Surface drainage appeals to politicians more than sewers

I am glad to see Federal funding for reducing the pollution of the Ottawa River. It is about time governments — Federal, Provincial, and Municipal — stopped giving themselves free passes to pollute public waterways.

The City of Ottawa has on numerous occasions averted its eyes from the sewage it dumps in the river. I think it is because politicians don’t see much political value in underground sewers. Once built, you can’t see them.  Much better to spend money on visible projects, especially if they are visible around election time.

As we reached “peak sewer” in the 1990’s and realized we couldn’t just keep draining and piping away the sewage and rainfall, the concept of surface storage ponds came along. The first ones, you may recall, had steep sides and were fenced off for safety.



Must avert eyes.

But a surprising (to engineers) thing happened. People liked sewage ponds. They attracted birds and wildlife. People paid high premiums for residential lots adjacent wetlands. A few new ponds came with walking trails nearby. Later, the fencing became more selective.

Now storage ponds are deliberately landscaped more in keeping with recreational environments.

No, we aren’t swimming in them.


In other cities (and they have been featured on this blog numerous times) storage ponds have now become “rain gardens” and are prominent features of urban parks and high income neighbourhoods.

And this past winter I came across some prominent  politically visible sewer infrastructure:


This is on the shores of Lake Kissimmee in Florida. It looks sorta like a cockpit set in the ground. Or a greenhouse?

Actually, its a viewing port into a sewer:



Looking in, you can actually see the filters and settling bins for cleaning waterborn junk.



I confess to being rather surprised to see this, but not the surface stormwater ponds nearby that were a prominent feature of this waterfront park:



Note that all that infrastructure is not fenced off. Nor signed as “no trespassing”.

I came across the same transparent sewer facility in Dunedin, Fl. too, that then drained into the bioswale or “rain garden” just beyond:


BTW, notice the nice wide pathway for people who cycle, and the parallel but distinct walking path. Oh, and the bike repair station with tools and airpump. And benches. And garbage can. And bike racks. And paved connection to the city street network.

Look at this site:


Lovely park, eh? Very inviting.  Actually, it’s a sewer treatment plant conservation park, complete with sewer lagoons. All very tasteful.



Once politicians get familiar with the idea of visible sewers, we’ll see a lot more of them. I can’t wait.




City not interested in path under Qway

The City has pronounced itself regarding the replacement of the Queensway overpass at the OTrain / Trillium corridor.

The existing east side pathway will get an underpass for people who walk or cycle. As for the west side, the City says:

 It is deemed to be a longer-term project (post 2031) and therefore is not included in the City’s current affordable plan.  It should be noted that this west-side MUP could provide localized circulation benefits even if there were not to be a direct connection beneath the Queensway bridge.  Communities on the west side can still conveniently access the east-side MUP at several crossings of the O-Train corridor such as Gladstone, Young (footbridge), Beech, and Hickory (new footbridge under construction).

You may recall that the Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) proposes rebuilding the Qway bridge over the OTrain corridor to be like this:


Apparently, the “ballpark” cost of extending the bridge over a path on the west side side would be 2 to 3 million dollars. (A more accurate costing is apparently in the works). The City doesn’t want to pay for that. So it will go for no underpass now, and reassess the situation in 2031.

Will anyone be surprised if it costs much more tunnel under an existing Qway embankment at that time? So much more that it will cost-prohibitive?

There is no word on whether the City would be interested in a cheaper box tunnel on the west side, similar to the Somerset underpass. Such a structure would allow people who use the path to decide which route to take, depending on their circumstances and bravery.

That the City could propose missing this opportunity isn’t shocking. Disappointing, but not shocking. After all, the previous east-side path was started in 1962, and despite three completed underpasses (at Qway, Albert, and Ottawa River Parkway) couldn’t muster the effort to fix the “missing link” at Somerset for 42 years, despite several cycles of rebuilding the Somerset viaduct (in the 1960’s, 1980’s, and  2010’s).

Similarly, where Carling overpasses the OTrain, the bridges will someday have to be replaced in order to double-track the OTrain. I repeatedly asked that the Carling plans, the Preston-Carling CDP and Secondary Plan, The City Cycling plan, et al, include a “future link” path through the underpass for people who walk and people who cycle and people accessing the Carling OTrain station, and it was consistently turned down. One commonly cited reason is that the cycling plan doesn’t call for an underpass. It doesn’t call for an underpass … because there is no short term plan to replace the bridges. And the bridges cannot be designed to include a path unless the need is identified. Circular thinking at its best. Note, however, the City could and did include an “conceptual” extension of Sherwood through the Federal Lands to connect to Prince of Wales to better direct car traffic to the Qway at Holland. Apparently some conceptual links are easier to conceive of than others.

Back when the first phase of the Otrain / Trillium pathway was being designed (from Ottawa River to Young) I suggested to the City that they dump five truckloads of stonedust on the west side of the OTrain cut, and the community would spread the stuff to make a cinder path under the Queensway. A de facto path, if not quite de jure.

The City couldn’t afford the stonedust.

In related matters, the City is holding an open house on this Saturday, between 3.30 and 5pm, at the Plant Rec Centre, to unveil its design for the pathway from Young to Carling.  Apparently, the asphalt surfacing is gone (stonedust only) except for the already-paved little bit from Hickory to Carling (right at the Carling OTrain Station). It will be interesting to find out why the budget, which just last fall included asphalt, can no longer afford pavement.

And the summer completion date is being pushed back.



Death by a thousand nibbles


Walking along the Otrain pathway, I am distressed to see so many trees debarked by rabbits or mice.


They probably won’t survive.

Last year, we lost a whole bunch on the NCC side of Bayview Station. None of the trees there had chew guards on them, while the city trees south of Bayview Station did.

This year, there were no tree guards left at all.

I wonder if the contractor picks them up for reuse when they removed the posts that held up the burlap wind protection installed for the first two winters. After all, they only have to ensure they live for two years.

Maybe that’s the whole idea.

Caring for Pedestrians – precipitation edition

In this season of snow, slush, rain, and general impediments to people walking, it is nice once in a while to spot something positive, right here in laggardly Ottawa.

The new entrance to the Rideau Centre, facing MacKenzie King Bridge, has this glass canopy:


Notice the nicely patterned glass, the reasonable width … there is much to like here.

I have noticed similar struts outside some of the new Lansdowne Park buildings, but when I was last there, no glass [yet?].

One can go further. Look at this glass canopy:

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Yup, it’s a glass canopy to shelter pedestrians whilst waiting for a green light at an intersection. Notice too the concrete bollards-that-mean-business. No wimpy commitment to pedestrians-first here (photo taken in Bellevue, WA).

And here is a municipal glass roof for protection while pushing the button to get a crossing light (notice also the extent of the concrete crosswalk that includes the whole intersection):



When do you think we will get our municipality to express such tender for care for pedestrians?

On the subject of municipalities, this is a glass roof over a sitting area in a municipal park in Portland. Yup, you can sit out during a shower. And at night, the supporting rafters up above where festooned with LEDs that put on a [free] light show. Imagine a city actually wanting people in their parks after dark !



Here’s a Portland bus shelter too:




And to sum up, here are some infill Seattle buildings with glass canopies, extending for blocks through a traditional main street area not dissimilar to Preston or West Wellington, complete with a planter strip to separate people who walk from people who drive:


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Below, notice the glass canopy, planters to distance people who walk from those who drive, benches, ped-scale lighting, and especially notice that elegant and thin tree-shaped strut that holds up the overhead ped crossing of the busy road. A tich more elegant than what we have on Rideau Street.

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Now you know what to lobby for.

Caring for Pedestrians — ice and drainage edition

near EY Centre

I was out at the EY [trade show] Centre a short while back. Despite being beside the transitway, and there being sidewalks, the connections for people who walk or people who use transit still manage to be awkward at best, discouraging when worst.

The Home Show event brought with it the worst.

Picture the scene: its 9pm.

Dark. [ergo, no pictures of the actual scene of the ….]

No signs to the transitway (service to the actual EY Centre itself is hourly and that bus had just gone, and the stop itself is not visible from anywhere indoors to wait). So I traipsed across the thousand acre parking lot, trotted along the highway, and begged for a crossing light.

On the sidewalk under the parkway the entire pedestrian area [but not the car area] was flooded with 5″ thick ice. It was wonderfully slippery. I assume in the daytime it is delightfully slushy. Water gathers on the sidewalk because it is the lowest spot, shaded from the sun’s feeble heat, and the entire area is graded to drain over the top and onto the sidewalks. 

Apparently, our engineers feel it is vital for people who walk to have 16′ clearance to the overpass above, just like tractor trailers do. Funny how sometimes people who walk get motorist-convention standards, and sometimes cannot. Notice too the concrete wall between the three pillars that retards drainage, and the minimal elevation of the sidewalk above the road surface.  Read on …

Notice the slopes on each side of the airport parkway. All that melting snow runs down over the sidewalk because the City’s engineering standards call for it to do just that. Now for roads, we have a different standard. Water running downslope must be intercepted first * by a draining swale or ditch and diverted into a pipe or catchbasin. Mustn’t let people who drive find a damp or slippery spot.

If people are cycling or walking in the early spring or late fall, you might find pathways specifically designed for the safe and efficient movement of said clientèle … covered in precipitation in all its wonderful forms.

Here is the sidewalk that connects the upper and lower halves of Primrose. It is wildly popular, being a nice pedestrian-only route, free of the cars and trucks and buses dragging walls of slush and gloop to bathe pedestrians along Albert Street through the Flats. It is on a slope (it is called Nanny Goat Hill for a reason) and has been carefully engineered so that the walkway is a combined walkway-storm drain.** In certain seasons, it rivals any Sens rink for traction:


At least there is a partial handrail on this walk. One has to cling for dear life.

When the City was designing the O-Train multi-user pathway, there was this large-ish slope that just might contribute run off to the pathway.  Absolutely not, said the city design staff, when asked to intercept the runoff so people who walk or people who bike could remain safe and dry, our standards don’t permit that. Out of the question.


Now it was sunny when I took this picture, and the run off has, well, run off. But just a few feet further north, the underpass under Somerset Street was still a treacherous frozen puddle, and a little further on was this opportunity to make your footprints using the run off from all the area to the left:



Here’s an example of a path done right. The drainage runs down the grassy slope into a ditch. Water on the asphalt runs to the left into the ditch, as the pathway has a slight tilt in that direction. Every once in a while, a catch basin directs the water under the path via a pipe and the water continues off to where-ever it was going.

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 Note to readers: I wrote this story on Wednesday, and scheduled it to follow another post on pedestrian theme. In light of the tragic accident under the Heron Road Bridge, also it seems, due to our engineering standards that drain water and ice over the top of sidewalks and paths, I rescheduled this story to run first. I now regret not including a photo of the ice sheet under the Somerset Bridges  … but then one can find these conditions pretty well all over the city, reflecting the total contempt our infrastructure providers show for anyone not driving a car. For what’s its worth, I used to go to Carleton U via the Heron Road Bridge, descending from the No 77 bus stop as it was back in the day.  All the water running off the bridge hit giant splash pads under the bridge and then ran off over the sidewalk. In winter, the shaded area was giant puddles. Apparently in 40 years no one noticed the problem?? Really?? Or just didn’t give a F about people who walk or use transit or cycle?


* Yes, I am sure someone can point out spots in the city where water does flow over the surface of the road. I walked on one yesterday, on Carling near Fox Cresc. But these are noticeable because of their rarity, and certainly  aren’t prominent features of new road construction. Pathways and sidewalks doubling up as surface water storage areas and drains, alas, is a deliberate feature of our design.

** In discussing  with City engineers and planners the continuing puddling at many corners along the recently rebuilt and “pedestrianized” Preston Street, staff simply cannot comprehend the problem. They designed the street to “pond” or “store” water on the surface when it rains, so as to keep the sewer underneath the street open for draining the head end of the pipe which is uphill in the Glebe.

Engineering staff couldn’t see this as a problem, because if was raining, why would anyone be out walking?  If it recently stopped raining, and there were puddles, then don’t go for a walk. They genuinely seemed to believe that walking is a discretionary recreational activity to be employed on selected nice days. They truly have a “car window view” of the city.

More tree folly

After a lengthy period of time working with city engineers and planners, you get to catch onto the tricks and elisions that hide in the plans. We can never catch them all, but some get easier to spot. I especially look for trees at risk,

So when community members got a chance a while back to check out the temporary road works on Albert where it runs along LeBreton Flats, and the “final” plan for 2018, I paid close attention to things just off the edge of the plan.

Ah ha ! at City Centre Avenue near Albert there was to be some new sidewalk. There were trees off to the east of the sidewalk. I requested written notes to go on the plan that the trees were not be removed, and were to be protected during construction. Right Oh ! Small victory !

What the plan didn’t show was the new sidewalk was to be about 2′ lower than the old one. This meant excavating the old sidewalk and some of the adjacent terrain. Work suspended for the winter in December past. Here’s one tree left rather exposed:



And here’s another one:



I do wonder if the city staff and engineers showing us the plan realized there was an elevation change, and just let the (wood) chips fall where they may. If we had known of the new elevation for the sidewalk, we could have modified the plans to show a small retaining wall so crews on site would know what to do.

Anyway, an alert community member noticed that in January the City marked two of the trees for removal:





It’s pretty obvious in my eye that the trees, about 30 years old, could be saved. Over 50% of the root area is undisturbed, and the disturbed area was under the previous sidewalk so it is unlikely those roots in gravel were key to the trees survival.

Simply install a back curb or short retaining wall — poured in place or precast — at the outside edge of the sidewalk. Then wait to see what happens.

Community members requested the intervention of the Councillor, and we don’t really know yet what the fate is of those trees. Will the City decide it is easier and cheaper to chop down the tree? If they do, I’m willing to bet they wont be eager to spend the money chewing out the roots, so a new tree cannot be planted there. Instead they will claim to plant two, or even four more, nearby. That landscaping along the reconstructed Albert has to be installed anyway, how would anyone know if we really got more trees?

Right now, the City gives waaaay to much discretionary power to work crews on site. Montreal is more proactive, posting this notice first:tree notice montreal 2


tree notice montreal


Trees in Seattle, however, speak English, and this poster incentivizes residents to take action to protect their trees:

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Notice the protect tree sign is taped on; the Montreal sign is nailed on.

In case you are wondering, Ottawa’s notices look like this: