Gotta go pee ! (again)

So, the CBC this morning was featuring another story on our lack of public washrooms. So I thought it worthwhile reprinting this Feb.2015 story about public toilets. I think the potty solution from Portland would fit very nicely in Dundonald Park.

As a society, we have a major aversion to acknowledging that people gotta go pee. Or poo. And that this happens when people are outside of the home. Like at transit stations. Or touristing in a city.

In lieu of public WC signage, we are reduced to looking for the Golden Arches of M, where there is always a toilet. Although in many cities I have come across restrictions to accessing the WC, such as having to enter the code printed at the bottom of your food purchase receipt. Or paying a fee, that is then redeemable at the sales counter:

europe 2013 800b


I am well aware that there is a risk in providing municipal washrooms, in maintenance, competition for use, etc. But our current denial of provision is akin to privatizing the issue and hoping it will disappear. It doesn’t.

Instead of passing the buck, perhaps we should pass the toilet paper.

The early models of street toilets had some dubious characteristics, but were better than nothing:

old european street toilet

I think that a major part of the problem is that there are so few public washrooms, the ones that can be found get overused. In Europe, I found there was a franchise operation (see Sanifair logo above) that operated washrooms in highway gas stations, restaurants, and some tourist sites.  And at the Golden Arches. The fee was always minimal. Children went free. The washrooms were well maintained, less stressful to use. They were accessible.

In Paris, there are some streetside public washroom kiosks. In the hubris of early high technology, these washrooms were self cleaning and had other amazing gizmos. All of which drove up the cost and were subject to breakdown and vandalism.

edmonton toilet

Some North American cities have tried curbside toilets. The early French automat toilets didn’t work out well. Partly it’s the vandalism, and partly its over use. Because they were expensive, few were installed, and lacking a critical mass of installations, the first few become a critical mess. They were overdesigned, over complex, and aimed at what the educated elite wanted in washrooms.

Another problem is that many of them were installed in “problem” areas where the homeless congregated. It seems to me to be a sort of looking for a  “machine fix” for street people. Let’s be conspicuous about helping the homeless, solve a general problem too, all while not having to actually acknowledge individuals or their needs.

Sometimes people “moved into” the toilets as shelters, others were used for curbside sex or prostitution. Many WC’s have blue lighting, since that prevents drug users from shooting up, or something in that vein. Large one-way glass windows (viewable out) make middle class users very nervous potty users, but apparently don’t always discourage inappropriate activities by others.

Pay toilets collect funds for maintenance. In roadside rest stops, the volume of users is such that a paid attendant or franchisee can make a living offering clean facilities.   Because someone can make money from public toileting, there is every incentive to actually increase the supply. Classic free market solution.

That is not the case curbside.

Every time I go to Paris, the curbside washroom designs have changed. Hi tech transitions to low tech. Pay per use convert to free to use. Toilet paper supplied; bum fluff optional. But at least they are trying. And if they get a great solution, there should be a worldwide market.

Sometimes exterior materials aren’t what you expect.  I once (rather nervously) used a Dutch public toilet,  located in a park,  with all clear glass walls. Fortunately, the glass was “smart glass”. Insert a coin, and the walls go opaque. After a set time, a little alarm reminds you the walls are about to go transparent again … talk about performance pressure!

But all of these are better than nothing.

When in Portland last summer, I discovered this latest- update curbside washroom, the famous (and patented) Portland Loo:



This installation was right in downtown Portland. A local equivalent location might be Albert at Lyon. The grillwork top and bottom provides lots of light inside, and reduces privacy to the minimum required. Note the bottom grill slants downwards and inwards. There is an exterior potable water dispenser mini-tap (no sink) visible in the above picture on the right corner.



Here’s a ready-to-go view:


There is hand sanitizer, but no sink, which apparently reduces maintenance a lot and discourages certain uses. No mirror. The large-drain pipe will swallow a whole roll of toilet paper in one flush, straight down to the sewer below,  even though this paper is locked to the wall rack. These facilities gotta be tough. And the design is simple and attractive inside and out. They cost about $60,000 each.  US$.

Here’s a link to more reading on the Portland Loo (cummon now, take a load off your feet, it’ll just take a few minutes to read):  The key seems to be simplicity, toughness, and making the user nervous enough to use it and leave it.

During the Downtown Moves study, aimed at making Ottawa more livable by 2020 or something, I brought up the subject of WC’s. Everyone agreed we need them. No one wanted to provide them, or investigate how to provide them. I suggested that a radically increased supply might help. No takers. Our planners exhibited maximum anxiety to get on to the next topic.

So Ottawa will continue to promote itself as a major tourist destination. A tourist friendly destination. Just don’t bring your crap with you. And leave little Billy or Suzy home, because if they gotta go pee, you’re outa luck whether in downtown Ottawa or en route on our fancy new LRT system. That goes for anyone over 50 too, because in Ottawa you gotta be ready to go  hold on forever.

[BTW, did you know each one of our nice red Bombardier Talent OTrains  has an on-board washroom? It’s in that always-locked room with the bright red plastic exterior. I used one once, on a Talent train in Germany. It worked fine. Just don’t try this at home.] [editor’s note: those Bombardier trains are now parked somewhere out in the southern suburbs and we use the equally toilet free and somewhat slower moving new Lint trains]




More community gardening

May is always a busy time for community gardeners, those green thumbed urbanites that think our city would look better if greener. And who don’t wait for the city to do it.

Here’s some pictures of the Thursday morning gardening group. First the weedy beds at Bronson/McLaren and Bronson/Christie had to be weeded:



Some perennials were added, and then the boxes of “spent” or finished-blooming tulips from the Preston street BIA planters were opened:


A hole about 10″ deep was dug, and the bulbs taken out of the pot and plopped into the hole, and covered with about six inches of topsoil:





The finished bed looks great, with more tough-as-nails lillies that might survive as the planters double up as salt laden snow dumps along the side of the road.

The tulips have been forced by greenhouse for the floral displays, so the bulbs are not the best. But they are free. So next spring, keep an eye out. If they bloom — wonderful.  If they don’t, they’ll become mulch.


Meanwhile, another group of gardeners was out on Sunday, behind the City Centre complex, along the new Trillium (formerly OTrain) pathway. The City installed more boulders to keep vehicles off part of the area, and unexpectedly added in some more trees.

I met a long-serving politician who had just walked a good bit of the pathway, who expressed considerable surprise at how nice the corridor was and even more surprise that the city had actually installed decent landscaping. Good impressions help …


The plants at City Centre might get lost in the weeds, so they are close to the big rocks, and bonus, some leftover mulch was found nearby to put around the roses and lillies and a few other shrubs and tough-love plants.


After only two weeks, a foot and cycle path has appeared through the landscaped zone, clearly demonstrating a “desire line” and useful corridor.


Last year, some boston ivy vines appeared at the foot of a number of the concrete pillars that hold the upper service roadway at the City Centre Building. They even have mulch. They seem to be thriving:


Yet another community gardening group has been planting the bulb outs along Booth Street at Willow, Arlington, and Raymond. In these cases, the city was unwilling to supply any plants, preferring to simply brick-over the bulb outs. But after being asked nicely, they instead installed some curb-protected planters with a modicum of dirt in them. The famous ditch lillies and other leftover garden plants soon make their appearance. Some of the plants were donated by the Plant Pool Rec Assoc after their plant sale last weekend. Some more came from the Ottawa Home Show, which trashed the display gardens on closing night … unless community groups get in and out in a few hour time window to remove the material.



As described in previous stories, gardeners also get occasional funds or plants from the Preston BIA and the Chinatown BIA, and the Councillor’s Office and the Community Association. And sometimes from developers too. But overall, its very shoestring. But the plants do get found …

The lillies planted last fall are looking good, but the weeds … and decayed concrete after only one winter !



If these beds have a lot of immature plants, the blank spots are filled in with marigold seeds. Underneath those are yet more Preston BIA and Home Show tulip bulbs. Whew.




More than one community gardening group hopes it will rain for a few hours, preferably at 2am so it won’t disturb the daytime gardening.


More on Little Nemo on Preston Street:

In the previous story, Losing Nemo, the analogy got rather convoluted and opaque by the end of the story. Some readers pointed out that the story read very negatively on our new councillor, personally. That wasn’t my intention, but in retrospect I could see how it could easily be read that way. So I went back an simplified the ending, and made amends with the Councillor.

Every weblog story includes a comment section and my email. Comments are welcome. If I edit a story after “publishing” it, I note that fact, unless it is a minor error like compass directions mixed up or streets misnamed. WordPress holds comments from people it doesn’t know until I can OK them, which is usually the same day. However, I’m not on a cell phone, smart phone, ipad, or other connected device, so it can be half a day or more before I see your comments. WordPress has an algorithm that creates and tweets out messages for each new story based on the words in the first paragraph, about half the time I remember to review and edit these before they go. The accounts are not monitored.

Finding Nemo on Preston Street

At a city meeting last night, I realized everything you need to know about the City’s proposed rezoning of Preston Street north of Somerset can be gleaned from Finding Nemo.


The role of the shark was ably played by city planning staff. They controlled the location, the moderator,  the display boards, the agenda, and most importantly the options presented for the public to choose from.

Most ordinary fish residents thought Preston north of Somerset, which consists mostly of residences, and has since 1902, as being a residential area. The zoning, which is all what most fish understand about city planning, has since 1963 shown it as residential.

Therefore, the word “zoning” never once passed the shark’s lips.

Instead, we were told, with semi-sad faces, that the sharks understood it was [currently] residential area, but alas, “planning documents” showed it as a traditional mainstreet since 2001, and without defining what a TM was or how that concept may have changed, and that designation permitted commercial use. They neglected to say that would require rezoning approval. Or that several neighbourhood studies thought there was no need to change the zoning.

Until now.

So to help us little fish, the nice sharks planners had drawn up three options for us to choose from, nicely shown on big colourful poster boards. Did we want a lot of commercial, or just a little?

The little fishies were entertained with cutesy stories of the little cookie maker who bakes cookies in his kitchen and sells them from his living room and grows up to open up a bigger cookie store [in a better neighbourhood, of course]. And of the little old lady making special sauces that displayed in her front window and sold only to neighbours, and only if they walked to her house, and only if they smiled nicely.

Of course, the sharks don’t have the rules nor the interest in actually delivering that idyllic image. It was pure planning porn. Looks nice, but you can’t have it. Why, these sharks are so friendly they are toothless. It’s not their fault if the commercial spaces turn out to be marijuana shops or rub-and-tug parlors or an after hours poker joint.

None of the options included leaving the area residential. Or leaving the zoning residential.

Remember, zoning was never mentioned by the planners. Only mysterious planning documents. And the Supreme Council’s orders that the planners play nicely with the locals only on the sharks’ department rules. Tch tch, our hands are tied, smiled the planners so sadly.

The little fishies in attendance suspected something was wrong. Why were there only choices about how much commercial? Why were the only choices about how much higher or denser new things would be? Why was the existing neighbourhood disposable because of proximity to LRT Stations when lots of neighbourhoods around the city are guaranteed no radical changes in their CDP’s??

But the little fishies lacked the vocabulary to challenge the sharks. A few brave bureaucrat-fishies asked about “proceedure” and “process”. The shark smiled benignly. See, fish and sharks are friends.

The cognitive dissonance between what the residents wanted — to preserve what they thought was good — and what the options were, was too great to bridge. Planner talk was smooth and baffling.

Maybe the sharks did have our best interests at heart?

What was needed, of course, was a Nemo to show leadership, to articulate what the locals couldn’t. The dismay in the room was palatable. As was the sense of being defeated and outplayed and bewildered as to why and how.

Only Nemo could unite the fishes to swim in one direction to break out of the net and escape becoming dinner.  Where was Nemo?

Can anyone find Nemo on Preston Street?

Alas, our rookie councillor, Catherine McKenney stood on the sidelines, smiling with staff, her former colleagues. She was not offering leadership. * The last councillor who played so nicely with sharks was retired from the adjacent ward before she could feed more little fishies to the sharks.

The Disney movie has a happy ending. With room for sequels. Finding Nemo on Preston was a bit less cheerful. Turning the corner, the sequel may be Nightmare on Elm Street.



* this para has been edited from the original version because some readers thought it confused the role of the cartoon characters with today’s sexual politics, which was not intended.


How the Tulips got to Preston Street

West siders may have noticed all the  blooming tulips that appeared on Preston on Saturday. How did they get there?

We’ll skip the months of planning, paying for the bulbs months ago before they were even grown, and jump right to last Friday when the truck arrived:


We’ve already unloaded the centre two columns of boxes to make an aisle, and community gardeners and volunteers carried each box into Tom Brown Arena for refrigerated safe keeping until Saturday.  Each box contains 8 blooming pots of several tulips:


Go ahead and do the math (hint: there’s about 50 boxes).

Before the community arrives, the lonely parking lot has the Pod with the planters inside, and a cubic yard of mulch for topdressing the planters:


The assembly line gets started, opening the cartons, and reminding everyone that the planters get filled with two reds, two white, two reds, etc.



Everyone helps, regardless of size …


Note: we did not require safety helmets, figuring the hazards were minimal:


Once the planters were potted, it was off to the mulch station:




Part way through, we ran out of mulch, and it was off to RCSS in Westboro to buy out all their stock. This guy unloading probably weighed less than the bag of mulch, which was also much taller than him:


Then the mulched planters were put into the UHaul:


Only 17 boxes filled it up ! This would be too slow …



But wait, the boxes stack and lock together for multiple layers … like a container ship:


Another crew of volunteers was ready on the street, unloading a block’s worth of planters and then placing them in front of each business. Then run on to the next block, to unload the next set.

In just a few hours, about 35 volunteers planted  innumerable tulip pots, dressed them, and placed them on the street. We watered them all too … and then on Monday it rained anyway:


Well done.

Afterwards, volunteers stood around for a bit and chatted. The most common comments? That was easy! That was fun !  Are we doing this next year?

Little did they suspect we will be calling them in three weeks to bring all the planters back to the Tom Brown parking lot, to dump the mulch, and put the empty planters back into the Pod.

However, the reward will be thousands of red and white tulip bulbs to plant in community gardens (like along the OTrain path, at Plant Pool, etc)  and for the volunteers’ gardens,  for next year blooms, and mulch for this years gardens.

Community building can be a wonderful experience.

WLRT , part iv, Baseline Station, Queensview, Pinecrest, Bayshore

Confederation Line trains leaving Lincoln Fields Station will proceed south into the Pinecrest Creek corridor. Immediately past Woodroffe HS, the line will split, with some trains going on to Baseline and others turning west towards Bayshore.

Baseline Station is located on the west side of Woodroffe Avenue at the western edge of Algonquin College campus, itself a large traffic generator. The Station will be the southern terminus of the Confederation line for many many years and thus will be a major transfer point to local buses and buses to Barrhaven / Riverside South.

Before the current plaza was built on the west side of the new Algonquin Building, a large underground station was constructed. It is designed to take trains or buses, and is  huge.

inside tunnel

The pic below sketches the  before view and the future layout and main surface entrance. Three existing covered-over light wells/stairwells will also be opened up into the underground platforms. Of the three colleges / universities on the LRT, it looks like Algonquin will get the largest station, followed by Ottawa U with the renovated Campus Station, and Carleton will continue to have bus shelters accessed via a corrugated pipe underpass.

google closer up

birds eye view

The current bus staging area to the south of the station will be relocated even further south, on the future southward extension right of way.

College Avenue comes in from the upper right, by the Algonquin greenhouses and south side of the existing buildings, to access the surface level bus platforms located where they now are. Eventually additional bus facilities will be located immediately south of College Avenue, as shown by the transparent cube to the right of the station in the sketch above.

A pathway is planned for the east side of the LRT alignment all the way from Navaho Drive to Iris. Presumably the west side pathway will also continue to be in place, but its worth asking about.

The nearby parking lots by the Constellation Building (city offices) is already planned for more commercial buildings, as are a number of vacant lots between there and Baseline. Hopefully a Transit-oriented development study (ToD) will do better than the disappointing one at Tremblay (VIA) Station as discussed here a few stories ago.

As mentioned earlier, the Confederation Line trains leaving Lincoln Fields will head south up the Pinecrest Creek corridor towards a junction just south of Woodroffe high school.  Some trains will continue south along the creek to Baseline; every other train will ver off to the west, travelling under a park, thru or under or beside the space occupied by the OC Transpo west end garage,  and into an open cut along the Queensway. The cut and the Queensview Station will be in the space between the Queensway and Leons, the Upper Room, Fuller, and other businesses.

aerial google from the south with line on it

(above: my approximation of the  route to Queensview Station)  The Queensview Station will be in an open cut, with a ped bridge over the Queensway far above. This was discussed in greater detail a few articles past, which can be found by using the back button at the bottom of the page. In the picture below, the new station is right between Leon’s and the Queensway, with the OC Transpo garage at an angle to the right.

aerial closeup


I note we have not named this IKEA Station. Although in Europe, I noticed transit stations gave prominent directions to IKEA — obviously catering to user reality — or simply named the station IKEA. Who wants to bet people will refer to Queensview-you-know-the-station-for-IKEA?

The next west station is at Pinecrest.  The current transitway station / bus shelters,  is on the north edge of the interchange; the LRT Station will be much closer to the Queensway alignment. Again, the station is a simple centre platform, open air, in a cut, with stair and elevator access up to Pinecrest just before it becomes a bridge over the freeway:

city aerial view pinecrest

The base picture used for the city sketch above is unfortunately taken while the current transitway station was under construction so it does not reflect what is there today:

pinecrest google

Nor does the sketch show that there will be stairs and elevators up to Pinecrest on both sides of that road. The MTO is considering rebuilding the overpass at the same time, so there is opportunity (which could yet be missed !) to improve the horrid overpass for people who walk and cycle as well as people who drive. There is also a pathway to the Foster Farm neighbourhood to the west.

The south on Pinecrest to westbound on ramp has been moved to just south of the new LRT Station, which frees up a  chunk of land where the ramps used to be on the north side of the LRT Station.

Traffic going north on Pinecrest will access the Queensway westbound from a squared-off signalized intersection replacing the current remnant of the original cloverleaf design. This will be much safer for people who walk and people who bike to use Pinecrest without high speed vehicles making high speed exits and merges. Hopefully, the remaining ramp-type exits on the south side could also be squared off so that pedestrians might make it safely to IKEA.

The terminus station for the Western LRT is at Bayshore. 

The existing transitway platforms will be reused by the trains, and additional bus platforms will be built. The station will offer walkin ability to Holly Acres road. The bus parking zone will be moved west of the new Station.

It looks as if the LRT Station reuses the not-terribly direct existing walkways to the Bayshore Mall.  With all the millions the Mall is spending on parking garages, it would have been nice to have spent even a dime on making better, more welcoming transit connections. 

aerial sketch, bayshore

West of Bayshore will be the extended transitway. It will cross Holly Acres road at an intersection. The design of the Bayshore Station and the design of the transitway westwards will be fully accommodate later conversion to LRT, although it is obvious a grade separation will be required at Holly Acres Road. Express and local buses from Kanata will terminate at Bayshore or Baseline Stations.

Note that the existing transitway station at Queensway will be closing soon, to make way for widening the freeway. Oddly enough, we are expanding the roads at the same time as we built transit along the same route. Hmm.




WLRT Stations, part iii, New Lincoln Fields, new Iris Stations

The new Lincoln Fields Station will, in the LRT era, no longer be a major transfer station, and can be downsized dramatically. The little Iris Station, now merely a bus shelter on the verge, gets major engineering.

When the first transitway plans for Lincoln Fields Station were revealed back in the 70’s, the station was directly under the Carling Avenue overpass. The neighbours to the south objected, claiming excessive noise and rowdy behaviour by station patrons, some councillor chimed in that the underpass location would be dark and dangerous, so the expensive drive in-drive out transfer station was built north of Carling.

After nearly half a century in the “wrong” location, it looks like the future LRT Station will be efficiently located with its middle section underneath the Carling Avenue overpass. This means buses along Carling can stop curbside, unload and load passengers, and carry straight on, without dawdling through the off-road transit station.

aerial view

One probable reason for the relocation is to get a straight stretch of track since one of the planning priorities on our LRT system is no stations on curves. The new station plan frees up the old transitway station and its circuitous roads and parking lot for reversion back to parkland, although a modified version of the passenger pick up and drop off area is to be kept.

While the function of this station looks good, there are a couple of worries, which local community associations and lobby groups need to address:

  • the station designs seem to be getting simpler and cheaper as one leaves the core, with these ones being simple boxes with flat roofs. In a high visibility location like this, the peaked sloped roofs of the original 13 stations should be continued. The distinctive station roof lines are powerful marketing, wayfinding,  and advertising for the LRT lines.
  • the all weather protected crossing of the parkway via an elevated footbridge will be removed. Instead, pedestrians will have to use the Carling Avenue mini-sidewalk, which is windswept and frequently a wall of slush or airborne water. It desperately needs glass railings, wider sidewalks, and some setback from the travel lanes.
  • And, those merge-style on- and off-ramps from the Parkway will need to be civilized, squared-off, probably as a signalized intersection. Otherwise access to the transit station for those who walk will be severely impeded.
  • while improving the bridge, cycle tracks would be nice … oh oh, like at Pimisi Station, OC Transpo objects to people riding bicycles fearing they will drive at high speed through hordes of waiting bus users, scattering them like skittles. But is it good to ignore people who cycle along Carling?
  • traffic on Carling speeds up dramatically between Edgeworth and Lincoln Fields, as the road is wider and “wide open” looking. With the probably removal of the park and ride traffic light, this will be an even longer straight stretch. Traffic calming is needed. Trees in raised planters along the centre median would help. A new light might be warranted at the intersection of the off ramps.

Here is the City’s plan view of the station, albeit rather cluttered with lots of lines:

plan view

Depending on the final alignment of the tracks south of the Station, the Woodroffe HS ped bridge over the parkway may have to be relocated. AND, there is the opportunity to “daylight” the Pinecrest Creek which in a fit of NCC tidyness back in the 70’s was sewerized just south of here, near the pedestrian bridge. It would be good to have it visible again.

History Trivia:  Looking at the air photo above, a bit of ghostly history appears. Notice the faint trace of a circular ramp on the south east quadrant, right behind the homes of Whitehaven. This was to be the main off ramp of the Parkway, for cars to go east to Woodroffe and then south to Barrhaven. Instead the “temporary” construction off ramp at Woodroffe itself was kept, afflicting residents there with endless through traffic, and making the east bound off ramp at Carling superfluous. Its roadbed outline is also visible when standing on the south side of Carling.

The Iris Station.  Currently, Iris station is, like Dominion, a rather forlorn cluster of bus shelters at the intersection of the transitway and Iris.

The location is difficult to engineer, due to the presence of the shallow Pinecrest Creek and the anomalous at-grade intersection of Iris and the transitway which must become grade-separated. Somehow three levels of infrastructure have to be inserted in one area while allowing for existing water and sewer services to continue.

In the plan, many of the multi-use pathways in the area will need major relocation, including the bridges over the creek and the at-grade pathway crossing between Iris and Baseline. The creek itself will get rebuilt in a new alignment, entirely on the east side of the LRT (the west side creek bed might be useful as a spring flood storage zone if regraded as a swale or rain meadow). Once relocated, it becomes a simpler task to grade separate the LRT from Iris.

plan view

An earlier option dead-ended Iris on either side of the transitway-come-LRT alignment, with a pedestrian overpass, which would have cut out a lot of through traffic through the west end neighbourhood. But the plan now shows Iris rising up and over the in-a-shallow cut LRT line. The Iris overpass will allow the west side multi-use pathway through the parkland to go under Iris, thus avoiding the current intersection. The current east-side pathway will then terminate at Iris.

The station itself will remain dead simple: two open platforms, accessed by long ramps from Iris, no stairs or elevators required. Passenger pick up and drop off points and bus stops will be located at the ends of the Iris bridge.

aerial view