Search for a new Library

The library board has decided it needs a new building, and it wants a trophy building. And it wants it downtown.  Don’t be fooled for a minute about the mooted site at Albert/Bronson. That’s a stalking horse, although it would not be a disaster if all else fails and a library goes there, adjacent a major LRT station and surrounded by as many residents (eventually…) as the Metcalfe Street brutalist pile.

And don’t rule out larger city-building plans pushing the Library further west than centretowner’s might like, to Trinity Development’s Bayview – LeBreton Arena – Bayview Yards innovation centre site at the crossroads of the two LRT lines. The City Centre moniker may yet be less than ironic.

The library board spilled the beans much earlier in publically identifying the Lyon / Albert / Slater block as its preferred location.

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The only problem was it didn’t own the site. The city does own a bit of the NE corner, expropriated for an LRT entrance that in a spurt of subsequent  “value engineering” got moved to a cheaper   — but not necessarily better-for-users — location at Lyon / Queen.

Even with the soon-underway apartment development on the west end of the site (replacing the CS COOP offices, see previous story) there’s still lots of room for a library building on the east half block. And the block immediately south of this view is assembled by Minto, owners of the adjacent Minto Place. And the empty block north of this site (around Barbarella’s, soon to be photo-stalked by the Ashley Madison police) is owned by Claridge.

It is a corner out of the Claridge lot (already approved for multiple high rise residences)  that the city now plans to build the LRT station entrance.

Each of these lots would be big enough for a library, and each would be directly connected to the downtown LRT station. Claridge is the most direct, but the CS Coop lot could be connected too, if the under-Lyon pedestrian passageway was built to the original LRT Station entrance.  The City claims that any such passageway must be built by private developers at their own expense, but if that project is a library P3 then maybe we will be paying anyway ….

That passageway could also be connected to Minto Place, to Constitution Square, and the new developments along Lyon. (it is another story if we really want such a pathway … can the city support both a lively underground path AND a lively street level, or will duplication kill both?

Recall that in 45 years Place de Ville has always refused to connect to adjacent developments, even 240 Sparks with its underground levels. And for the LRT Station connecting to Place de Ville making an extended underground path, forget it. Their contract with the city requires that the only connection be through the fare-paid station concourse level deep underground, making thru walking most inconvenient.

Now the developers along Lyon aren’t sleeping at this opportunity. Someone is flashing some Raymond Moriyama concept sketches. Moriyama is architect of the of the popular (and economic to build) War Museum and the Beaverbrook Library rebuild, The sketches are pretty sexy, enough to cause heart palpitations at the city.

His sketches are of a stand alone building with soaring green roofs and light filled spaces inside.

Which is a problem.

It’s virtually guaranteed Watson will want an air rights development above, in a P3 agreement, to minimize the city’s costs. If the tower goes on the south (slater) side of the site, there goes the sun. And I wouldn’t hold my breath for this library P3 either, since the city staff to negotiate it are still all tied up in the Arts Court P3 which is running year(s) late and is so bureaucratic it scared off at least two major developers from submitting bids even after they had spent hundreds of thousands working out detailed proposals (shades of the overly bureaucratic fiasco on LeBreton a few years back, or Parks Can and the Rideau Canal boat excursions).

I am not confident that the city has developed better skills post Lansdowne Park P3 and given the never-ending Arts Court. One short term risk is that the public will question more closely just how much or little public amenity actually gets delivered.

Since we are talking new Libraries, you can see Moriyama’s skills on his website: http://mtarch.com/types/civic-commercial/.

I made a point of visiting two much discussed public libraries in the last year, both of them interesting and yet disappointing in their own ways.  Let’s look at them next.

 

 

Real Estate Updates (cont’d)

The Trinity Developers acquisition of the lands adjacent LeBreton Flats and their drawings – shown in the previous story — of 50 storey buildings with large above ground parking garages — is a product and a harbinger of Ottawa’s latest downtown development thinking.

I am not optimistic about a city core with large above ground garages, no matter how pretty.

This downtown core has glittery buildings, including one that took the “temple of commerce” idea literally:

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Look closer:

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that’s the base or podium of the temple of mammon on the right, and while glad in nice granite and shiney gothic windows, its all parking garage for the soaring tower above.  And that 15 storey office building on the centre left … that’s ALL parking garage. It actually did away completely with the office or residential functions. Makes for a lively downtown.

And my bet is that Mayor Watson worships at the congregation of development.

Much more staid are a couple of downtown developments coming down the pipe right now.

Here’s the view of the shuttered downtown hotel, once proudly the Delta, for short while the National, and now the Empty. This  1970’s Teron project had a hotel, an office tower, and across the street to the south, a underground parking lot with the 151 Bay condos above. A good mixed use development with superior architectural interest.

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The hotel wings are soon for the demolishers, as is the little three storey apartment building orphaned at the corner. They will be replaced by two 23 storey towers, one a hotel, the other apartments. The office tower may also be enlarged.

I hope the 151 Bay condo owners scoop up a dozen pallets of brick for future use repairing their building.

A bit further south, the CS Coop building is about to be emptied, the employees moving to the President’s Choice office park on McRae Avenue between Bushtukah and Trailhead. In its place, the developer is seeking approval for a 20ish storey apartment tower. It will be a slab building facing the CentreTown Place building of a previous generation on the opposite side of Slater.

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That still leaves lots of undeveloped land in the core, a lot of it on the west side of Lyon Street.

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And of considerable public interest, where might a new Library go.
More on that next.

 

Sens Arena / LeBreton redevelopment update

Here is an update on some of the plans afoot to build a new  Senators hockey arena on LeBreton Flats. Some big sums of money are being spent right now, and plans for big buildings are being mooted.

Recall that the NCC called for developers and planners to propose schemes for LeBreton Flats, I think only for the area WEST of Booth Street. The area EAST of Booth already has an approved plan and was awarded to Claridge and several buildings are up; Claridge is of course anxious to revise those plans for higher — much much higher — buildings.

So back in December 2014 I did a series on Building LeBetter Flats, parts of which offered readers some photoshops of the existing Kanata arena transplanted to the Flats. This is useful primarily to show the scale and fit, as a new building would look rather different (the look of new urban arenas was covered in another series on Amelie Arena and Amway arena). That story was here: http://www.westsideaction.com/lebetter-flats-part-3-senators-go-marching/.

Here is a photoshop of the arena close to Booth Street, just north of the aqueduct:

Stadium - Nice fit (cropped)

 

And here is a photoshop of the arena moved further west, so it would be surrounded by the developers “other” components of the urban scheme:

Stadium - west of preston  (cropped)

As it turned out, the Sens consortium was one of the NCC selected finalists, and they were given $75,000 to go off and work out some of the details. That consortium included Trinity Developments, one of the key players in the Lansdowne Park P3 with the City.

As I pointed out back then, the NCC Flats properties don’t offer the potential for a huge amount of ancillary development required if the Arena is to be a loss-leader or just break-even proposition for a much larger real estate play.

Therefore it could be useful if the winning proponent owned additional development lands convenient to the arena site. One of those adjacent sites is 801 Albert, the triangle of land on Albert across the street from Bayview Station, owned by Phoenix, and recently rezoned by the City for two 48 story office towers.

Trinity Development, the arena proponent, has bought that land. They are working up a proposal that includes as much retail space as Lansdowne Park but on a site only one third the size. The site in question is outlined here in red; that’s Tom Brown arena immediately left of it, and the Bayview Station is visible if you squint hard enough, on the north side of Albert:

trinity 801 albert st site

 

They have worked up several site plans. This one, for THREE high rises (two presumably in the 45 storey already-approved zoning, the third tower is slightly shorter):

trinity, 3 towers over otrain

The Phoenix zoning approval had a minimal underground parking garage because they wanted Federal government office tenants, and the Feds don’t demand parking, but might value transit location at the intersection of the Trillium and Confederation lines, plus a easy connection to Gatineau over the Prince of Wales Bridge.

But the Trinity proposal has at least 12 floors of parking garage, with the towers on top. Now why would they want all that parking? The City, which for years discouraged above ground parking garages which so blight American urbanism, has recently reversed course and approved above ground garages, for example at Minto’s Westboro project, and recently amended the Gladstone CDP to permit multi-storey above ground parking garages for condos.

The provision of so much parking makes a hotel or non-government office building feasible, and offers evening parking for suburbanites to flock downtown in their cars, say, to catch a concert or a hockey game. If the towers are condos, the parking would be required for residents and elevates the condos to better river views. Sadly for area residents, such large parking garages and car-focussed access would likely kill the approved-Albert Street reconstruction plan which counts on transit-dependent development, and require the road to be left six to eight lanes wide. But city promises to locals are seldom worth the paper they aren’t written on. Local streets would have Bluesfest-scale parking issues all through the year.

Look again at the picture above. Notice that to get the third tower into the lot, they extended the building right out over the new multi-user pathway, over the greenspace corridor, and over the OTrain tracks, right over to the Tom Brown arena lot line (would that site be next for redevelopment?). Here’s two site plans, showing the existing single track to the Bayview Station “doubled up” (as per the long term plan) and the old track to the POW Bridge running off to the upper left. All that green space isn’t grassy park land either.

trinity, site not including otrain

 

trinity, site includes otrain corridor

 

As a side note, Trinity partnered with Minto for the Lansdowne Park redevelopment. Minto recently sold 60% of a Toronto apartment portfolio to the CPP, so they are sitting on a pile of cash available for deployment. The City is familiar with the key Trinity and Minto players, having negotiated the P3 for Lansdowne.

Now it may happen that Trinity doesn’t win the NCC Flats playoffs.

In which case, all is not lost. They can repurpose all their marketing and financial research for this non-NCC site. And even more deliciously, they have an alternative site for the Arena, on Bayview Yards, which is owned by the City.

Cast back to December 2014 when I suggested exactly that recourse here:  http://www.westsideaction.com/building-lebetter-flats-part-6-sens-plan-b/, 

Here was the photoshop to illustrate that potential:

Stadium in Bayview Yards

 

Ottawa is gearing up for a whole spate of new high rises. More on that coming next …

 

Montreal Week Finale

Here is a grab bag of assorted observations from my brief sejourn in Montreal earlier this month. Not everything is wonderful there. I did try in this series to relate the feature to the unique conditions that may have spawned it. Not everything can be transplanted to here and survive, let alone thrive.

But one way to improve our city is to observe what works elsewhere and steal that idea.

Bicycle friendly, in little ways: (see also the last pic in this set)

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Surface drainage swales / stormwater gardens, in our climate, right downtown:

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Imagine, a park you cannot walk in !

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And in schoolyards too:

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Three, five, and seven storey buildings all over the place. Funny how they are somehow economic in a big city like Montreal and absolutely unaffordable in Ottawa today. There is a reason we have single family homes and then highrises, with little in between:

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A woonerf …in the style of Cambridge Street in Ottawa:

 

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Wide, wide, wide crosswalks, that actually align with the sidewalk and direction of travel for people who walk. Ottawa once proposed saving money by not painting pedestrian crosswalks, but still installing stop bars for motor traffic. I noticed several areas in Montreal where stop bars were unmarked, but crosswalks were marked. Which city has their priorities straight? Why do we over complicate crosswalks to the point they get ignored? (Hint: it has to do with who we prioritize and who we transfer risk to and from)

 

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Sidewalk cafes are huge in Montreal, but seem hard to get going here in Ottawa. The climate is the same, the road widths are similar, there’s a similar population mix, might it be the rules and the rulers that make the difference? In addition to “private” sidewalk cafes, here is a shipping container converted into a summer park, simply plopped down on the street to replace two parking spaces, filled with benches and plants, and a shade roof. I cannot imagine that happening in Ottawa where the parks dept cannot get its mind around even the idea of linear parks and sidewalk cafes rents are astronomical.

 

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Bicycle signals.  I know, I know, coming soon to Ottawa, someday, in one “prototype” location for a five year trial.

 

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Vacant storefronts papered over by the listing realtor with pretty paper rather than newspaper or used brown butcher wrap:

 

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Giving away thousands of annuals to any interested residents for use on their balcony planters or front yards, providing professional landscape architects and gardeners to help community gardeners, and involving the public in greening the city:

 

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Storefront daycares, everywhere, with tot lots squeezed onto former parking lots. No provision for delivery of kids via automobile.

 

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Wonderful cafes squeezed into vacant lots, with a decent investment in decor, and no jail fence to keep the alcohol abusers segregated. It brought back memories of the wonderful old Bank Cafe and patio on Bank/Somerset before Hartman’s expanded.

 

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Simple greening, in the smallest of spaces:

 

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Park walkways paved in stonedust, a la Paris, not expensive interlock faux cobbles, which always heave and shift and get torn out by the city because its cheaper (they claim) to replace them than to pick them up, smooth the grade, and relay them for the next 20 years.

 

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Curious architecture, sometimes with dubious results. Occasionally found in Ottawa, most often in Hintonburg?:

 

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Buildings that incorporate simple nods to the past, like this spiral stair ( I presume a fire escape … sure to be illegal in Ottawa) camouflaged by a stone screen:

 

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Now, back to the Ottawa environment. See any room for improvements?

Montreal Week: corner lot infills

The 1900’s neighbourhoods of Montreal like LePlateau and Mile End are undergoing another era of gentrification through renovation, and intensification through the construction of new infills.

Here are some typical infills on corner lots. Corner lots offer greater intensification potential than mid block lots, as they have two street frontages. Here is an example I have watched.

 

 

The lot appears as a destroyed building, with spray foam insulation against the walls of the next house in on the block:

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Then construction begins, right out to the rear lot line, using up what is back yard in the other houses of the row. The indent along the side of the building marks the entrance to the stairwell going up and down.

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Now there is a intensified building, a three floor walkup PLUS a finished basement apartment PLUS a recessed (almost invisible from the street) fourth floor room and deck(s):

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Here’s a view down that foundation / lightwell to see the large windows into the two rooms in the basement:

 

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Another exterior view:

 

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A few blocks away, I saw another version of this type of infill. The end unit of a row was missing. The new houses faced the side street, and what was probably the back yard of the destroyed house was now being built up completely as more apartments. You can see the remaining wall of the original row covered with foam to insulate it while the end unit was absent:

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In the above case, they are getting four ground floor units, and I presume four on the second floor. The basement looked designed to be finished, and there may be a third floor built by now.

Here’s an example of a side yard infill in Ottawa, in Mechanicsville. I wonder if the original house will be left with the existing facade or remodelled:

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Ottawa doesn’t forbid infills to blend in with the neighbours, but it does pretty strongly discourage close matching, terming it “faux historic”, “fake” and using other derogatory terms. The planning dept prefers new builds reflect the era and construction techniques of its day. That was definitely not the case in Montreal, where I saw lots of infills trying to look inconspicuous:

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I even saw a number of infills that kept the front façade of the original house and added floors, or extended the building back to double the depth. I’ll have to find those again on another visit, as I managed to loose those photos.

 

 

Montreal Week: les ruelles vertes

The LePlateau neighbourhood and surrounding areas that comprised the high density urban expansion in the 1870’s – 1920’s often had “back lanes”. These accessed the rear yards of the houses, most of which are duplexes and triplexes. They had spiral metal staircases that so captivate the “look” of these neighbourhoods, in the rear yards too.

It is possible to use the lanes to access car parking in some back yards. But most yards are too small, are too valuable as living space, or parking spaces were unneeded, or houses expanded ramshackle-ly into the space. Les Ruelles Vertes are lanes that have been formally / legally converted into either car free or severely limited to car access.

They make fabulous green spaces and children’s play spaces, or a way to get your bike off the street. And there is the whole “greening the city” aspect, stormwater management role, heat reduction, privacy in a high density area, etc.

It is almost as interesting to walk the back lanes as to admire the fronts of the houses. Revise that: it is definitely as interesting …

Let’s get to the pictures !

First, a ruelle vert under conversion from asphalt to greenery. The City provides the engineering, the landscape architecture plan, and a professional gardener, but volunteers do the planting ! Sweat equity builds ownership.

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Once the asphalt is gone, planting beds are dug:

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Here’s a finished lane, a very narrow one,  that is still partly open to some cars to access rear yard parking. Note that the car access prohibits trees growing in the actual lane.

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The view into the back lane of my apartment balcony was so thick with trees we could only get the slightest peeks over to neighbouring balconies:

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Actually, hidden in that picture is a historic artefact. Let’s look closer:

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It’s the top of a communal clothesline pole. Look how thickly the trees have grown up around it. The whole back lane was this thick. But it is not the way the neighbourhood always was. I took this pic off a display in the public library building, from the 1950’s:

laundry in lane

There were no / few trees, clothes drying being way more important. Due to the slippery metal winding staircases, scrap wood was frequently used to enclose them, to store working materials and tools, and maybe even to dry clothes during inclement weather. Most of the ticky tackiest ones are gone, which much opens up the back yards to light and air and makes way for vegetation, but some stairs can still be found.

Here’s two pictures of a green lane conversion from a Montreal friend, of a lane she was gardening in:

garden in progress

garden in progress, planted

That’s the back of an abandoned building on the right, pending design approval for a new building on that site.

Does Ottawa have back lanes? You bet !  Are they greened? Some are. Some aren’t. Do we have a program or plan for these?

 

 

Montreal week: Eric on bixi on the street

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Central Montreal has all sorts of bike infrastructure. I suspect some of it they might now find less than satisfactory. But nothing starts out perfect. There is a learning curve.

The pic above shows a typical residential street bi-directional bike lane on one side of a one-way street. I was nervous on these streets, apprehensive about being doored. If the bike lanes had been on the opposite curb side of the street, oncoming cyclists would face parking cars, giving more notice of activity and potential door movements, but with the risk of encountering car passenger movements, which are used to being curbside not in an active lane.

Notice the scrub marks on the asphalt; the bike lane (like all streets in LePlateau) is swept every week.

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Steel posts set into the asphalt keep cars off the cycle lane. But they also pose a collision risk … since I value my knuckles and knees, I rode well away from the posts and cars.

While the sweeping was nice, reducing unforeseen obstacles, the pavement itself was sometimes a tad rough. I don’t think the bike routes get more frequent repaving or asphalt topping:

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The track shown below was more relaxing: the curb provided additional buffer from cars and doors. The steel posts were a bit further away. On a few locations, the posts were heavy plastic tubing mounted on springy bases. Routes like this are totally relaxing ways to cycle in the city.

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Note, however, that the characteristic built form of the LePlateau and other old Montreal areas is uninterrupted rows of houses for an entire block — there are no mid-block driveways. Most of the triplexes here simply don’t have parking, nor is a car needed. So there is lots of curb side parking since there aren’t any driveways to bugger things up. This is a whole ‘nother universe compared to Ottawa streets. It makes cycling that much safer.

IMG_3952above: some catch basins were set back into the curb, like Ottawa is now doing more often. Some, like this flush mounted basin, had a modified grate that won’t eat your bike tires.

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The street shown above has a bike lane going each way, and only one lane for car traffic. I simply cannot imagine Jim Watson’s Ottawa ever having more cycle facilities than car space on a street. Notice also the wide sidewalk for pedestrians (near a subway entrance) and the well-treed and well-shrubbed planting strip, and the really serious concrete bollards to keep cars off the sidewalk.

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The pic above is another reason to visit Gilford street (visit it yourself, or send your councillor). Cars are diverted; cyclists can go straight through, in either direction. Technically the cyclists on the right had a stop bar but in reality cars turning right all stopped and craned their neck to ensure there were no bikes on their right, since I never saw a cyclist stop here. Even slowing down would sow mass confusion amongst motorists and pedestrians who are used to cyclists blowing through everything everywhere…

Red is the new Green.

While bicycles are vehicles, most signage in Montreal applied to cars but was not relevant to bikes. For example, the turn right sign shown above applies to motorists but not cyclists … and speed bumps were marked for motorists but not for cyclists when the bike lane was counter flow …  it was all sort of informal, relaxed, and a tad schizophrenic too. This is in total contrast to Ottawa where we are so reluctant to allow a motor car street closure (eg Elm Street, or Lanark) actually have an exception for cyclists, even though that would be so convenient for cycling, and would promote …. ah well, you know the drill. We are still anal.

While looking at that pic above, notice the infill apartment building in Rod Lahey’s favorite black brick, but enlivened with a bright green stripe and balcony reveal.

Here’s an example where a bike lane is permitted to cross a boulevarded road while motorists are not. This city recently approved such an intersection at Rochester / Carling. (In a few other cases, bike paths by themselves, unaccompanied by motor cars, cross major roads such as Carling near Andy Haydon goose park, or by Christmas, the Trillium Pathway at Carling just west of Preston):

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Every city has those pinch points where major roads have to cross other major roads, or rivers, or railway corridors, and where space is at a premium.  This underpass was probably constructed with two motor vehicle lanes going in each direction. Notice, by the way, that Montreal engineers do not force pedestrians to walk all the way to the bottom of the pit, since pedestrians rarely need 16′ overhead clearance ….  Anyhow, in this case which I really admire,the city actually took away one existing car lane and replaced it with a bi directional separated cycle path. This leaves the road way unbalanced, with more car capacity in one direction than the other. Somehow, Montreal survives.

 

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Bike lanes, particularly bi-directional ones, do take up right of way space. Where there are bike lanes, there often isn’t any green strip along the sidewalk. Maybe there never was… but the presence of the bike lane reminds us that there is competition for scarce urban space. In the pic below, it appears to me to be a recent rebuild of a lane with a green planter strip between the cyclists and the cars. Those trees look vulnerable, and sure hope there is lots of dirt somewhere down there for the tree roots.

In the mid distance, note the island bus stop. Bus patrons wait on the sidewalk until the bus appears, then move out to the island. Yes, the queue sometimes blocked the bike lane. Cyclists stopped, in the cases I saw. The lane is elevated here to sidewalk level and marked with paint. If those trees do grow, this could be a beautiful street since there is more room for the tree canopy to spread (don’t try this in Ottawa where city staff hate any tree larger than a hockey stick).

 

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By the second day, I was quite confident in using the Montreal style bi-directional lanes, whether on busy roads or residential streets. I remained apprehensive about being doored or posted on some facilities. I even cycled at night, depending on my flashing bixi lights to warn people to stay away. I learned to carry a whole $70 bag of groceries in that little bixi basket.

I am not a bold urban cyclist, rather a timid one, much preferring separated facilities and pathways. I did not find any in Montreal that are like Churchill Avenue (ie the Danish model, where the cycle track is level with the sidewalk, and uni-directional). But the Montreal paths form a network, and for the first time I really appreciated the value of being to head off in any direction confident that I could bike there safely and get home. And it was a real network of real facilities, not just pretty bike signs stuck on unimproved car-traffic-oriented streets and roads (hello Armstrong Street ! and Roosevelt Avenue … and Cambridge street !).

I cycled mostly in LePlateau, but also some in these areas: Maisonneuve, Rosemont, Mile End, the Old Port, Habitat 67, and Lachine areas. I’ll be doing it again.