Rare unplanned-for-event at the transit station …

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Readers of yesterday’s story might get the impression I was unenthused about the design of the Preston extension and LeBreton temporary transit station.

You’d be right.

Now we all know it snows in Ottawa. Sometimes a lot. So I am sure the planning boffins ran their fingers over the paved road shoulder “sidewalks” and the platforms at LeBreton Station and the walking required to get from platform to platform, or neighbourhood to platform. And then imagined how they  could be plowed. And then coordinated with the snow plow folks to ensure the stations and their access were plowed early, plowed often, and plowed well.

You’re not so sure? Cum’on, of course they did.

Well, at least for the motor vehicle road, they did. It was well plowed during and right after the storm. Right down to bare asphalt. With tons of salt to make one feel like one was on the rocks at Peggy’s Cove during “superstorm” Sandy.

The whole project opened up Dec 21st. Let’s look at the layout worked on the first not-atypical snowfall in January.

As visible in the picture (above) there is evidence of a sidewalk snowplow having been on site. May have been rather high speed, because the plowing is sort of hit and miss, much like it is when sidewalk plows go too fast on roller coaster sections of city sidewalks. (In contrast, the sidewalks south of Albert, and along Albert itself, part of the regular established plowing routine, were fully clear and gritted by 8am).

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The road plows, of course, push the stuff onto the pseudo- “sidewalks”. While wading thru the muck, pedestrians get a quick rinse of the salty brine in the Great Ottawa Spray Wash event.

Parts of the walk are on the unraised sidewalks, ie paved road shoulders, separated from high speed vehicles by a row of spiked down curbs with barber poles demarking the pedestrian zone, such as it is. These pic were taken at noon, Jan 5th. Totally functional and appealing; for roadside snow storage:

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Pedestrians or bus transferring passengers trying to get to the westbound platform, visible in the photo below (if you squint enough, in the distance beyond the utility pole),  have to cross Preston extension.   At a signalized intersection.   And that ped light, remember, doesn’t come on by itself. No siree, you gotta climb that bank and push that button or it will forever stay DO NOT WALK.

 

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And if you manage to get across Preston, climb and safely descend Mount Slushmore, and want to walk to the westbound platform …

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(Above): the amazing sunken sidewalk (to the right of those barber poles and fluttering yellow danger tape *) isn’t even plowed. Indeed, it may not be plowable, being pretty much a hole beside the road. Because the City saved a few hundred dollars by not putting in 50′ of raised sidewalk along those curbs which is at least in theory, plowable. Intimidating to walk on before it snowed, this space is criminally dangerous design when it snows. Nice to know the value of pedestrian safety and convenience at a major transit station.

 

At this point, I gave up going to visit my Alzheimer-plagued mother at her “home” and retreated back to my house. At least she will forget that I was on my way.

Of course, you could always walk on the transitway itself to the westbound platform, depending on our professional chauffeurs to avoid the peds. I have total confidence in that.

I might not feel so safe walking south towards Albert, as this man is, on the west side of Preston, on the 24″ road shoulder provided in lieu of a sidewalk. I’d be awfully nervous and tense walking with my back to those amateur drivers the traffic engineers are encouraging to speed through here at 70 kmh:

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Mind, if he couldn’t or wouldn’t climb the snowbanks to push the button to beg for a crossing light, he would never be able to “safely” cross Preston back at the transitway. Faced with the choice of the impossible crossing or the unsafe road shoulder, he made his choice and actually survived all the way to Albert. Good for him.

But wait, at Albert, how did he manage to get onto the sidewalk along Albert, or to the post to push the button to beg for a light to cross Albert to go up Preston … when the sidewalks are blocked off by not just side-plowed snow and slush, but rammed in hard-as-rocks snowcrete:

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Some plow operator, concerned to make this new high speed shortcut to Pointe Gatineau safer for motorists did an exemplary job of pushing the snow off the asphalt road. Too bad he had to stuff it all onto the sidewalk.

the Moral: even when designing pedestrian friendly infrastructure at major transit stations, we fail. Epic fail. Motormania rules.

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* why was danger tape put up here? Was it because someone proactively thought (admitted) it was dangerous? Or because they observed peds walking on the road instead of the “sidewalk cleverly disguised as a road shoulder”? Do they plan on sending some city employee out every so often to replenish the tape? Would a better design have been cheaper?

PS: I tried to send these pictures to the city by email on Jan 4th, when the incident was fresh and the opportunity to learn and improve was (theoretically) possible, but all the emails bounced, there being some sort of very small limit on pictures in emails to city hall. I then found out that while some inside city hall can actually see this blog, their IT kindergarten kops strip out all the photos. Must make for fun reading to get captions but no pictures. Maybe it is time to drag out the old moniker “banned at city hall”.

Temporary transit station puts cars first, part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the car-first infrastructure at the Lyon LRT station entrance. Money appears to be available to spend on cars, but not pedestrians, even when building transit infrastructure.

This save-a-penny attitude, when it comes to pedestrians, prevails in the city’s rail implementation office. Down on the Flats, Preston was recently extended out to the War Museum. The extension is temporary. It is wise to be frugal when building throw-away infrastructure, as this road will be rolled up and trashed in two years.

But the penny pinching didn’t include narrower car lanes. No siree, they are full width, and the freeway-like atmosphere is evidenced by the sudden acceleration of every motor vehicle as it turns onto the road. Wide open spaces! Wide road! Gun it ! Broad shoulders if you happen to miss the road ! Even the turn WB lane from Albert onto the temporary road is extraordinarily wide, reducing the pedestrian safety island to lilliputian size. Classic transference of risk from motorists to pedestrians.

And that is at a (temporary) transit station where pedestrians are expected.

Lots of pedestrians.

To save a few dollars, there is no pedestrian sidewalk on the west side of the new road. There are bits of sidewalks at the intersections, but all they do is deliver peds onto a 24″ wide paved shoulder between a deep open ditch and the rushing cars on the west side.

It’s not fun to walk on this, especially when your back is to the cars coming behind you.

The planners insisted on saving the cost of this few hundred feet of sidewalk and instead expect people from the west side of Preston to cross the intersections two extra times to get to the westbound platform  (no consideration of additional risk for that, is there?).

Of course, many walkers don’t want to enjoy waiting on the corners for the lights to change, or wend their way thru barrelling traffic. In the trade off between crossing a busy street two extra times or walking the shoulder, quite a number choose to walk the shoulder. I do not walk alone.

Out at the intersection of the transitway, where the shelters are installed for the duration of 2015 (then they perambulate to new locations), the city saved a (very) few dollars by not having the sidewalk on the NW side go right from the corner all the 50′ or so to the transit platform. Instead, pedestrians walk downslope, along the shoulder of the road where the buses loom up very close at hand and very high and intimidatingly so, and then we have to walk upslope to attain the platform.

It’s just like walking through a hole.

And this, friends, is the city’s esteemed opinion of how valuable transit patrons are.

At  a major transitway station.

Could the contempt be better expressed?

But wait, there’s more !

The intersection of the transitway and Preston Extension (doesn’t anyone recall the real name of that street ? it does have a name!) is signalized. With traffic lights. And ped lights. And there are scads of peds crossing the intersection on all four legs to get from one station platform to another. Sometimes line ups of them. (I went out to catch the 97 at 3.30am a few days ago and I wasn’t the only person out there!)

And you know what? The ped lights aren’t automatic.

No siree, you have push a button and request a walk light.

Beg for a light.

Supplicate yourself.

Of course, many peds just cross without the light, or at the stale end of the traffic light when they realize they will never get a ped crossing signal.

Could things be worse?

Well of course they can !

Recall that the new roadworks across the Flats and around the relocated LeBreton Station only have curbs at corners and the platforms. For the rest of the “in-between” stuff the “sidewalks” are merely paved shoulders. As such, they are flush with the road surface. The highest point is, of course, the crown or centre line of the road.

All the rain will run off to the side of the road. And get there by running over the top of the sidewalks. So pedestrian sidewalks double as road drainage surfaces.

But wait, there’s more!  The few curbed sections (for eg, at platforms) don’t have catch basins or sewers for the water. So they direct water downslope to the end of the platform, where it joins the rest of the water running off the road surface, to effectively double or triple the flow of water over the top of the sidewalk. Everyone leaving a platform will have to ford the runoff.

Get out your wellies, folks.

And in winter, when the road surfaces are constantly salted, and run off is a frequent occurrence, the salted brine will be running all winter onto the “sidewalks”. Station users will have brined-feet even when it is very cold out. I can’t imagine what this mess will be like as springtime drifts nearer.

This is patron-friendly, pedestrian-friendly planning as expressed by our lets-build-a-transit-network folks at city hall.

Much of this was foreseen. The City consulted with the local community association. There was a focus group type meeting. Shortfalls in the design were identified. But the save-a-buck when it comes to pedestrians, and spend-a-buck when it comes to motorists, won out. The “consultations” seemed steeped in tokenism. Ticking off a box on someone’s PERT chart.

I volunteer my time for a lot of city studies, planning exercises, charettes, and public advisory groups. Often they are fun (sorry, no excuses).  I’m immature enough to be gleeful when I catch engineers and planners at some obvious bloopers. Fodder for a blog post. Sometimes input makes a difference. That’s what makes things worthwhile.

Tomorrow: and then it snowed ...

 

Fostering transit by catering to cars (part 1)

Too often I cringe in dismay at the 99% motorist-focus of our planning and engineering staff. Do [m]any of the staff and consultants working on the LRT stations actually use transit? I have been known to cause moments of embarrassment by asking at an OTrain planning meeting if any staff present have actually ridden the train. [answer: rarely]. It’s quite easy to tell the station planners don’t walk to stations.

Ever.

Or take transit to work anywhere else, for that matter.

Here’s a small example of how even when building and designing a state-of-the-art rapid transit system (ie, the Confederation Line) the City still manages to elevate motorist’s comfort and convenience over that of pedestrians.

The City bought a lot on Albert at Lyon where one of the Queen station entrances is to be. (It was originally to be one block further south, which would have greatly extended its utility, and permitted more buildings to connect into the underground passage, but to save a dollar today …)

So for the year or two until the City has to dig a hole at this site, and build the entrance shelter, they are continuing to use the site as a parking lot. Here is what it looked like before the City bought it:

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notice how the motorist enters the lot via a curb cut or depression by the little shack. Once the city bought it, even though it is to be used for only a relatively short period of time, they thought fit to replace the sidewalk slope and dip with a bigger one:

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They made the bump at the curb smaller, the slope gentler. Ohh, such tender consideration for motorists !

 

A little bit further west, as the edge of the lot closest to the [now departed] Scone Witch and CS CO-OP, there is an unused sidewalk dip. An expression of memory, apparently immortal, cast in concrete, of a former driveway. The private parking lot didn’t use it. The City’s temporary lot didn’t need it. But it was not fixed.

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Fixed. You know, made flat. Like un-sloped. Un-angled. Safe to walk on in winter. Less chance of pedestrians slipping and breaking something. More  comfortable for pedestrians.

Let’s look closer at that unnecessary hazard for pedestrians:

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Naah, the City had to save a few bucks by not replacing those sidewalk squares while they rushed to make the motorist’s entrance more convenient but not more functional.

This, in a quick slip and slide, catches the City’s problem. Even when its TMP  claims pedestrians get first priority … even when building a transit network … even when claiming to promote car-free commuting … even while building an actual LRT station … it continues to put motorists first.

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To its credit, the City did do something right at this site. They parked a bunch of attractive planters around the perimeter. They put in a bike rack.

Yay.

Tomorrow: part 2, the temporary LeBreton transit station

 

 

Preston, streetcar, rezoning

Preston North of Somerset September 2, 1951

The photo shows a streetcar on Preston, running northwards towards to Albert Street (then called Wellington). The photograph is taken from the corner of Elm at Preston, looking south.  The store in the background is still there, now it houses Pubwells, at the corner of Spruce.

The thinner pole holding a guywire on the left seems to be a streetcar rail uprighted and embedded into the pavement.

Some cobblestones peek through the asphalt at the crosswalk. After tearing them all out, in favour of smooth road surfaces of asphalt,  the City reinstalled paver stone crosswalks in 2011.

Beyond the buildings a clump of trees marks the front yard of the Plant Pool building.

If we walk up to that corner of Somerset and Preston, and go back in time to c1920, we can look back to see the streetcar in winter. Every building in this picture, from Pubwells on the left to all the houses, are still there today. Maybe not for much longer.

1920 Preston St

While the street has been residential for over a century, the city is well underway to rezone all these houses for commercial uses.

I have no doubt that after they sever the residential neighbourhood into segments, the city will be happy to rezone the remaining blocks for “redevelopment” as they would then be too small to be viable. Like they did for Norman Street and others south of the Queensway.

Blockbusting used to be a tactic of nasty landlords and property speculators. Now it seems a preferred tactic of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa.

There will be a public meeting on this at 7pm Wednesday 21 January at the Rochester Room of the Plant Rec Facility.

Progress Ottawa style, 2015.

 

did you notice the hockey pucks on the street in front of Pubwells, awaiting kids coming home from school? Too bad they aren’t there today to take to that public meeting !

I haven’t been able to confirm this, but acquaintances tell me that under the new ONtario disability act that came into play Jan 1st, commercial conversions will have to be “accessible”, which means that each house conversion would require a ramp out to the sidewalk (most houses along here are 5 steps to 9 steps above sidewalk), raising the porch floor to be flush with the doorsill, replacing the railings with much higher ones, and removing the wood doors and cutting the façade of the building to create a wider doorway. I’m sure the resultant carpentry will be an asset to the historic rowhouses and streetscape. Is any reader familiar with the provisions of the new Act?

Rochester Fields Forever

Last train Parkway (2) 1967

With all the fuss about the extreme dangers of LRT service in a shallow tunnel along the western parkway, it is sometimes useful to remember what was there in the recent past.

This photo shows the last freight train (1967) going along the tracks between Rochester Field and the River.  The photograph is taken from near Richmond Road, looking north.

Here’s another shot, from further west,  taken from Carling Avenue, looking down Maplehurst towards the Parkway. Notice the small cottages on the right. The For Sale sign notes “no more trains”, presumably raising the property value.

Maplehurst at Carling Avenue (for sale sign says no more tr

Somerset Viaduct in history

Last day of service

On the last day of streetcar service in Ottawa in May 1959, a farewell parade was held of equipment and personalities. This picture is taken from the crest of the Somerset Viaduct, right at what is now the OTrain Trillium Line overpass.

Slightly downhill to the right the white building is now a Buddhist Temple; St Jean Baptiste priory can be see silhouetted on the left horizon; Preston Street runs across Somerset at the bottom of the hill.

Double click the picture to enlarge it. Notice the very decorative  railing on the left, just visible between the parked cars. And the decorative lampposts. (Recall a few stories back, we saw pic of the new Portland street lights that are very similar to these ones). The City declared the railing to have no heritage value and it was broken up when the road was widened in the 1970’s.

The road widening was never warranted for car traffic, so in the last decade the road was put on a diet, reduced once again to one motor vehicle lane in each direction, but now with a bike lane and wider walkways.

I recall trying back then to interest the city in the heritage value of the railings, or reusing them in the new park being designed for Primrose. Said park was recently redesigned and refreshed. Apart from the addition of a spray pad, the rest of the changes seem to me to be of decidedly dubious value.

I start to doubt my own memory of the railing on the Somerset viaduct, as I recall it was made of cast stone, with an aggregate finish, and quite decorative. It was a more aesthetic version of the concrete railing on Bank going over the canal at Lansdowne. Maybe the viaduct had both railings, either at different times, or had one type on part of the bridge and the iron railing only at the actual bridges over the railways. Anyhow, the City reacted in horror at the idea of reusing the stone railing sections in a park. About five years later they gave themselves a prize for doing just that at Strathcona Park (architectural salvage and historic repurposing, it is now called).  Later, they lavished lots of praise on reconstructions of the  concrete railing on Bank Street where it crosses the canal, and gave itself another prize.

As in all things municipal, class and wealth and trendiness play a prominent role.

Here’s another shot of that railing and lamp post, with a view of the north end of giant public works warehouse which has just been partially demolished:

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If you stand on that bridge today, and look over the edge, you’ll see an interesting brick building with a vaguely Dutch front façade and a genuine slate tile roof. It now houses Orange Gallery. The City insists that building has no heritage value either.

Some things just don’t change.

 

Extending the OTrain Trillium Line South to Airport / Riverside South

The City has been planning for quite some time to extend the existing OTrain Trillium Line further south, from Greenboro to Leitrim or Bowes Road. They will be holding public meetings on all the changes required and plans, on Jan 13 at Durrell Rec Centre, and Jan 15th, 6-8pm, at St Anthony Hall.

I encourage anyone with an interest to go and support the extended service. And press for its early start.

Currently, the red trainsets run every 15 minutes. There are two trains in operation at any one time on the single-track line, passing each other in the middle of their run at Carleton U. To operate over an extended track length and at a greater frequency of 7.5 -8 minutes, two new passing sidings are required and six trainsets.

We actually have the six brand-new trainsets, now stored out in the Walkley area for more than a year. They haven’t seen revenue service yet as the signalling project is now a year late, with no firm start date in sight. Watson was lucky not to have been quizzed at the last election on yet more late infrastructure projects (the train expansion is a year late, the clocks are ticking on the trains’ guarantee period, the Hickory bridge is a year late … can anything else go wrong? Well yes, how much are those delays costing?).

Trillium service currently runs from Bayview to Greenboro. An additional station is planned for Gladstone in 2023. I suspect the prospects of that station actually being built in that time period are closely related to the viability of the adjacent condo market, since development fees are to pay for the station. No development … no station?

Stations are also planned for South Keys, Leitrum, and Bowesville. Each of the two furthest stations don’t service walk-in neighbourhoods but are park-and-ride terminals with about 3500 parking spots.

Because the main line will continue to be single track for the foreseeable future, the system is highly vulnerable to breakdowns. Both trains have to be perfectly positioned today for either to run; in the future, all four+  trainsets will have to be running perfectly for any one to move.

There isn’t enough demand in the Riverside South community for 8 minute train frequency. Patronage drops off drastically at South Keys. So beyond South Keys expect 15 minute frequency at the off-peak; maybe 8 minutes at peak periods. This is the same model as OC Transpo uses for buses whereby fewer buses on route 95 or 97 go beyond the main stations.

To the Airport, or beyond

One possible use for every second trainset that doesn’t go all the way to Bowesville, is to repurpose it to the airport instead. While there are a series of potential routes to the airport, I like the one that sweeps across the north side of the EY Centre’s north-side hall expansion (with a new connection to local buses), runs along the north edge of the NRC wind tunnels, and sweeps in to service the main passenger terminal via an elevated structure at the top level of the parking garage directly above the car rental bureaux.

Users would exit the train at the top enclosed level of the garage building (converted, of course, into tempered indoor space) and then descend to take the garage bridge directly into the terminal. Very convenient.

Delightfully, people at the airport would be unable to miss seeing the trains, reminding them that there is a transit alternative to taking a car.

southern legs of route

 

It is a difficult balancing act to decide whether airport users get the direct trains from the airport to Bayview, or if they use a shuttle train to South Keyes and transfer. People with luggage won’t want to transfer, and Bayview isn’t (yet) downtown so there might be two transfers, which is one too many….  The residents of Riverside South will also prefer direct service and to not transfer at South Keys.

Fortunately, the peak service hours to the airport and to Riverside South are different, so sometimes trains could run with a transfer to the airport, and other times directly to the airport. In either scenario, there would be 15 minute frequency of trains to the airport.

There are many more potential passengers to Riverside than to the airport (about 10:1) so a mechanism to pay for the airport link is required. One suggestion is to charge people boarding the trains at the airport an “improvement fee” surcharge on their PrestoPass swipe. In Vancouver, I gather this is a $7 surcharge (leaving the airport only; going to is regular price).

I am most curious to know if people driving to the airport, or being dropped off, or using taxis, pay for their roads. Maybe in the general airport improvement fee? In which case, I hope train users will then be excused from that fee. Hmm.

At the open house, the city will be revealing options for how to relocate, improve, or build stations and platform layouts at Gladstone, Confederation, Walkley, South Keys, Leitrum, and Bowesville. Remember that this is a planning study, not a ready-to-build construction plan.

No Fancy Stations

Thus far there is no indication that Trillium line users will enjoy the nice station designs, enclosed platforms, and soaring rooflines planned for all the Confederation Line stations. Instead, the forecast is for more bus-shelter-like stations.

I think if we are going to encourage transit and transit-oriented-development, to meet the modal split and intensification goals of the official plan, the city will have to invest in station designs similar to the Confederation Line for the Trillium Line. Better to do it now.

To Gatineau and beyond !

There is a rule of thumb in the convention trade that favours cities with a direct airport-downtown links. No transfers. The Trillium airport link won’t achieve that as it misses the downtown, requiring a transfer at Bayview. But the route would be viable for locals and workers accessing the airport.

The Airport link is at least a decade — probably two — out into the future. By that time, we may also see a northern extension of the Trillium Line over the Prince of Wales bridge from Bayview Station to Gatineau, and possibly along the Rapibus corridor to the Gatineau casino and convention centre. In that case, Gatineau will reap what Ottawa sows, being the no-transfer destination with a casino to boot.