Lorne Ave that blight that otherwise admirable streetscape.

In short, many of the houses on the Flats were demolished because they were substandard, slums, or structurally compromised. Certainly today, we MIGHT spend vast sums of public money to "save" and reposition such a neighborhood. Look at neighborhoods that were better than the Flats that were left alone - like Hintonburg, Mechanicsville, etc - which evolved to what they are today, with a lot of infill development of mixed quality and scale.

I dont think we should idealize the past and be nostalgic for a quality residential neighborhood that exists more in our imaginations than reality. Eddy McCabe wrote a lot about what it was like to grow up in that neighborhood, and it was anything but wonderful.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mount Preston

Photo shows Mount Preston, recently conquered for the first time by a loyal OC Transpo standard bearer. In the foreground are the rooms for a new Preston St econo-hotel, where each room barely holds one person. Or maybe they are for a condo? No word yet on room prices.

Plouffe Park sodded

Last Wednesday, May 13 about 1/3 of the park was sodded. There was no further action until Tuesday, May 19 when the remainder of the park was sodded. Fences have been constructed to try to keep people and animals off the fields. Limited activities (not including soccer) will be permitted during the summer when the Plant Pool Rec.Assoc (PPRA) holds summer camps.

The big green swatch in the middle of the ward is really welcome given all the construction and dirt elsewhere. This neighborhood has the least amount of City greenspace of any ward in the City of Ottawa.

Green Roof - Bronson Place

The roof of the parking garage at Bronson Place has lots of greenery planted, including some thriving trees. The roof includes an indoor pool area and an outdoor totlot with soft floor.

Out with the Playstructure

Centennial School on Bay St near Gloucester. Playstructure demolished by work crews.

Uniform Rules for Buried Utilities (Wiring)

(While browsing some buttons on my blogspot site, I found this older post that somehow never made it onto the blog. Recall that there was some controversey and commentary in the blogsphere and in the Citizen on burying wires. Old, but still relevant: )


The city does not pay to bury the gas mains, it just requires the gas company to do that. It does not bury the water mains for free, it charges the users to do that. It charges customers/forces the utilties in most areas to bury the electric, teleco, cable tv wires but exempts existing urban areas. This creates an unfair economic advanatage to businesses in older areas that do not pay for underground wiring like their suburban competitors do. To level the playing field, the city need only apply its rules to everyone: new wiring goes underground, and the cost is recovered over decades from user charges. When streets undergo major reconstruction, bury the wires.


Existing businesses would have the additional cost of converting their own premises intake points to be underground (which suburban businesses have built-in from day one) but this cost should be amortized over 10 or 20 years on the property tax bill or hydro bill so the current commercial tennant in the redeveloped street does bear the brunt of the capital improvement.

On the other hand ... the city owns Ottawa hyrdo and takes the profits, might there be a conflict of interest in imposing costs on a utility it owns that doesnt affect how it imposes costs on other utilities? Ottawa Hydro profits are an important revenue source of council. If Hydro was privatized, then there is even less reason why electric wires in older areas should be exempt from being buried at times of major reconstruction.

And on my third hand ... those big wooden poles do separate cars from pedestrians, and protect the sidewalks from cars jumping the curb either when they are moving or to find parking. Already on Preston St motorists are parking on the new sidewalks (as there are no curbside poles!).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Booth Street update

double click to enlarge picture

A few weeks ago, this blog featured Cousin Edy Garage and Chados Auto Body as the ugliest, messiest businesses in the neighborhood.

As I went by today, the old tires left on the boulevard are gone, the garbage picked up, and as shown in the picture, several unhappy people removing some of the sign clutter.

If they mow the lawn ... and the mysteriously disappeared trees replaced ... the place will once again be an acceptable neighbor, at least until someone redevelops the lot for condos!

Preston Street repaving

Final topcoat of asphalt being applied to Preston Street north of Beech.

The finished landscaping sections of the street look great. Unfortunately, while two sections are finished, work is just commencing on the other three sections, and major construction will continue until late December. But the finished sections will encourage residents and businesses and visitors to have courage, better times are coming.

Final landscaping and decorative intersection pavings will be done in 2010.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Interprovincial Transit Ideas

I attended a few hours of the interprovincial transit study meeting last Thursday. I heard lots of suggestions for improving interprovincial transit experience. Here are some of them:

1. Use the Prince of Wales Bridge. This rail bridge from Bayview Station to Gatineau is a favorite solution to most problems. Many felt it need not be double tracked right away, but could operate for the first years as a single track with passing tracks at each end and maybe at Lemieux Island.

2. Most attendees want a rail solution (LRT or O-Train) not a bus solution or bus on transitway solution; and certainly scorned bus lanes as a very inadequate solution.

3. Note that when the Ottawa LRT goes to Baseline, and if it goes to Gatineau on the POW bridge, that Ottawa U, Algonquin, and UQH (or is it UQG?) will be on the line. Carleton will directly connect on the O-Train. It is logical to assume institutions of higher education will be high transit users, because students are supposed to be poor, professors are supposed to have higher levels of environmental consciousness, and transit could be habit forming for life.

4. The City owns the POW bridge, but has not done any maintenance on it yet. It is deteriorating before our eyes. Will it get used before it rusts away? Where is the City's maintenance plan for this valuable asset?

5. Building a separate right of way transit system also creates additional capacity on surface roads. For example, removing the downtown bus lanes when the tunnel opens, means a 25-50% increase in road capacity for cars. This is seldom mentioned - shouldn't motorists in their single occupancy cars be delighted to get rid of the buses? And willing to pay for this improvement?

6. Reducing capacity: we tend to build transit as an incremental addition of service. We also continue to build roads that compete with transit. If we think in terms of "modal shift", we could put trains on the POW and then cut commuters off their abuse of Booth St as a through-way.

Preston St is one of the few examples in this City of major decommissioning of a road. It should never have been widened to four lanes, they have never been used, and now the road is being rebuilt as two lanes with the former lanes being converted to wider sidewalks and on-street parking bays. Parts of unused Gladstone east of Bronson were also narrowed a few years ago.

7. Convert roads: The Alexandra (interprovincial bridge) was a rail bridge for more than half a century. Then it has been a road bridge. Why not run the LRT accross the river on the bridge (it would have the wide pedestrian/cylist boardwalk, and two rail lines) and loop it around Hull via Allumete and the Rapidbus right of way to the POW bridge to Bayview and back downtown. In short, why do roads have to be sacred? Maybe we need to sacrifice some road pavement for transit. Note, we wouldn't have all the parking problems these commuters cause either.

8. Other conversions projects include: Colonel By Drive could be converted back to rail. The western parkway from Dominion Ave to Lincoln Fields could be reduced from a 4lane commuter road (we call it a parkway, but lets face it, its primary use is a commuter throughway for motorists) to a two lane road, and the southern two lanes converted to the rail tracks for the LRT. No additional green space would be consumed.

9. Why do transit users get put underground and motorists get the street surface and river views? Would a transit service with nice scenery attract more users?

10. some people think the NCC favours a tight, fairly small circle route for transit, sort of like the ceremonial route. This would put LRT on the surface or under the Portage Bridge. Many attendees want a large ring, that intercepts some traffic before it gets downtown (why make everyone transfer downtown?), and so like the POW and another crossing at McDonald-Cartier. A few wanted an even wider ring, that went as far west as Island Park, south past Carleton U, and as far east as Rockcliffe.

11. Go under water. The canal is shallow, and could easily be opened up and a LRT line burried a few feet down, then the canal refilled. Stations would double as canal crossings. Suddenly transit would open up a whole new urban environment that cars cannot access.

A few years ago I suggested during the OMB hearings on King Edward that the simplest solution was to take the McDonald-Cartier off ramps and run them down under the Rideau River and Stanley Park (a very shallow cut and cover operation...) and dump the vehicles onto the Vanier "Parkway". Of course, the Vanier was originally supposed to be heavy truck route but short-sighted councils appeased neighbors by forbidding trucks and thus dooming King Edward and Rideau St to decades of misery.

12. OC transpo and STO run in separate silos. For example, they lack a common route planner, amongst other fare problems. One of the meeting attendees said that OC and STO would have a joint planner up later this year. Yeah!

13. Faith in Big Government. Many participants at the meeting had a charming faith that if only some big government agency would take control, they would surely built this person's pet project. Didn't that big government give us half a century of vacant land in LeBreton Flats? The Qway to Kanata? The expanded 416 and 417 that extends the commuting shed a hundred km further out, so that small towns turn into large suburbs with obviously short-sighted planning?

I am much less certain that more government is the answer. Although only the NCC does large scale and longer time line planning, the City is hopelessly shortsighted and captive to the current modal split and land use model.

Alarmingly, a number of meeting proponents thought it wise to extend O-Train service to Arnprior, to Wakefield, to Montebello, to Smith's Falls or Cornwall. Do we really need to subsidize or encourage exurban development?

14. Replace buses vs service new areas debate. Some attendees wanted to convert existing bus transitways to LRT, and avoid building new transitways in favor of LRT (eg east end transitway, the rapidbus project in Gatineau).

Others thought the best thing was to leave the bus rapid transit in place and convert existing rail lines to LRT, opening up underdeveloped areas of the City, in new planned developments that focus on LRT transit.

I think particularly of Citizen columnists and bloggers on that one. They opposed the southwest LRT because it didn't serve the major population centres in the east-west axis. They oppose the new E-W LRT because it wont add ridership, just shift users off buses. My view was we should build new transit first, for example the southwest transitway, and try to force development along the huge underdeveloped brownlands along the line.

14. The sucess of the O-train. Is it a conspiracy or not? The City avoids mentioning the O-Train like the plague. Yet a demo project, derrided as going from nowhere to nowhere, grandiously projected to carry 7,000 people a day by 2020, carries today over 10,000 passengers a day. Why isn't the frequency being increased (this doesn't require more trains or track)? Why isn't it being extended to Gatineau where it would offer the fastest interprovincial commuting? Why aren't we going to run it into the DOTT ? ( I am not sure if the trains are diesel electric, in which case they would need only a overhead connector, or if they would have to be converted to run on both diesel and electric tracks). The more I hang around the people at transit meetings the more I tend to sympathize that there just may be a conspiracy after all...

15. Cycling. Will the new rail and transit rights of way really have useful cycling and walking facilities along them? We know that nice drawings always show these facilities when the transit project is being sold to the public, but with details missing. Unfortunately, when built, key links in the cycling and walking plans have been removed due to "budgetary constraints", or are charmingly left to built in segments as adjacent lands are developed (what? a bike path built in segments ... surely we should be grateful for disconnected bits). A number of meeting attendees emphasized that the rights of way should include proper bike and walking facilities carefully designed in to maximize their utility. Token bike pavement is so "out".

Summary: lots of ideas. Many of them good and positive. Much approval of LRT, much scorn for busways as yesterday's solution. Not many of the ideas will see fruition.

Inter-Provincial transit study - some observations

I went to the Open House held Thursday about the interprovincial transit study. The study should identify problems with transit going between the two cities, user problems, and suggest solutions. I signed up for a round-table exercise. It was the first one I think I have attended, and it wasn't as bad as I feared.

First, the moderators at each table were well informed and not too rigorous about keeping the participants on topic. This was important, because the topics, defined beforehand by the sponsors, were very narrow. Basically, they were looking for expressions of what the problems were.

In contrast, most of the participants were selling something: their transit solutions. I recognized a number of the participants. General public? Not really: they were, like me, transit and planning hobbyists/activists/proponents of their pet projects.

This open house, like a number of other ones I have attended, are not really broad public consultations because the attendees are self-selected (ie, already interested in the subject) or nominated by their councillors (mine checked to make sure I was going...). I think this is why the final plans that come out of some of these planning sessions and public consultation sessions generate opposition later on ... because the general public wasn't really there.

For example, a number of the people at the interprovincial meeting were the same ones I see at the DOTT meetings. I have sat on the Preston Streetscaping project for 16 years, and only now that concrete is being poured that some residents pop up saying "What?". Similarly, after all the public open houses, suddenly some are questioning the basics of the DOTT.

I don't know what the solution is. People cannot go to every meeting on every subject, there are too many meetings, on too fuzzy objectives, on projects that too often die on the vine. On the other hand, it is frustrating to go thru a multi-year process and then have people pop up at the last minute objecting to everything and wanting to start all over with a different project. LeBreton Flats planning process is an ideal example. Even though dozens of meeting have been held and the city and NCC established a final build-out plan --- politicians, citizens, newspapermen, want to throw it all out and introduce something new, like a soccer stadium. For the DOTT plan, many of the critics question decisions made a year ago, eg council says it will be a tunnel, not a surface system. So DOTT produces a tunnel options, wieghs them, and recommends one ... at which point whiners start advocating for a totally different system to solve other problems.

This interprovincial study might find something useful from the public consultation process. Or it might just be a routine gone through to say the public was consulted, to pacify the civilian planning hobbyists.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bikepath to No-where

The NCC has been landscaping the area north of the Claridge condo building on LeBreton Flats since mid-winter. Earlier posts on this blog showed the winter landscaping and very early spring planting of trees and shrubs. Eventually, the Fallen Firefighters Monument will be constructed on the grassy area.

The contractor (same one as is doing Plouffe Park) has now paved the bike path from Wellington Street north along the west side of the tailrace. A side branch cuts off to the west to join Lett Street beside the condo. But the path goes nowhere, as Claridge hasn't yet landscaped the area between the condo building and the tailrace. The NCC has also seeded the area with grass seed. Light standards are not yet installed. The entire length of the new bike path is shown in the picture above.

This first bit of path bodes well for the future bike and pedestrian pathway that is supposed to eventually continue from here to the end of Pooley's Bridge (ridiculously still closed after an expensive renovation as a essential pedestrian and cycling link) and then west along the aquaduct to Booth and eventually the Ottawa River Parkway where it begins at Vimy Street.

While the plan is good, it will be even better if the path also continues west to service Bayview Station and then eventually joins the Scott St path going to Westboro. But all the investment in the current path sections will be nearly useless if the NCC and City persist in building the path one building lot at a time, with the complete path being usable only when all the Flats are built out in thirty years time. When will we get those nifty aquaduct-side cafes featured on the NCC website?

Kudos to the NCC for building the path, and the quality of the landscaping. Thumbs down on the glacial build-out timeline.

Plouffe Park landscaping

note the two receivers mounted on each end of the blade

sod rolls; elevation transmitter in the background

laying the carpet ...

Plouffe Park is behind the Plant Recreation Centre at the corner of Preston and Somerset. The playing fields were torn up last fall in order to lower the ground level several feet. This permits the fields to function as a storm basin in case of severe flooding expected only every 50 years or so. The Park is the lowest point in the entire Preston street catchment area, and has no natural overland outflow.

The bulldozer spreading the topsoil was interesting to watch, as in a single pass it moved the soil to a very flat grade. After a dozen passes in various directions, the soil was as level as a tabletop. Each end of the blade is connected to an on board computer that is connected to a transmitter at the side of the field (visible in the background of photo 2).

Sod was delivered by a flatbed at noon Wednesday, and positioned on the field by a forklift. Another tractor positioned the rolls at the edge of the field and unrolled the strips of grass in less than minute. Each strip of grass extended half way down the length of the soccer pitch. Workers with rakes did the final positioning. A powered roller pressed it down, and a larger tanker truck of water washed the grass immediately behind the laying crew.

By 5pm, about 20% of the Park had been greened.

Claridge Green Roof underway

Claridge has finally got going on its green roof for the now-occupied condo on LeBreton Flats. The roof shown is on top of the parking garage, and will be covered with up to 3' of soil on top of the gravel base already laid down. More photos to come as they landscape the roof.

Greenroof Example - Pl de Ville

One of Ottawa's older multipurpose developments has a lovely green roof on its south side. This roof is above what was for 30 or so years a shopping mall, but for the last years has been federal government office space. The pond adds an unexpected water element to the downtown, as does the fairly large bright green lawn. It is highly visible, located adjacent to one of the busiest downtown transitway stops at Place de Ville. The glass pyramid lets light into the office area below. It suggests the pyramid glass structure at the Louvre in Paris, but on a way smaller scale. It does not figure in any Dan Brown novels, yet.

Monday, May 11, 2009

DCA - AGM Tonight

There is a community association for the neighborhood bounded on the east by Bay St - on the north by the Ottawa River - on the west by the O-Train tracks - and the south by Carling Avenue. Called the Dalhousie Community Association (DCA) after the now-retired ward name for the area, the association concerns itself with planning, traffic, and social issues in this mixed income changing neighborhood that incorporates both "Chinatown" and "Little Italy".

Their Annual General Meeting is tonight at 7pm at the Dalhousie Centre, corner of Empress and Somerset, 3rd floor. Free cookies. I'll be baking my special nutritious unfatening gingerbread/peanut butter combo cookies. Be sure to come on time in order to get a few. Don't deprive your children of these treats, bring them too.

There will be short panel discussion on (the lack of) park space in the community. Did you know our neighborhood has the lowest amount of city park space of any neighborhood in the city? Now this might now be a disaster if the area consisted of detached homes on large green lots, but this is a fairly dense neighborhood on small lots with what green space remaining is under threat from property owners paving their yards and the City which is eager to convert our green space into transportation corridors. But a number of opportunities exist to improve and quickly add to the park space, if the city can be convinced to act.

Should be a pleasant evening, somewhat interesting, and maybe even fun. Come-on out !

Thursday, May 7, 2009

LRT - the 1950's version

This video of the former streetcar service in Ottawa is certainly interesting. At minute 4.19 there are shots of streetcars on Elm St running up to Preston (Elm street was the exit from the Champagne Streetcar Barn. The entrances were from Champagne [now City Centre Ave] In the background is a large structure the predates the City Centre complex, which is now nearing the end of its lifespan). Most of the houses filmed on Elm are 100% recognizable today.

My house abuts the Champagne Barn, I enjoy a great westward view over its rooftop. The roof used to be mostly glass, but was recently "improved" and is now a rather plain ashpalt roof.

At minute 6.10 there are more shots of the streetcar barn. And then at 7.39 are shots of a streetcar turning from Somerset to head north on Preston. Pubwells is perfectly visible, and other the east side of the street the housing is recognizable today, except there is a building at the corner of Somerset that burned down many years ago (it ended its life as a topless shoeshine parlor) and is now a vacant lot and will soon be the Vietnamese cultural centre.

US Housing Policy in a Nutshell

Over at the City website, there is an article on the repeating US housing crisis. I like their site because it often offers a contrarian view of what is conventional wisdom in the urban affairs sphere. It makes an interesting comparison to the Metropolis website.

Here is a summary (first three para) of their most recent article on the US housing policy:

In December, the New York Times published a 5,100-word article charging that the Bush administration’s housing policies had “stoked” the foreclosure crisis—and thus the financial meltdown. By pushing for lax lending standards, encouraging government enterprises to make mortgages more available, and leaning on private lenders to come up with innovative ways to lend to ever more Americans—using “the mighty muscle of the federal government,” as the president himself put it—Bush had lured millions of people into bad mortgages that they ultimately couldn’t afford, the Times said.

Yet almost everything that the Times accused the Bush administration of doing has been pursued many times by earlier administrations, both Democratic and Republican—and often with calamitous results. The Times’s analysis exemplified our collective amnesia about Washington’s repeated attempts to expand homeownership and the disasters they’ve caused. The ideal of homeownership has become so sacrosanct, it seems, that we never learn from these disasters. Instead, we clean them up and then—as if under some strange compulsion—set in motion the mechanisms of the next housing catastrophe.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing once again. As Washington grapples with the current mortgage crisis, advocates from both parties are already warning the feds not to relax their commitment to expanding homeownership—even if that means reviving the very kinds of programs and institutions that got us into trouble. Not even the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression can cure us of our obsessive housing disorder.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring Time, Tulip Time in Ottawa

It's May, the Tulip Festival has begun. I rejoice at how many private gardens celebrate spring with displays of bulbs and early perennials. The above shot is in my backyard.

More Green Roofs in Ottawa

There is a very nice and useful green roof at Preston Square, 333 Preston Street in the heart of Little Italy. It is bordered by the two taller office towers (Xerox and Adobe towers) and the low rise office building (Ontario services) and the mid-rise apartment building. All buildings open out on the roofscape, with paths, benches, deep planters, lawns, etc. It is well kept and accessible to the public. Below the roof are parking areas, shipping and receiving areas, etc.
I especially like this green roof for its accessibility and utility to a variety of office and residential users.

One train/one tunnel vs many trains in one tunnel

The downtown transit tunnel will have two tracks, one for each direction.

This would be fine if the trains only went east and west. However, desire for travel is also north and south.

It is possible to force everyone on the future southwest LRT, and future southeast LRT, and future link to Gatineau LRT, to transfer to the east-west line. Transfers would occur indoors, be comfortable, but would still increase trip time significantly. This would be significant for those who already had to take a local bus to the BRT to the LRT transfer ... etc.

Recall too that IF the southwest LRT, which should go through the airport, doesn't offer direct to downtown service we can kiss goodbye many conventions. Apparently a deciding factor in choosing convention destinations is direct airport to downtown transit. However, if the southwest LRT went over the Prince of Wales bridge, it could easily continue on the Casino and a convention centre there. Is this really what we want? I want to be good neighbors, and the two jurisdictions really should function and be planned as one metro city, but I dont feel obliged to build a major transit system to deliver conventions to Gatineau and not Ottawa.

I like to view the tunnel as being like the existing transitway, open to many transit vehicles with various destinations. Consider if we had red trains running east /west Blair to Tunney's, and green trains running from the southeast through the downtown and then back out to the south along the southwest route, a giant U shaped route. This not operationally difficult to schedule.

Now consider the Gatineau service. Recall that the DOTT projections for tunnel ridership assume all STO bus users are in the LRT tunnel. How did they get there? I don't see a major bus transfer facility at Rideau. But recall that the currently planned tunnel has a spur tunnel designed into it, branching off at the east end of the Rideau St station. From there, that tunnel could someday extend under the market to a station near Sussex before crossing the river (whether in a tunnel, on the McDonald Cartier span, or my preference, taking back the Alexandra Bridge as a transit and pedestrian/cyclist bridge).

The DOTT team have specified a spur at Rideau, not a two level station with transfers. This I expect (but it hasnt been said out loud) is a Federal tourist influence. The Feds want an easy to use system for tourists and visitors and for the interprovincial LRT to have a national unity function. A one-car no-transfer service from downtown Ottawa to Gatineau is best for this. So visitors could go to any downtown station, and get on the blue train that would go to Rideau and then off to Gatineau.

It is just my speculation, but obviously the LRT could continue through downtown Gatineau and back to Ottawa on the Prince of Wales bridge, make a circle route. Or, it could be implemented in reverse, with trains from the east going through the downtown and then over the POW bridge to Gatineau, until such time as the rest of the loop is completed.

Fully developed, a multi-train multi-destination LRT service in the DOTT could consist of a east/west line, a route from the south that loops through the downtown from the east and back out to the south from the west side, and a circle route that crosses the river.

Fortunately, the interprovincial study just starting up should be well enough under way as the DOTT planning process continues, to incorporate any number of options.

Kanata to downtown direct bus service ?

I read on Real Grouchy's blog that he and Marianne Wilkinson expected direct BRT service from Kanata to downtown to continue after the LRT system is opened from Tunney's to Blair.

When the DOTT study began, its terms of reference were from Bayview to Blair. It was a somewhat dubious proposition to force all west end commuters to transfer to the LRT at Bayview when they were already in sight of the downtown. They therefore proposed continuing BRT service from the west into the core. Since the transitway would be converted to LRT, the buses would exit the transitway at Tunney's and use Scott-Albert-Slater through the downtown. Turning all the buses around was a problem, so they proposed to run them all the way through to Hurdman. Then they would pick up traffic at Hurdman. It was immediately apparent that this approach had many flaws:

1. we would build a tunnel and LRT, but have to keep the bus lanes on Albert-Slater
2. not enough people would be on the LRT/BRT if a parallel surface BRT ran from Hurdman to Kanata through the downtown
3. The LRT and BRT are on the same alignment from Campus to Hurdman, and Booth to Bayview ... this might force a mixed surface running both buses and LRT's
4.. the surface bus lanes would stay in place for about 20 years, until the LRT was extended to Lincoln Fields. Would west end taxpayers be willing to continue funding an LRT system they seldom used? Recall that one reason the southwest LRT was killed was because west and east end commuters saw no immediate benefit to themselves.

The final LRT system selected deliberately offered service to two high ridership routes - east and west. (I confess I still think the southwest route was better from a town planning perspective, as it shaped new growth rather than servicing old growth, and existing neighborhoods usually complain about any changes, especially intensification).

BTW, as a citizen rep on the public advisory committeee to DOTT, I made those very aguments repeatedly.

So in January of so of this year, the DOTT mandate was extended to Tunney's. There is room there for a major transfer station. It is far enough from the downtown core to "warrant" transfering people from BRT to LRT. The LRT will offer all users the advantage of an exclusive grade separated congestion free all-indoor route through the congested downtown and its immediate east and west sides. And importantly, more taxpayers will get to ride on the LRT and benefit from its glamorous stations etc etc and thus be willing to vote for expanding it.

Note that the DOTT team and OC Transpo do not expect west end BRT users heading to Bayview and its O-Train or Booth to go to Hull, to transfer to the LRT. Instead, every 3rd or 4th 95 bus will continue to Bayview and Booth and maybe over to Hull. But not into the downtown.

In full disclosure, I should note that Marianne Wilkinson was my high school Geography teacher at Boredom High in Nepean. I subsequently went on to accumulate two geography degrees and the world's shortest career at the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs and subsequently the urban transit directorate at Transport Canada.