Skinny sidewalk



This isn’t the skinniest sidewalk we’ve ever featured here, but it certainly is curious.

It’s on Clyde Avenue, beside the Canadian Tire store.

The sidewalk on each side of this “intersection” is regular 2m or so width. Nice enough, in its typically minimalist way.

The little island in the centre of the intersection also shortens the crossing legs and lets pedestrians assess danger from approaching vehicles in two stages. I approve.

This is the private entrance to a private property, yet there is no [depressed] curb along the street. It is a curious hybrid of driveway entrance and road intersection. Maybe even with a touch of freeway-ramp thinking given the gentle radius of the curve that permits high speed driving into the lot.

And that narrow … what is it? crosswalk? or sidewalk? Why so narrow? Is it just so the little triangle island could have a raised curb to protect the turn sign?

In the few minutes I stood pondering this design, two cars exited the lot. Neither took any notice of the suggested stop line for vehicles leaving the garage. One car ignored the ‘no left turn’ sign and entered the garage directly off Clyde, despite the geometry of the lanes specifically laid out to discourage that movement.

A few metres behind me, the “real” entrance to the Canadian Tire was marked with genuine traffic signals.


Privatizing road calming



Spotted on Woodroffe Avenue (near the public library at Carlingwood) this speed feedback sign reminds drivers of their actual speed. It would have been much more useful with a copy of the posted speed limit sign below it.

The City didn’t install this sign, it is funded somewhat privately by the Councillor (using his budget, I presume).  Like bus shelters, roadside benches with advertising, or garbage cans with advertising, it combines civic benefit with private advertising.

I have no problem with this. If the City were to officially do this themselves, sans advertising, the sign would be much more expensive, would require an expensive and extensive service staff, and an entire bureaucracy to debate where to put them. Advertising on bus shelters, for example, is often for charities and “good works” and is often the only variable  and colourful element to be found on our dead bland streets.

Perhaps we could find sponsors for speed bumps? Who has some suggestions?


Mixed blessings as an old retail friend vanishes


The Grand and Toy stationery and copy shop chain has retired from the retail storefront market. I have spent many a dollar there over the decades, and its demise means the disappearance of yet another [formerly] Canadian business. Storefront copy shops are now big-chain US brands. Ottawa will look increasingly like a generic North American downtown.

One thing I won’t miss are the large window wraps that turned the glass into seldom-changed advertising bland-assity. Maybe, just maybe, we will get tenants in the spaces vacated by Grand and Toy that have windows and something interesting to see as one goes by.

Naaah. We’ll probably get just another ground floor cubicle farm. Going downtown is getting less and less exciting, and more and more a mono-use of sterile offices. Have you noticed how many buildings now have ground floors with nothing of interest?

Who knows what was on the last set of big window wraps at Grand and Toy? If no one knows, maybe they weren’t effective.

Seeing Seattle — downtown bike track

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I checked out this bi-directional bike track in downtown Seattle.  It is separated from other vehicles by a poured curb, which in turn was interrupted by breaks to allow for water drainage and driveway access.

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|(above)  the pavement was painted green at private driveways to businesses, not just at intersections, like the Laurier bike track here.


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above:  a whole block painted green, with car parking on the outside edge of the track, with a painted spacer to reduce dooring and motor car passengers stepping out in front of cyclists. I don’t know why the launching point on the far side of the crosswalk is black asphalt. I find the lack of standardization in cycle and road markings somewhat frustrating. I realize we are evolving, through trial and error, to a comprehensive set of cycling signals, \i just hope I’m one of the survivors to the new world order.

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in the above picture, the bidirectional track runs left-right across this side street. I am used to seeing a “launching pad” for cyclists positioning themselves for a two-stage turn, but this double entry launching pad took me by surprise.  Cyclists approaching from the right, wishing to make a right turn across the intersection using a two stage turn, have to cross the opposing track and then position themselves on the pad.  Obvious room for an accident… but I didn’t see any close calls, mostly because the cyclists swung directly from their bike track over the intersection to their right, while on their green, ie a typical single-stage right turn but made from the track position (near the curb) NOT from the centre lane. Looked dangerous to me.

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Bike signal, mounted high up, with typical watch for crazies, err, cyclists … signage.

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Public transit patrons  utilizing the shelter shown above, step out from the curb  onto and island occupying what is elsewhere the parking lane. Crossing at a controlled point, shown with zebra stripes, is encouraged by the presence of discrete fencing to demark the island and cycling track. Transit users also accessed the crosswalk from the end of island as the fence at the far end of the island was short, simply to prevent people from stepping out onto the track at an angle. Peds had to step onto the crosswalk, turn 90 degrees, then cross the road or track at true right angles, not a diagonal. Useful.

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the pedestrian access to the island is level with the  sidewalk and island, and forms a raised  intersection point for cyclists. The crossing is concrete, a further distinction from the asphalt track.

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Simple curb-edge signage reminds pedestrians to  Look both ways.

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Further up the block, in front of the attractive  mid-rise infill project of the type Ottawa tries so hard to prevent/avoid, the parking lane was separated from the track with sculptural elements.

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When set between marked parking spaces, they do not impede car doors. But the spacing seemed random, and some did block passenger doors from opening. Perhaps people move them around – they were made of hollow plastic, like kids toys, with a fill lid on top for water or sand to weight them down.  Hitting them with a vehicle or door wouldn’t be fatal either:

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Personally, I think downtown Ottawa would be improved by the employment of artistic turds like those in Seattle, but I guess  we would have to have them in Liberal red and knee dipper orange too. And just one in green.

Gardening in cracks — err, narrow urban spaces


In east-side Montreal a few weeks back, I noticed a number of merchants or building owners (because these were not residential properties) were squeezing plants into the cracks between the sidewalk and building facade. I’m not sure why such narrow spaces  were “left over” unpaved, but they were put to good use.




the Hakone grass (yellow green stuff above) isn’t cheap either, about $12 per plant.

I also noticed someone — city or merchants association — planted many of the openings around sidewalk trees:





In the Le Plateau district, I was astounded to see the City put planters out on city road boulevards, islands, and on residential streets (these tripod planters were everywhere):



Larger pots marked a temporary bulb out:




I do notice, however, that Ottawa had professionals plant some gardens at the corner of Merivale and Carling (they could have had 10x as much garden if volunteers had done it, and the buy in means passersby often will do the weeding). and some of the mixed plantings along King Edward and Bronson are actually surviving and a few thriving. It’s up to community busybodies us to remind adjacent residents to weed once a month, water occasionally, or do it for them.

Once neglect sets in, too many people who couldn’t find the time to care for the plantings find lots of time to tear them out and leave the planting zone untended. I am disappointed how many people I talk to resent the idea of doing anything themselves. “You mean I’m supposed to take care of it? Outrageous! The city planted it let them do it!”

To which my standard reply is: they also paved your driveway out to the street. Do you expect them to shovel it all winter? If they put in grass, would you refuse to mow it?  [yeah yeah, i know, the evidence is all around us that the answer to all those questions is FU].

Here’s to a greener city, by which I mean plants, not advertising campaigns.