Wednesday, March 31, 2010

St Agnes Resurrected; will Bell ring?

The old St Agnes school south of Gladstone on Bell has been in private ownership for some time. It unfortunately had that "abandonned" look to it, which the neighborhood did not need.

The school, now owned by the adjacent Polish Catholic church, is undergoing major renovations as a educational, community, and recreational centre for the Polish community. It is nice to see quality renovations underway, including new windows and additional window walls being cut into the old brick exterior.

The dilapidated Bell Street towers apartment buildings across the street have also seen better days. Apparently the new owners are going to reclad the exteriors of the buildings. There is tremendous potential to do a design-challenged cheap job (black metal siding) or an design-proud recladding in traditional or modern materials. Givent the prominence of the towers to the skyline and their view from miles away along the Qway, I hope for the quality refinishing.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

infill in Dalhousie South

Substantial-sized infill semi-detached homes under construction in Dalhousie south, near Carling. The foundation has a substantial ledge, which suggests the exterior may be brick. There is a detached garage in the rear, with access of the rear lane. In a well done move, the back of the garage, which faces the back of the house, has been finished with quality detail so it looks like a small house in the back yard rather than a garage.

The arrival of larger single homes in the neighborhood (rather than triplex or quadplex infills) bodes well for neighborhood stability as it is more likely to attract families. These infills are not cheap, which further indicates the buyers faith in the desirability of this neighborhood which still has its blighted / less-well-cared-for portions and, shall we say, party-oriented and alternate-universe oriented occupants.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Green green grass of Dalhousie

This little patch of lawn on Balsam caught my eye. It is greener than its neighbours, and obviously recently raked as it is so clean compared to the foreground bit of turf. A closer inspection revealed its secret. It is synthetic. Fake. Manufactured.

I wonder how many times I have gone past it and not noticed; it did not look recently laid. It stood out now because it doesn't change with the seasons. It is an effective bit of private streetscaping along the public boulevard.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Goodbye Desjardin's IGA/Loeb

The former Desjardins IGA / Loeb store on Booth Street at Eccles has been closed for several years. Demolition is now underway, making way for the new Cornerstone housing project, a four storey 40 unit apartment residence.

The new Cornerstone residence, coupled with the now-under-construction Z6 condo building (16 of 26 units sold) will give a modern new face to tired Booth Street. Both buildings have traditional brick exteriors with modern design touches.

The last large remaining eyesore on the street is the blighted zone known as Cousin Eddey's garage/ Chado's auto repair. The only saving grace there is that it is a large lot, which will make some developer happy some day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Somerset reconstruction zone expanded

The City and consultants held a well-attended (approx 125 persons) open house for the Somerset reconstruction project last week. The zone of reconstruction was from Bayswater (in the west)(which is where reconstruction left off last summer) up and over the viaduct over the Otrain, to Preston street.

 The above section of street was scheduled for this year, 2010. Then next year, the reconstruction process would move up Somerset, from Preston to Booth. These two long blocks will be finished in a new Chinatown look in 2011.

However, the Chinatown Arch (artists impression shown) is being constructed a few blocks further east in 2010, and some roadworks are required to accomodate that. So this week the city added in the block from Cambridge to Bronson to the 2010 streetscaping project. So residents will get one additional block of widened sidewalks, new streetlighting including ped lights, and trees. Great stuff! 

If you missed the Somerset streetscaping unveiling, you have an additional opportunity to see the plans, and those of other neighborhood projects, at the Dalhousie AGM being held at the Dal Centre (corner of Empress and Somerset) at 7pm April 13th. Please mark your calendars and drop in.

Infill on Eccles

This infill is once again in the very modern boxy style common today. It is constructed from pre-made wafer panels that include the exterior sheathing, insulation, and interior sheathing . Is is on the north side of Eccles, between Booth and LeBreton. I am getting to like this style more and more. I much prefer it over the blah-design of so many infills made of plastic siding and low-slope asphalt shingle roofs. Design and quality matters.

Does anyone know why Eccles Street is so often pronounced Eck-Less? Ever since I moved here 30 some years ago, it has puzzled me if this is a mispronunciation by immigrant or less-educated populations or is there another explanation? In the same vein, Pamilla street is seldom pronounced Pam-il-la except by newcomers, the old hands call it Pa-mill-a.

Local character, maybe.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (vi)

Most of the photos in the previous posts on this cycling route showed the path in winter or early spring. That is not the most attractive time of year. Here are a few shots in summer, to show what a pleasant route the Cyclopiste de Preston could be for cyclists and pedestrians; for recreational, short-haul and commuter users; and for easy access to and from the Preston mainstreet.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (v): Young to Carling

From the turning circle where Young meets the Otrain cut, there is a convenient bridge over the train. Note the lack of curb dip on this end for cyclists (there is one at the other end of the bridge). A similar but wider and more friendly overpass is planned for Hickory Street, a few blocks south near the Otrain station at Carling Avenue.

Looking south, the stonedust path passes between the backyards of houses and the Otrain cut. The path needs to be widened and re-covered with stone dust which is worn down to the mud in some spots. There also needs to be a curb dip to access the path. Throughout its length, the current path lacks dips.

In the two pictures below (taken summer 2009) cyclists arrive at Beech Street and hesitate, looking for a sidewalk dip to cross the street. They decide to go east, riding on the sidewalk, to the first driveway dip a number of yards away. They then faced an awkward and dangerous sharp turn onto the street (having to similtaneously look over the shoulder for overtaking traffic on the road). But once onto the street, they discovered there is no matching curb dip on the other side of the road, and had to cycle some distance the wrong way on the road before giving up, dismounting, and lifting the bike over the curb, to ride on the sidewalk back to the continuation of the path. Is this an official city cycling route?
The last portion of the path is  lit and paved, from Sidney street to Carling Avenue, by the Otrain station and Dow Honda:

Once at Carling, the continuation of the path is visible on the south side, this time illuminated by the NCC:

Crossing Carling is a bit of a problem. The city advises cyclists to dismount, walk their bike a few hundred yards east along the sidewalk to the intersection of Preston, walk across the crosswalk, and then walk the bike back west along the far sidewalk to the resumption point of the path. Of course, I just dismount, walk my bike straight across, and wait in the wide median for a break in the other direction to cross the far lanes. A curb dip would make it even easier. The City claims it cannot put traffic lights here as it is too close to Preston. An underpass is a more expensive option that might be feasible if the Otrain is double tracked for the LRT and needs a wider underpass.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (iv) Gladstone to Young

The Cyclopiste de Preston is a cycling arterial running from the Ottawa River - Bayview - under Somerset - cross Gladstone - under the Qway using an existing underpass - and joining the existing ill-maintained path running from Young Street along the Otrain corridor to Carling and then further south. The path is in the Official Cycling Plan, but since work started in 1962 has been stymied by lack of an underpass under Somerset street. Detailed design work for the underpass is underway now, as part of Somerset reconstruction. If enough people support the idea (tell your councillor!) the underpass would be built in 2010-11 and presumably the missing bits of paths too.

Previous posts covered the distance from Albert/City Centre Ave (the temporary north end of the route pending the East-West LRT construction) to Somerset, under Somerset, and slightly upslope to Gladstone.

Once the cyclist or pedestrian crosses Gladstone, there is already a well used informal goat track along the route:
The path proceeds south between the city signals storage facility (on the left) and the Otrain cut (on the right). Despite looking rather narrow and maybe a bit forbidding these tire marks indicate some cyclists know about this route. I cycle it numerous times each summer:

The path approaches the existing Qway underpass from the south, but first it has to make it way past the unpaved (and uncleaned up) parking lot on city land behind the St Anthony Soccer Club. This is an important parking lot for events there (despite its disorganized and dirty state) so I expect the cyclists will simply use one paved aisle of the parking lot to cross it:
The city has kindly installed signs to remind cyclists and parkers that this is city property. Somewhere along here, a Gladstone/ Preston LRT station is planned. It would be down in the cut, with access up to ground level at various locations.

The picture below shows the underpass under the Qway. It is wide but bleak and forbidding; some imagination will be required to make it more attractive and user friendly:

Lastly, the route comes out at Young Street, which has a turning circle, and a convenient pedestrian-cyclist overpass over the Otrain cut into the Civic Hospital neighborhood, and a short jaunt east to the Preston Square/Adobe office complex on Preston:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (iii), south of Somerset

Picture 1 is the view from the Somerset viaduct looking south towards Gladstone and the Queensway. The Otrain track is barely visible in the cut on the right. Most of this land is City owned (a small portion is NCC, but it is not required to make the underpass). At the Somerset end, the right of way is quite wide. It would be relatively straightforward to connect the Somerset bike lane and sidewalk surfaces with the bike route using a slope, although a switchback might be required. A 16' drop requires 320 feet of ramp, plus some flat spots.

To the left of the Otrain tracks is a wooded slope. If you look closely, there is a spur or siding line that used to run up this slope, ending at Gladstone. This provides a ready start for the Cyclopiste to climb the grade from track elevation up to Gladstone Avenue.

Running right through the centre of picture 3 (above), going left to right, is the former siding slope waiting to be converted to a ped-cycling route. The PWGSC warehouse is in the background.

Bits of abandonned rail sidings can be found amongst the garbage and overgrowth along the Otrain corridor.

This is the view from the Gladstone sidewalk,  looking back along the corridor towards Somerset. The Otrain track is to the left, PWGSC warehouse and Preston Hardware are to the right. The former siding located here gives us an ideal slope for the taking the Cyclopiste downslope to the track and then under Somerset.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (ii)

 The first photo was taken mid-winter, from the area behind the City Centre warehouse complex; the Otrain track is on the right, going south under Somerset viaduct. This shows there is considerable open space on the east side of the track for a cycle path. A cycling and pedestrian underpass would be straight ahead centre in the photo.

The underpass, a precast concrete "box", would be a few feet above the current track level, and set back from the track far enough to allow for a LRT station on the far side (southside) of Somerset, should one be installed. There are currently no plans for such a station, this is just good planning to allow the space for one.

The new tunnel would be both a cycling path and would permit pedestrians and users of any future LRT station to walk under Somerset and directly into any future City Centre redevelopment (recall the site is zoned for 5 or more towers, up to 22 floors or so)(not that any redevelopment is planned soon).

Photo two was taken from the Somerset Street level. It also shows how much space is available. A second rail track will be laid immediately to the right of the Otrain. There might also be "storage" tracks here for trains waiting to begin runs through the downtown and east. Provided a small berm and some landscaping is installed, it should be quite pleasant to cycle or walk along the corridor, given that the path will be set back from the moving trains and about one meter above the track level.

The City centre complex follows a curve as it goes north (the curve, of course, is defined by the curvature of the railway tracks that used to be under the elevated roadway and further west and north of the building). The cycling path would follow this curve and come out onto City Centre Avenue just north of Albert street, from which cyclists would have easy access to the downtown (via Albert) or to the River (via the Preston extension). Eventually, should Jim Watson fail to block the LRT project, the path could run north along the tracks to Bayview Station and the River and eventually the Gatineau Hills.

The chain link fence shown is not necesarily on any property line. When I was a tennant in the City Centre complex, they told me the lot line was right at the base of the concrete pillars. Presumably the fence would be relocated as part of installing a path.

Personally, I would be perfectly happy with a stonedust path. It could even double as a service road to the tracks or warehouses, given the low volume of truck traffic that would entail. Eventually, as the LRT tracks are developed, I would expect the path to be paved and lit to be attractive to all types of users at all times of day and evening.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cyclopiste de Preston (i): Cycle Path along the Otrain Corridor

The Carling-Bayview community design plan calls for a bike path along the Otrain corridor. So does the City's official cycling plan.

Parts of the path were built in the early 1960's when the NCC removed the street-level railway tracks and consolidated them into the new "cut" dug from Carleton U to Bayview, where the Otrain now runs, and the furture southwest LRT lines will run. The path has trees on both sides (moreso on the rail cut side) and a variety of views into back yards and small industries along the Preston side of the path. These walking and cycling path sections are remarkably nice, and largely unknown:
                            Existing cycle path; Otrain cut is to the right, Carling in the distance.

The corridor ends at Young Street, even though there is a right of way under the Qway to Gladstone. But the big impediment to continuing the path north of Gladstone to Albert Street, Bayview station, and the Ottawa River pathways, has been how to get by Somerset Street, which is high up on an earthen embankment called the Viaduct.

As part of the Somerset reconstruction process, road works are supposed to be implemented to permit other bits of the official plan to go ahead. In this case, there should be an underpass put under Somerset during the reconstruction of Somerset process to permit the cycling and walking path to be completed

The new cycling underpass would be separate, to the left of the Otrain underpass. This view from the upper (west) deck of the City Centre complex

. The project engineers (Delcan) have confirmed there is room for an underpass similar to this one under the Champlain Bridge (although it would be under a higher road than shown):

The reconstruction of Somerset having been in the works for years ... and the sections connecting to West Wellie largely completed after two years of digging ...   the city realized that the Otrain underpass was coming up. So now, with road construction starting next month, the City is dealing with the cycling issue. Apparently, the city has extended the Delcan contract, so they are doing the detailed feasibility study for the underpass, how to access it, and bike route location on either side of the underpass.

If the city build the ped-cycling path behind the City Centre complex, it would probably come out at the intersection of Albert/City Centre Dr (shown) until the LRT Bayview Station is completed in 2018 and then it could be extended to join BikeWest along Albert/Scott, and  the Ottawa River pathways.

The city has not committed to actually installing the underpass in 2010-11 during the Somerset reconstruction process. Next time you see your councilor,
tell him/her you want the Somerset underpass built now, not in some far off future date when we are all dead. Or email your councilor.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Somerset Streetscaping Plan Unveiled

After numerous meetings of stakeholders, the City and its consultants (Delcan) have come up with a proposed streetscaping plan for Somerset Street. It is excellent.

Readers will recall that the West Wellie reconstruction got as far east as Spadina last year. Starting next month, more of Somerset will be dug up and new sewers and water installed, and then comes the fancy paving, protected parking bays that guarantee on-street parking (instead of rush hour traffic lanes), pedestrian lighting, benches, trees, etc.

The section from Spadina east to the start of the viaduct (bridge) at Breezehill will be landscaped like the parts of West Wellie done in previous years. The bridge itself, which runs over the Otrain cut and then slopes down to go over City Centre Avenue, will be given a distinct treatment of lights, planters, and trees, which will turn this well-used pedestrian and cyclist bridge from a bleak windswept eyesore to a pleasant urban street that should be a delight to all.

From City Centre Avenue (roughly #1010 Somerset on the south side, Musca Wine on the north side) along to Preston, there will be a new style of streetscaping. The benches and ped lights will be same as on Preston Street, as it is part of the Preston BIA. The brick pavers, parking bay pavers, and tree planting pattern will be unique to the neighborhood. These paver and sidewalk patterns will continue up Somerset hill to Booth Street when that section is reconstructed in 2011. The lighting and street furniture going up that hill will be a Chinatown style.

Suffice it to say it was a real ... discussion ... to get to this compromise position that generates a coherent landscape and furniture arrangment that covers 3 BIA's (West Wellie, Preston, Chinatown), two community associations, and multiple neighborhoods, and one street. You can see for yourself if the resultant plan will knit together these diverse interests when the City has an open house on Wed March 24th from 6.30 to 8.30 at the Plant Rec Centre (corner of Preston and Somerset).

One of the features of the plan everyone working on it is proud of, is that we got bulb outs, parking bays, trees, bus stops, and shorter crossing distances ... all without major disruption to on street parking. Last count I saw, we got all the benefits and only lost one legal parking space.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


For several years now property managers, researchers, and environmentalists have been struggling to develop workable green walls. Most of the ones I have seen pictures of or visited have been of the "ragged" or bushy style, with the vertical plant walls containing a variety of plants densely packed into the vertical frame.

The photo above is the new plant wall in Minto Place. You can see the east wall of the Minto Place Hotel through the skylight above. This greenwall is much more formal than any I have seen before. Philodendrium type plants predominate. I could not identify any blooming plants (eg orchids) or spider plants or asperagus ferns here; these are common in other walls.

I look forward to revisiting this plantwall in the coming months and years to see how it grows and how formal Minto manges to keep it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


 Ashcroft is proposing a wide two or three storey arch on the north side of its convent development in Westboro. They are proposing an "arched" arch, rather than the very square ones at 200 Lett St (Claridge's project on LeBreton Flats). The photos above show their north arch. Notice that the road surface and pedestrian walking surface are undifferentiated with so much as a curb or coloured paver. At the midpoint of each Claridge arch is the entrance to the parking garage, so this passageway is sometimes busy with cars. The length of the passageway through the building seems short enough for pedestrians, with the eye attracted to the daylight at each end. It certainly does not feel like a Queensway underpass!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Undoing streetscaping

Millions of your water bill dollars was spent on beautifying Preston street over the last few years. A lot more trees and shrubs will be installed next month to complete the project.

Vigilance is required to keep it nice. We have already seen homeowners and property owners eager to pave over landscaped boulevards to make legal or "informal" parking pads. In the case above, the gas company dug up about 6 linear feet of landscaped area along the sidewalk to install a valve. They backfilled with sand but did not replace the mulch. Nor did they bother to replant the shrub, shown lying on its side towards the left. I wonder if that was the only shrub pulled out ... or if other ones got trucked away with the waste.

I called the city. It would be nice to know if the contractors ever get their hands slapped for this carelessness.

A incident a number of years ago discourages me. Bell dug up a whole row of shrubs at the corner of Rochester and Albert, laid them out on the sidewalk, and banked up the rootballs with dirt. All very good ... except that they left them there for about a month, never watering them, until they all died. They they replanted the carcasses in a neat row and headed off into the august sunset.

Really special

As seen at the Westboro Loblaws "real canadian super store".
Someone flunked math.
The bin underneath was half empty -- or half full. Was this because shoppers were not taking the product ... or because they were?