Friday, April 30, 2010

One hour to a cleaner neighborhood

On Saturday morning at 10am a group of Dalhousie residents will gather at the Dalhousie community centre (corner of Empress and Somerset) for an hour (or two) of neighborhood grooming. We provide the gloves, bags, and friends. In small groups, we tidy up a few blocks or nuisence spots. This year the focus will be on the two pedestrian staircases that go up/down Nanny Goat Hill. The Primrose staircase runs east-west; the Empress Ave staircase runs north/south; the bottom of the Empress stair comes out near the Good Companions centre.

One of the nicest aspects of gathering up the miscellaneous debris is soaking up the praise ... there isn't a pedestrian going by who doesn't stop to thank us for tidying up. We hope this evangelizes into people more concerned about keeping our neighborhood tidy.

Please feel free to join your neighbors Saturday.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tiptoe through the tulips

On Sunday is the upcoming Tulipathon Walk sponsored by Multifaith Housing Initiative to raise money and also awareness of the need for affordable housing for low-income people in Ottawa.

It's this Sunday, May 2nd, from 2 to 4 pm, with registration beforehand at Commissioner's Park (Dow's Lake and Preston). It's a 6 km. walk from there through the park to Fifth Ave. and back again - with tulips in view along the way.

Candelabra lighting for Somerset?

Noticed these candelabra in storage at the government warehouse at 1010 Somerset Street, the putative parole office now used as a stone cemetery and for architectural salvage.

While they are likely hiding out during stone work renovations on parliament hill, I thought they might make interesting pedestrian light fixtures on the soon-to-be streetscaped Somerset Street out front of this warehouse.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dalhousie wins the Stanley Cup

I note from the morning paper that some government bodies here in Ottawa are excited at the notion of building a 65' high  replica of the Stanley Cup. That's about six to seven stories high. A site is yet to be found.

Obviously, such a cup won't fit comfortably on a small downtown plaza, like the teapot with the revolving tree in front of Minto Place. I suggest it should go in a more visible spot.

Since the cup is named after Lord Stanley, and Lord Stanley's full title was Lord Stanley of Preston (yup, true, I read it in the paper) then it could go somewhere along Preston Street. The Dow's Lake end is out of the question, as the NCC wants that to be "natural" and even ruled out the gift of a Dutch windmill. The mid parts of Preston are all developed. That leaves the north end.

Most readers will know Preston is to be extended north of Albert, over the aqueduct, and connected to the existing intersection of Vimy Private (War Museum entrance) and the new Wellington Street. This extension is to be built as part of the very first phase of the DOTT - LRT project. So why not put it where Preston crosses the LRT line? It would be a short stroll from either the massive Bayview station or the LeBreton Station. It would be visible to motorist, tour bus, and transit traffic passing north-south and east-west. It would be accessible on major cycling routes (BikeWest, Ottawa River paths, north-south LRT corridor cycling route the Cyclopiste de Preston). As the buildings are not yet built along the street, the monument and adjacent buildings could be properly integrated. If the Ottawa bixibike system ever gets going, there would be a convenient tourist cycling route from the downtown to the War Museum to the Stanley Cup monument to Dows Lake (with a stop of gellato on Preston) and back to the downtown along the canal.

Sounds like a winner to me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

city map, 1895

Double click on the map to enlarge it, and scroll around it for a bit to explore Ottawa in 1895. Notice the area called "Dalhousie" - our community name goes a long way back.

Notice that a number of streets have the same name. The Queensway is still a railroad right of way. Carling Avenue is simply "Macadam road"(Macadam invented asphalt paving). Notice that Gladstone doesn't exist, but many of its segements do, which goes some way to explaining why that street twists and curves the way it does as it connects up bits and pieces of older streets on not-quite-matching grids.

I also like seeing the lost creek that exits Dow's Lake and travels down what is now Preston to Nepean Bay. At some point, this creek was swallowed up into the brick sewer built under Preston Street about 1898. The construction of the Somerset Viaduct just west of Preston raises the ground level enough to prevent the entire Preston basin from continuing to drain towards the River, which resulted in a century of flooding basements during heavy storms.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Integrating streets, sidewalks, with ped-bike paths

There is a pedestrian-cyclist path along the east side of the Otrain cut from Carling to Young Street. Hopefully this path will be rebuilt and extended next year (a study is underway) to become a really useful cycling link "Cyclopiste de Preston".

Some careful thought needs to be given to how the path will connect to the sidewalks and pavements of the adjacent dead-end streets - there are many of them.

Currently, only one street has its sidewalk (and only on one side) properly connect to the recreational path. This works well for pedestrians, but what are cyclists supposed to do? Walk their bike? (unlikely); ride on the sidewalk then swerve onto the road? (likely) and the movement is even more awkward for those going from the street to the path as the connection is only on the wrong (left) side of the road.

For many of the side streets, there simply isn't a proper connection between the city sidewalk and city pedestrian path a few meters further along:

And sometimes the informal goat trail connection cannot align well with the sidewalk at all. These trails are muddy, some are steep, all are awkward and unmaintained.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chinatown Arch gets own blog

Last week saw the official groundbreaking ceremony for the new Chinatown royal arch. In the photo above, Grace Xin of the Chinatown BIA puts incense into a holder. From left to right, Senator Vivian Po, John Baird, Bob Chiarelli, Yasir Naqvi, Chinese Ambassador, Councilors Holmes and Wilkinson.

Shown below are two of the first concrete castings made for the arch. The casting yard is on Cambridge, behind the Yangtze.

Stone lions, to guard the base of the arch, from China.

As a lot will be happening at this gateway site, I have set up a separate blog site to follow the Arch: It has a RSS button at the top of its page, so you can elect to have the new posts sent directly to you.

I anticipate there will be only one or two posts per week. At quiet times, there will be picture posts of arches in other world cities. I have found about 20 such pictures thus far.

You are unlikely to ever experience another royal arch construction in your lifetime, so be sure to pop over to Chinatown to inspect the progress, and follow the blog postings when you cannot be there. If you send me photos, I will try to use them: mailto:EricDarwin1@gmail%20(dot)%20com.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New housing on Preston

when landscapers plopped in the nice sized trees along the Preston boulevard a few weeks ago, this tree came with a housing unit. No sign if the occupant came with it ... or if this is the start of  condo mania on Preston.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cycling UP 400% in March

At a recent transportation briefing at City Hall reference was made to March cycling being up 400% over prior years. I asked for the data, and got this:

Cycling speaker Friday 5pm

Condo mania

Here's the crowd lined up outside the SohoLisgar project by StarwoodMastercraft, on Lisgar near Bank. I happened by at 7pm, and there was already a crowd inside the sales office.

I am not sure if this line up reflects the desirability of the units, or if it a shining demonstration of creating demand and a sense of urgency to sell that first 30-50% of the units.

When I passed by again at 9.30 the caterers were packing up but there was still about 25 people in the sales presentation centre.

At the side of the building is this poster, about 15' high:
Now the model might be sitting on her bed, delighted to be home ... but I first think it shows her sitting on the device invented by Sir Thomas Crapper.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Frosty the Snowman going, going, gone

Frosty ... we barely knew ya! And yet there he is, looking cheerful with his mitts and top hat and broom, getting a few minutes of sun ... before ... oh god ! I can hear the grinding of the big truck in the next block ... Frosty! Hide!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

modern cycling

I read on a cycling blog the other evening about a guy visiting Holland. He was impressed with all the cycling infrastructure, but incredulous about one feature of dutch bikes.

They don't have any brakes.

Seriously, he thought they didn't have brakes.

Instead he told me, it is necessary to pedal backwards ! He swore it's true.

Am I so old that only I remember when all bikes were "coaster" brake: you pedaled forward to go forward, you stopped pedalling to coast, and you pushed in reverse to apply the brakes. Has everyone born since the popularity boom of the ten speed bike in the 1970's only ever seen the hand brake and derraileur?

I was delighted to see this large trike in front of an "antique" store on Somerset West. I had one of these as a kid, back in the days when kids only got a two wheeler when they were 8 or 10 years old. Heck 18 month old kids today got plastic two wheelers and these trikes are ... well ... antiques. Like me.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The price is right

A few weeks ago I posted this pix from our favorite westboro loblaws. The bin was half full/half empty ... did buyers figure out the math?

This week I saw this bin, and Charlie the Tuna was really on sale for a better price. The bin was full. Go figure.

I also noticed the double pack of shreddies was way more expensive than the sale pack of individual boxes of square shreddies at the aisle end. Buy smaller boxes, more packaging, save more. So I returned my big box to the correct shelf on the aisle and took some small ones ... only to discover they were diamond shreddies and more expensive per box than the giant box.

Moral: the biggest isn't always the best deal. If it's on sale at the aisle end it may not be the same box in the mid aisle. Gotta pay attention, shoppers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

War-torn Somerset Street

Wanted poster on a pharmacy window in our west side neighborhood. That's our Yasir in the centre picture, yes sir. Grammar is apparently not on the curriculum at drug mart skool.

Still, I cannot be the only one wondering at how quickly the Ontario government trotted out those 'fighting for the little guy' responses to "big pharma". The distrust of the ordinary citizen for big government, big business, big media, big religion,  or other vested interests ... is huge for a good reason.

Like American citizens who wondered how cutting billions from medicare could make the health care system better. Or how American health care reform primarily "extended" coverage to the single lowest user group of the medical system by forcing them to pay health premiums while leaving 25 million needy residents of the USA uncovered and untaxed. (Was that about extending coverage or extending taxes?) Or how removing cigarattes from Ontario drug stores (surely they are a drug, and probably a bad one...) into convenience stores made sense.

I recall my last visit to Holland finding restuarants largely unvisitable because of the dense smoke fumes -- the tolerance for mary jane and other practices that we puritanically supress also means they did not regulate tobacco use very much (the situation is now changing, but the hypocracy remains both there and here).

Any voter capable of putting two thoughts together has to realize that the government wants save X billion dollars by cutting druggist payments, but the drug stores cannot take the "hit" without there being some consequences. Expect a longer hike through the expanded cosmetics section on your way to the reduced-hours pharmacy counter. The old prescription of government wacking greedy private enterprise isn't the easy sell it once was.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Water trailer --- first sip, second sip

The city of Ottawa is considering buying two water trailers for special events similar to the Toronto one pictured above.

The City of Toronto  created HTO to Go, a mobile water trailer that serves as a big drinking fountain.City crews deliver HTO to Go to local events and connect it to a safe supply of potable water (usually a connection to a water main).They have two mobile water trailers available for free to provide water at special events throughout Toronto. 

 There is a stainless steel trough on each side of the trailer; 10 drinking taps (five on each side); 10 spigot taps (five on each side) for filling drinking bottles; step stools for children and cups available to accommodate accessibility challenges; two automatically-refilling doggy bowls at the back; bright, attractive trailer, with lit signage to attract visitors; professional and courteous crew who take care of the trailer from start to finish.

My first reaction to this "what a good idea". But on second thought, I wondered how much staff time and equipment is required to sterilize this trailer after or before each use. City staff is unionized, with minimum hours of work per shift rules, I can imagine it might take two guys plus a supervisor an entire shift to deliver the trailer and set it up (if it doesn't require workers from another branch to set it up ... connect to the watermains ... or operate it...). Then there is the crew to operate it -- at least two people, full shifts, at special events that occur mostly at weekends or evenings ... and to bring it back to the yards. I can see the operating cost of this "good idea" being a shift-premium bonanza to staff.

And just why is the City delivering water to special events? We charge Bluesfest and other festivals for the policing ... the traffic control ... the health inspectors ... all of which are more crucial to public health than a free water fountain. Of course, the merchants who pay top dollar to get a vending spot at or near the festival won't mind a bit if the city gives away competing product free from a locale they didn't pay for. Who will pick up and dispose of all those disposable drinking cups?

As much as this looks like a "good idea" I think there are significant hidden costs that make it much less attractive on second sip. Once again, its not the capital cost, it's the operating cost that needs to be determined.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tree planting resumes

In the late afternoon yesterday, workers planted about 12 more trees along Preston, just north of the Queensway. Some of the trees surprised me by their caliber and size -- these are not delicate twigs being planted here. As summer goes on, pedestrians like this lady going to yoga class, will be walking on sidewalks in the dappled shade.

Stop the Busses rally

Forty two people, plus some media types and politicians, showed up for the  7.30am rally at the corner of Bayswater and Scott for a rally to raise awareness of the possible shifting of transitway buses onto Scott/Albert during LRT construction period.

Councillor Leadman was there, as was challenger Katherine Hobbs. Paul Dewar and Yasir Naqvi were also present, as was one city transit planning honcho, and there were a few residents also wearing suits. Dogs and children in strollers and one in a 19th century costume, completed the picture.

The streetside venue was somewhat noisy, so I didn't hear any of the speaches. Several people present gave media interviews or soundbites; the few I overheard were careful to distinguish between the LRT project (good for the neighborhood) and the lack of plans as to where to put the buses now on the transitway during the construction period (bad).
                                  The back of Paul Dewar's head and the front of Yasir Naqvi's.

The biggest smile was on the bus driver who arrived (nice new bus, clean) at the stop and loaded on several passengers, whilst the media types on the sidewalk snapped pictures of him.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

CCOC expands

Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) owns a number of apartment buildings and other units in the centretown and centretown-west areas. They acquired this small apartment building on Primrose at Arthur Street during the winter. It contains small bachelor units. CCOC intends to upgrade the building with federal grants, including new windows, new insulated roof, and other energy upgrades.

As neighborhoods in the west side undergo gentrification, many rental units are lost. Mostly these are inside homes, which were converted or subdivided into smaller units. These converted units deliver affordable units, but also accelerate the wear and tear on elderly wood frame housing, and are a factor in neighborhood deterioration. Yes, there are many quality home conversions into multiple units ... but also many shoddy and neglected ones. New construction tends to be more expensive than what it replaces, squeezing out the lower income residents of an area.

Personally, I am happy to see new units built at market rates. I am happy to see deteriorated housing stock restored with a sensitive eye, even if this dislodges tennants. I am happy to see quality house conversions. I am delighted to see CCOC preserving a stock of lower-priced rental units. I welcome new assisted housing units such as the 42 unit apartment building Cornerstone now has under construction at the former Desjardins IGA/Loeb site on Booth at Eccles. I think the City should be busting its @ss to develop the parking lot at Cambridge and Somerset into parking below/affordable housing above. It takes all types of residents and housing forms to make a good neighborhood.

Opportunity to meet a community association...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bronson -- stick to the status quo ...

The first meeting of the business advisory committee and the public advisory committee (BAC,PAC) meet with City officials and their consultants last night for the first time about the reconstruction of Bronson Avenue, which will take place in segments over the next few years and chew up $40million dollars.

There was no issue with the need to replace the sewers and watermains, most of which date to the 1887-1907 period. The construction project itself will be major, with trenches up to 24' deep and years of digging, dust, mud...

The main focus was on what is put back on the surface. The City officials and consultants stuck firmly to their position that this is a road project only. Constantly citing the road geometry standards issued by the Roads and Transportation Advisory Council (TAC) and desired lane widths cited in RMOC documents, they want to widen Bronson by an average of 2' throughout its length.

In its present form, Bronson has evolved over many years and each block is slightly different width and angle. The traffic engineers want to smooth out these differences, and make the lanes more standard. The road allowance is narrow however, and to fit in the standardized lanes they intend to "pare back" the sidewalk widths in a number of blocks to the "minimum" widths permitted by the City.

They constantly appealed to the thirty or so community members in attendance to understand that this widening was primarily to benefit cyclists, by giving them more room. The appeal fell flat; most attendees clearly saw it as a subtrefuge for facilitating car traffic.

The consultants cheerfully described how, after all the road widening and utilty work was done, and everything was paved to the limit of the right of way, their landscape architect (mercifully left unnamed) would be let loose to find leftover bits of land to "green" with trees.

It would be safe to say the City official's view of how the scheme would unfold -- you know, stick to the status quo -- was received with as much welcome as a late spring snowfall.

Why, asked the audience, do the planners constantly cite the RTAC lane standards but never the Mainstreet design guidelines? or the "scenic route" designation that Bronson has? (bet you didn't know the city calls Bronson scenic). Answer: "Oh, we will... after we design the traffic lanes, we'll see what space we have left over..."

Why, asked the audience, are all the utilties going to be allowed to bury their wires and ducts as shallow as they want which will prevent later tree planting ... wouldn't it make sense to make the ducts 4' deep so stuff can be planted above? (City answer: "no".)

Why, asked the audience, do the planners constantly work from the position that the road must have at least four lanes? Why not look at making it three lanes with the centre lane reversing at each rush hour, like on the Champlain bridge? Or why not make it two lanes plus parking bays, like has been done on other arterials such as Preston, West Wellington, Somerset? Why not start with the goal of having wide sidewalks, tree lined streets, a liveable street, and then see how many lanes can be fit into that model??  The city answer: "uh, gosh, I guess we can look at those models and then screen them out after looking at them." Yup, that's  what we heard. Actual quote.  No kidding.

It was around this point that Councillor Holmes asked why we couldn't get the same engineers and city planners who worked on Preston and Somerset who understood downtown neighborhoods, livable streets,and listened to residents and local businesses instead of catering to single occupancy car commuters heading to Pointe Gatineau or Barrhaven? Answer: the contract has been let and the city has confidence in its consultants etc etc.

While the city official and planners insisted that they knew the street was designated a traditional mainstreet ... when asked they didn't know what this meant, or what parts of the street held this designation (hint: its Laurier to Carling in the offical plan), or what a scenic route might comprise.

Audience members knew the area well, offering specific comments and complaints. One person (ok, it was me...) recalled when his parents & grandparents lived at the corner of Bronson and Christie and the front yard held a giant tree and green grass and Bronson was only two lanes and families lived all along the road and walked to school ... (warning: don't try these things today). Contrast that to the meeting last night held in the old Immac High School with the din of traffic outside so loud it drowned out the speakers.

They did throw out some bones to the audience. A pedestrian refuge (little triangular island) is proposed for the middle of Bronson on the south side of Albert "because there is too much pavement there we don't need". They will actually decrease curb radii at a number of intersections where one way streets meet Bronson -- mind you, these radii decreases are just going to match the RTAC standards and will decrease the crosswalk distance on already quiet side streets.

They promised to look at the issue of pedestrians crossing Bronson at Arlington (in front of Harvey's ... it is great lunch time entertainment to watch people get stuck on the yellow centre line as they try to cross this street).  They promised, decidedly unenthusiastically I thought, to examine community-suggested improvements to the intersections at Somerset and Gladstone. And pedestrian discomfort at various specific spots, but only to the degree they could do something without increasing the city right of way, ie no property acquisition, and apparently in this 40 million dollar project there is absolutely no budget room for any retaining walls or similar mods that might be necessary to widen a sidewalk against a slope or drop off of as little as 3'.

A hit tune from a few years ago kept going through my head throughout this evening of unfortunate events: stick to the status quo, do what you know. (Maybe it was the high school location that did it...) It will be ... interesting ... to see if this road-widening traffic-facilitating scheme can be turned around into something else. City rights of way like Bronson only get redeveloped once every hundred years, we've got to get it right.

Overly wide city sidewalk awaiting "paring down"

Home sweet home

Large wasp or bee's nest hanging over Spruce Street near Booth.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bus Traffic on Scott/Albert

Presuming the conversion of the transitway from buses to LRT goes ahead after the upcoming municipal election -- and this is a big presumption since Watson, for one, is running on a platform of reexamining not just the tunnel component but even whether we should have LRT service at all (he seems to favour perpetual bus service)-- there will be many transitioning issues to deal with.

One contentious issue is what to do with the buses that currently run on the transitway while the road is being removed and rails and LRT stations are being installed. This was a big issue last year, and in my opinion a lot of the worst aspects have been addressed: http://www.http//, and http://www.http//  You can click on the links in the word cloud to the right to go back to read previous LRT and DOTT posts. There are still a number of issues to be addressed regarding how many buses will be shifted onto Scott Street between Tunney's and Bayview, and Albert Street from Bayview to downtown, during and after the construction period.

A somewhat alarmist poster and "fact sheet" are reproduced below. I will attend the walkabout. I am hoping that the organizers will show concern for catholic and french children in the area and invite those school trustees too.

I think it is important that the bus route concern not become a hammer to whack at the LRT project itself, or we run the risk of rising the tide of opposition (for various diverse and contradictory reasons) that might delay or kill the LRT project.

The poster:

The text on the back of the poster:

The Facts as we understand them:

• Scott Street is being proposed to be used as a temporary route for 3- 5 years as the light rail extension is being constructed. This is 3 buses a minute during rush hour and bus traffic 24 hrs a day.

• Scott St. is being proposed to be used permanently as a route for express buses coming from Kanata and Stittsville. This is to save suburban riders the inconvenience of transferring stations. It makes no sense to spend 1.2 Billion dollars on a transitway to then take buses off the new transitway and have them go down a residential street.

• Alternative routes are being considered,which are more suitable such as the Ottawa River Parkway which is not residential.

• Scott St. is already heavily travelled with traffic exceeding the speed limits. Adding a significant amount of bus traffic will make it dangerous to both local residents and pedestrians. Laneways and small streets off Scott will be next to impossible to turn onto, back out of especially during rush hour. The narrow sidewalk is not suitable and safe for pedestrians, especially children, with numerous fast vehicles so close. Many school children must cross Scott to get to school, which will be difficult with heavy traffic.

• Scott St is residential with some houses less than 6’ from the road (house at corner of Hilda and Scott) Houses are already sprayed with slush etc. which will only increase with numerous buses all day long.

• Our own local bus service has been cut to one bus every ½ hour.

• The original transitway was built below ground in order to protect the community from the noise, pollution and environmental consequences of mass transit so close to homes. No protection is being proposed for the residents of Scott St. in either the short term or long term.

Chinatown arch

Preparatory work is well underway for the Chinatown Arch. The Ottawa Hydro trucks shown here have been working all week to relocate the wiring on the south side of Somerset between Cambridge and Bronson. The Chinatown arch groundbreaking will be in two weeks and the unaesthetic wiring needs to be out of the way. The cost of removing the wiring ... not cheap!... is being borne by the Chinatown BIA.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Public Gardening

These crocuses are blooming in the garden in front of the Plant Recreation Centre at the corner of Somerset and Preston Streets.

The lovely garden at the corner was built, planted, and is maintained by community volunteers. It is on city-owned land. It illustrates the power of volunteer community action.

Personally, I feel the City tries to do too much -- too much of what I don't want, and not enough of what I do want. And too much of what it shouldn't be doing could be done perfectly well by others. Can you image the tax load if the city had to plan, implement, maintain (inventory each plant on a database??) the three public gardens along these few blocks of Somerset? Instead, some cooperation (letting gardeners garden), a few resources (some grant money to get some of the gardens started), and ongoing support limited to the occasional linking up to a city tap ... yields great results.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Somerset, old and new

This photo is from the 1950's, looking west along Somerset. The road rises up on the viaduct to cross the CPR tracks. Lots of industrial land uses are visible in the distance. The residences in the foreground have abundant tree shade and shelter from the "busy" street. The Plant Pool is out of sight on the immediate left of the picture.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Think Thin

Downtown neighborhoods can have a tremendous variety of amenities, depending on the neighborhood history, road allowances, and other oddities that pre-date modern standards that too often result in in a blah uniformity of environment. I particularly like this narrow sidewalk, one block north of Beech, off Preston.

This sidewalk is less attractive, mostly because of the close proximinity of the rough stucco wall of the adjacent restaurant, and the presence of the lamppost (pardon... street furniture) plopped down in the centre of the walk along with a stop sign that is about 25' from the corner. The kitchen staff of the restaurant often sit out on this tiny sidewalk for a smoke... sort of like a sidewalk patio for the lower paid rest of us.

In marked contrast, the new wider sidewalks of Preston offer lots of room for pedestrians and patios and other street activities. The completing touches, such as trees and shrubs, will be arriving shortly. By June, the streetscape should be remarkably green and pleasant. Then it is up to the merchants and residents to make the best use of the new spaces.