Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Phoenix LRT

Ken Gray has a reference to the Phoenix LRT in his column today. He especially notes it runs on the surface. It does, mixed with cross traffic. Note the video shows the street to be at least six lanes wide, plus wide sidewalks. A lot wider than Albert Street. The movie makes no mention of how well the LRT plays with cars.

I also noted that some stations are very narrow, basically open air platforms with sun shades. Somehow waiting outdoors in 110 degree heat is more acceptable than doing the same in Ottawa in January.

I especially noted the shots of the LRT passing over/in front of a bridge that is a doppelganger for the Prince of Wales Bridge here in Ottawa, an interprovincial asset that sits rusting away, forlorn and neglected, while council merrily chases new bridges for single occupancy car commuters.

The higher than expected ridership in Phoenix was mentioned at last Saturday's LRT technology forum, if you page down a few articles you will see that blog entry below.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Multipurpose Paths for Everyone / Every creature

In addition to the cylists, pedestrians, joggers, wheelchairs, walkers, and geese (and their poop) on the multipurpose pathways along the Ottawa River, I have met turtles, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, beaver, foxes, and snakes. This snake was near Mud Lake, travelling west in the correct lane of the path.

Preston coming up roses

Only two short sections of Preston were completed and landscaping was installed just a month ago. The rest of the street is an unholy construction hell. I am astonished at how well some of the new shrubery and especially the rose bushes are thriving. I confess to being somewhat dubious of rose bushes being planted in public rights of way, even if they are the super tough rugrosa type, generously endowed with thorns. But now these little bushes are blooming their hearts out and the streetscape is really nice.
If a similar proportion of rose bushes is planted in the other four phases of reconstruction and landscaping, Preston Street should be bloomin'ly beautiful each June during Festival Italia. The topmost picture is of private rose bush blooming in a front garden along Preston.
I didn't imagine Preston could be made over so well.

Monday, June 22, 2009

LRT Maintenance Facility Site

There will be a low-key public meeting at City Hall on Wedn. June 24 from 5.30 to 8pm on the proposed new maintenace facility. No speaches, just poster boards and comment sheets.

Recall that on May 27 Council approved the alignment (route) and station locations. The consultants and staff are now working on station design, the BRT to LRT conversion process, construction staging, and how the LRT and BRT will operate once the line opens. Their results will be shown at another open house in Sept.

But back to the Maintenance Facility. Planners examined all the site along or near the LRT phase one alignment from Tunneys to Blair. The three top sites are
1. St Laurent, south of the Qway, either on PWGSC lands or immediately west of the current OC Transpo yards
2. Bayview, between Bayview Ave, Scott/Albert to the south, the Ottawa River Parkway to the north, and the existing bus marshalling facility to the east (Bayview Station)
3. Hurdman North, the vacant land immediately north of Hurdman Station

The consultants showed some familiar google satellite images or air photos of existing facilities in Mineapolis, Houston, and San Jose. Unfortunately, none of those are of the type proposed for Ottawa. Due to our extreme climate (minus 50 in winter, plus 32 in summer with high hummidity) most of the Ottawa facility will be indoors. The maintenance facility itself would of course be a large indoor structure. The storage yards would also be a structure, perhaps partially heated, to protect the vehicle fleet from weather. There would also be some test track sections, lots of loops and switches to move vehicles around, and a huge employee parking lot. These are most likely to be outdoors. So there is abundant oportunity for the facility to a noise nusience to residential neighbours, which is why the consultants prefer an industrial or already-noisy area.

The Bayview site is currently vacant brownfields, former snowdump and garbage infilling of Nepean Bay. Running through the site is the east-west transitway and the north-south OTrain line, the presence of which will complicate building a yard. Especially worrysome is the link across the Prince of Wales Bridge to Gatineau, which cuts the site in half. I would hate to see this potential interprovincial link 'lost' because the LRT itself used up the approach space to the bridge.

There is an existing Community Development Plan for the site. It calls for high rise apartment towers about 75m tall (23 stories, approx). Unfortunately, the City elected to build the high rises east of the Larouche Park, on unstable land that requires massive cleanup. The CDP plan deliberately scorned any consideration of economics, which would have put the residential uses on the land now used by Larouche Park and moved the park east one block to be adjacent the riverfront parklands. Now, apparently, the CDP is stalled because the proposed developments are too expensive to build due to remediation costs. And the City may well lose a potentially large and viable residential neighborhood close to the transit, the core, and employment centres, in favour of a one or two storey high sprawling industrial building and outdoor trackage because to build that does not require remediating the lands: just lay down a meter or two of stone excavated from the tunnel under the core, and presto, industrial heaven.

Now I can envision that a facility could be built there that would be compatible with adjacent neighborhoods and able to develop the site to a higher potential. Such a facility would locate the buildings and test tracks then fill in the loops and empty spaces with apartment buildings on top of a large podium structure that would be the green roof covering the maintenance facility, etc. Note that buildings would not be built over the maintenance garage itself or storage tracks, just all the other less-critical tracks and parking lots. Such a facility should have minimal neighorhood impact as all the facility would be indoors and quiet. The biggest impact would be workers commuting to the buildings, but that should be a similar traffic volume to the proposed CDP which would have had a dozen or more tall apartment towers.

But while architects, planners, and dreamers can envision such a development, I have absolutely zero faith that the City could or would actually built it. Until they come up with a plan that shows a largely indoor facility, with apartment towers above, and no gross underutilization of the site for "surface parking" or squealing train loops, it's thumbs down from me for this site.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

LRT Technical Session

The City hosted a technical session on Saturday, June 20th for all those people who delight in spending a summer Saturday listening to streetcar vendors. About 100 of the public showed up, and at least 30 staff and consultants and vendors. The stated purpose of the meeting was to examine technical issues such as low floor vs high floor LRTs, dedicated vs shared rights of way, driverless vs on-board staff, etc. But I think the unstated purpose of the meeting was to educate the bloggers and transit hobbyists and community activists, so as to raise the tone of the debate when real decisions on technology are being made in September. If this was the covert objective, it succedded admirably. A number of participants prefaced statements with " I used to think ... but now ..."

The meeting started with spiels from Mayor Bellemare (sorry, I dont have a TV so I didn't recognize him - he was startingly young looking ...), Alain Mercier (OC Transpo) and Mona the head of the Transportation Master Plan project (TMP). I am not sure which speaker actually said it, but I did catch the comment that the LRT system will function with bus service as feeders to the line-haul LRT service. I didn't notice Marianne Wilkinson around to hear that one. But when the vendors spoke, two of the three emphasized that it was illogical to continue to run any bus rapid transitway - BRT - service to the core once the LRT was up and running. I have long suspected the LRT planners are saying YES to continued direct bus express service from Kanata and Barrhaven only until later in the process when the idea can be proved to be infeasible.

Three transit system vendors had display tables, brochures, free pens, models, and each gave a forty minute presentation. Alstom displayed their range of product to fit every market niche, and surprisingly to me he gently chided Ottawa for looking at LRT: in his mind, the City volumes along the transitway were enought to justify going straight to a metro-capacity train. He emphasized, as did all the speakers, that new LRT and metro systems always generate more traffic than transportation models predict. Since the system must be put in place to last 50 years (the life expectancy of a LRT or subway car) it is shortsighted fiscally and adminstratively to install a system that meets today's needs but which will be undercapacity in a few years. Why did I think he was directing his comments to certain shortsighted and tightfisted City councillors? Surely his remarks weren't directed to Alex Cullen who was in the audience, or the other councillors' staff members in attendance?

Dan Braund (an Ottawa boy, and old colleague from our days in the urban transit directorate at Transport Canada) spoke on behalf of Bombardier. Both he and the Alstom man claimed to represent the biggest LRT/metro vendors. The third speaker, Rainer, was from Shinkinsaro, an admittedly small firm that has a number of significant installs in North America. Most uniquely, his firm has no North Amercian assembly plant to put the vehicles together and then ship them to Ottaws via conventional heavy rail (the DOTT consultants have insisted the LRT maintenance yards be located adjacent a freight line to bring in the LRTs from eleswhere). Instead, Shinkinsaro uses the City's new LRT maintenance facility and its staff to assemble the cars here in Ottawa, which adds local value and thoroughly teaches the maintenance staff how the cars go together and work. This proceedure impressed me a lot. I will be going to the DOTT maintenance yard meeting this week.

Notably absent was Siemens, which won the previous round for Ottawa's LRT trainsets. I asked, and yes they were invited, they declined to attend. I suspect I hear a lawyer in the background at Siemens saying that if the show up to bid for this LRT project they are acknowleding that they somehow lost the previous bid. Nonetheless, I hope the City staff and consultants are busy reviewing their specs: after all, if they were deemed the best vehicle two years ago then presumably they must at least be a contender now.

The presentations and speaches were followed by a series of round-table discussions, with all points raised being written down by a scribe (each table had its own moderator/facilitator and another person to act as scribe - that's two staff to each 5 or 6 attendees. Can't say they weren't listening).

Amongst the comments at my table, I heard (or made myself...) the following:

1. greater respect for the idea that the LRTs along the transitway should be 'line haul" offering fast service with fewer stations rather than 'local" service with frequent stops.

2. a consequence of this was greater support for using the Ottawa River Parkway from Dominion to Lincoln Fields, with maybe one walkin stop along the route

3. there was less support for the Byron right of way, as its main virtue would be frequent stops for walk ins, at the price of slower express service and a very expensive precedent of perhaps burying the LRT where NIMBYs are loudest. Is McKeller Park the new Glebe?

4. while Carling is of interest, it is not likely to offer as fast a line-haul service as converting the transitway

5. there were mixed opinions on how to run the service on the ORP. I favour removing the southside lanes and making the northside lanes two directions of car traffic, and using the freed-up space for the LRT. Others favour running the LRT down the middle of the two road surfaces.

6. everyone agreed that we almost have enough transitway infrastructure that we could have a totally grade-separated and segregated system with no mixed-traffic. All the three vendors lauded the perfect conditions for Ottawa to convert the transitway and felt we are in an extremely lucky position due to the foresight of the builders of the transitway in the 1980s

7. but if we go for segregated system, there must be frequent grade-separated underpasses, for pedestrians and cylists, say every 500', to compensate for the 'barrier effect' of having a segregated right of way. Specifically mentioned were current at-grade crossings at Preston (install it from day one, not in the future), Dominion, along the ORP, Lincoln Fields, Iris, south of Iris, etc. Such a committment might make selling a segregated system easier.

8. LRTs can be dual mode. If diesel-electric, then it is not necessary to electrify all the track, for eg along the ORP there could be no overhead wires, and even more exciting, it would be much cheaper to extend the LRT beyond the greenbelt if electric catenary is not required. Thus the LRT service could be extended to Orleans, Barrhaven, Kanata years or decades sooner than currently envisioned using dual track overhead electric power.

9. Another version of dual mode would be electric-battery, whereby the LRT vehicle uses battery power in selected short distances, such as along the ORP.

10 Several attendees wanted on-board transpo staff, if not as a driver then as a guard. Totally automated trains made people uncomfortable. A chorus of voices was raised that the on-board staff need not be premium-paid "drivers" since running the almost-automated LRT is simpler and less-responsible than driving a bus. I heard the word "conductor" used for the on-board position. This will be unpleasant news to the OC TRanspo union which got a hefty premium from taxpayers for the "drivers" of the O-Train.

In conclusion, it was certainly refreshing and interesting to hear "outsiders" comment on our planning process, the opportunities available to us, and to speak some plain truths (yes, yes I know they are vendors) about what we should be doing.

I was left wondering about the meetings on Friday June 19th, which were not public meetings as far as I know, with operators of LRT systems in a number of US and Cdn cities. Presumably they also gave blunt advice about what to do or not to do. I wonder if any councillors were present? I would definately like to see made public a transcript of those advisory sessions.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pedestrian Safety? or Harassment?

I heard on the CBC radio this morning that the City is starting a pedestrian safety campaign. I went to the City website. Their advice for pedestrian safety:

Cross at marked crosswalks or traffic lights, not in the middle of the block or between parked cars.
Remove headphones; put away cell phones or other electronic devices when crossing the street. Use your full attention so you’ll be able to see, hear and respond safely to what is happening on the roadway.
Make sure drivers see you before you cross.
Cross when traffic has come to a complete stop.
At a traffic light, cross at the beginning of a green light. Do not cross once the “Don’t Walk” signal begins to flash or once the light has turned yellow. Never cross on a red light.
Watch for traffic turning at intersections or entering and leaving driveways.
Wear bright or light-coloured clothing or reflective strips when walking in dusk or darkness.

Note that there is nothing for motorists to do; it seems pedestrian safety is 100% a pedestrian responsibility. So if you get run over ... you know who's fault it is!


Being a parent with young kids - now grown up - and a full time pedestrian (I never have owned a car) I think the City's advice absolutely totally STINKS.


I always trained my children to cross in the middle of the block. It is way way safer. Traffic is generally moving in only two possible directions, at a predictable rate. Midblock, the road is likely the narrowest, either because of parked vehicles or because our fair City widens roads at the intersections and then wants pedestrians to be exposed to the maximum crossing distance!


And what are motorists doing at intersections? Let me describe the corner a few hundred feet from my house. Vehicles heading north on Preston reach Albert. These vehicles face long red lights while Albert vehicles have long long turn signal greens. Daily commuters know the pattern, so they zoom right-turn through the intersection. While turning right, the drivers' heads are turned 90 degrees left as they approach the intersection, and about 120 degrees back over their left shoulder as they turn through the intersection. See a pedestrian or cyclist on the right side of the road? Ha! dream on!


And what does the city recommend a pedestrian do in this circumstance? Why "cross when traffic has come to a complete stop". Except it never does stop, vehicles just roll through the right turn continually, based on car movements only. See the skeleton on the corner over there? That's a pedestrian who waited for traffic to stop...


Years ago the city had big pedestrian crossing signals at some minor intersections: push the button, lights flashed, cars stopped ... pedestrians walked. Except on Preston St a car with Quebec plates ran over a pedestrian and claimed that the orange flashing lights were french for "sidewalk all clear". So the city removed all the flashing signals and replaced them with regular traffic lights. Now, you can push the button and in many cases wait...and wait...and wait...and wait. Some signals, like the ones at Primrose/Bronson, simply wont turn until a car arrives to justify the light turning. I have stood at that corner through 2 red light cycles at Somerset and Gloucester, watching the intersections north and south of Primrose, while my light wont change! And when it does eventually go green, Bronson motorists run the orange and usually the red too, each driver in his or her single-occupancy vehcile looking carefully at the intersection before running the light... they are looking for cars, which might enter the intersection and damage their own car ... but pedestrians, ignore them!


For further illustration of this common event, recall the big power blackout a few years back in August. I walked home, observing vehicle to vehicle courtesy at almost every intersection where there might have been chaos. But at Bronson/Primrose, Elm/Preston, and the Otrain crossing at Bayview, which are all mainly-pedestrian signals rather than opposing-flows-of-traffic signals, motorists did not slow, did not look, they just zoomed through at full speed. Traffic planners tell me that signals are safer than flashing pedestrian crossings, but my experience is that motorists soon learn which signals are "real" (where another car might hit theirs) and which ones don't count (soft pedestrians are safe to ignore).


There is one signal that is pedestrian activated that does work instantly.The one at Primrose/Booth. But again, motorists can readily see there is no crossing car traffic, so too many are reluctant to stop, they run the orange or red so they can get 40' ahead and stop in the queue of lined up cars in the grid lock to hell (sorry, gridlock road to Gatineau).


Preston St is right now being narrowed to two traffic lanes as part of its reconstruction. Prior to 1959 the houses along the street were great family living: with front yards, huge elm and maple trees shading the street, curbside sidewalks. Then the City widened the street, removed all the greenspace, and installed a mini-sidewalk so close to the houses that for most of its length it is under the drip line of the front verandahs and in some places narrowed to less than 3' width because of verandah posts. There never was enough traffic to justify the widening. Now we are spending millions of your water-bill dollars to narrow the street and install streetscaping, a most worthwhile expenditure in my estimation. But, the major intersections such as Carling and Albert, the City is insisting on installing very generous turn radii, which means the pedestrian crossing distance [remember to cross at intersections now, its safer!] is LONGER for a street that has just been narrowed! Why the generous turn radii? Because its "safer" for a 53' tractor trailor to turn. And just where are these tractor trailers coming from? Are they removing comatose civil servants from the cubicle farms at Tunney's Pasture?


So, to conclude my rant, I do not appreciate the City's pedestrian program to force people to cross the street only at intersections. Indeed, I would love to see the actual legislation that forbids people from crossing the street. In fact, the City's policy is contrary to common sense and their own reports that indicate pedestrian hazards increase with the length of the crossing. And the longest crossings are at intersections, not midblock.

So, City, spend your money on sidewalks, crosswalks, street narrowings, and not on advertising campaigns to blame the pedestrian.

And stop the stupid practice of locating bus stops at mid-block, or 100's of feed further and further from those "safe intersections".

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NCC Ottawa Riverfront regeneration

click to enlarge and see details

The geese along the Ottawa River are pretty oblivious of cylists and pedestrians at the best of times (unless they see you with a plastic bag - then they are eager to be fed) but for several days they have been in tighter groupings on the grass and usually facing the NCC workers busy digging holes in their favorite lawn areas along the river edge. In the area downstream from Island Park, the NCC crews have been planting multiple rows of small shrubs along the shoreline. Presumably it is to protect the shoreline from erosion and add greenery, and is not some nefarious scheme to discourage the wildlife.

Claridge's Brown-Green Roof


Claridge is the developer of phase one, LeBreton Flats. They have half of the first building on Lett Street is constructed and many suites are occupied. The NCC landscaped the area to the north of the building, running up to the new Wellington Street, with paved bicycle path, benches, garbage cans, trees, shrubs, and grass. The did a significant chunk of this work in mid-winter.
Claridge is responsible for doing the landscaping immediately behind the current condo building. The top picture shows truckloads of sand put on the gravel on top of the parking garage roof. They did this in mid-May. One might be forgiven in expecting the green roof of this LEED development to be in place by now. But picture two shows the site as it is today - the only work done is to spread the sand with a tractor. No plants, no grass, no sign of the artistic landscaping consisting of artwork-like paving strips laid through the velvet lawn. And on the roof, where there are several planters so the building could boast a green roof to absorb run off and reduce urban heat effect ... well, nothing green up there yet that I can see.
What must those people who paid a premium on their units to look onto greenroofs be thinking? (Would it be printable?). And to think the developer still has units in the finished building for sale ("immediate occupancy" - with view of dustbowl at the back and Beirut-style crators at the front...) and many units in the second of the building - yet to be constructed - remain unsold. And in early July, tens of thousands of Ottawans will be swarming around the site for Bluesfest. Most developers would see this as a marvelous sales and awareness-raising opportunity.
LEED? More like a LEAD development.
But Claridge is present on the site - they appear to be preparing the hole for the second half of the building, also a 6 floor podium building in yellow brick with another 7 storey yellow brick tower on top.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fixing Urban Sprawl

Mainstream media is now reporting cheerfully on the notion of building higher density cities on top of suburban malls and other underused lands.,8599,1904187,00.html

I find the article rather frustrating, though, because it is little more than a concept story. There is not enough on who proposed the retrofit of suburbia, competing proposals, and / or the prospects of anything actually being done in this case.

Small Lot Housing is a Big Deal

I read in the Citizen the other day about West end residents complaining about single homes on 35' lots. Heck, my lot is 29' and I've got a great century single home, yard, neat garden, and tons of outdoor space and privacy. Perhaps these people should look a bit further, to find out what is really small.

There is a development proposed for the corner of Gladstone and Cambridge, where there currently is a shocking-yellow house. There will be seven townhouses, each on 12' lots. Judging by the plans and the elevations, should be quite nice neighbors.

There is a cluster of townhouses in a coop accross the street from my house, where all the houses are also on 12' lots. The ground floor consists of the the carport and entry and storage area, the first level up has the kitchen at the back and living room to the front, on the third level there are two bedrooms, one at the front and one at the back of the house. Comfy, efficient, attractive enough. The Cambridge ones might be nicer, given that their parking will be through the back lane rather than dominating the front of the streetscape.

I do believe there are additional 12' lot townhouses on Booth and on historic lower Lorne Street, built by City Living in the early 80's, but of dubious architectural merit. The white stucco Lorne ones in particular are a sore thumb on the Italianate streetscape.

I also am aware of some very narrow houses clustered on courtyards on Nepean near Centennial School, on Lisgar near Percy, and Rochester south of Anderson. But I lack the courage to go out with a tape measure and see just how wide they are, but they are unlikely to be wider than 11'.

I would love to know where in the city is the narrowest lot, and the narrowest house, and the smallest house. I exclude back yard housing/garage conversions, sheds, etc - its gotta be a real house. Not a row house, unless the subject house was built later between two existing houses. Send pictures, please, and I will post them.

Where's Luigi??

It is good to see the Preston BIA trying to make the best of the holey-mess that is Preston Street this year. The exposed sewer pipes are big enough to run the little Fiat baby cars through, like in The Italian Job movie.
Hey, now that Fiat owns Chrysler, maybe we will see those baby cars again ! I have fond memories of my first sighting of these mini-Fiats (so small they make the Smart Car look like a Hummer) in Rome in the 70's, the generally skinny male driver, the 400lb momma in the front seat, grandma all dressed in black in the back with eight kids and the baby in a white lace blanket. All in a car 36" wide. Cargo space? Maybe for one stick loaf, and two olives, nothing else.

Logging Days & Les Raftsmen on the Ottawa

click image to enlarge

These two concrete structures sit in the middle of the Ottawa River west of the Chaudiere Falls dam. They are on very small stoney islands, most likely man-made.

Years ago, I vaguely recall that there were some small houses/work shacks out in the river for logging crews to use. I can recall they had sloped roofs. I was wondering if these are the walls of the buildings (ie, they were concrete buildings) or if these are the remaining foundations, and the wooden buildings used to be on top of them. This goes back to the log-boom days when the river was used to transport logs downstream. My far-back memories include seeing big-prowed logging boats on the river, used to push or nudge logs into place. Of course, my imagination may be overactive, and these are just anchor posts for the former log booms or worse yet, hydro-electric pylons. Remember the money that used to have a picture of the log booms, back when money valued people working?

One of the modern features I like about the Chaudiere dam is the log boom made of steel pipes that are, I presume, to retard the movement of canoeists and others over the falls. Don't want people clogging up the electricity turbines, do we? But the steel booms have a secondary role as reminders of the historic wooden log booms that once were so common on the river.

I would love to find some pictures of these little work shacks when they were still there, and would like to know if others find them of interest. Perhaps the shacks could be reconstructed on the islands, historic sites, reminders of the past. If we cannot have the buildings back, perhaps a plaque along the bike paths would be appropriate.

Royal Mis-treatment

The Prince of Wales railway bridge is owned by the City of Ottawa. Built in the 1880's it should be declared a heritage structure. It sits unused just north of Bayview O-Train station.
Does the city have any maintenance plan for the bridge, or are they going to let it rust away until it collapses or requires more expensive repair? I do not know if the rust is just a surface effect to not worry about or if it is corroding away the bridge. But I do notice that other city steel structures are rust free. Just north of this bridge is the Lemieux Island bridge, pristine and rust free. While cycling around I tried to find other steel bridges that are owned by the City, but could not find a rusty one.
So, does the City have an asset maintenance program or not?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Green Roofs - Gone? The Rideau Centre

congress centre demolished

Rideau Ctr rooftop path and patio

narrower rooftop path

In this blog's series on rooftop greenspaces I've tried to illustrate that we already have a number of attractively landscaped and useful green roofs. One of the earlier roofscaping treatments was the Rideau Centre, and it's one of the largest. It's a maze of wide and narrow paths, trees, shrubs, lawns, patios. Not many benches though, probably to discourage loitering or using the park. Regular inhabitants include Rideau Centre staffers smoking or lunching, bunny rabbits, squirrels, birds, and transients. Main access points are from the doors at the Cinema level (4th floor) or staircase up on the MacKenzie King Bridge just west of the main entrance.
A portion of the landscaped roofs was over the former Congress Centre, now mostly demolished. The new building will have extensive glass roofs, which are the antithesis of green roofs: they shed all their water, fast, and do not provide useful recreational space or support a habitat.
As always, you can click on the photos to enlarge. I highly recommend doing just that on these photos : the size and vigor of these trees and shrubs is truly amazing.
I vaguely recall that whent the Rideau Centre was built, provision was made for several high rises (offices and residential) to be built above the complex, which would have vitalized the mall at all hours and given more people a proximate enjoyment of the lush rooftop.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Westboro Collection

click to enlarge site plan
The Westboro Collection is a proposed multi-building development in Westboro. The Real Cdn Superstore (aka Loblaws) is at the bottom of the page, where the title SITE is. The building at the corner of McCrae is Bushtucka. Further north, the building at the corner of Scott is Trailhead and the Westboro transit station is on the top left.
Two features of this development that I like: it removes the sidewalk back from the curb and places it along the store fronts (new and existing) running up the east side of McCrae. This should create a nicer pedestrian environment than being glued to the curbside. The other feature is that instead of single buildings or scattered redevelopment, there a several buildings being designed with the existing buildings incorporated into the plan.

West Wellington streetcar?

While walking along West Wellington Street I noticed work crews had uncovered many ties in their excavation. Presumably these were from the Ottawa Electric street railway service. I went looking online for a route map of the old Ottawa streetcars, but could not find one. If anyone knows of a map, I would love to look it up.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

DOTT Station Depth, Tie-Ins to Buildings, Etc.

There has been a lot of concern lately about the deep depth of the downtown Ottawa transit tunnel(s).

I share that unease. But I also sense that critics of anyLRT/tunnel/initiative are also seizing on this one issue as it is a safe one to pile onto.

Recall that the shallower tunnel schemes mean that the tunnel has to fit between the existing buildings of the downtown. Neither Albert nor Slater are wide. Utilities are burried under the road and sidewalk surfaces. If the station is under the street, the access points will likely have to be up through existing buildings (for eg Albert between Bank and Elgin is 100% built out already). Following Albert or Slater means the LRT line will pass south of the Rideau Street rather than on Rideau/the Market, and will in any case be very deep under the MacKenzie King Bridge (I gather it is nigh impossible to bring it up from underground to use the bridge surface, due to NAC garage, utilities, etc).
It would also be difficult to put a spacious centre-platform station into the narrow Albert right of way - and few people liked the alternative of having one tunnel under Albert and the other way under Slater.

Going deep allows for spacious platforms and stations, and the 'cross country' route, which in my mind is the best route (although I don't like the depth we end up with...).

I expect some people want shallow stations that open directly into underground concourses such as Place de Ville. But in any scenario the stations would be much much deeper, and (multiple) escalators will be required. What happens once users exit into say, Place de Ville. Please do not dream of a connected underground city. Pl de Ville has for decades refused to connect its mall to 240 Sparks, Constitution Sq or other adjacent developments. I suspect other landlords also feel the highest and best capture of revenue and benefits is to be one of the very few buildings directly connected to the DOTT. In this scenario, a shallow station will only connect to the first adjacent building.

But if the stations are very deep, then a horizontal pedestrian tunnel can be run out north/south (or any other desirable direction) from the mezzanine level of the new station, underneath the nearest building and 'up access' can be built to several building complexes, sometimes a few blocks away.

But what are the probabilties of such connections? I personally think they are very low, for these reasons: First, the downtown office building market is not a open market, there is essentially only one tennant, the Feds. What landlord wants to increase his expenses to land a price-conscious tennant who probably won't pay extra to have a direct link to transit? In Toronto, or NYC, there is competition for tennants, and a transit link is a marketing advantage, that can be paid for by increased rents. Those rules don't work in Ottawa. I hope the (Delcan / Toronto / London )consultants realize that our market is different.

Second, Toronto, NYC, and other places are much larger than Ottawa, with larger (higher) downtown buildings. Thousands of people per hour access 70 storey buildings, enough to crowd the surface sidewalks and fill up the underground concourses. In Ottawa, buildings are not very big, and I dont think we can support two "streets" - one at sidewalk level, one underground. Minneapolis is my example for that. Also, those landlords that have built concourses like Pl de Ville, 240 Sparks, L'Esplanade Laurier, 90 Sparks, are busy shrinking these malls and converting them into office space or dentist offices.

Thirdly, Ottawa has a downtown ghosttown once the civil servants flee their cubicles. There are few apartments or street amenities/bistros, etc now. It will be even more barren if half the crowds are underground. I fear the underground concourses, if connected, will render the downtown more barren and sterile than it now is. Let's not go there.

One thing to keep in mind that is of benefit in having deep tunnels is the operating economy of the trains. As the trains cross LeBreton Flats and enter the tunnel at the LeBreton Station they will continue straight under the city, the track need not descend nor ascend, because the surface level conveniently rises up to let the train continue on the level. The deep tunnel means gentle turns on both sides of the Rideau Station, for a smoother ride and less wheel wear and tear. Of course, the possible savings in running flat, with gentle turns, is then lost by the extensive and expensive access required to the stations. At the other end of the tunnel, it exits the tunnel at Campus Station with only a gentle downhill glide towards the next station at Lees.

Keep in mind too that this tunnel is the first, but may not be the last, underground transit tunnel. ( I am looking VERY long term here). A deep tunnel can be linked to other future deep tunnels, which is not possible if the tunnel is sandwiched between building foundations. Image the circle route through downtown Ottawa to downtown Gatineau using the DOTT tunnel now, but if traffic grows (on either the ottawa or gatineau routes) , maybe someday it would need its own tunnel if volumes warranted. If peak oil is real, if cities spend the next 60 years getting much much denser ... we should leave the option open to expand the tunnel system.

The choice of a deep tunnel is not a whim of the consultants and staff. It was made during the evaluation of a bunch of other, related factors, like station configuration, location, routing, train operating costs, station costs. If critics kill the deep tunnel option, are they prepared to accept the consequences that follow, or will they then pile on to criticise the next feature they don't like, like the reduced routing options or the narrow platform stations that result? Nibbled to death by fishes ....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Library Location Location Location

While heading back from City Hall via the Library the other day, I noticed how few potential sites there are for a new Library. Recall that the new site is supposed to be on land now used for a parking lot, in the area bounded by Wellington-Bronson-Gloucester-Canal. That isn't a very large area. And I suspect the library people will want a fairly sprawling building rather than trying to fit one onto a tight site, given their desire for public visibility, easy access, and desire for a multi-purpose building with meeting rooms, etc.

So as I walked I speculated on the various lots in the downtown core.

The most obvious first choice location would be the Concert Hall site behind Friday's Roast Beef House on Elgin. It has three street frontages, is only half a block from the existing library (wouldn't want to get lost), there is already a developer who expressed interest in a public-private partnership, and it wouldn't surprise me if the concert hall made another appearance, perhaps disguised as a multipurpose auditorium/hall. This would certainly satisfy a lot of interested parties. Plus it's close to the political sources of funding (city hall).

The next most likely choice would be the old Ottawa Tech High School site. The school board cannot sit on it forever, essentially vacant. The recently approved Escarpment Plan identified the site for a lot of high rise development, provided a chunk of the site is given over for parkland. It would be such nice cover for the board to sell of the site for both a library (public good!) and high rises (back pocket money). It would kick start the redevelopment of the west side of the core. It could also incorporate the old Ottawa Tech auditorium. It would tie directly into the first downtown underground transit tunnel station. It would be harder to criticize by lefties since the buyer, seller, and developer are all "the public".

Another potential site is the entire city block currently owned by the CS CoOp. The east part of the lot, by Constitution Square office building, is ideal for office development whereas the west part of the site is better for residential development. This makes the development attractive for a common podium building holding the library. It could be directly connected to the DOTT.

Other vacant lots include the lot behind Barbarella's Club, facing the Crowne Plaza; and the three tower lot facing Holt Renfrew. I think the former site is too small and rather far north for the library. The Holt site is large enough but its owners probably see a lot more money in 100% commercial development unless the city is willing to pay top dollar. There are proposed developments around Christ Church Cathedral, a prestige site but Libraries do not need sites with a view.

So the three sites I rate most likely, in order, are the Concert Hall site, the Ottawa Tech site, the CoOp site. Where else might it go? Let me know your speculations please.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bellagio Fountains on Preston Street

click to enlarge
On Monday, around 1pm, residents near the Primrose / Preston intersection were treated to a fine preview of the new fountains proposed for Preston Street. Shooting 20m into the air, the Bellagio-inspired waterworks show was a crowd pleaser.
Later, smaller fountains displays were demonstrated, but I thought they looked a bit too much like the fountains previously removed from the Sparks Street Mall. Luigi was ecstatic though, claiming through his freshly-washed face that Preston Street businesses deserved fountains on the street and not just in select basements.
I have it on authoritative rumour that Joe Contronio of Pub Italia is arranging for the fountain in front of his patio to spout regular BEER on St Anthony's Day and Bud Lime on St Patrick's Day.
I have heard no arrangements to keep minors out of the fountains.