Guerilla delight

Along with a [too] few other community members, I go gardening on Thursday mornings. Our targets are all those planters along Bronson (from Laurier to Gladstone) that the city installed, planted, and promptly ceased maintaining.

There seems to be some sort of fond hope that adjacent property owners are supposed to go out and weed them or add additional plants. And its true, when the city replaces grass in front of houses it doesn’t come back to mow it; and if it replaces driveway asphalt it doesn’t plow it in the winter. Somehow people know this, but miss the planters, expecting Mayor Jim and his crew to come out to weed and feed.

And what weeds ! Each planter has its unique own variety of dominant weed that attempts to take over the whole planter. And every planter is different. Here’s the planter and Primrose and Bronson, which we weeded already once in May. In just five weeks, a dozen vigorous weeds grew six feet tall:


They are so vicious, you can see in the foreground the disembodied hands of another gardener who wasn’t so lucky. There was an abundance of these weeds:



And yes, those are parsnip like roots:


But after an hour, the planter looked great again:


And we crossed the street to find one over-run with the most thorny-leaved buggers imaginable. And another one full of bind weed – thousands of those plants !

After four beds we were pooped, and headed home for a shower (separately !!).

The city needs to communicate to property owners and residents where planters are put in that they are expected to do some maintenance. And the city is going to have to break down and hire someone to tend to these “complete streets” and “greened” streets and roadways.

Parting shot: city planter on Somerset thickly grown with strangling dog weed:


Hickory bridge ready to dock


The Hickory Street bridge for people who walk and people who cycle is finally being assembled on the stub end of Hickory, by the semi-occupied SOHO Champagne condo tower.

The bridge is of black steel. As of Sunday, the north arch was supported upright on temporary cribbing, and part of the deck supports were in place.

This picture shows the south arch lying flat, soon to be stood up right. The high posts that extend beyond the arch are probably for the security fence to prevent suicidal Ottawans from jumping off the bridge.


After several weeks of assembly, a crane will lift the bridge over the OTrain Trillium line cut, immediately north of the Carling Station.

Expect completion at the end of August or mid-September.


Postage Stamp Crisis (the third lick: existing community mailboxes)

Since the “controversy” over community mailboxes heated up, I’ve kept an eye open for what they look like.

I don’t find this old one on Somerset Street offensive:


Nor this one on King Edward:


When in Boston a few weeks ago, I spotted this one in a typical centre town residential street, and then retraced my steps to discover that there had been a number of similar boxes in the preceding blocks that I hadn’t even noticed:


Here’s some at the courtyard entrance to low rise apartments dating from mid-20th century:


And from early 21st century urban townhouse infills:



And here, between two businesses on a typical traditional main street, this time in a heritage area of Provincetown MA:



I must say i do prefer the USM single post pedestal to the “filled in” plinth on the Canada Post one shown on King Edward Avenue.

It is a myth that somehow only Canadians are being stuck with community mailboxes and that in other civilized countries they get door to door delivery 8 days a week. The photos above are residential and commercial, new and old neighbourhoods.

While we are in the USA, here is a community mailbox in a new urbanist town, set in the town common, conveniently co-located by the allotment gardens, adjacent the play ground, adjacent the community swimming pool. It was a several-block walk to get to the mailbox from other houses in the area. City of Ottawa park  planning staff reacted in horror when I asked if mailboxes were allowed in or beside parks. Such efforts at getting people to mingle and know their neighbours would be forbidden in the great white north:


And here is another collection of mailboxes, in the centre of a park, serving a large new urbanist mixed income project:


So just how well are the Canada Post boxes going to fit into west side Ottawa?

I headed a bit further west, around the Kirkwood and Churchill areas, where sources told me a number of the boxes have already been installed. Here is what I found:


The front and side view above; the side and rear view below: (note the concrete pad and finishing cobble strip):



I was plesantly surprised to find some of the boxes faced sidewalks (their backs to the road):



… or facing sidewalks, with their backs to the houses:


Their location suggests officialdom expects people to actually walk to their mailboxes, rather than doing drive-by pickups.

Here’s a set in front of a park, which seems rather convenient and safe to me, but I suppose our park planners might still object:




While the Kirkwood / Churchill area is 1940’s suburban on large-ish green lots, there are also tighter, more urban sites to be found. Here are some mailboxes by infill townhouses, complete with their own LED lighting fixtures:



And for those proverbial little old ladies who will be so disadvantaged by losing their mail delivery to the door, some of that might be offset by the inclusion of an out-going mail slot on every group mailbox, which is likely closer to home than the current big boxes at major intersections.



Note too that every mailbox locks, with a key. I’ve never known anything to have been stolen from my mailbox, but  I often hear people express fear of theft (maybe they get more valuable mailers than I do) and when delivering flyers (not junk stuff – important community planning notices only !) I only rarely come across house mailboxes that have a lock.

Some of the pictures above might be of neighbourhood conditions similar to where you live. They included high density 1920’s downtown houses, courtyard apartments,  infills, inner suburbs, etc.  Only when Canada Post actually installs a bunch on my (or your) street will we actually know what the nearest box will be like. But I haven’t seen much to worry me (yet) and the real world examples are rather underwhelming given all the hype about the horrors being inflicted on us.

Actually, I’d like to see the addition of some sort of dispensing rack for all those damn weekly flyers and the bird-cage liner weekly paper. I’d swear the bundles I got friday were a veritable forest of pulp dumped on my porch.

In the meantime, I’ll struggle with the math: if each group box has 15 individual mailboxes, and there are 45 townhouses across the road from me, and 24 houses on my block … how many of these pedestal thingys will be put on my street?



Postage Stamp Crisis (the second lick: sidewalk clutter)


One of the more distressing habits of politicians is to distract critics of what they do (or don’t do) by highlighting the evils of someone else. This is best done if the someone else is a higher level of government, beyond their influence. Thus the sin is compounded by the frustration of helplessness. And is often followed up by an appeal for more money from that someone else, or failing that, from your and my pocket.

The space to be taken up by community mailboxes falls into this category.

Blame someone else for cluttering up the city, someone beyond the city’s jurisdiction. Plead helplessness and frustration.

But don’t ever look at all the boxes within the City’s jurisdiction. Such as the gray traffic box shown above, one of thousands in the city. Collectively, they must occupy as much space as a city park !

And the city’s new standards for those boxes requires them to be on a raised plinth, the better to trip the unwary:



In this brand new installation, the box manages to intrude both onto the cycle track AND the sidewalk, thus aggravating two users at once:

clegg utility box


And we won’t even look at all those “free flyer” type boxes that festoon the city sidewalks ! (why only on sidewalks? why not put them on roads too??).

Or those above-ground brown boxes belonging to Bell and other utilities. They are ubiquitous, and at least in the west side neighbourhoods, have grown significantly larger in the last two years, some times with cantilever add ons. Just so people can have fibre optic internet and selfishly deprive little old folks of their snail mail!



These utility boxes aren’t just on sidewalks. Sometimes they hold conventions on people’s front yards: (can community mailboxes look worse?):


Community mailboxes will require some travel, perhaps even by hardship modes like walking, for people to access their snail mail. I may even be forced to go out every day, anxious to pore over those real estate “just listed” postcards and Paul Dewar mailouts. Worse yet, I may even meet a neighbour face to face, without them having a car windshield for protection !

A few years ago similar complaints were made about the city’s program to replace parking meters at every parking spot with community parking meters. How would the elderly or differentially abled get to those machines? How would the pre-literate read the instructions? Does anyone notice them anymore, other than to curse the hazard where The City put them smack dab on the sidewalk?



I’d have a modicum of sympathy for the City’s community mailbox complaints if I wasn’t so busy rubbing my head where I smacked it into a parking meter solar panel, and resting my ankle from twisting on a city elevated pedestal.


next: the third lick: existing community mailboxes, lots of pictures !

Postage Stamp Crisis (the first lick)


There’s been a lot of media coverage lately about community mail boxes and how much space they will take up. Imagine, added up, all those box footprints are equivalent to a city park !

Before the local letter carriers started driving those post-branded mini-vans to their routes, they used “relay boxes”, one of which is shown above, possibly still in use, in an affluent west end neighbourhood. There used to be one across the (less affluent) street from my house. And another one at the intersection just up the block. And the intersection beyond that. In fact, there was one at every block. With Google streetview time machine you can have fun finding the old relay boxes.

Now they are gone.

Collectively, this frees up a lot of space. Presumably,  for more grass to grow.

Has council written a letter to the Prime Minister or Canada Post thanking them for the creation of green space equivalent of a city park?


next: the second lick: sidewalk clutter

Steel “Lego” crossing markings have gotta go


In the last year or so, steel plates have begun appearing where walkways meet roads at intersections. These steel plates have a tactile surface to warn pedestrians that they are at an intersection. I have heard city engineers refer to them as Lego dots or Lego blocks, due to the similarity of the tactile bumps to the popular children’s toy.

As evidenced by the above picture, the plates can rust. The dots get ripped open by sidewalk and road plows in winter. In the example above, a number of the dots “stood up” like ripped open bits of tin cans, with sharp edges protruding 3/4 of an inch or more straight up. Just waiting for someone with flip flops who needed their toes serrated.

These steel plates must look and work great in Los Angeles. Maybe even in Toronto.

But in Ottawa?

I think an urgent policy review is required in the city engineering department. These plates are dangerous. And expensive to keep replacing.

We used to have simple groves in the sidewalks, which seemed to me to work fine, and which don’t get ripped off by plows:



What do you think? Should our city walkways be adorned with Lego dots or stripes?

New Preston Separated Bike track

Preston Street and West Wellington were reconstructed several years ago with much improved pedestrian facilities and nice landscaping [every street should be similar]. However, neither included bike lanes or bike tracks (tracks were recently constructed on most of Churchill Avenue south of Byron).  Instead, people who cycle were viewed as “recreational” , able to be diverted off the main street onto side streets (eg Armstrong) or the Trillium Pathway. That people who cycle might want to shop or eat was underrated, and still is by some BIA’s.

I was surprised, therefore, to see this separated bike track appear just days ago on Preston, at the Albert end:IMG_3743


It may qualify as the shortest bike track in the City, maybe even in the world, as it is about 100 feet long.

There are sharrows leading from the centre lane of the [temporary] Preston Extension, across the intersection, to the track:


The sharrows were originally painted leading from the curb lane on the far side of the intersection, but that is a right turn lane, and the sharrows were erased and repainted.

The track on Preston was formerly a bulb out, and the slope onto the track and off it is a bit rough:



At the “exit” end of the track, the cyclist arrives at a bus bay, which is where the road surface is widest, allowing a “merge” back into typical ride-in-the-gutter scenario. The bus bay is not without some conflict potential of its own, but buses are 15 minutes apart and the professional OC Transpo drivers have excellent forward views of anyone one the track.

It remains to be seen if this is a temporary track, jerry-rigged out of the former bulb out, to compensate for a scarily-narrow southbound receiving lane on Preston [so scary, I rode on it only once, after that I used the sidewalk].  So maybe it will disappear in 2018 when Albert is narrowed back down to four lanes of traffic + bike facilities, or maybe it will be permanent, as this drawing of the post-2018 Albert-Preston intersection shows a short bike track on Preston to allow people who cycle on the Albert bike tracks to “transition” to mixed traffic again:



In looking at how people who cycle are supposed to merge back into Preston traffic, I think the current track got it right, compared to the ‘dump into the lane’ version proposed in the 2018 plan.

(note that the 2018 plan pre-dated the legal ability to construct cross rides, so only a cross walk is shown. Local activists will lobby for better crossings.)