Friday, January 29, 2010

Hoarding Sidewalk Space

From time to time we all come across ideas that just seem so right, we wonder why no one came up with it before.

Consider the ugly plywood and 2x4 fences or construction sheds put over sidewalks while a building is being constructed or renovated. Can you picture the ones recently used in downtown Ottawa? Minto Place? The new Export Canada building?

Now consider these:

This incredibly elegant and yes, beautiful sidewalk covering supports scaffolding and keeps the sidewalk open and accessible. Merchants in the adjacent building have full visibility.

How much more do you think a city would be willing to pay for this sort of sidewalk hoarding instead of plywood sheds? According to my source blog, this design actually costs LESS than plywood and 2x4s.

If true, this strikes me as a marvellous business opportunity for someone to acquire some of this scaffolding system and rent it out for construction sites. Mind, we haven't yet met with the City burueacracy that might impose its own conditions, like solid 3' high walls, etc.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One two three ... Redlight !

New red light cameras have been installed on Albert a few metres west of Booth Street, presumably to catch east bound (downtown bound) traffic on Albert that runs the red light at Booth.

Another camera has been installed at Albert and Commissioner (the going uphill part of Bronson, so as to speak) between Albert and Slater. I guess it will catch cars running the red light as they accelerate to go up the steep part of Bronson Hill south of Slater ... or turning left across Bronson to get onto Slater.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Green Bin tale

My neighbors are observant. Someone has noticed my green wheelie bin was not out at the curb yet. I felt obliged to divert the implied criticism by noting that my backyard composter bin is not yet full. Once it is, or we get more snowfalls than I wish to shovel, I will use the green bin.

One of the lesser heralded features of the new city composting system is the smart beige carrying bin for the kitchen counter. I used to use a little blue pail that once held the kid's sidewalk chalk. But this new bin is larger, has a lid, and I fill it up daily (being home for 3 meals a day does that...).

I don't bother with a liner. Maybe a piece of paper towel at the bottom or quarter sheet of the daily newspaper goes in first. After that it's peels and paper towels galore. I do spray it with veggie cooking spray first, everything then slides out. I have also run it through the dishwasher twice, it comes out like new, but the label looks like it won't last too much longer if Ms Kenmore keeps it up.

On the other hand, the folks at Laidlaw CoOp are participating and keeping the truck busy.

My father put his bin out for the first time last Friday. When the truck lifting mechanism put it down, it did so with much too much force, smashing the bin from top to bottom. Within half an hour, a city truck swung by and swapped his broken bin for a new one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

S'no banking fun

One of the less joyous parts of winter is climbing through icy snowbanks on tiny rutted paths. Would you believe this is the main pedestrian entrance from the street to a bank?

At this squeeze point, the snow-bound bike rack forms a minor handhold function. And I thought banks were holding my hand, offering me an easy chair ...

This is the front of the CIBC at Preston & Carling. Their snow plow service plows the front door walk by pushing the snow from the parking lot across the front into pedestrian-blocking heaps at the Preston and Carling public sidewalks. I guess they figure everyone comes by car ...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Laying the foundations for Z6 Condo on Booth St

Foundation forming boards still in racks as delivered into the hole by crane. Note the footings are in place around the perimeter, and part of the back concrete wall forms and re-bars have been put in place.

west side

The building will have a round corner facing the Balsam/Booth intersection.

The square elevator base has been poured, with rebar in place to support the elevator shaft walls.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Keep your spirits up ...

I didn't know they were at risk of closing ...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Where cyclists cross ...

Multipurpose path, aka a bike path, crosses a parking lot entrance. This is a crossing, not an intersection. Notice no painted crosswalk for the pedestrian users, as the crossing is not at an intersection. If at an intersection, there would be a painted crosswalk for peds, and cyclists are supposed to dismount and walk their bike across the road...

I like off-road cycling facilities like the NCC bike paths. I like painted bike lanes too. I think I would like physically segregated bike lanes along roads, too, but Ottawa has too few to experience.

One of the things I like about the NCC paths is they are set back from roads for the most part, and have grades and turns suited for cyclists rather than motorists. I like the set back way the Ottawa River path crosses River Street (road to the Lemieux Island filtration plant), then the Kitchissippi lookout road, then the Westboro Beach road, then the road to Britannia Beach.  What is in common for all of these crossings is that they are set well back from the nearest intersection. Cyclists and motorists can see each other well before they cross; there are no surprises from fast-turning-then-accelerating vehicles at intersections that whip around the corner then come face to face with a soon-to- be-roadkill cyclist or biped. It has been my experience that most motorists are polite and alert for cyclists at these crossings.

I recently wrote to the NCC suggesting that at least some of these bike-road crossings should be rebuilt a bit so the cycle path has the right of way over the entrance to a parking lot, for eg, the bike path could be raised on a speed bump that forces vehicles to slow to a crawl, and perhaps appropriate signage added.

The NCC response: Giving cyclist and pathway users priority over motorists is a new concept that needs to be closely studied, taking into consideration various factors, in order to ensure the safety of all pathway users. We understand the concept you are proposing of promoting the development of barrier-free utilitarian cycling facilities. We will re-examine the pathway crossings configuration with roadways at future rehabilitation projects for each pathway. That is a good answer, and is not a "no".

In contrast, correspondence with the city regarding how cycling paths cross roads, elicited this: There is even greater potential for dangerous situations where cyclists use these midblock crossings as they move faster and make it more difficult for a motorist to see them approaching. Both the city and NCC tend to be removing midblock crossings (by rerouting facilities) for the above reasons.

I remain puzzled at how rerouting a cycling path from a crossing a hundred meters from an intersection to being located at the intersection improves anything. When at an intersection, the cyclist is supposed to dismount and walk his or her bike across the offending parking lot entrance or roadway since cyclists cannot (legally) ride on a crosswalk. This rule is likely to be flouted. The turning vehicles are less likely, not more likely, to see cyclists.* And don't 70% of cycling collisions occur at intersections? That strikes me as a good reason to avoid them.

I prefer the NCC response to the City's.

*all right, I confess to being a criminally reckless parent. I always taught my kids to do as I do: cross mid-block rather than at intersections. There is usually fewer lanes of traffic, and it's coming from predictable directions at predictable speeds. (The exception to this is downtown core crossing, where everywhere is too dangerous). I used to be a rare loony with this attitude, but find more and more people expressing the same thought. Conventional traffic planning wisdom is all in favour of cars and penalizes those idiots who ride or walk. Rerouting cycle paths to meet roads only at intersections is more car-centric thinking.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bixi Bike 2010

Readers may recall an earlier post about Ottawa-Gatineau having 50 bixi-bike stations in 2010.

Recall that 4 stations were set up with a joint program of the City of Ottawa and Gatineau, coordinated and operated (and paid for?) by the NCC. BixiBike are self-service bike rental racks that are installed around the city for people to grab a bike and go (and hopefully return the bikes). They are all the fad in major cities worldwide.

In 2009, the four stations generated 5361 trips; averaging 50-60 trips per day during the short operating season.

The 2010 plan is for a capital expenditure (investment) of $3 to 4 million; and an operating budget of $1.25 to 1.7million.

Anticipated rental revenue is $2.2 to $2.5million from 50 stations and a rental pool of 500 bikes. Hopefully the trial program in 2009 worked out some of the kinks. A lot of progress had to be made by the earliest innovators in these schemes to improve the rack security and ensure the bikes are returned or not stolen.

Other complicated factors include ensuring the stations are conveniently located, at the right distance apart (if your station is full/empty, you gotta go to another station), and that it is practical to cycle between the stations without seeming to encourage cyclists on the most dangerous roads.

Presumably local business BIAs such as WestWellie, Chinatown, and Preston BIA have been lobbying for bixibike stations in their business districts.

Assuming 2.5million revenue from 500 bikes, that is $5000 in revenue per bike for a system that has an operating cost of, say, 1.5million, or $3000 per bike per season. It would be nice to see one form of public transit once again turning a profit.

All numbers from informal notes taken by others at the Roads, Cycling Advisory Committee meeting. Use with caution.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Boxing Day

Familiar pale green utility boxes like this occupy many city boulevards. This one belongs to Rogers. Note the clever use of all-canadian duct tape to hold the box together.

Inside the box appear to car-like batteries. Lead? Acid? Looks perfectly safe to me.

The box in question is on the left, in the snow. The sidewalk squeezes between the post and the box because ... the city widened the road in the early 1980s but declined to relocate the utility pole. The sidewalk used to run unobstructed on the right side of the pole. The resultant squeeze play pinches the pedestrian walking space, frustrates sidewalk snowplows, and bangs up the Rogers box. Oh, what we do for cablevision.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Improved ...

Until last year, this house dripped water all winter onto the centre of the pedestrian sidewalk. By mid January, a six to ten inch mound of ice, like a long glacier tongue, stretched the length of the building on the centre of the sidewalk. The city sidewalk plows were unable to stay on the walk, so the situation got worse and worse through the winter.

In 2009, as part of a streetscaping project, the sidewalk was widened and moved out further into the city right of way. Now this house, and its neighbours up and down the street, drips largely unseen unto the city boulevard and pedestrians can pass safely.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

When Fire Strikes

There was a fire last week at the Little Italy Florist. The front facade was not badly damaged. Most of the fire seemed to have been in the rear part of the building. The "baloon frame" construction popular around 1910, when many of the houses of the area were built, is readily visible. Long studs -- 16' -- stretched from the foundation up two floors, without any fire stops or sills at the second floor. Today a two storey house is more likely to built with 8-10' studs on a platform (floor level) then a sill and platform built for the second floor, another set of 8-10' studs, etc., compartmentalizing the floors.

The baloon studs make for easy retrofitting of insulation, running new electrical conduits, etc but they also facilitate the spread of fire.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Preston street chestnut

Street vendor on Preston Street on Sunday selling freshly roasted chestunuts.
He was located by the Italian Gelato store north of Gladstone.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Somerset Streetscaping - can it get back on the road?

The first meeting of stakeholders got together on Tuesday evening to discuss the streetscaping project on Somerset Street. The 2010 portion is from Preston to West Wellie. The portion shown above is in the Preston BIA catchment area. The portion beyond the bridge is in Hintonburg (Kitchissipi ward) and the Hintonburg BIA.

In 2011 the section from Preston to Booth will be done. That is the area behind the viewer in the above picture. It falls in the Chinatown BIA.

Yup, in a territory walkable in barely five minutes, there are two wards, 3 BIAs, 2 community associations, and other stakeholders. A nice streetscaping project might be do-able if the parties remain able to talk.

On the surface, the meeting was OK, with a few strongly expressed opinions. The main object of discussion was what style of lighting and paving should be installed on the Preston to Otrain section. This necessarily involved discussing what styles should be on the Otrain to West Wellie section, and up the slope into Chinatown.

 But still waters run deep. Since that meeting, my emails and phone have been busy with an extraordinary amount of traffic, all expressions of concern or dismay, many expressed much more strongly than the vague discontent I felt as the meeting ended.

I even received TWO notes of condolence, sent to me as President of the Dalhousie Community Association.

 It was a public meeting, for sharing opinions by a variety of neighborhood stakeholders. It did not help that one BIA seemed to not understand that basic premise and took an aggressive position and brooked no possible other opinion/compromise, and questioned that anyone could even consider anything on the street other than their opinion, or that the street could have any identity or be considered anything other than an expression of its BIA.

I got the impression (a view shared by some others) that the consultants and other city planners had some prior position-setting interactions, and the meeting was steered towards a pre-determined position that streetscaping should reflect jurisdictional zones rather than other understandings of what makes a neighborhood. It would have been better to have simply laid down the rules, if that was the case, rather than working through a bunch of ideas and dicusssions to end up at a predetermined point as that simply leaves  attendees feeling manipulated or ignored.

The planners suggested that the Somerset viaduct is a significant topographical feature to celebrate, and proposed a "thin bright line" of another paving style and light standard for this area. The area to get this special celebratory treatment might be very short (100' of road over the Otrain track) or longer, extending  further east towards Preston.

The planners seemed to have a tin ear to concerns that this may contradict the objectives of community groups that are trying to knit the Hintonburg and Dalhousie neighborhoods together, and recast the bridge into a neighborhood street that happens to be on  a hill. IMO, it might be possible to work the viaduct as a separate feature into some plan, but right now the idea just seems to add yet another paving and lighting scheme to an already cut up street. (There will be significant developments and infill on both sides of the viaduct, the city will direct that these projects abut the sidewalk line with active storefronts, etc so eventually the viaduct will transform into a mainstreet).(There is a separate planning study ongoing for the whole Otrain section from Bayview to Carling, one of the key emphases in that study is how to seamlessly integrate the neighborhoods, not celebrate their separation).

The most common single sentiment that I heard expressed in the room was that the streetscaping style should be more consistent from Preston to Hintonburg or from Chinatown to Hintonburg (but how this could be done was still undetermined). Many attendees expressed concerns there could be too many styles along the street. I am not the only person surprised that the consultants wrap up came to another conclusion (the jurisdiction point of view, with four separate streetscaping styles in four blocks; two of these styles would cover only a few hundred feet, or maybe two dozen light fixtures if you count both sides of the road).

If the multiple streetscaping styles go in, this will be the perspective of a No2 bus rider, a cyclist, a motorist, or pedestrian moving west along Somerset from centretown. They will experience
 a) the old Chinatown lights  &  pavements starting at Percy;
b) the new Chinatown lights between Bronson and Cambridge if they are installed as part of the Gateway;
c) the old Chinatown lights from Cambridge to Booth;
d) the new Chinatown lights from Booth to immediately before Preston;
e) the Preston style lights, which stretch off to the north and south along Preston, and then a dozen or so of the same fixtures on the Somerset block west of Preston;
f) the "viaduct celebration" lights and pavements,
g) the black Narnia lights of Hintonburg and its pavement style.

If the traveler is observant, they may also notice the dozen or so white-painted light fixtures of the Plant recreation area in yet another style. If there are any light styles or paving block patterns left in the City's catalogue, I am sure we can find some small pocket of space to fit them in too.

The Somerset streetscaping process is off to a rocky start. Can it be put back on the road? The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for next week!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Corso Italia meets Via Marconi

As part of the Preston streetscaping project, major changes will be coming to the intersection of Preston/Gladstone. The pavement pattern has been approved. It will be installed and maintained by the Preston BIA. The planned use of brick pavers has run into technical snags, however, and alternative paving materials are being examined.

The BIA is also planning a celebratory sculpture arrangement at the corner. The draft concept sketch shown above is of 24' high soccer players  made of concrete, metal,  and stained glass.  There would be benches along their feet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On streetscaping (vi) Trees

The urban tree problem …

Trees in the built-up city face difficult conditions. Among these are tiny porous surfaces around the bases (the city minimum porous surface was 4’x4’ and this became the maximum space, even when room was available); packed earth or paving base as “growing media”; pollution; car damage; snow removal damage from city crews or contractors; hostile property owners who remove street trees; cultural hostility from groups that feel trees are invasive or unlucky; sidewalk repairs that reduce tree wells; overhead wiring and over-zealous “pruning” and trimming by utilities, etc.

City standards are sometimes unhelpful. The city may require large canopy areas before planting trees, and prefer to centre trees in the front space of a building rather than along the curb or sidewalk.

The tree solution …

More aggressive selection of tree and shrub planting opportunities. Selection of fastigate (columnar shaped trees) or smaller trees to fit into smaller spaces.

Use of structural earth permits trees to thrive close to curbs, sidewalks, on bulbouts. Read more at ;
Structural earth is a mix of gravel and clay and water-retaining modules. The gravel packs down into a honeycomb-like mass, so the tree roots have room to spread and grow while the gravel is stable enough to support sidewalks, bus stops, or parked cars above. The result: trees can once again thrive in the city.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On streetscaping (v) a question of style

Streetscaping usually involves the reconstruction of sidewalks and adjacent spaces with new concrete and other paving materials. Decorative lighting and other elements may be employed.

If a single style of paving and lighting is employed along the entire street a sense of cohesiveness and integration results. If overdone, this can become boring.

On very long streets, or streets where there are several distinct “zones” (such as a high rise zone, a residential zone, and a commercial zone) it might be appropriate to vary the streetscaping style from zone to zone to best achieve the desired effect.

Generally, in Dalhousie ward, which includes a wide variety of building types, ages, and qualities, a unifying result is wanted. Thus on Preston Street the same style is used from Albert to Carling. (Only some of the street is in the BIA; it obviously did not make sense to run the new streetscaping only from Spruce to Carling).

The streetscaping should also reflect how the street is used rather than arbitrary ward or agency boundaries. If land uses change along the street co-incident with the boundaries of a BIA or ward or generally perceived neighborhood boundary, than a streetscaping style change may be warranted. Where a longer street crosses a boundary between wards or BIA zones, a different streetscape may or may not be warranted.  Of course, streetscaping treatments need not change suddenly and totally, there can be transition zones where one style blends into the next one, by varying the paving texture, lighting fixtures, and other street furniture.

Somerset Street will be getting streetscaping treatment in 2010 from West Wellington over the Otrain, past the Plant Pool, to Preston. In 2011 the section up the hill through Chinatown will be done, as far as Booth. This raises obvious questions of what style to use: is the section west of the Otrain (in Hintonburg area, Kitchissipi Ward, West Wellie BIA) the same street as that one the east side of the Otrain hump (Dalhousie community, Preston BIA, Somerset Ward). And what of the street going up the hill into Chinatown, which is part of the Chinatown BIA? At Booth, the current plans/projects stop ... and the sidewalk styles and lampposts change to the current Chinatown design installed about 25 years ago.

For different communities, the boundaries and zones of influence change. This one kilometer of Somerset passes through 3 different BIAs, two wards, two community associations ... schoolchildren from both attend schools or recreational facilities scattered along Somerset and elsewhere. Should lampposts signify political or taxing boundaries? Or shopping zones? Or the current or former mix of business types? Should we celebrate* differences or patch them over?

*I strongly hope we can celebrate some meeting at the Preston/Somerset intersection with a special east-meets-west treatment. Piazza Marco Polo?

On Streetscaping (iv) Drainage

The drainage problem …

The current geometry of streets has the highest point along the centre line of the street. Water drains to the curb, adjacent the sidewalk. Catch basins are located along the curb.
Where vehicles drive adjacent the curb, they trail a cloud of dirty airborne water and splash water and slush onto the sidewalk.

Where parking is permitted along the curb, vehicles block the snow from melting and pack it down into ice. Salt creates puddles of slush and ice at every driveway dip in the sidewalk, creating a hazardous and unpleasant pedestrian environment.
When bulb outs and parking bays are employed drainage problems can be worsened if ice and snow block the catch basins located along the sidewalk.

The drainage solution …

When streets are totally reconstructed, more care and attention can be paid to improving drainage for the benefit of pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and facilitating city maintenance.

Catch basins should be located adjacent the travelled vehicular lanes rather than in the parking bays. This means for significant lengths of sidewalk, water drains away from the sidewalk out to the street. The catch basins are less likely to be blocked by snow or slush, and are exposed to street plowing. Sidewalk dips at driveways are less likely to puddle or ice/slush up. Pedestrian slips and falls should be reduced. Less salty water will penetrate the ground around streetside trees.

Locating catch basins between the travelled portion of the road and the parking bays makes it more difficult and expensive to convert the street back into more lanes of through traffic as the catch basins have to be relocated, curbs rebuilt, etc.

When reconstructing streets, care should be taken to locate catch basins where they are least likely to be blocked by accumulated snow or slush, are exposed to self-cleaning by passing vehicles pushing aside slush, etc.

Brick-paved parking bay drains outward from the sidewalk to the edge of the travelled portion of the street.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Streetscaping (iii) Street Lighting

The street lighting problem …

Currently streets are uniformly lit for the benefit of vehicles in the centre of the road. Lighting intensity may increase at certain intersections. Sidewalks and pedestrians may be in the shadow of vehicles and trees. They do not have lighting levels set to meet their needs or to establish a pleasant urban walking environment. Too much lighting is just as bad as too little lighting if it creates a harsh and unwelcoming environment.

Street lights are usually located at a regular distance apart and uniformly set back behind the sidewalk or along the curb. For the motorist, this creates the impression of a wide right of way and gives the illusion the motorist can see far ahead, which encourages speeding.

The street lighting solution …

Lighting needs are different for motorists and pedestrians, and the appropriate level of lighting should be provided for each. Lighting may need to be brighter in some areas than others. Generally, along main streets this takes the form of overhead lighting of the centre of the road with “cobra head” or “shoebox” lighting on tall poles; and more frequent lower height sidewalk lighting that fosters a pleasant and safe pedestrian environment.

If uniformly lower-height lighting fixtures are selected for both the road and sidewalks, fixtures will have to be very frequent (reconstructed Bank Street is an example).

Sidewalk fixtures should shield lighting from shining into adjacent residential windows.

The decorative features of the fixtures are important to set the tone and feeling along the street. Generally the lighting identifies the main street and does not extend onto other streets.

If the street lighting is set uniformly back from the centre line of the road, it gives motorists an impression of wide road right of way, which conflicts with the actual streetscape of bulb outs, parking bays, etc. Installing light fixtures at the curb edge of bulb outs and perhaps behind the sidewalk at parking bays gives an irregular edge to the right of way. Walk along Preston or West Wellington and notice how differently the fixtures aligned and what effect this has to the feel of the street.

Installing lighting and signal control boxes on bulb outs also makes it difficult and expensive to convert the street back to a wider, more traffic lanes format.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On Streetscaping (ii) the Bulb Out solution

 The uniformly wide-street problem…

Most city streets are of uniform width for blocks: there are vehicle movement lanes and curb side parking. Sometimes the curbside parking is restricted, catering to more moving vehicles. Streets are the same width even when there is no need, for example, parking is illegal at corners and in front of hydrants or wide driveways, but even where parking is prohibited the street remains the same width. Motorists perceive the street as wide and straight, encouraging faster movement. At its worst, this encourages aggressive drivers to “pass on the right” where there are no parked vehicles.

For many traditional retail streets, on-street parking is desired by merchants and restauranteurs. If the street is uniformly wide, the parking lane can be restricted by the City at prime shopping hours (the rush hours) in favor of car commuters rushing through the area but not frequenting the merchants. This results in “no parking” for up to six hours a day on retail streets.

Curbside parking may also be prohibited for bus stop zones. Unfortunately, once a bus pulls into a bus bay, it may find it difficult to rejoin traffic, especially at rush hour. This results in a higher number of passengers on the bus being delayed in favour of single-occupancy vehicles. This is an inefficient use of scarce road infrastructure.

Moving vehicles in the curb lane splash water and slush onto the sidewalks. Vehicles, especially trucks and buses, drag an airborne “wall of dirty water vapor” in their slipstream, further dehumanizing the pedestrian environment. Moving vehicles along the curb reduces subjective safety (the feeling by users that they are safe and welcome) and causes parents to discourage their children from walking because it is “dangerous”. Curb lane vehicles turning over the sidewalk are also a hazard.

Uniformly wide streets also maximize the walking distance for pedestrians to cross at intersections. The collision hazard increases in direct proportion to the distance and time pedestrians are exposed to vehicles. The old philosophy of having “wide open” intersections, supposedly to provide longer sight lines and thus improve safety, have the opposite effect: vehicles speed up and turn at higher speeds. Many motorists feel an obligation to hurry up in areas they perceive as wide open and “vacant”.

The Bulb out solution…

Bulb outs are sidewalk and curb widenings that remove some road surface from locations where motor vehicle traffic or parking is not otherwise legal or useable. For example, it is illegal to park at corners, or in curb lanes immediately leading up to signalized intersections, or in front of hydrants. Rather than leaving these road surfaces to tempt illegal vehicle parking or hazardous movements, sidewalks expand into these unusable spaces. This shortens the pedestrian’s road crossing distance, enhancing safety. Enhanced pedestrian safety and convenience is the primary benefit of bulb outs.

Some bus stops can be located on bulb outs, which mean public transit does not leave the travel lane and transit users are not delayed by the need to re-merge with traffic. Bus stop patrons wait off the travelled portion of the sidewalk, and bus shelters and benches and trees can be located on bulb outs a well.

Bulb outs offer huge benefits to street-side merchants as well. On a uniformly wide street, the curbside parking space can often by pressed into service as another through-traffic lane, removing all on-street parking for six daytime hours every day. Bulb outs create parking bays that cannot be used for through traffic. Merchants are thus guaranteed all-day curbside parking for shoppers. This parking solution favours local shoppers over commuter traffic. These parking bays are sometimes perceived by merchants as removing on-street parking spaces, so communication is essential to document the number of legal on-street spaces before and after streetscaping schemes.

Bulb outs and protected parking bays do prevent the use of the curb side lane for rush-hours commuters. If the street becomes congested, some people will call for the widening of a street to handle the volume. Experience shows that any traffic movement gain is minimal and of short duration, as traffic increases to fill up the available space. The result is a wider street, unpleasant sidewalks and diminished shopping experience, and continued vehicular congestion at peak times. It is desirable from the local community point of view  to “lock in” bulb outs by installing light fixtures and utility boxes and catch basins on the bulb out space to make it more onerous and expensive to remove them.

Bulb outs often cause vehicles to slow down at intersections. This is particularly valuable when vehicles leave a busier collector or arterial road onto a residential street. The choke point or restriction reminds drivers to pay increased attention to the road surface, whereas wide intersections encourage speedy turns and thus inappropriate speeds continue onto residential streets.

Corner and mid-block bulb outs offer other benefits as locations for decorative lighting fixtures, benches, patios, trees and plantings, etc. Tree planting zones are scare in urban areas, particularly where pavements are close to the buildings. Bulb outs can reclaim some portions of the public right of way for trees and other humanizing features. With new technology (structural earth) trees should enjoy greater survivability or even thrive on bulbouts and tight urban spaces.

Sidewalks on streets with bulb outs should respect pedestrian desire lines and not slavishly follow the curb line. In many cases this will mean the sidewalk offers a straight line path for some pedestrians and a bulb out path for crossing pedestrians.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On Streetscaping (i)

 The planning process for the reconstruction of Somerset Street is underway. It is an accelerated process, since the streetscaping component is getting underway now, for construction this year from West Wellington over the Otrain to Preston, and construction in 2010 from Preston to Booth. Presumably the style of streetscaping selected for these segments will be later extended from Booth further east through Chinatown.

Purpose of streetscaping: an improved pedestrian and cyclist environment, minimized through traffic, with reasonable accommodation for parked vehicles.

Somerset looking west from Preston; Plant Rec Ctr to the left

Part (i): Wider Sidewalks

The problem …

Historically, transportation planning practice in Ottawa focused on moving and parking the maximum number of vehicles. Sidewalks currently are curb-side appendages that bear no relationship to pedestrian desire lines, movement, or volume. Most sidewalks are impeded by utility poles, sign posts, traffic signals, and other objects.
Problems are most noticeable at intersections where two pedestrian traffic volumes cross but the sidewalk does not get wider, in fact it often gets narrower.
Pedestrians are directed to stand to wait for a walk light in the same spot as pedestrian cross traffic is directed to move into the intersection.

Other major problems with narrow sidewalks occur at busy destinations (stores, rec facilities, office buildings, schools) and where bus waiting areas are superimposed on top of the sidewalk, resulting in conflicts among through pedestrian traffic and waiting or turning pedestrians.

Narrow and unpleasant sidewalks encourage jay walking and irregular pedestrian movements as people try to avoid congestion. These movements in turn conflict with motorists’ expectations of where they will encounter pedestrians.

The wider sidewalk solution …

To achieve a pleasant and useful urban environment, sidewalks need to be wider. They need not be uniformly wider, but can vary in width, taking up as much available space as possible. Bulb outs at intersections and bus stops provide more pedestrian space and reduce movement conflicts. They also reduce the crossing distance and time that pedestrians are in conflict with vehicular movements. Widening also permits the expansion of cafĂ©’s, fruit stands, newsstands, and other sidewalk-friendly business uses.

During sidewalk reconstruction, every effort should be made by the responsible planners and project managers -- encouraged by the community and business associations – to integrate the immediately adjacent private property and access points into a cohesive pedestrian streetscape. This will take the form of sidewalks extending onto private property or right up to property entrances; extending matching sidewalk textures and grades onto adjacent properties, and continuous landscaping themes on city and private properties. In some cases, door steps to businesses can be eliminated in favour of smooth step-free crossings.

Wider sidewalks shift pedestrians back from the moving-vehicle traffic lanes. A slightly less-wide sidewalk will work just as well if there is a parking lane along the sidewalk as it provides the “set back” function from moving traffic.

Somerset, before improvements ...

after ... example from Preston St

Thursday, January 7, 2010

More Detroit can do it ... can Ottawa?

Shown is the Dequindre Cut, a former sunken rail line running through downtown Detroit. The St Clair River is in the background, with Windsor on the far (south!) side.

Detroit is reserving some of the cut for a future LRT line, but first it has built a bi-directional bike route and accompanying pedestrian path, with landscaping. Because the path is grade-separated from the street grid it is fast, direct, intersection-free, and has freeway-style on and off ramps that take cyclists in and out of the cut.

Detroit feels it is lucky to have a straight-line bike path going directly through the heart of established neighborhoods directly to the downtown and the riverfront recreational lands.

Do you notice the similarity to the Scott Street alignment where we built a sunken bus transitway 25 years ago and where we are now looking at a proper bike facility BikeWest? Do you notice the similarity to the OTrain cut where CPR lines were burried in 1960, where we have demo rail service but alas, still only bits and pieces of a bike route? Will the new LRT line that crosses LeBreton Flats just south of the current transitway be a stand-alone feature or will it have an accompanying grade-separated bike route into the downtown core?

We may get the BikeWest route someday, or the Cyclopiste de Preston, but only if we nag or politicians that we want first rate bike facilities and not just pretty signs nailed to telephone poles on the sides of roads.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More Turkey Talk on Tunnel

In a previous post on the downtown Ottawa transit tunnel (DOTT) I mentioned a presentation I saw at Transit Committee on Dec 16th comparing the surface and tunnel options.

The Committee has provided me with a copy of the powerpoint presentation by the Downtown Coalition. Here are the key slides, including the $100 million dollar saving figure. This figure might mean the tunnel saves $100m over a surface rail option, or that the tunnel saves $100m over the current BRT operation, its unclear to me. Their conclusion however remains that the tunnel has a reasonably quick payback period. Double click pictures to enlarge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Transit Stations ... What will we get? ...

Detroit's downtown city bus station

This photo is of a new centre-island transit station in Detroit. Detroit is not the most viable city in the USA. We're not Flint ... nor Detroit. Will Ottawa's LRT system get anything as nice?

It has a tensile fabric outdoor shelter at the bus loading platforms and there is also a elevated people-mover station platform. The air conditioned and heated glass waiting room building is 25,000 sq ft, includes washrooms, ticketing, and shops. The whole thing cost $22 million dollars, and opened in June 09.

And here's the kicker: the entire terminal complex serves about 12,000 passengers a day -- which is about the same as the OTrain station at Bayview. Could anyone say our bus-shelter collection at these points is better than Detroit's?

Proposed Bayview station; click to enlarge

Thus far in the DOTT - LRT process all the outdoor (non-tunnel) stations have looked the same because the project team has a local-architect-on-board who has sketched in the stations. I presumed that the station architects were there to ensure the functional aspects of station design - pedestrian flow, access points, ensure there is enough space for an elevator well, escalator well, etc.

But at the last few DOTT meetings I recall that the stations have been described in much more definite terms: Tunney's station will look like this; this is what Bayview will look like, etc. I am wondering if the conceptual space planning is turning into a fait accompli?

What happened to the notion that LRT stations should reflect individual neighborhood identities (existing or proposed)? Do other LRT systems have uniform station design system-wide (like we did for the transitway) or unique stations?

Are unique stations reserved for politically and economically powerful neighborhoods whilst lower income neighborhoods or unorganized communities get off-the-shelf stations-from-a-kit?

Where is the we need a world-wide design competition crowd -- have they gone away because no stations are planned for the Glebe? Are Ottawa's transit stations going to be sole-sourced to the planning bureaucrats or the winning bidder architectural firm on the project planning level?

Proposed Tunney's bus centre-island transfer station and LRT station. No soaring roofs ... but soaring isn't usually associated with government office complexes. In the City of Ottawa, only taxes soar.

Read more about Detroit's station at