Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gardening in Centretown

This new garden was installed last week in front of a row house on Lisgar. The corrugated metal (sewer) pipe porch pillar catches the eye, follwed by the bright painted corrugated fence panel on the right. The similar panels on the left of the walk are painted black. The sidewalk is actually at right angles to the public sidewalk, but the boardwalk cover is angled slightly, which adds interest (and possibly, like the NCC stairs along the canal which are also at a diagonal, disorienting...).

The garden plantings are in the usual modern style of few plant types repeated in patterns. The architect who lives here has done a great job of making an interesting garden to watch whilst walking by.   It may take several minutes of observing the garden before noticing the door step has been raised, which contributes to the "different" look and feel.

I like this garden because much of the result comes from good design rather than buckets of money.

Monday, June 28, 2010

383 Albert, transit oriented parking requirements

The pictures above show the Claridge proposal for three residential (condo) towers in downtown Ottawa. As noted in a post a few days ago, they are to be built on the lot between the Crowne Plaza Hotel and 151 Bay condos. The current parking lot location abuts Barabarella's dancing establishment, which will remain after this project is built.

The two 28 storey and one 22 storey towers will have approx 481 apartments. They are located directly above the proposed west downtown LRT station which is under Albert Street. Perhaps those delighted looking ladies in the photomontage just exited the LRT and are headed towards Minto Place ...

The city rationalizes a big part of its LRT expenditure on intensified infill development around the stations. As part of this intense Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) the plans call for high density and reduced parking.

Claridge is proposing to provide 365 residential parking spaces (365spaces/481units=75% parking). This is less than what developers usually provide for condos, for eg along Richmond Road, West Wellie, or Champagne Avenue they provide 113% (1.13spaces per unit). Better developers provide reserved prime spots for VirtuCar since each VirtuCar satisfies approximately 17 households, ie eliminates 17 parking stalls which cost developers approx $30k each to build (several developers I talked to said the 30k cost/price is cost recovery).  Claridge is also providing 241 bike parking spaces (50%) which I suspect is way too low.

So what does the City of Ottawa require as the MAXIMUM number of spaces the developer can provide for this Transit Oriented Development, so as to encourage people to walk and use transit?? Why ... the maximum number of spaces within 600m of a transit station is ... wait for it ... 722 spaces, or 150% parking. Think about that: the city's maximum number of spaces to encourage transit usage is HIGHER than developers want to provide or normally provide either in the downtown core or inner suburbs. Is our TOD policy as farcical as it looks? Makes me wonder what other marvellous things are in that policy.

Hintonburg wall mural

This new mural is facing the parking lot entrance to the Hintonburg Community Centre on West Wellie.

It has all the characteristics of a good location: blank block wall, facing a parking lot entrance and parking spaces, visible with great sight lines from the street.

In the foreground is the volunteer planted perennial garden recently installed by ... hintonburgers.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fence me in...

This Albert / Bay Street building used to have a deocrative iron fence around its side garden. It was removed about 20 years ago, but this segment was left behind, because the trees have incorporated the fence into their trunks.

Cliff becomes hole

The view from Primrose of the lot beside the staircase up to Upper Lorne Place and the upper section of Primrose.

The former cliff becomes a squared-off hole, ready for footings.

Neighbours tell me there will be a 3 storey house, with entrance and parking garage off Upper Lorne and the house having secondary entrances off the staircase. That is similar to what was there a number of years ago, when the existing red house at the foot of the stairs had its main entrance on its second floor off a landing on the stairs.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dubious new building

Double click on the picture to enlarge, and look for the horizontal "cracks" on the panels above the right-most garage door.

This view is from Laurier Avenue of the back of the new Export Canada building that faces Slater and O'Connor. These concrete panels are in various shades of dark gray. I don't know if they are supposed to show this much colour variation, or if they will age to a similar colour. But right now they are ... of dubious delight. And a bunch of the panels show horizontal "cracks" and scratches that are visible now and will probably be more visible with time. Not awe-inspiring.

Does anyone like these panels, and if so, why?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Downtown delights

A view down a downtown driveway to a patio and spiral staircase to an upstairs balcony.

Outside a fairly plain small office tower, a neat row of shrubs, fence, and bright colourful display of impatiens. Simply delightful.

Maclaren Tower - bye bye red brick

The two photos above are of the senior's residence on Maclaren street. The photos were taken from the small part of the apartment lot that opens onto Somerset, beside Hartman's grocery store.

New balcony railings were installed earlier. Now framing is being attached to the red brick tower to put a new skin on the building (and hopefully upgrade the insulation at the same time). Soon, the only brick visible will be on the inset balconies, and the traditional red brick residential look will become some sort of panel exterior.

This makes an interesting project for sidewalk superintendents.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Condo Development linked to LRT ? Will Claridge "play ball"?

The lot shown in the pictures below is bounded by Queen street on the right (north); Lyon in the foreground (east side); and Albert Street to the left (south). Claridge, a prominent Ottawa condo developer, owns it.  Your photog is standing at the foot of the downramp from the Crowne Plaza hotel:

This view is from the corner of Albert and Lyon, at the foot of the ramp up to the Crowne Plaza's awful driveway ramp entrance. The red brick building at the far side of the lot is 151 Bay, a fourteen storey condo built by Teron in the 70's as part of the Delta Hotel and office tower complex off to the right:

Here is a view from the west corner of the lot, near the Bay/Albert intersection. The CS CO-OP building is immediately to the right, not shown in this photo, which is the site of the proposed new main Library and the entrance to the LRT station a hundred or so feet down:

Here's a view of the lot from the fourteenth floor of 151 Bay Street. Barbarella's strip club is the low rise building on the left side of the lot, the Crowne Plaza and Constitution Square office buildings are beyond:

The Downtown Ottawa transit tunnel (DOTT) project for our underground LRT system will run under Albert Street (the right side of the above picture)  beside the largely vacant lot. To the right, just off the edge of the picture, is the Cs Co-Op lot, which is proposed to become the site of a large new Library building. The western portion of the downtown will be served by a underground LRT station. The station would have two entrances:
  • one to the east end of the station platforms, coming up beside the fountain in front of Place de Ville, serving the  downtown office buildings; and
  • one entrance from the west end of the platform, coming up through the Library building, and serving the concentration of residential high rises there. 
The two figures below are lifted from an earlier DOTT planning report showing the two entrances in a bird's eye view and a cut-away drawing showing the entrance under the Library block and an optional one in the east under the Constitution Square complex.

                            double click to enlarge
Claridge is proposing three towers for the lot: a 28 storey condo (twice as tall as the Teron red brick condo already on the Bay street end of the block); a second 28 storey condo tower (taller than the Crowne Plaza, shorter than Place de Ville tower C); and a 22 storey condo tower. The height will be 81m (the current zoning permits 60m); all on a one storey commercial podium.

There is evidence in the literature that builders will pay a premium of up to 25% for sites close to a transit station. In this case, Claridge bought the site some years ago. So it has increased in value a lot. In turn, he can charge a premium for the condos there (about 4%), due to their proximity to the LRT station. Link:  http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_15290467 The story in the link -- from Denver, another snowy city like ours -- shows the proximity to transit is the second most important factor for residents there in selecting their high rise location.

And it would be very attractive to live in a complex directly connected to a transit station: all indoor connections via LRT to two universities and one college; to the Rideau Centre, convention centre, St Laurent, to the train station and eventually to the airport. And to many employment centres. The location will appeal to students, professors, young professionals, and seniors.  So will Claridge build the link to the LRT station?

I think if this was an office structure, Claridge would not hesitate to build the link. In this case and given the hot condo market, I think he would sell out easily whether the link to the station is across the street or within his building concourse. If I were Claridge, I'd build an elevator down to the station that was from a separate transit lobby connected to the condo concourse so residents could stay indoors, and public sidewalk users could access the elevator down- lobby from the sidewalk (but not enter the condo lobbies).

But, my sources indicate Claridge is not excited about a direct connection. Apparently, part of the problem is the unknown cost of maintaining the elevator, escalators,  and lobby, which would become the eventual responsibility of the condo owners. In this case, I think it logical to structure the access structures as a condominium itself, with the the three Claridge towers owning a part, and the city owning a part. Count the users every three years or so, and split the maintenance costs between the parties according to how many people use the elevator from the sidewalk vs the condo. The uncertainty risk is then split amongst several parties.

Another complication is that in the current DOTT plans, the city-constructed station entrance comes up through the new Library site. If the Library is not under construction by 2017, then a temporary building to house the top of the elevator shafts and escalators would be required on the Library site, to be later incorporated into the Library building. But what if the city gives up on the Library entrance for the opening of the LRT and instead builds the entrance on the north side of Albert, on the Claridge lot, as part of their condo development, and leaves the the Library access for construction later, when the library complex is actually built?? (this also gives more flexibility in where the station access would come up in the Library building -- on Albert street side or the Slater street side...)

I trust the city has senior staff -- backed up by some imaginative staff capable of thinking outside the box (and they do exist) --  negotiating with Claridge right now to come to some workable solution for a direct connection to the LRT station. If agreement is possible, it creates a valuable precedent and market vote of confidence in the value of connecting with the LRT underground.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Residents of Hintonburg

 Now we know what they are called:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rememberance of people & things past ...

In Cambridge MA this neighbourhood commemorates people with signs. Virtually every corner was named after someone. A veteran. A resident.

Nothing special was done the corner to designate it a "square" as far as I could see, it was still the small inner city intersection of two residential streets.

But it certainly gave an amazing sense of history, of continuity, of neighbourhood, of topophilia, to the area. There were individuals here before you, who made a difference. Who were they?

If I was doing this in my west side neighborhood, I think signs honouring residents would be the start, but they could also commemorate events, geography, history ...

History is written by the victors, so the saying goes, and history tends to commemorate the upper classes who have the means to memorialize it.

For every cute wooden house in Upper Canada Village there were dozens of families huddled in tents, which are conspicuously absent from the village.

In citiies like Ottawa, neighbourhoods with clusters of academics and senior civil servants (or neighbourhoods that interest these classes) will get historic commenorations, like Sandy Hill, The Glebe, and Lowertown. Dundonald Park, surrounded by large victorian/queen anne homes, gets a historic name board; Plouffe Park gets a standard sign board. There is less history for the poor.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Beneath our feet

This inlaid paver pattern on Kent Street in front of the Hudson condo towers shows how a simple design can be effective for pedestrians and viewers from upper floors of the condos.

Most refreshingly, it broke out of the normal square patterns usually used, where some different coloured or textured blocks are substituted for others to make a pattern that keeps the overall rectilinear rigidity inherent in the blocks. In this pattern, the base blocks were laid over the whole area and then a saw cut was made in curvilinear pattern for the constrasting dark blocks to be inserted.

Iregular shaped blocks are not widely used in public spaces. Below are 'flagstone' type pavers with a cobble border and wider paver border.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

a leaf falls ...

Property owners take a variety of measures to discourage skateboarders from using walls as boarding surfaces. Usually, there are little clamps on the leading edge of the wall preventing a smooth run along the wall. A typical plain clamp is shown below. The other pictures are of a much more decorative and friendly-looking maple leaf that landed on the edge of the wall. Seen at World Exchange Plaza in downtown Ottawa.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Centretown Cat House

As seen on the second floor roof over a bay window, with special feline access via the second floor window, disco ball, toys, and the passing parade of humans stuck on the sidewalk down below.

Carling Ave open house


Tuesday, 22 June 2010

5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Dow’s Lake Pavillion (Vista Room) ground floor

1001 Queen Elizabeth Drive

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Street closures unfriendly to cyclists

This is a typical street closure in Ottawa. Closed to cars ... open to pedestrians ... and closed to cyclists? 

Cyclists approaching this particular barrier on Spruce Street can choose to ride on the sidewalk (naughty naughty) or squeeze through the centre bollard or side spaces (provided no one is parked close).

Why not remove the centre bollards and let cyclists carry on through? Yes, I know some motorbikes would go through too (they already do, on the sidewalk, I watch them daily do this on the Elm closure on the next block).

Bushwacking for cyclists

Last week a group of concerned citizens participated with the City and its consultants on the routing exercise for the O-Train corridor cycling path (cyclopiste de Preston). Participants represented the NCC, Dalhousie and Hintonburg Community Associations, CfSC and Cycle Vision Ottawa members, a landscape architect, engineer, planner, and others.
The cycling arterial will connect the Ottawa River cycling paths to the Otrain at Bayview, run along the tracks behind the City Centre complex, under Somerset via a new underpass, behind the PWGSC complex at 1010 Somerset, and come out at ground level again at Gladstone. Then a short overground stretch would take it beside the city signals yard annex, under the existing Qway overpasses, to Young Street, where it would join a rebuilt existing path along the east side of the Otrain cut all the way to Carling. The NCC person was present on the bushwacking expedition to consider, amongst other things, where it goes at Carling and how it connects to the Farm paths.

The areas behind the City Centre and 1010 Somerset proved to be very dense bush, with constant surprises hidden in the tall grass, weeds, and shrubbery: the odd half truckload of asphalt or cement, bits of rail, sleeping bags, laptop computers, etc. It is difficult to imagine a safe-feeling path there given the area's current appearance, but with tree thinning, opening up vistas, improved fencing, path lighting, and some suggested alignment and elevation mods, it will work well with current and future developments proposed along the corridor.

The cycling underpass under Somerset is also planned to handle the possibility of a LRT station at that location. If all goes to plan, the underpass would be constructed in 2011 with the path completed in 2012.

If you click on the word cloud to the right of this blog posting, select Cyclopiste de Preston to read earlier posts on each segment or use the search button.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bronson deja vu all over again

Last night was the second PAC (Public Advisory Committee) meeting on Bronson. After the hard time the city planners and consultants got at the first meeting in April, the May meeting disappeared in favour of a mid-June date.

The city and consultants got ideas from the public (me: the Bronson 2 lane plus two way left turn lane model) and the community associations (2 lanes plus turn lanes at intersections, a livable streets model that has worked so well for fixing roads with similar volumes in Toronto) and a lot of pressure from the Councillor to do better.

So they came out in full force last night. The city or the consultants hired more consultants to review their work (guess what: given the same marching orders and look-up tables, they came up with the same results -- well, duh!). They dragged out a planning junior who offered to stand at intersections with PAC members to consider how to improve ped movements -- if feasible and not interferring with car traffic flow. They brought in a landscape architect with large maps with huge coloured blobs on them identifying areas for pedestrian improvement and landscaping -- many of the blobs were on the paved road surface which is not exactly ped amentity space.

To cut to the nub:  the city inisists Bronson must stay as four lanes all the way through, no alternative configurations can be examined.

They did claim to abandon their prior suggestion to widen Bronson by at least 2'. Well, sort of. In an effort to promote consistent lane width, they would still widen Bronson in the area south of Gladstone; and in the north portion of the street where there was more land available, they proposed chewing away at adjacent green space to make the road lanes 35% wider than elsewhere. Mere details. 

Our planning politburo continuously chanted that their priorities were peds and cyclists first, transit, then private cars. Even the most naive participant would have a hard time swallowing that. For example, their ped first plans didn't quite allow for consistent minimum width (2m) sidewalks:  near Gladstone that meant sidewalks combined with bus stops combined with traffic signals and wooden utility poles would be a princely 1.5m wide.  On a busy corner. With the commercial storefront door also opening onto the sidewalk. Better hope those pedestrian hordes are real friendly. And turning cars don't cut too close.

The city planners rushed through the traffic and lane width stuff at breakneck speed, anxious to get to the brightly coloured dots (three colours! -- but alas no daisy shaped flower dots like I wanted) and magic markers (many colours!)
with which the remaining PAC members were to mark up big road maps with "suggestions" for consideration and implementation "where feasible" after "review by the TAC" (Technical Advisory Committee, ie the traffic engineers).

The landscaping proposals were somewhat attractive but severely constrained. Nice architectural drawings (planning porn) of benches and planters were shown, but won't actually be built along Bronson -- all the space has already been taken up by the pedestrian priority car lanes. Instead, they will be located on private property set back from the sidewalk where private property owners are willing to sign legal contracts permitting the city to do so. No word on how many of these planters and benches we might actually see, and many PAC members expressed scepticism that absentee landlords would ever consider these. Would even quasi-public landowners be intersted? --  the community minded Bronson centre itself has been busy removing trees each year and expanding the car parking zone in front of its building.
Double click to enlarge. The top two views illustrate a typical section of Bronson. Don't forget the car is speeding along at +60. The ped light is on the curb line, which is good. The proposed tree is on private property, if permission can be attained. The lower drawings show proposed treatment where parking lots abut the sidewalk. The planter and tree are on land cheerfully ceeded by the property owner who didn't mind the loss of revenue space.

The plans also showed lots of trees along the sidewalks -- of the side streets. These were shown based on the assumption that the Bronson reconstruction project would allow them to be planted there, as they were outside the current bounds of the project mandate. Oh dear.
But on Bronson itself, there wasn't room for any trees. So the architects proposed mechanical trees, artificial trees, that would be "planted" along the curb line with mechanical shading devices for peds. In the pix, they look sort of like those big plastic banana leaves you can get at IKEA to decorate your kids room. The tree trunks will help separate peds from cars.
Double click to enlarge. The top illustrations of are of benches, planters, brick pavers and other "landscape integration opportunities" all of which are on private property provided by willing and eager property owners. The bottom illustrations are of the bus shelter (also likely located on private lands) and the "architectural feature" are the artificial trees that substitute for the real thing since the pedestrian priority plans lack space for much of anyting except roadway.

It wasn't all bad at the meeting though. Staff and consultants were eager to be nicer than they were at the first meeting. They agreed to ped lighting along Bronson, with the posts located on the curb line (this is important as it restricts the apparent lane width, promotes subjective ped safety, and goes against the engineering view that the street and sidwalk should be one large open space for the safety of motorists and convenience of winter snow removal).

They proposed coloured concrete paving in the major intersections (easy to do! economical! they do it all the time!) even though that idea went down in cost and maintenance flames when studied for four years on Preston. Sidewalks will be made of concrete, perhaps stamped with a pattern, because interlock pavers like used on West Wellie, Richmond, Preston and other west side sidewalks "just won't stand up to our climate and heavy sidewalk plows and will look awful in ten years" (on this I share some sympathy: the city frequently demonstrates it is unable to maintain interlock pavers, whereas poured concrete is pretty simple stuff).

Summary: Car commuters to Pointe Gatineau win big. Peds get some lighting and fake trees. Adjacent land owers might get their front properties relandscaped provided they are willing to give up the space. Cyclists get nothing. PAC gets to hear more "mights" and "where feasibles" than normally treated to. Sidewalks get rebuilt, sometimes narrower, a few times a bit wider provided the room can be appropriated from green space. Decorative overhead wiring will stay on this "scenic entry route" to Ottawa.

C'est la vie in Ottawa.

Borrow, adapt, learn

The top two pix are of a small apartment building kitty korner the downtown Ottawa bus terminal. Its fun to look at as you walk by, the tilted windows add a nice sense of whimsy as do the flying roofs.

Below is Strata Centre on the MIT campus in Boston. It is full of fun angles, and the interior spaces -- a sort of atrium-cum-courtyard piazza -- are fun to walk in. It has a number of architectural jokes, including heavy brick walls that start in mid air two or three floors above your head (they are suspended walls), and I hear, a leaky roof.

Innovation in architecture and urban planning is carried out by more confident cities than Ottawa, and more timid places copy and paste, or borrow with adaptations, to retry those solutions in another context. Sometimes that makes a solution in search of a question. In others, it gives inspiration that shows lesser cities what can be done without the adapter risking their funds on innovation.

I posted the Rowe's Wharf pictures a few days ago and compared it to the Ashcroft Our Lady of the Condos site proposal.

Someday, maybe we will move beyond imitation and return to innovating. We used to do that well: the BRT transitway; NCC bike paths; the skateway on the canal, Sparks Street mall. Many innovations come about by force of a strong personality in the command office or a planning dept. They are virtually guaranteed not to be the product of a complicated committee consisting of various stakeholders working a cross purposes (viz Lansdowne).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nanny Goat Hill infill

An infill house is being constructed at the north end of Upper Lorne Place, where the staircase goes down to Primrose Street. This picture is taken from the bottom of the stairs. The back of the Dominican College library is in the background, which holds some Dead Sea scrolls. 

View from the top of the stairs. The house will be three floors, with a garage on the Upper Lorne Place side.This house will have high visibility from all four sides -- thus far we have no idea about what quality the exterior will be or what its design is.


Chinese arch progress

Six sections of roof will be installed on the Chinese Arch on Thursday. Today, in preparation for that lifting, the pieces were moved out onto Somerset street below the arch.

For more details, subscribe to http://www.ottawachinatownroyalarch.blogspot.com/

Great for dog walkers

On Spadina Avenue in Hintonburg, as it approaches West Wellie, the city has planted trees on both sides of the street right on the centreline of the concrete sidewalk that runs up the rest of the street. The black post in the foreground is a bike rack that also serves to protect trees from plows, etc.

I find it curious that with all the spare space off to the side, the tree was planted in the direct line of the sidewalk. Are trendy Hintonburgers all so thin they can slip by this tree? Do they all walk dogs? Are the sidewalks not going to be plowed? Is it traffic calmings for aggressive pedestrians?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Collatoral damage

On May 3rd, new shrubs and trees for Preston are stockpiled near the street. Note especially the trees in the background.

On May 7, the shrubs and trees are planted at the corner of Primrose. Note the Bell person hole in the sidewalk.

May 10th, Bell removed the planted material and leaves them on the side of the adjacent building, bare roots exposed, no pots, facing south.

The greenery fades ...

Bell "restores" the site. Dead shrubs removed. Note the mulch area is compressed by the steel plates that were stored there. Some rose bushes of the "pancake" variety remain.

11 June, landscaping resumes. These trees were stored near the site, out of the ground, since 3 May. Not many leaves left. New shrubs supplied and planted. 

Not to worry, the city tells me. Bell had to pay for the new shrubs. 

It still spells waste to me. 

Yuca-Yay !

Back in December 09  http://www.http//westsideaction.blogspot.com/2009/12/yucca-yuk.html I posted about the theft of the yucca plants from the front of the city parking garage that runs between Laurier and Slater. On the Laurier side there is a nice little strip of garden space. Then someone stole the nicest yucca plant (looks like a cactus, and yes, is winter hardy) from the west end of the garden, and sometime later, the one from the east end of the garden.

As shown, the City has replaced the plants and added some too. Looks nice. Kudos to whomever at the city actually notices these things and acts to repair the damage. And a plague of earwigs and slugs on whomever stole the yuccas in the first place.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Bronson Plan

Members of the Dalhousie and Centretown community associations met to create a suggested Bronson layout that would be a first step to creating a more liveable street.  Here are my notes on the proposal for a new Bronson between Albert and Gladstone:

 Drawing up a plan by ourselves has certain disadvantages -- we cannot estimate turn lane lengths, for example. But we are suggesting these things to the planning group in an effort to get started on a plan that might, with tweaking, be acceptable to the neighborhood and many stakeholders.

First, let's differentiate this plan from the one recently outlined on posts last week on this WestSideAction blog. That plan, for 2 lanes of traffic with a centre TWLTL (two way left turn lane) was developed because I had the traffic literature and volume data to back up the suggestion, ie, I know it will work.

The plan we suggest now is one we have not had time to find traffic literature to support, but there are enough similarities to the 2+TWLTL that we think it will handle the same volume of traffic while delivering more neighborhood benefits. At this point it should be pointed out that while we target handling the current volume of road traffic on Bronson, we by no means consider this sacred: the city is growing, it cannot endlessly stuff more traffic onto Bronson, at some point, it's a "no more" situation, and we see no reason why the volume last week is more defensible a upper limit than a volume some day in the future. If the redesigned road handles slightly less traffic, or with slightly more delays, so be it.

The basic outline of the plan is as follows:

  • reduce Bronson to two through lanes, with additional left turn lanes at signalized intersections such as Laurier, Primrose, Somerset, Christie, Gladstone. This should handle the current volume without delays.

  • in between these three lane sections, introduce one parking lane, probably on the west side (as there are fewer intersections on that side)

  • only the two through lanes to paved in asphalt, parking bays to protected by curb extensions with trees and utility poles such as light fixtures. Parking bays to be paved in interlock pavers or textured pavement so there is a clear and consistent message that this is a two lane road and not a four lane road interrupted by bulb outs

  • this 2 lane plus parking bay layout will permit the widening of the side boulevard by at least two feet on each side of the road. Coupled with paving sidewalks right back to the property limit, we will achieve wider sidewalks plus room for curb-side planting of trees at 12-16' centres

  • an experienced landscape consultant needs to be engaged to plan a very aggressive tree and shrub planting scheme including the city aggressively incorporating the adjacent dead spaces between most buildings and the front lot lines, ie on private property

  • reduce the posted speed limit if required to accomodate a tighter built environment and traditional main street character

With respect to lane size, the two traffic lanes should be of the city's standard width for vehicles plus cyclists in mixed traffic. We are not suggesting a painted bike lane. The turn lanes should be of a standard vehicle width without extra space for cyclists as cyclists in the turn lanes should "take the lane" if mixed with traffic, or if less confident, pause at the far side of intersections and turn 90 degrees with to stay on the curb edge.

We suggest that in this plan, funding be set aside to improve the parallel low-traffic-volume on-street cycling facilty. In particular, consider making Percy Street a two-way cycling facility with southbound cyclists mixed with traffic on sharrow-marked streets, and northbound cyclists in a painted counter flow lane along the east curb that is well marked as a no-stopping zone.

Obviously, there are many details to be worked out, but we are attempting to address the most salient issues so that this plan can be drawn up and considered as a credible alternative to the current unsatisfactory four lane carbuncle now in place.

Here are some more specific suggestions for designing this street as a two lane street:

 Bronson/Albert:  on the NW corner, widen the sidewalk right back to the property line with a retaining wall by the Juliana (consider purchasing additional land here to widen the sidewalk another 3') and directing the sidewalk to vear NW (using some of the park space here, a stone retaining wall to hold up the sidewalk will be necessary) to align with the path on the west side of Commissioner; landscape lushly as this is a key pedestrian/cyclist link into the downtown core.

all one-way side streets approaching Bronson to be of the latest one-lane standard widths with lengthly curb extensions on the side streets (the current streets are a mish-mash of widths and many are too wide; the idea is to clearly signal that motorists have entered side streets and are not on cut-through arterials

all east-west crosswalks at all signalized intersections to be scored poured concrete; all north-south crosswalks at side streets and Primrose and Christie to be light-coloured interlocks

to reinforce the main street character and promote main-street style redevelopment, all Bronson sidewalks to be brick or coloured pavers, with appropriate celebratory fixtures at intersections

when laying out utilities, try to position manholes not on crosswalk locations; and fire hydrants not along the parking bays

Of course, there will be much consultation expected with respect to landscaping, ped lighting, overhead lighting, tree locations, etc but for now the above material should be sufficient to layout a street geometry for consideration by the traffic engineers and the larger community.

Recall also a previous suggestion that the road be restriped in August in the new layout for a trial period before reconstruction begins.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Caring about Carling

Last night was the first Public Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting for the Carling Avenue reconstruction project from the O-Train to Bronson Avenue. Scheduled for 2011, its for a complete rebuild of the street: new sewers, water mains, dozens of cable and gas pipes, curbs, sidewalks, lighting...everything.

The handout emphasized the following priorities in this order: pedestrian, cycling, transit, vehicle. Of course, the the Technical Adisory Committee (TAC) had first whack at the project and they specified two through lanes in each direction, a bus lane, a cycling lane,very generous turn lanes, etc etc all of which exceeds the available right of way. Now, which elements do we guess might get dropped? No points for the correct answer: car lanes, bus lane, bike lane if room, "2m sidewalk (where feasible)". So much for ped priority. And for streetscaping ... to be added in at the end on the leftover spaces.

So, I spent the evening in plesant dialogue with the city planner and his consultants, educating them as to local pedestrian desire lines, questioning them on traffic volume assumptions, and suggesting the ideal Carling-Avenue-according-to-Eric plan.

These discussions can have fun elements. I pointed out the out drainage outlet for Dow's Great Swamp BEFORE the Rideau Canal was built and the dam built to create Dow's Lake, as it crosses Carling Ave it will present a "soft" layer of surficial geology (you can trace all through the neighborhood, its location revealled by the map and along the streets by the tilting houses on unstable foundations). I also pointed out the very busy Tim Horton's located on that strip, one which they (and many neighbours) are unaware.

Some agreements come easily: get rid of the acceleration or merge lanes at Carling EB at Preston, and Carling WB at Booth. This will also reduce the pedestrian crossing distances.

The TAC proposes this cross section: two lanes of traffic (plus turn lanes, some of which are VERY lengthy) plus one transit lane, plus one bike lane along the curb. The difficulty with the curb-side bike lane arises at Commissioner's Park (Dow's Lake tulip festival) where tour buses park against the curb ... and will be parking on top of the bike lane. Maybe the bike lane should be between the car lanes and transit lanes?

An idea well received was to replace the median lighting fixtures (which are sort of freeway style) with either outside curb  poles (located right on the edge of the curb, this helps close in the perceived road width thus calming traffic and protecting peds) OR with more decorative fixtures somewhat like was done on King Edward (but not with those particular poles), OR mid-height dual purpose lighting poles as was done along Bank Street south of Gloucester. The current lighting style is too freeway-like and must go.

 Does Carling have enough ped traffic to warrant ped lighting all the way along the sidewalks? Or would it be sufficient to mark intersections and where pathways join the sidewalk with clusters of lights and brick pavers in a ped scale, ie treating the sidewalk lighting as a series of nodes rather than a linear strip.

There is a grass median from the O-train to Booth. As we go east up the hill to Bronson, that shrinks to a dusty, dirty, heaved concrete wasted space. Since traffic volume decreases drastically east of Booth, to be 16,000 or so vehicles per day, I suggested two general traffic lanes are not needed, leave it as one lane(plus turn lanes) plus transit lane plus bike lane (since going up hill I have a harder time keeping to a straight line). This would allow for wider sidewalks, a side boulevard, or a landscaped centre median.

The centre median  itself is pathetic. The soil is compacted, the greenery is "naturalized" (ie, weeds). I suggest that the first foot in from the curb be porus pavers, then there be a 2' high concrete wall, creating a giant planter along the median. This planter would be filled to a depth of two or three feet with structural earth or planting mix, and planted with locust or russian olive trees (very salt hardy) and a dense underplanting of shrubs. [note that the city does not plow snow onto the median, only to the road edges, so the one foot setback from the curb should function fine].

The consultants were less than thrilled with the planter idea. Too much salt spray, it will kill it all. My response: the examples they cite are all suburban with huge rights of way and windy conditions, this is a more urban street with a lower speed limit (which could be made even lower, please) and the wall will reduce salt spray. If the trees die, then leave the planter with grass -- it will thrive better than it does now! Or plant something like decorative grasses that grow in clumps 12 and 24 and 35" high for a textured landscape, and that die back in the winter and are immune to salt spray.

I understand the engineer mentality might find the planter idea offensive at first glance. But let's be imaginative, experiment, try something .... even if it is only for two of the blocks (one east and one west of Preston?) at first. Build it. See if it works. Expand a year later if successful (this would require setting aside some budget for that from day one). Too often the city takes the cheapout route: the NCC will make nice landscaping over there, so we don't have to do anything at all over here.

Here are few other ideas to consider: ban right turns at Preston and at Booth on red lights, to calm traffic and make it safer for cyclists; don't make the sewer upstream from Preston the same size as Preston, make it one size smaller, so the upstream people (ie Glebe) don't fill it to capacity so it floods the downstream end.

And here's one idea that needs to be killed: the TAC wants a continuous left turn lane on Carling EB from Preston to Booth; AND a continuous left turn lane on Carling WB from Booth to Preston; AND a Carling WB right turn lane onto Preston. Will there be any median left? This proposal takes catering to rush hour traffic to the extreme. Why does the whole street have to be built to handle the ninety minutes of rush hour volume, and why are Pointe Gatineau commuters so privilaged as to determine the whole design of the street and intersections? Heck, they aren't even paying for this!

Our streets cannot handle 30-50% more traffic as the city grows over the next few decades  ... there just isn't room ... so why do we try? Build the roads for a balance of users (peds, cyclists, cars, transit) and balance of liveable city concepts, and drop the urgency to cater to suburban commuters. That means the rebuilding of Carling could handle the current traffic volume OR less. Then there would be no need to widen Carling as is in the current plan with its generous turn lanes. Unwidened, it can be made friendlier to peds, transit users, cyclists...and the environment.

Last note: the PAC set up for Carling consists of invited groups, individuals, property owners, BIA's, councillors. I represented the Dalhousie Community Assoc.  I was the only invitee who showed up for the meeting. There will be a general public meeting on June 22nd. In the meantime, let your councillor and community association know what you want, if you care about Carling.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sculpture you can use

These two stainless steel sculptures or art installations were very entertaining. They proved to be irresistable attractions to many passers by. These girls used them for impromtu gymnastic exercises. The little boy in the picture spent a lot of time running up the slope trying to get to the top. He never did, but had lots of fun trying.

These pieces were on the short part of the pier at Rowe's Wharf in Boston. There is a gent sitting on the sea wall to the left. The arch through the buildings is on the immediate right.

I cannot imagine Ottawa having such a useful installation. First black mark: its interactive. Secondly, it's fun. Third, there aren't any instructions. Fourth, bureaucrats would panic at the notion someone might fall and hurt themself. Yes, for sure Ottawa could provide such an installation, but only if it were fenced off or guarded. Now, if we ever that scrap metal tree proposed for Nepean Point behind the National Gallery, perhaps a local wall climbing club could ascend it ...