Monday, August 31, 2009

Bore Hole Drilling at City Centre Complex

The City Centre complex is a combo office tower and industrial bays located on City Centre Avenue just east of and south of Bayview Station. Built in 1960 as part of the federal-funded railway relocation project, it was a intermodal terminal for offloading rail cars onto delivery trucks. Now it is industrial bays, with a surprisingly large number of printers located there. The largest tennant in the whole complex is my old company, Cielo Print.
All last week there were two drilling rigs working the parking lot, drilling bore holes around the perimeter of the parking lot along City Centre Avenue and up close to the building. Surely, after so many delays, the owner, Equity Management, isn't planning to resurrect the 2 million square foot office-residential already-approved plans for the site?
Or maybe they are just drilling for other purposes. Whatever, the project is unlikely to appear soon since it depends on a decided transitway LRT alignment and Otrain right of way project, both of which the City seems unable to make its mind upon. In any case, the tennants do not have demolition clauses in their leases, so it could easily take a decade to vacate the bays.
The plans made a 15 years ago had the first (smallest) tower being built in the parking lot east of the existing tower, so no demoliton was necessary. Tower 2 was to be at the south end of the parking lot along Somerset, and only it or tower 3 actually required demolishing the southmost bays in order to proceed. More problematic, is who would rent all this space with the industrial uses still scattered amongst the new towers.
Note that Phoenix DCR bought the vacant triangle of land to the north, 801 Albert Street, and is pushing the city for approval to build two 30 storey condo towers. Most motorists and passersby do not realize how very close this site is to the Ottawa River (Nepean Bay, unfortunately a lot of it was filled in while implementing Greber's plans) which means great views from the condo.
The whole beehive of interest in this area (recall earlier posts on Arnon's proposed developments at the 855 Carling end of the Otrain corridor) reminds of me of the City's dumb decision to postpone the Carling - Bayview CDP which was to implement a coherent zoning and development vision for this whole underutilized corridor. Rumours abound the CDP is getting back on track, but nothing is firm yet.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Not Ask First? We May Have Other Plans!

There's a lot of hoopla in the mainstream media these days with everybody and their brother popping up with new plans for Lansdowne Park.

The alternative plans tend to share some elements in common:

The Glebe will get a big grassy and treed park. Someone else's money will restore some older, architecturally significant buildings into marvellous wonders for the local neighborhood. Locals will wander in on bicycles and by foot to buy directly from the friendly farmer locally-grown no-downside produce. After that they can linger by Venetian canals sipping coffee from organically grown (in the shade) responsibility harvested 100 mile coffee beans, while the breeze waffles in the gentle strains of the NAC orchestra playing in the park. Tourists come (by transit, of course, or maybe electric vaporettos or bixi bikes) to wander, mouths agape, at the wonder that is the heart of The Glebe. The vital canal side sidewalks are enlived by the thousands of residents who live in the park ... except for the plans that insist no one may live in the park, unless maybe they are renters.

Gone will be the football stadium, soccer stadium, and outdoor concert venue. Where did they go? Over to Bayview, of course. Nothing attracts amateur planners like a big "empty" lot.

What happens to the plans already in place for that neighborhood? What happened to their plans for lively cafes along an historic aquaduct? Fun riverside walks? Vital mixed income condo developments? Ethnic shopping nirvana?

Gone. Replaced by a giant stadium or stadii, deafened by outdoor concerts, swarmed by hodes or car parkers (not everyone will arrive and depart by magically silent bullfrog-powered transit). For most days and evenings, the stadium areas will be vacant wideswept voids, interrupted by tractor trailer bays and large parking structures (pressed into cost-recovery use as park and ride facilities to encourage car commuters to drive to the edge of the downtown core and take free transit...).

Oh, think maybe the locals might prefer the "other plans" already developed and approved by Council and subject to subdivision agreements and into which millions of tax dollars in infrastructure development and land remediation have already been poured? Well, here, toss them a library building, now that's an intellectual+jock=happy formula. Nevermind that the City already has a new library on track, approved land purchase, and has a library board and ward councillor opposed to moving to Bayview, well they can be changed, just a triffling issue.

Too much of the Lansdowne Park dreaming seems hinged on dreams of the Glebe getting a urban area high-culture park to foster their Florida-inspired nirvana while fobbing off the noisy and troublesome stuff to another neighborhood, without bothering to ask if the recipients of all this largesse want it.

Just for the record, I am not totally opposed to the idea of a utopian-dream stadium at Bayview, but I am sure concerned about what sort of stadium the neighborhood would actually end up with.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bike Film Fest

Not as well-known as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Toronto held a bike film festival last weekend. Note that cyclists, at least for this special occasion, had on-street parking. Note too how many bikes fit into the space that would have serviced at most two cars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exercise and Drugs

While cycling home from the Parkdale Market the other day I tried to avoid both West Wellington and Scott due to the construction. This took me through the centre of Hintonburg, past a fireplace store.

I came accross one guy on a bike, the other on roller blades. Cyclist had a pager.

Roller blader: puff puff, "He wasn't there."
Cyclist: "he must be, he just called five minutes ago" (holds up pager).
Roller blader: "want me to go back?"
Cyclist: "naw, gotta another call" (cites address).
Blader skates off madly down another street.
Cyclist: checks pager, heads west at a fast clip.

Now what these two gents were doing could be totally innocent. I am sure many 30-40year old scruffy males enjoy cycling and roller blading. Or maybe they were mixing "business" with exercise or economical transportation. Whatever, it was low carbon footprint and will positively reflect on Stats Can surveys about mode of transport to employment in inner city neighborhoods.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Knock Knock, Ottawa Police

While creating the following post on double-tracked pathways in Toronto (punnily entitled: InAction), there came a knock at the front door of my house. Two Ottawa police persons were there, giving competition to the UPS men in short pants category. One officer was hanging off the end of my verandah to peer over my driveway gate, which is 7'6" high.

The cause: my elderly Cdn tire 6speed commuter bike was parked in my driveway, the front door of the house was open (although the glass aluminum door was locked). It seems there is a burglar active in our area, age 35-45, druggy-skinny, scruffy, riding an old bike. They advised I call 9-1-1 if seen, regardless of what he is doing, and the police will check it out. It looked to the police officers that they may have stumbled onto a b&e in action. No such luck for them, however, and after a social chat, they wandered off. On foot. No police car in sight.

I then realized that it must be fairly serious for the dept to have two constables on foot wandering around the neighborhood hoping to catch a burglar in action. Of course there are other benefits to having them foot patrol residential streets, but the rarity of this impressed me that the b&e's must be awfully frequent and blatant to warrant this response.

In 25 years, we have had only one b&e, which my (then) seven year old son interrupted in progress. Since then, the front window has been nailed shut and a driveway gate constructed. I maintain I live on a very safe street, and in a safe spot on said safe street. Nonetheless, resident vigilance is required (and this is not blaming the victim).

Separate Bike Path InAction

from left: gravel path, asphalt path, concrete walk

note the wide wide curbs on the bike path and jogging path

Before we spend lots of money double-tracking bike and pedestrian paths, it is important to know if double tracking is warranted and if it works where tried elsewhere. I am not opposed to double paths, but I want to know that the expenditure would be worth it, both for the paths and compared to alternative uses of the money.
Pictured are two views of the same path in Toronto. Click to enlarge. There are actually three paths here: a concrete sidewalk, about 5' wide; an asphalt path about 8' wide, and a gravel path about 3' wide. The gravel path is separated from the other paths by a boulevard of grass and sometimes trees.
We walked on the asphalt part. Cyclists rode on the asphalt part, or the gravel part. Runners ran on the asphalt or gravel. No one favoured the concrete squares. This is based on only 15 minutes observation:

1. no signage indicated which path was for which user
2. every type of user used every type of path
3. it did not reduce conflict except by diluting traffic over a broader range of path
4. no self selection of path type was apparent except everyone avoided the concrete path
I was really puzzled by the obvious expense of installing really wide curbs along the asphalt and gravel paths. The curbs, flush with the surface, were twice as wide as regular roadside curbs that corral traffic and buses, and about a foot deep. Why were they so big, and why were they there at all? Surely 2"x8"deep precast concrete curb pieces would have done just as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I came across a row of decapitated parking meters on Lisgar Street on Sunday morning. If you look closely the green arched hood of the unit has been forced up, possibly with a pry tool. The coin mechanism was then lifted out, and the coins removed. The mechanisms can be seen disgarded in the shrubs in the background.


At one time parking meters were located between the pedestrian and the curb line, which helped separate pedestrians from vehicular traffic. Now, all the meters are located on the far side of the sidewalk, forcing the pedestrians to walk on the zone considered too dangerous to locate innanimate parking meters and where snow is "stored" in the winter.


When the city switches to pay and display central parking kiosks on a post next year (?) will the larger kiosk go on the curb side, or will it be on the far side where it offers more obstruction to the pedestrian? Since our city insists on calling these obstructions "street furniture" my bet is they will get the prime space and pedestrians the left over space.

Playing with Bus Shelters

Bus shelters can quickly become background items we seldom notice. A few years ago, I noticed some advertising firms converted a whole shelter into an advert, or built a roof structure that totally modified the appearance of the shelter.

Around Ottawa, we have seen the Casino de Lac Lemy ads that convert a glass shelter into a Carribean-looking poker hut.

I enjoyed this shelter, in Toronto, with fake frost on the windows and snow on the roof. It's part of a beer campagin to complete the phrase "colder than..."

200 Lett St condo by Claridge

Claridge built the first yellow brick condo tower at 200 Lett Street in LeBreton Flats. While not my favorite building, it looks a lot better with (most) landscaping now installed.
Construction has begun on tower 2, immediately to the south of the first building. It will be joined to the first building on the 4th through 6th floors, and will have another tower (not all glass) at the east end of the final U-shaped structure.
The picture shows the bottom floor of the two floor garage. Blue drainage pipes for all the down runs have been installed, the floor gravel (crushed on site) has been laid. Next step will be scaffolding to support the garage floor on top of the poured pillars.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


It has scaly body like a cabbage. It's length can be guaged by comparing it to the pathway line width. It made it safely accross.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why the wider corner ?

SW corner of Albert/Preston.Note the red line that cuts off the sidewalk.
I really do think our city has too many roads, too wide, and despite the claims of being cycle or pedestrian friendly, too much of what gets done is car traffic friendly first and foremost.
I recall working with city staff on a project for Booth Street with the specific mandate to calm traffic and to reduce the volume of traffic on the street. The engineers/planners came back with ideas to widen the intersections, add additional lane space, etc.
Now Preston Street, after 16 years of planning and lobbying, is being rebuilt. There will be two through traffic lanes, and generally one parking lane (which alternates which side of the street it is on block by block). At the intersections, there are three lanes for traffic, as a left turn centre lane is added on each side of major intersections.
Yet at the corner of Preston and Albert, this new narrowed street alignment from four to three lanes somehow generates a WIDER intersection than before. Pedestrian death and injury hazard increases with intersection exposure. Lengthier crosswalks = more exposure >> more death. In the attached photo, a red painted line shows the excavation line for the new curbs. Pedestrians crossing the new, narrower Preston at Albert will have a longer, more dangerous crossing than before.
Surely an oversight? Ha, its deliberate. Members of the public advisory committee on the project, the BIA, and the Councillor all objected to the wider intersection. The planners insist on it. Why: to make it easier for 55' tractor trailers to make the turn from the right lane. No one can ever remember seeing a tractor trailer make this turn. What would they be carrying? Petrified silly servants from Tunney's Pasture? Beer from the Holland Cross outlet?
Under the excuse of making roads "safer" our planners continually make them flatter, wider, straighter, overlit, junior freeways in training. Of course, cars go faster, making the environment less safe, not more safe.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Young Street Infill Housing

view from Champagne S. looking west

Champagne S will extend a hundred feet more to the Qway right of way, presumably it will eliminate this parking lot

rendering of houses seen from the south

The vacant property runs along the south side of the Queensway, starting near St Mary's Church, opposite the City Living housing, and running down towards the OTrain railway cut. It has at varies times been proposed for townhouses, apartments, or Qway off ramps. At the foot of Young is a pedestrian bridge over the cut to the other segment of Young, where Young St Motors is located, and then opens onto Preston/Little Italy right at the Qway by Ciccio's Cafe.


The latest proposal is for 18 townhouses. The center group faces Young Street, with a rear yard parking access; the west group faces a small parkette created out of a closed street right of way, with access to their ground level parking spaces from the same courtyard; the east group also runs at right angles to Young, but has garage access from an extension of Champagne Ave S (which will remove the small parking lot serving the commercial building between this lot and the OTrain right of way).

All units have ground floor parking garages, most also have second car parking in their private driveway (the west units won't have the second parking space). The unit design is modern, boxy, colorful, affordable, and aimed at young, first time home buyers. The properties have no yards, but have two balconies. About 1400 sq ft.each.


Apparently the upper floor windows fall slightly below the top line of the Qway fence, but since the Qway slopes down toward Preston, they will have views of the traffic in the distance.

The site plan is quite clever, delivering three very different amenity sets to the buyers: the west have only one parking space, no driveway, but face a parkette; the middle set faces a street in a traditional street setting, and is furthest from the Qway; the east set has a private driveway to a public street rather than a courtyard.

The units will most likely be air conditioned and may have filters on the air exchangers to reduce airborne dirt and pollutants.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Naked Intersections, Naked Streets, Woonerf

The net is an amazing place. Following links on the Greater Ottawa blogsite to stories on naked intersections, I end up a dozen sites away, I can't remember how I got there, and sometimes only peripherally related to the original story that started the links. Other times the links are exciting reading, and I find myself wanting to subscribe to this or that RSS feed (astoundingly, so many sites do not make it easy to subscribe or follow them...).

Naked streets, or naked intersections refers to the latest Dutch planning fad of removing all traffic signs, signals, and painted lines, curbs, bollards, or other guidance, from an intersection or street and letting every user figure out how to use the space. The results are supposed to be marvellous cooperation, a veritable wiki, wisdom of the users.

I wonder how many of these spaces originated in pre-auto cities where pedestrians have a fighting chance against autos. Or in legal environments (like Holland) where anyone who hits a cyclist is presumed guilty). Our cities, in contrast, are built for cars and trucks, with only a slight nod to pedestrians as a necessary evil to be coraled away. We North Americans also have a real sense of entitlement, that everyone must yield to what we want, when we want it.

I notice that the Dutch examples all use cobblestones and some obstructions to direct traffic and guide the interaction. This reminds me of the first wave of Dutch traffic calming. In the late 1970's early 1980's, the woonerf was the imported rage. In my west side neighborhood of LeBreton Flats, about 600 housing units were built between Albert Street and Primrose.

The numerous off-street courtyards were sold as wonufs - mixed use spaces where children played on their trikes while moms chatted and the odd car moved slowly amongst them to the front door parking space provided for every unit. These wonufs were always shown with trees scattered through the paved areas, shrubs beds along the side, fancy brick pavings instead of asphalt. What we got, of course, was seas of asphalt because it was cheap and the housing was to be delivered at affordable prices. The trees and shrubs disappeared, ruled out by the fire dept and the needs of snowplowing. Or, in the case of City Living, once the units were occupied lawn areas were paved over to become parking, and guest spaces became reserved for residents.

Subsequently, some woonerfs appeared on much more expensive housing (still without tree islands) as courtyards paved in decorative paver patterns. But they never come close to the artist impressions when the concept was first all the rage.

When cycling in France a few years ago I was impressed by the aggressive traffic calming measures employed in new suburbs, but like Holland, these were in areas with minimal snow fall, no frost, and upscale buyers. For the ordinary joe, traffic circles are giving way to signalized intersections (or that bastard hybrid, signalized traffic circles), roads are wider, straighter, faster, and the pedestrian is being left behind.

Labelling a giant asphalt parking lot or a townhouse laneway as a woonerf did not make it one. Glueing sidewalks to suburban cresents does not a pedestrian environment make.

Contrary results ...

NCC path (foreground); City path beyond

what will the yellow line do?

There must be a law or maxim somewhere that the more planning is done, the more expensive the administration, the worse the results.

A few blogs ago I lamented the apparent mismatch between the NCC section of the bikepath from new Wellington that goes south along the aquaduct behind the new Claridge condo at 200 Lett Street in LeBreton Flats.

I still cannot believe that despite all the planners, all the coordination, the high city taxes ... that the City-spec'd path is two feet narrower than the NCC path it continues.

I remain curious as to what the yellow line will do ... jog to the centre of the city section? continue straight on leaving one lane wider than the other? Or maybe the city won't have a yellow line, because their path isn't a bike path, its a pedestrian only path?

Edit: 25 August 2009: as noted in the comments, it is an illusion that the NCC path is wider than the City path. Both measure the same with a tape measure at several points along the paths. However, there is a side path joining the NCC path just a few feet north of the switchover to City path, and the problem lies at the junction. Basically, the NCC contractor did not build a proper radius or curve on the side path and it joins the NCC path rather sloppily, leaving only the few feet from the where the paths join to the joint with the City path being too wide by about a foot. The correct solution is to trim the NCC path back for about 10' on its radius so it blends into the main path better. So, the City and NCC are coordinating their paths correctly. Whew.
-Eric Darwin

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alternatives to pathway apartheid,ii

worn dirt trail along path. Arrow indicates NCC will sod this strip to repair it.

sod laid last August, presumably to be removed and replaced agin this year as joggers wear it out

typical worn jogging path along asphalt

I am always curious when cycling the path as to why joggers run along side the path instead of on it. (Being a non-jogger, I can only believe people who claim the gravel, dips and hollows, and hard-packed dirt path is softer than the asphalt).

Eventually, they wear a complete dirt trail along the path, killing the green stuff that grows along the path in an effort to jog amongst the green stuff ... what was that song about pave paradise and put up a parking lot?

Anyhow, the NCC eventually takes umbridge at the dirt paths, and removes the compacted soil, adds new topsoil, and then sod. The pictures above show some sections along the western parkway.

But the new sod doesn't last long, the relentless pounding of Nike beats it back into dirt. Now I see paint markings on the path showing the NCC is about to dig out last year's sod and put in new sod. The cycle of life...


In other cities I have used bike paths on which the outermost 1 foot portion of asphalt was over laid with a yellow or brown softer material just for joggers. In Curacao, this material was embossed with a wood pattern, like a boardwalk. Elsewhere, it had a raised dot pattern, presumably for grip and drainage.

Maybe we don't need a separate set of pathways and the grief that comes from trying to regulate who rides or jogs on (or beside) which pathway. A softer edge strip won't affect my cycling on the central lane of the asphalt path, and might keep joggers off the greenery and in an expected location, to the better cooperation, sharing, and enjoyment of all. This won't solve all our conflicts, but it should be cheaper than doubling the paths.

Monday, August 17, 2009

bike parking

Slate magazine has an article on why free parking matters for car drivers as well as cyclists. The article is interesting, and it offers a number of links to other sites and stories related to the topic. I was especially impressed by the link to a Japanese company that makes underground automated bike storage units that actually look easy to use.

There is a quote in the article about the clutter factor of too many bikes parked on the surface. Like many cyclists, I take the nearest rack or post to lock my bike to; then as a pedestrian I get annoyed at the cycles cluttering up the sidewalks.

While it is impressive to see thousands of bikes parked outside train stations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, or Den Haague, it is also apparent how much space they take up. And how multimodal terminals can end up eating up so much land around the station we end up with an inaccessible station or unlivable urban environment.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Alternatives to pathway apartheid,i

through-cycling path interrupted by car access to parking lot

typical pedestrian-only path leaves main path

There are a number of things that can be done to existing multipurpose paths (which I normally call bike paths, because that is how I use them) to make them more user friendly.
For example, a Remic Rapids the riverside path is congested with families visiting the ducks, geese, and sculptures, and others accessing erotic pleasures in the remaining shrubbery (I no longer see the city social worker at this site handing out condoms... ).
To deal with the volume of slow moving pedestrian traffic and through-traffic cyclists, the NCC installed a bypass around the most congested part. The path begins a few metres east of the road access to the parking lot, continues around behind the lot, and rejoins the path at the west edge of the parking lot. The yellow line and signage encourage cyclists to use it.
Both path segments are of similar length, and the inland one is much less busy so cyclists can build up some velocity. But then it is lost, because when the path crosses the access road to the parking lot, the cycling path bumps over both curbs, and there is an explicit command to yield to car traffic accessing the parking lot.
If the segregated path is to achieve its potential, it must cross the parking lot access road without a curb, and vehicles must climb a raised crossing/speed hump which will self-police vehicles to yield to cyclists. Thus cyclists will be attracted to the bypass instead of being ticked off at an inferior path option.

(as an aside,in my experience the vast majority of motorists yield to cyclists at these crossing points, Ottawans are so polite ... but with tinted windows and lack of signalling, cyclists cannot depend on cars to stop, so they loose momentum, stop, then get waved on from a stopped position, making the stop mostly for nothing...)

A similar crossing is possible at New Orchard, where once again the parking lot access road is inexplicably given the right of way over the through traffic on the cycle path. Unlike the Westboro Beach access road which is short, the New Orchard and Remic access roads have several car lengths between the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway and the bike path, so there is not excuse for the cars not to be able to slow down and yield the right of way. A good steep bump over the bike path would make the intersection self policing.

Double your bike paths ....

Double your pleasure, double your fun, double your bike paths ...

Our society is prone to leap to solutions before clearly identifying problems or examining alternatives. Recent blogs on safe injection sites, green roofs, intensification ... all have elements to me of being solutions searching for a problem.

Before we go off parallelling our bike paths with yet more asphalt, we should examine the success of those segments of paths that are already segregated. Pathway apartheid may or may not work.

For many years, the bike path along the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway was on the inland side of the freeway from a point near Island Park all the way up to New Orchard Avenue. The riverside path was reserved for pedestrians. Turns were sharper, there were even the odd stairs. Cylists still preferred the waterside route, ignoring the no bike signs. At Westboro Beach, there was even no paved path over the sands.

Then, the NCC widened the river side paths, and fixed the geometry to better suit cycling (gentler grades, gentler curvers, long sight lines). As part of this, they built a number of new segments suitable for cycling but left the pedestrian-only paths in place. The best example of this is from Island Park to almost New Orchard where the path is almost completely double-tracked, ie there is a bike path and a pedestrian path.

I still see cyclists on the pedestrian paths, and pedestrians (espcially joggers) not using the pedestrian only paths. We should determine why users use which path they do, and not install acres more asphalt and then wonder if we did right.

What Blight is This?

I had occasion to cycle along the canal several times this weekend, from Dows Lake to the NAC end, using the NCC bike paths.

I was really struck by how many trees have dried up, brown, crunchy leaves. First noticed on the south side of the canal, from Bronson to east of Bank, whole swaths of tree branches, entire sides of trees, exhibit dried branches. I presume it is not from lack of water.

Then some became apparent on the north side of the canal too, along the Golden Triangle area. Once looking, they were frequent. Usually on mature trees.

This week, I cut down one of my back yard peonies right to the ground, and threw out the leaves and stems which had, seemingly overnight, gone spotted and brown. A virus, a friend and better gardener told me, put them in your regular garbage and not leaf collection or composting.

Anyone know what blight this is, and whether the trees and shrubs will come back next year or are permanently dead?

Is Smart Growth Smart?

Most anyone reading this blog will be aware of "smart growth", intensification, infill, the Portland nirvana example, the glorious Vancouver leadership, and other urban design trends.

A number of posts back, I questioned whether the assumptions of high density redevelopment in the existing inner city areas made sense. Do people moving from suburbs to infills exhibit the behaviour of the inner city population or do they bring with them their suburban lifestyle and consumption patterns? It strikes me that there is an element of geographic determinism going on here: if the inner city population exhibits certain characteristics now, moving people who have very different socio-economic characteristics into the same area will cause those people to behave the same way as the existing urban population. I would like proof of that. And it would not be difficult to determine if its true.

Now, in the blog, in an article headed "ducks", I see quoted Sir Peter Hall, who before he was a Sir, wrote some of the geography textbooks we used at Carleton back in the 1970's:

The compact city cut carbon emissions by just 1 percent; but there were higher economic costs in outer areas where people still want to live, and where demand was greatest. Also, any social aspects of the compact city were to some extent undermined by crowding, exposure to noise and the crush on facilities.

American style sprawl by contrast raised energy use and CO2 emissions by almost 2 percent, but engendered lower house prices, less crowding and less road congestion. (Hall, Sir Peter ‘Planners may be wasting their time’, Regeneration and Renewal, 6 July, 2009)

(The article in the blog talks about how the leading political classes have larger duck houses - paid for by taxpayers - than citizens have regular houses. Typically, the proponents of more dense cities and smaller housing want it for others, but not themselves. )

I strongly feel inquiring minds must always challenge received wisdom and put it to the test.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gladstone Ave. north side boulevard

While I think it would have been better to have planted trees that will have an eventual mature size that is significant, this streetscaping is still attractive. The city planted columnar/fastigate oaks and maples along the boulevard on the north side of the street. The stems look rather beat up, but the trees are growing.
More significantly, the boulevard is on what used to be a vehicular lane. Several years ago the City tore up the asphalt and narrowed the road. The sky has not subsquently fallen, irredemably terrible traffic chaos has not been the result. A pleasant streetscape has appeared.
We need a lot more of this type of asphalt removal and greenscaping.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Somerset-Percy Green Roof

This is the back room roof of a house that faces Somerset St, as seen from Percy street. I love the green roof plantings, the ecological clothes dryer, the cozy spot tucked away from the commercial frontages.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Safe Injection Site (revised*)

Some of the Toronto and Ottawa papers have had stories about a proposed safe injection site. I was part of a focus group for that study. I was "representing" neighborhood citizens from the Dalhousie catchment area.

Most people who watch the news or read about current affairs will be familair with the distressful situation in Vancouver's downtown east side (DTE). There, hundreds if not thousands of drug addicts congreate and shoot up in public, buying the drugs openly. It is a miserable scenario. As part of government actions concerning this (I say concerning, because helping and other words are value laden) they set up a public safe injection site, a shooting gallery where addicts bring in their illegally bought illegal drugs and inject them under supervision. The presence of a nurse and social worker makes it "safe" or "harm reduction". About 5% of the addicts in the DTE use the facility.

There have been numerous reports and commentaries on the safe injection site in Vancouver. It doesn't take long on the net to discover that for every study there is a critic. I was alarmed to discover that 22/25 of the studies were done by the same two authors who are vocal proponents of the site. Like too many other issues in our society, the issue has become polarized and militants seem to rule the waves.

There is an ongoing study in Ontario to see if safe injection sites would be useful in Toronto and Ottawa. Focus groups were set up drawing from Hintonburg & Dalhousie areas, and the Market& Sandy Hill areas, as these areas are the likely home for any single site.

I do not think that there is an "open" or public shooting-up problem in either neighborhood, which was supported by data showing fewer and fewer pipes and needles being found. (Soft drugs is another matter, it seems every second house generates clouds of cannibis smoke, perhaps we should examine the second hand smoke effects of that !).

From several hours of discussion, guided by questions from the facilitators, I learned about the nature of the problem, that it is largely "indoors" in our neighborhood, that DTE solutions are not transferrable to here as our problem is very different. Difficulties with addicts buying their goods on street near the injection centre is apparently a real problem, with the police having to leave a 'safe zone' around the centre for drug deals, and I wondered if this would make a track or circle route of dealers driving the neighborhood to sell their goods as users make up to 5 buys a day, similar to the prostitution track that used to exist in the Market.

Addicts get their money from a variety of sources, including prostitution and petty theft, both of which are issues in this area. Would a harm reduction centre for addicts merely ensure we never get another grocery store? (Loeb on Booth closed in part because it had the highest shrinkage rate of any store in their system).

I also learned that there are other types of harm reduction sites, such as a "safe drinking site", eg in Toronto a site that dispenses a glass of wine every 90 minutes to alcoholics was kept open by management during the recent strike there.

There are a number of hard drug harm reduction / safe injection sites in the world. Some are comparable to Vancouver, some are much lower key and very small. While a number of cities have them, a number have had them and subsequently closed them in favour of other drug strategies.

I wonder whether a site "enabled" drug use; whether money was better spent on prevention (where is a copenhagen consensus type of ranking of drug measures?), impact on the image of a neighborhood (neither area needs more outflight of families to Barrhaven) and thus its longer term stability and continued presence of schools.

I ask myself whether a safe site would fly in more affluent neighborhoods or if it stigmatizes certain inner city neighborhoods. I am also acutely aware that our neighborhoods did not have the same problems as the Market and Sandy Hill.

I did not come to any one answer, because there is no one answer. This neighborhood is not at all like the DTE, and may need its own measures. I think the study should examine the idea of mini-safe-sites, perhaps integrated into existing community health centres, or even high schools or in the downtown office district. I am concerned about harm reduction to our neighborhoods collectively and its addicted inhabitants, and uncertain about the moral issues related to 'enabling'.

*this blog posting has been revised to make it read that these are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others participating in the focus group, in accordance with the non-disclosure agreement terms of the focus group.

(readers may wish to look back a few days to my blogs about the impact of homeless shelters on adjacent streets. They were prompted by my Insite experience.)

855 Carling, part ii

The Ottawa Civic Hospital Community Assoc. held a meeting on Tuesday evening. On the agenda was the 855 Carling Ave project proposed by Arnon Developments. They already own the two red brick office towers on Carling between Preston and Rochester (a site I vaguely recall might already have planning approval for a third tower?)
From their planning documents I had concluded in my post a few days ago that this was a rezoning well in advance of any project, but at the meeting it became clear that this project might proceed in the near future, and my interpretation was wrong. The new building will be close to the lot line on the Carling side, but the lot line is set considerably back from the existing sidewalk, so the new building will be set back about the same distance as the existing CMPA towers to the west. If Carling is widened, perhaps in conjunction with a median LRT transit line, the hardscaping might get closer to the building, but until then it will be as suburban looking as the CMPA towers, which is a shame.
The proponent noted that the 800 car parking garage would operate for one office shift a day, whereas the existing 300 car lot on the site today operates for 3 civic hospital shifts (there is a shuttle bus and waiting shelters) so the traffic impact of the new building will be similar to what is there now. The new garage would be four floors deep, which is considerably deeper than the adjacent OTrain cut. Apparently there are talks with the City about extending the building excavation right out to the OTrain cut.
The rezoning and increased FSI for this site should not be considered in isolation. There is a Community Development Plan (CDP) neighborhood planning study for the redevelopment of the Carling to Bayview corridor (remaining old stuff from the railway era needs to be replaced with developments meeting current needs and the transit corridor opportunity) but the CDP was stalled when the north south LRT project was cancelled about 2 years ago. It is apparently getting going again (3 cheers ! something right from City hall !) and is the proper place to consider the height and FSI for this site, in conjunction with the other sites along the LRT
I am very concerned with the possibilities for squandering the transit oriented development opportunities presented at this site. The developer has a main entrance on the east side, adjacent the station, and he indicated he was amenable to connecting it directly to the station. Such a connection needs to be all season, weatherproof, and perhaps climate controlled to compete with the 800 car parking garage in this building alone.
But further planning is needed to access the CMPA buildings and Merion Square condos and the residential neighborhood to the OTrain/LRT to make it as convenient as possible. This might mean through-building access, or a link to Hickory Street pedestrian overpass over the cut. It is rare enough to find a lot of vacant land, ready for development in the next decade, right on top of a major transit station, and possibly the junction of two transit lines (the north-south and Carling LRT).
Keep in mind also the land south of Carling, currently a grass field, is NOT NCC parkland nor part of the experimental farm, but is zoned for high-density mixed-use development. The OTrain and LRT station needs to be connected to this site too, and that does not mean a crosswalk with push-button placebo, it means a proper underpass from the station to the south side, also accomodating the bike path.
The southmost anchor for development of that site is already there, but under threat, as the Feds are proposing to demolish the Sir John Carling building whereas it should be repurposed, perhaps as a condo.
The 855 Carling developer is asking for increased FSI. The City should not grant it without some price. In the earlier CDP process, I advocated for covering part of the OTrain cut near Beech Street to expand Larouche Park. This neighborhood is a park desert. This is a marvelous opportunity to double-deck the narrow OTrain corridor so we get both transit-oriented development and neighborhood improvement.

Aligators amongst wildlife in Ottawa River ...

Mother Goose better watch her feet in the Ottawa River !

How Wide is a Bike Path ?

in May, NCC path is laid, looking south from Wellington

in August, Claridge lays path behind 200 Lett St condo

Now Claridge may not be the fastest developer in town, but he is finally implementing the landscaping around the 200 Lett Street yellow-brick condo tower on LeBreton Flats. The path behind the condo, along the tailrace/aquaduct, is being laid and connected to the NCC path. The path is laid to City of Ottawa standards, as spec'd to Claridge in the subdivision agreement.

Look at the not-yet-paved gravel path in picture two, which extends the NCC path. Notice that the new path is at least one foot, maybe two feet, narrower than the NCC path. Yup, the NCC apparently builds its paths to a more generous standard than the City, and the two bodies can't quite coordinate when they build different sections of the same path...

Unless ... the NCC built a multipurpose path, which most of us (in)correctly call bike paths, and the city is planning a pedestrian only path ... it wouldn't surprise me if the two layers of government are that far out of sync ... after all, when the City built the path along the north side of Albert from Bronson to Bayview, they paved it a foot or so narrower than their 'official' bike/multipurpose paths, so they won't paint a yellow line down the middle, and have threatened to put "walk your bike" signs on the path. All this, even when they were advised by a number of parties even before the gravel roadbed was put down, that it was too narrow, but apparently four months notice before the asphalt was too late for the city to fix it, so cyclists and pedestrians are stuck with a nebulous "what is it" path that looks like a bike path but maybe is and maybe isn't... when the asphalt goes down on the path along the tailrace, I'll measure it and the NCC path and compare.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

St Francis Park

new wall, 18" high

existing wall, 6-8' ft, depending on location and which side of the wall

wall removed, south side of park, along St Frances St.
St Francois school in back right

There is a large green park behind St Frances church, the Hintonburg community centre, and St Francois school. Formerly religious grounds, the property is enclosed on the east and south by stone walls. About 25 years ago, when the City acquired the lands, window slots were cut into the walls and a few sections lowered to permit oversight into the park from Fairmont and St Frances avenues.

A year or two ago, the wall on the south side was deemed unsafe, due to some bowing in the wall. It was taken down and rebuilt. Stonemasonry at this scale does not come cheap.

Now, the newly rebuilt wall has been torn down again, is being topped off at curb height, about 18" above the grass. I am told it is because some people thought the park unsafe.

I was surprised at this, my son went to St Francois for 9 years - daycare, pre-mat, mat, gr1-6. Only once did I see drug activity taking place in the park, right behind the Hintonburg centre. I suspect the park is safer today, as a group of stacked townhouses was just completed on the west side of the park, overlooking the grounds.

At a recent meeting on drug use in the neighborhood, Hintonburg reps were unable to identify any locations where hard drugs were openly/publically being taken, so I guess the park is not a notorious drug den of iniquity.

Note that as part of the park renovations, the existing play structure will be relocated/replaced about 30m south of its current site, for the benefit of the new townhouses.

This turn of events at St Frances park made me wonder about the proposed Dominican Gardens park off Empress. The Dalhousie Community Assoc and concerned neighbours are trying to get the City to aquire the stone walled treed garden on the south side of the Domican College and St Jean Baptiste church. A part of its charm is its seclusion, and the heavy stone walls, about 7' high, border both the east and west sides of the gardens. Will they come tumbling down if the City does acquire the land?

Pooley's Bridge Re-opens

view from temporary path towards north end of Pooley's Bridge

view north along the temp path towards Wellington

Pooley's bridge is an historic stone arch bridge over the aquaduct/tailrace at the foot of Bronson hill. It permits pedestrians and cyclists direct access from the downtown via Commissioner St (that part of "Bronson" that extends downhill north of Albert) to LeBreton Flats. It was renovated and restored a few years ago, for pedestrian and cyclist traffic only, but then was promptly closed when Fleet Street was closed to public access during construction of residences on LeBreton Flats.
I have been part of the chorus of people nagging the city and NCC to reopen the bridge, especially since construction of housing by Claridge seems to be going so slowly. My last kick at the cat was to nag the NCC and City in preparation for Bluesfest, since it made a direct and easy access to the site from the downtown.
Its too late for Bluesfest, but today I discovered that the extension of the NCC pathway (subject of a number of previous posts ) on the north side of the aquaduct directly behind the new condo tower, is nearing completion. The gravel bed is down, and stakes mark the final asphalt grade. To my surprise, the path does not end at the mid point behind the building, but suddenly narrows to a 6' path that skirts the construction fences and opens to the north end of Pooley's bridge, which is once again open for traffic.
Within a few days, it should be paved, and this valuable link will be open again. Note that cyclists and walkers will not directly access Fleet St from the north end of the bridge, but will skirt around the yellow condo at 200 Lett St and be delivered either to Lett St a few meters north of Fleet, or directly to new Wellington Street.

Energy saving seminar

On Wed. Sept 16th there will be a presentation on ways for householders and ordinary people to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. The presentation will be held at the Montgomery Legion hall.
For more info:

Lonely Luigi

Luigi is the mascot/image for Preston Street. His image on signs reminds people that the restaurants and businesses are still open. I found this Luigi sitting on a doorstep on Preston Street near Primrose.
During Bluesfest and the following classical music nights, I noticed people taking pictures of themselves with Luigi signs at the corner of Preston-Albert. Weird, I thought. But then there is the picture above showing a passerby loving Luigi. Maybe the BIA has something here ....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chinatown Arch Unveiled

The Ottawa Chinatown Gateway project aims to construct a Chinese archway over Somerset Street at Cambridge, in the heart of the Asian district, just west of Bronson. See photoshop picture at the top.
There are already Chinatown archways in many North American cities, including one just opened in Toronto. However, Ottawa's will be the only one with status of a Royal Archway, suitable for an Emperor to pass under. Ottawa is twinned with Beijing, which has supplied the design of the archway and the materials.
Gathered together this morning to announce the construction and design were politicians (Mayor OBrien, Diane Holmes, Royal Galipeau, John Baird, Yasir Naqvi) all smiling at one another and shaking hands, the Ambassador of China, and others. The Feds and the Prov each gave $125,000 for the project, the City gave no money, but donated a parking space on each side of Somerset St for the bulb outs where the piers will be located (surely the foregone revenue from those meters will be significant...). There will be a ground breaking ceremony in October, when the politicians will gather in pleasant summit once again.
Larry OBrien was the only speaker to utter a few words in Chinese.
The microphone did not work well, which served to clearly identify the professional politicians from the ordinary folk: even without a microphone, you could hear the politicians loud and clear through their big smiles. Even louder were our democratic representatives when pounding the ceremonial chinese drum supplied for the event in the low-cielinged downstairs room at the Yangtze.

Gulliver and the Toilet Paper

On Sunday evening I saw this hilarious image on Preston Street, a few feet south of the Qway overpass. The equipment is a giant excavator with a heavy ram attached to it. It was used to puncture the pavement of Preston where it goes under the Qway. The road surface was then pushed away, allowing a regular shovel to fit under the underpass to dig the trench for the new sewer and utilities.
Some one draped the machine in toilet paper, perhaps from the yellow structure in the background. Delightful contrast of man and machine, double ply strength, etc.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Eyesore for sale

I am all in favour of mixed use neighborhoods. The success of mixed use depends on compatible uses and neighborly spirit. Unfortunately, our neighborhood has several examples of ill-fitting or incompatible land uses.

In the past, I have high lighted the blight of Cousin Eddy's and Chado's body shops on Booth Street. As a result of complaints by myself and other members of the Dalhousie Community Assoc the clutter of signage was reduced, garbage, old tires etc was picked up. However, the mysteriously absent trees from the side boulevard remain unreplaced.

A blog reader (Thank you !) has alerted me to the fact that these properties are for sale for a redvelopment site. . Perhaps the construction (now begun) of the Z6 condo will encourage other developers to look closer at Booth St. A nice infill here could totally rejuvenate the streetscape.

A a slightly pessimistic note, the real estate listing is from January, so buyers dont appear to have been beating down the doors.

The Little Garden That Could

The City carved a public parking lot out of the south end of the Adult (formerly Commerce) High School playing fields a year or two ago. Between the lot and Preston is a boulevard of green grass, a fence, and a strip of perennials.
I have called the city's engineers on this site more than once, to get the contractors to remove the heavy equipment and supplies they sometimes dump on top of this garden. All the contractor site guys I talk to on Preston are really nice ... so why do they think no one will notice when they drop a two ton piece of pipe right on top of the flower bed?
This picture, however, is not about complaining, its about the persistence of the little garden strip in Little Italy despite the massive constructions projects going on around it. Well done little garden !

Sunday, August 9, 2009

855 Carling Avenue

855 Carling is a parking lot bounded by the OTrain Carling Station, Champagne Avenue S, and Carling Avenue. Immediately west of the site is the CMPA office buildings and beyond that is the Merion Square townhouse and two apartment towers being built by Domicile. The site is currently used as a park and ride lot for the Civic Hospital. The lot is owned by Arnon Developments, which tore down Campbell Steel and related industrial works on the site a number of years ago. The photo above is taken from Carling Ave near the Otrain Station, looking northwest.
The planning document excerpt shows the site viewed from further north and east of the site, with Carling Avenue running left-right across the centre of the picture and the OTrain running top to bottom.
The Arnon proposal is seeking not so much to build two office towers, the tallest one 15 floors, as to get the City to agree to the size of building, floor area, and location. If approved, Arnon will then consider whether to build an office, residential, or mixed office-residental building(s), and when, if ever to build them. In short, they feel the time is right to lock in an upzoning of the site.
Something similar was done for the theoretical condo tower on Preston at Sydney. Once rezoned, the proponent went away, there is no sign of any intention to build the condo, the owners wanted to strike while the City is readily approving upzoning. Sadly, Arnon is proposing upzoning for its theoretical building based on the proposed height of the unbuilt theoretical building on Preston. Only Domicile is actually building anything in the area, although Charlesfort and other developers are knocking on doors (metaphorically and physcially) throughout the area. The recent site cleanup of the old Esso at the corner of Carling and Preston has readied that lot for redevelopment.
I cannot blame the developers for doing what they want to do. I do regret that the City has dropped the ball, letting the Carling-Bayview Community Development Plan get stalled. This CDP was well on its way to completion when the city put it on hold, because the N-S LRT line was postponed. I, and members of the Dalhousie Community Assoc (representing the neighborhood immediately to the east) have been nagging the City to get the plan restarted, precisely so that all the properties ripe for rezoning along the OTrain Corridor could be planned in a coherent manner. The Arnon proposal is not necessarily at odds with what the CDP proposed, but it misses several opportunities, such as a direct link to the OTrain, possibly covering the Otrain cut to increase the lot green area, connecting bike and pedestrian networks, etc. The City should postpone the rezoning application until the Carling-Bayview CDP is completed (which should be quite quick that much of it was already done).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

WEP Green Roof

The World Exchange Plaza has some delightful garden space. It is hard to believe this attractive patch of green is downtown at Queen/Metcalfe, and is on the roof of the parking garage, and available for anyone to enjoy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Grass is Greener ....

We have all heard the "jokes" about a new employee at the civil service/union shop working diligently and being reprimanded by the existing employees to "not work so fast".


Those stories came to mind this week while cyling past Britannia Park. There was a young male driving a large lawn mower, obviously a "summer student". He was clearly having fun driving the mower, he was moving very fast. I stopped to see if he could actually mow the lawn at that speed, and it looked fine. A few hundred yards further east, an older man was driving another mower. S l o w l y. The buck had been given the huge lawn area to mow, the older hand had taken a much smaller field.


Some distance east, I came accross the field in the photo. It is a soccer field north of the school at Lincoln Heights (which is not a heights at all, it is a hollow, or vale, but I guess calling it the slopes of mud lake swamp wouldn't encourage house sales). The soccer field was mowed but I cannot imagine any soccer team using it without having to first pick up all the matted lumps of grass thickly littering the field.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


This high metal fence surrounds the brownfields development just east of the Rideau Centre, near Daly. It is immediately striking to the passer by, because of its high height. My first thought was its like prison fence. But it is to keep people out, not in. Accross the street is the Mission. The curbsides there are held down by persons sitting on the edge of the road, edge planters, edge of street closures.


It is not a pretty sight. Nor a vibrant streetscape.

What a difference a block makes ... and who your neighbors are

midway between Cumberland and King Edward

east of Cumberland

west of Cumberland

These three pictures are taken on the same street in the Market, a few hundred feet apart. The red brick condo is a full block west of the Shepherds of Good Hope. It is a renovated building, open green lawn, no fence.

The gray building is gutted, windowless, abandonned. It is one half block east of the red brick condo in the other picture, on the other side of Cumberland cross street. The street is just as busy ... it's still far enough from King Edward to be quiet living space, but it has been a blot on the streetscape for a long time.


The difference is that the unrenovated building is on the same block as the Shepherds. That the shelter has a deleterious effect on its neighbours is obvious to anyone using the street. The houses have tall, functional metal fences in front of them, some with locked gates. Verandahs and porches are modified to be unwelcoming. To walk or cycle on the street is unwelcoming if not scary, in daylight. I would not venture there at night.


Yet it seems to be only the street the Shepherds is on that is impacted, ie the block between King Edward and Cumberland. The adjacent blocks north, south, and west appear unaffected. I talked to friends living in the Market, active in community affairs, and they confirm they go out of their way to avoid the blocks around the Shepherds. I gather the Sally Ann shelter has a negative impact on the neighborhood further south.


The "homeless" need shelters or housing. Neighborhoods do not need blight. How to reconcile the two? First step might be to measure the impact zone around the shelters, to quantify the effect. We cannot fix what we don't measure.


No other neighborhood is going to "volunteer" to take a shelter into its area, not when the impact is so obvious. It looks like the Market is stuck with them, and solutions must be found there. Unless the shelters expand by stealth, buying up a smaller building somewhere, installing a "few" clients, then expanding once its foot is in the door... Or, a new approach can be tried, with closely supervised living accomodation integrated into a neighborhood. That approach works in NYC, but a key there is strict supervision and high expectations from the tennants, which I doubt our ever-so-tolerant social agencies are able to provide.


My neighborhood had a shelter for a few years, the "homes for the homeless" project in the Dewar/Hasenack era. A cluster of city-owned properties were set up on Preston Street. The homeless did not like being so far from the "action" and the City ended up providing a daily taxi service to move them from the market to Preston each night. Blue Line loved it. Media coverage of the project was negative, and the project thankfully died when the houses were demolished to build the No 2 Fire station.

Historical signage

Just a few blocks east of the unveiled Cambridge corner store signs, is a house that always gives me pleasure to walk past. It is at the corner of Lisgar and Bay. Note the bricked up store windows, the too-small replacement window, the missing corner door, the old painted signage on the brickwork.
Someday I am sure someone will "improve" this house with a coat of paint or (shudder) aluminum siding. And then the story it tells will be lost. This house is like a friend on the street, a very old friend, showing what life used to be like when the grocery store was always a block away and never called a "super" market. While I will keep my Loblaws, I would like to keep this old friend too.