Category Archives: bikewest

Westward Ho ! (part iv) in which Fantasies come to the fore …

ORP overview

 

In the previous three stories I’ve tried to review what is planned, what some of the tradeoffs were, what the consequences area, and slip in just a teensey tiny wee bit of my opinion.

So what would Eric do if faced with the same starting situation,  of the City insisting its Western LRT had to go down the parkway space; and the NCC insisting that people using transit is incompatible with their revised greenspace plan? (note I am not considering other completely different route options).

The physical plan

My goal going into the conflict would be to keep rail on the surface, as that is a better customer experience, its much more equitable, after all why should the view be reserved primarily for people who drive?  I’d let motorists continue to use a parkway too, but it would be two lanes only west of Dominion. This can handle the same number of cars as the current parkway does with 50 gazillion buses a day on it.

The surface rail option is so much cheaper, we’d be able to extend LRT further out into new neighbourhoods, which would also increase potential modal share for transit. That rail alignment through the parkway would need to be fenced, but anyone who has visited a Frederic Law Olmstead park from a century ago can only marvel at the subtle techniques he employed to divert the eye, focus the view, and steer park visitors to the desired path of least conflict with other modes. I bet no one would notice the “fence”, which would be run through shrub beds and in some places take the form of attractive retaining walls or stormwater ponds – it would not take the current  restriction that it has to be glued to the edge of the LRT roadbed.

I’d relocate the current westbound parkway lanes for people who drive to be more curvy, and closed in by landscape features, more like Queen Elizabeth Driveway, to do away with the freeway-in-a-frustrated-golf-course look that typifies 1960’s parkway planning. This would deliver the same 38% more shoreline parkland the NCC wants, but at NCC expense. They can earn their dollars by selling the rights of way to the city, as they currently intend to do.

I’d reallocate the east bound lanes to the surface LRT, which would require some realignments of the roadbed and lowering it by about 2-3′.

Without the LRT tunnel, it would be possible to install many more underpasses — say every 300 – 400 metres — to improve access to the waterfront; and I’d use careful berming and shrub planting and stormwater ponds to gently direct pedestrians toward the underpasses so they wouldn’t even miss the up-and-over trek dodging cars. Indeed, many more parkway visitors would likely stay on the now-neglected south side of the parkway space because it will be made interesting to enjoy with a wider variety of plantings, ponds, and amenities such as nearby washrooms. Our greenspace is too valuable to be ignored like the south side is now.

Both Dominion  and Cleary Stations would be treated as gateways to a wonderful waterfront experience. Bright glass-lit stations would have inviting views of the waterfront parkland, with a restaurant or cafe on the second level to take advantage of views, Instead of waterfront space being taken up for parking lots, the station-area parking would be on the south, more urban side. People would actually go to transit stations because they are hubs of urban conversation and activity.

Cities like Portland celebrate transit stations; the NCC must stop being embarrassed they exist.

Those no-longer-buried stations will be much cheaper to construct, so we might even be able to squeeze in another one without blowing the budget. Station locations should be based on transportation need and neighbourhood planning rather than budget rigidity.

As gateways to a recreational wonderland, and to take better advantage of the cycling paths, I’d make it possible for people who find it too far to cycle into town from the the farther suburbs to take transit to a waterfront station and switch to their own bike stored in a locker or use a shared bike. Those starting their bike ride at Dominion would have a choice of the water’s edge bikeway or the BikeWest route along Scott-Albert.

These crystal-palace stations would have public washrooms  — perhaps privately operated —  to serve the travelling public and the parkland users. They would provide a refuge from bad weather, a place to buy a chocolate bar or get a coffee, and other amenities. They would both serve the parkland users and attract more people to the waterfront.

Convincing the NCC

The NCC has a raison d’etre and strategic objectives. I’d focus my arguments on showing how surface rail and the related changes above attain all their objectives much better than their current anti transit attitude. The yawning gap between their overall goals and their articulated parkway position is a weak point that needs to be emphasized.

I’d call out the NCC every time it commits another gross verbal discrimination.  it could start phrasing its pronouncements with people who use transit as “users” of the parkway, instead of reserving that phrase just for people who drive cars. As they get weaned off their vocabulary of abuse, their attitudes will change.

I’d push a lot harder on the NCC to justify their current no-rail position. Why are 20,000 people a day going along the waterfront in quiet-ish non-fossil fuel burning vehicles with giant picture windows to enjoy the view,  worse than people going along the waterfront in personal automobiles using fossil fuels when most of them cannot get much more than quick glimpse at the scenery (they are already driving and maybe multi-tasking aren’t they?). Why this retro-fetish with the private automobile? It’s unjustifiably inequitable. 

I’d challenge them on the environmental impact on the parkland itself of a 100% rain permeable railbed vs asphalt roadway with storm sewers dumping into the Ottawa River. The impact of salt. The impact of snowbanks. The impact on wildlife.

I’d compare the danger for people who arrive from south of the parkway to cross the four traffic lanes vs the improved access that could be attained with surface rail and several more frequent underpasses. Isn’t improving access to the waterfront a goal? Wouldn’t more underpasses  drastically improve safe access to the NCC’s revised shoreline experience?

In short, I’d use all the criteria the NCC uses to evaluate its own wonderfulness.

The City of Ottawa, of course, should hop on board this scheme because it so much cheaper to construct, while maintaining a grade-separated LRT that could be automated.  The other benefits from improved waterfront access to a better transit experience to less greenhouse gases, should also appeal to Mayor Watson and Council, even if they can’t save actual budget money by doing it. Mind, I think they’d fret a lot about the possible downsides to having tenants (restaurants, bike shops, even toilets! etc) in their stations. I’d also like some acknowledgement from the city that long tunnel segments will be noisy for riders inside the cars, if that is indeed the case.

I expect it might be harder to get adjacent residents to listen, since they are emotionally invested in the status quo. It’s hard to question the present arrangement as the environmental drawbacks and inequitable access are now accepted and considered “normal” or “natural”. The loudest objections focus on access to the waterfront, potential noise, and wires.

I’d use aerial photographs to identify “goat trails” where people often cross the parkways, and make sure the several new underpasses reflect current and future likely desire lines. I am confident talented landscape architects could program the space to make it almost impossible for visitors to sense they are being steered along (not to say they aren’t being steered around today, but people just accept it as “natural” or the way things are). Net result: much better access than the current plan.

While the rail tracks would be at grade, I’d try to put a 24 – 36″ wall along their south side, and build it into the landscaping, to absorb and deflect wheel noise. Tree clustering and shrubs can also reduce or mask noise. With any skill, the main noise generators will continue to be the rubber tires on wet asphalt that dominates the soundscape today. Net result: much less road noise, some new rail noise.

The overhead wire for the LRT can be dealt with imaginatively. I’m sure the NCC would demand expensive nifty poles. While some would be stand alone, others could be incorporated into landscape features. I don’t find LRT wires objectionable in modern systems I’ve seen installed in other cities. But if the McKeller folks are still anti-wire, perhaps we can go for no net increase by removing the overhead wires that festoon the adjacent city streets. Sort of “net wire neutral” result by removing the wire in one’s own eye — or front yard —  first.

grass tram2

Mission accomplished? 

But only in a fantasy world. In the real word, the City is too unimaginative; the NCC too mired in the past, the neighbours are too unchanging.

Instead, the current NCC-City plan has many drawbacks. People who drive will have a wonderful, faster waterfront drive. People who take transit will have … a long dark noisy tunnel, and will be safely preserved from seeing greenery or water. The City will have an expensive LRT. The NCC will have a revised shoreline park and myopically won’t miss the better options. The neighbours will continue to think its all about preserving a “natural” environment installed by the taxpayer.  For future LRT extensions,  every neighbourhood group will now have the license to demand it be buried at huge expense.

 

 

 

 

Churchill Cycle Track takes shape

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Churchill Avenue running north from Carling Avenue towards Westboro is being rebuilt today as a complete street. In addition to the regular car / truck traffic lanes on the street, there will be concrete walks and at the same level as the walkway, a cycle track.

A cycle track differs from a bike lane, which is a painted zone on the street just off to the side of the car traffic. Road traffic can readily intrude into the bike lane (hello FedEx). The cycle track is separated from other vehicular traffic by a curb and buffer zone.

The opening photo (above) shows the regular concrete walk and the gravel strip where the asphalt cycle track will be installed. Squint carefully into the distance, by the orange pylons, and you can make out the parts of the buffer zone that will have brick pavers. Parking bays along the street are inset from the traffic lanes, like on Somerset in Chinatown or Preston in Little Italy. The bus stops appear to be flush with the road (not in “bus bays”) which helps maintain bus schedules and keeps the road visually narrower and calmer.

The photo (below) shows a block where the track has been paved in asphalt. The asphalt provides a smoother surface for cyclists (no concrete joints) and helps differentiate the cycle track from the pedestrian walkway. Note that the dip down to the curb (“the curb cut”, in the jargon) appears to occur primarily in the concrete buffer zone along the curb. This is a huge improvement over the City’s regular practice of insisting the whole walkway (and in this case, cycle track) be depressed so as to maximize the smooth entry of cars into private driveways.

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Two other features are visible in the above photo. The voids in the curbside buffer zone will likely be set with coloured bricks, further visually delineating the various zones along this complete street. Notice too the slots cut in the right edge of the concrete walkway. These sort of mimic a brick border, and provide a tactile “rumble strip” that might help keep the users in the right space, while not preventing users from utilizing the adjacent space when necessary.

I deliberately rode my bike on the strip and found it gave me virtually no vibration, so maybe this feature will need refinement. Make no mistake, this is the first complete street installation in the city (may there be many more) and staff is learning a lot as they proceed.

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At intersections the cycle track proceeds straight across the intersecting side streets, without deviation. Cyclists cross side streets parallel to the crosswalks, set back from the road intersection, in the Dutch style. Alas, my photo of the unfinished crossings didn’t come out. You’ll just have to head out that way later this summer to try out the track.

The complete street design is very different from a typical street design as the road travel lanes appear straighter and more defined; the parking bays look and function better than simply parking on a wider road surface; the bus stops are well defined; the cycle track separates cyclists from motorists; the buffer strips protect everyone from being “doored”; and pedestrians are further removed from annoying vehicular traffic.

The inset brick zones and presumably, towards the end, addition of some street trees and other landscaping, should make this street a joy for everyone to use, regardless of their chosen mode of travel. I also couldn’t help but notice the really nice retaining walls that are being used to take of grade differences from the older front lawns and tree zones to the walkway. Complete with inset steps, these walls are a gorgeous finishing touch and help transform the street from its previous vaguely suburban look to a more polished urban space:

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Because Churchill is an “old” street, there are some features that are leftover from an earlier, more permissive era. For example, some parking areas are simply extensions from the street, rather than separate parking lots with a defined outlet to the street. Compromises!

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Other streets are scheduled for similar treatment. For example, Albert and Scott (once the notorious bus detour is finished in 2018) in the Bayview area, and most famously, Main Street in Ottawa East. The road allowance in both those places is much more constrained, and its harder to fit in all the desired features. This is the problem in Lower Town – Vanier, where the planned east-west bikeway project peters out to invisibility in some blocks due to priority being given to curbside parking. Having a completed complete street to see might help inform people as to the desirability (or not) of this design.

Frankly, I’m both excited that this complete street is coming to fruition, and jealous that there aren’t more such streets. In particular, the opportunity has been missed to do this type of cycle track on Rochester in the much-lamented Preston-Carling plan. And Booth, going between Albert and the War Museum won’t have cycle tracks (nor lanes, nor sharrows) despite the post-2018 Albert Street being designed like Churchill. I hear that Booth, going to Gatineau from the Parkway, is also being redesigned by the NCC with a road diet and cycle tracks, leaving only the busy City-owned section of Booth by Pimisi Station without cycling facilities. Complete streets in unconnected segments. No network. Sigh.

More thinking, not so sure its better

The application of the complete streets format to the south side of Scott seems worthwhile, as outlined in the previous article. The north side is not so obviously so.

view, carruthers area, new path north

 

The picture above is pretty much an ideal situation, that is far nicer than could actually appear on the ground. Planners leave out a lot of details, like turn lanes, that wipe out a bunch of those trees in the boulevard, replacing them with asphalt.

Nonetheless, check it out. Scott is on the left, running westward, the new LRT is in the trench. The same general scheme has been applied to the north side of |Scott as had been to the south, ie treed boulevard, westbound bike track, sidewalk, bit more green space up to the edge of the transitway cut.

The fanciful arched overpasses in the previous drawings have been replaced by flat bridges, as are there now, but the planners have created bigger spaces by widening them to create mini plazas. This is both a fairly expensive way to create new public space, but cheap to maintain as there are no plantings. Kids, and many adults, will enjoy looking at passing trains.

But only if they can see them. As we have seen previously on Somerset St overpassing the OTrain, where benches and loitering spot were installed to take advantage of the activity and view planes, the city is there planning to obstruct the view with large steel ‘safety’ fences. These expensive new spaces on Carruthers might be less attractive if the steel bars were shown.

Commendably the planners, George Dark et al, have developed the walking path on the north side of the transitway trench, connecting up the bits of publicly owned land there.

Further west, at Parkdale, they have added pedestrian faciltites on the west side of the street.\new mups

 

The multi user path (ie, bike and ped asphalt path) along Parkdale is long overdue. The whole parkdale interchange at the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway is designed for motorists and is a ped and cyclist nightmare. It also makes sense to put the path on the west side, since that is the side that connects to the waterfront with the least entanglement in the off ramps. It is also very convenient to put the non–revenue park spaces on federal land, which is somewhat of a Dark leitmotif in all their Ottawa plans (escarpment plan, centretown plan, preston-carling plan).

The missing bit, of course, is that most people are walking on the east side of Parkdale, because that is the sidewalk that fronts onto all those new condo towers the plan calls for. The east side is a bizarre mix of front door drop off zones, garage entrances, and lawns, but the walkways are minimal 5′ wide, cheesy even in today’s environment, and bound to be even more deficient as the condos grow. Where is the plan for wider walks, perhaps set back from the idling commuter cars? How could such a new environment work with all those driveways and garage doors? Will there ever be any more sense of place than just the occasional 700 sq ft ‘convenience store’?

I’d love to see some imaginative things here, that create a sense of place, of a desirable street to live on and walk along, rather than the freeway on-ramp it now resembles. Could some of those buildings be expanded out towards the sidewalk with commercial frontages? Or ground floor condos turned into services, like dentist offices or hair salons or something that attracts some activity?

One building there has a glass garage door, which is way more attractive than the blank doors that other buildings present to the street. Now maybe the change would take a long time, and maybe we need a lot more commercial frontage from the new buildings to make up for the inactive frontages of the older apartments, but we sure need some ideas to repair this damaged streetscape.

Over on Holland, Dark et al propose trees, lots and lots of trees, for the empty grass boulevard the runs down the centre of the street striking into the heart of Tunney’s Pasture.

Except … could anything other than peony bushes be planted here? Recall that this grass median on the north part of Holland (it may have a federal name, but it is easier to consider it part of Holland |ave) forms one of the protected view planes in the city. Recall that the new Tunney’s Pasture LRT station couldn’t have part of the station roof protecting bus transfer users on the overpass because the roof line would intrude into the view plane, that affords Greber’s ruling class motorists with an unobstructed view of the Claxton Building from Scott and even from Carling Avenue miles to the south. If we cannot have so much as a bus shelter roof in that view plane, how will Dark et al get large trees in that park-like median?

(Recall that the recent proposals to redevelop Tunney’s office buildings requires some park funding to the city; rather than pay the funds, the feds offered to give the centre median to the city as parkland, for the city to maintain and get no revenue from — surely a clever bit of downloading by the feds –, but subject to the view planes that prevent it from being anything more than a lawn for gazing in admiration of the glorious cubicle farmers in the Claxton tower).

It has become rather obvious that just like traffic planners since the 70’s had standard models for building and widening streets, and these are still fully in play in the suburbs … within the denser city these have been replaced by similarly formulaic ‘complete streets’ models. Strangely enough, no matter which consulting firm comes up with a new, custom plan for a neighbourhood, they all have the same street cross section. It’s the new normal.

Applying the complete street formula to Scott is definitely a big improvement on what is there. But, and it is a big but, it doesn’t moderate the traffic flow, if anything it increases it, as the rebuilt Scott will have much wider traffic lanes. Wider lanes means faster traffic, regardless of the posted speed limit. Bike tracks and pictures of treed boulevards are great eye candy, but there is no traffic calming in this plan.

And there is something much much worse. It is not obvious because it is what is missing, rather than what is there.

The green corridor on the north side of Scott is not very wide east of Carruthers:

oct 2013 036

 

Once the curb line on the north side of Scott (shown on the right, above) is move leftwards 12′ to allow for the new boulevard on the south side, and a few feet more to allow for wider traffic lanes, there is just room for a westbound bike track and a sidewalk.

In one simple move, George Dark and the city have managed to kill BikeWest, the concept of a bi-directional off-road path (like the OTrain path) running from downtown to Westboro. We’ve revisit that scheme next.

Albert Street reconstruction – Back to the Future?

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above: elderly gent attempts to give directions to city engineers who will shortly zoom off – but in what direction?

 

The section of Albert Street that runs through LeBreton Flats is up for reconstruction starting this year. Total reconstruction, as in deep sewers, new watermains, new pavement and curbs. But the wiring won’t be buried  that is a cost imposed on suburban areas not in central Ottawa.

What will be the changes? Well, we don’t know for sure. The contract is being given to the Rideau Transit Group while the project is in the design stage, with more unknowns than knowns. In addition to the unknowns we know about, there are probably lots of unknown unknowns too.

The engineers know what they want to see in 2018: a four lane Albert between City Centre Drive and Empress. In addition, there will be turning lanes running all the way from Preston to Booth, and maybe a few others. They anticipate that the final road will be moved north about 15′ from the current curb. They are designing a 3.5m grassy median or boulevard on each side of the road. This grassy boulevard may someday – possibly in 2018, but maybe later — become a segregated bike lane, or a painted bike lane, or maybe neither, since there is no budget provision for actually building the lane, and the city is relieving itself of the obligation to install cycling facilities for major reconstructions.

In the meantime, between reconstruction in 2013-14 and 2018, the RTG may wish to convert that boulevard space into bus lanes, whilst the transitway is closed to buses because it will be converted to rail for the Confederation Line LRT. Or it might build the bus lanes all on the north side of the street instead, as a two-way transitway distinct from cars on Albert.. Or maybe it will build them all on the south side. Or neither. Apparently there are about a dozen road options.

But what residents along the street will have to put up with for some years (again, just how long is one of those known unknowns) is a six lane Albert (plus extensive single and maybe double turn lanes, so 7 – 9  lanes in total at intersections) with hundreds of buses per hour (exactly how many buses is also a known unknown since it hasn’t been decided if Albert will be used only for 90 series routes, or all the Kanata-Barrhaven express buses).

After the RTG is finished running buses along Albert — which is presumed to be some months after the opening of the LRT in 2018 — then the asphalt lanes will be torn out and the grass put back down. Unless, of course, the City comes up with money to build those bike lanes.

Or, since the mood of council in 2018 is known to be unknown, but we can anticipate the worst, some Councillor will brightly declare that the lanes should be left in place because, after spending all that transit money, it’s time to do something for the poor motorists. Then we will get stuck with six lanes forever. Another King Edward freeway, but without the nice landscaping or metal seed pods.

Today, the City may promise it will remove the lanes, someday, but it is not bound to do so. Anyone who has followed municipal governments for some years will recall promises that are not kept, and residents have no legal basis to enforce the prior promises. Promises are cheap when there can be no enforcement or penalty clauses.

So while the community members on the PAC (public advisory committee) have had lots of say on what we would like the future Albert Street to look like, and how it might function, we have lost on most of the issues.

Ped lighting on the sidewalks and(planned) bike lanes, given that this is a designated “scenic gateway” to the downtown? Nope, no can do.

Keep the two way multi-user path on the north side of the road, and especially keep it elevated like it is now? Nope, no can do. A temporary MUP might be put in place in the interim period up to 2018, but its not in the cards for the future, because those bike lanes will be just fine for taking your eight year old or towing a bike trailer to go the river front parklands.

Raised sidewalks, especially along the south side where there are some rather bleak retaining walls and no building fronts? Nope, no can do. Sidewalks are, by definition, remember, to be glued to the side of the road at the curb. And an elevation advantage for peds just ain’t in the drawings folks.

The City, through its OCH agency, spent millions and several years building that new retaining wall in front of their houses between Preston and Lorne. Can they do something to fix up the 100m of collapsing wall west of Preston? Nope, no can do. If it collapses or falls down, the sixteen individual property owners will have to figure out how they are going to do that, collectively or individually. The city, will however, enforce that they keep the collapse debris off city property.

At least pedestrians will get proper drainage and catch basins along the street? Well, not necessarily, that’s another one of those known unknowns. They may not replace the sewers and catch basins until late 2018. That’s up to RTG. Surely pedestrians won’t mind walking along the continuous puddle and surface ponding that characterizes and plagues Albert Street for another five years. Hey, maybe that 1000 buses per morning will splash all that water out of the road?

The PAC also lobbied the city to investigate roundabouts at Preston-Albert and City Centre-Albert intersections. Nope, would require negotiation with the NCC and this project isn’t allowed to do that. Negotiation with the NCC is the exclusive prerogative of the Confederation LRT and the western LRT extension (WLRT) projects so other projects are frozen out of land asks.

The PAC lobbied for a continuous centre median from Preston to Booth, to prevent U turns and other dangerous manoeuvres motorists use to avoid the “no straight through south bound onto Booth” restriction that applies after 11pm at night. For this the city agreed, as channelling vehicles is good for traffic flow.

And they agreed to propose landscaping down said centre boulevard, although they aren’t proposing anything near as nice a Allumetieres or Maisonneuve in Gatineau. (Remember when Gatineau was our poor cousin over there? Now Ottawa is so enfeebled it can only talk about doing something half as nice, subject to budget restraints of course).

Street lighting for motorists will be on a line of poles put on the centre median. Can we make this look decent, so it doesn’t look like a freeway inviting high speeds? Maybe put lower level lighting (like the ped lights, if we get them) half way up the poles? Nope, mid or low level lighting is not proposed for Albert Street.

The PAC also asked for design features to make the road look like a street, and not a road or imitation freeway. We don’t want it to look and function like Bronson does near Carleton U. Answer: it will be designed for a 50kmh limit, which means it is designed for 60, as a margin of safety. The rebuilt road will be wider, smoother, flatter, with fewer catchbasin locations, longer sight lines, etc etc. Hey, it’s not the city’s fault if it looks and functions like a freeway, go talk to the motorists.

How about back curbs for the sidewalks, to protect the planting zones from plows and the soil being trodden down? Nope, no can do.

How about the new TMP so much touted by the City and Councillor Hume, you know the one that talks about enhancing the pedestrian experience and improving ped facilities so people will be encouraged to walk to transit stations? (This section of Albert passes both the Bayview and LeBreton Stations). Nope, haven’t talked to the city staff implementing that, and have no plans to. Maybe someone else can look at that in 2018.

So what pedestrian volumes are expected when the new LRT stations open, and will six foot wide sidewalks be enough to carry the volume of pedestrians, and will waiting areas at intersections be wide enough to deal with the volumes? City: haven’t looked at that, have no plans to look at that. Maybe things can be changed later if they don’t work out with standard minimum sized sidewalks.

What about a signalized intersection at City Centre Avenue  (if there can’t be a roundabout) since so much redevelopment is proposed there in the Bayview Station CDP now going to Council? And what about all those cyclists being delivered to here on the new OTrain MUP? Sorry, current traffic volumes don’t justify signals here, nor is the City proposing to install ductwork for future signals.

What about all those cyclists coming on the new OTrain MUP? You know, the ones the city is counting on to relive some of the overcrowding during the transitway closure.  How will they get onto Albert? Sorry, that’s someone else’s problem.

Well, what about Bikewest, Mayor Watson’s plan for an major east-west bike route from Westboro to the far east? What form will it take along Albert and how will it connect at each end? Sorry, that’s up to the bike planning folks, we’re just doing the road.

What about the Preston extension? The extension of Preston over to the existing signalized intersection of Vimy Drive and Wellington/Sir John A McDonald Parkway, will be constructed and used for a detour for a number of years during the construction of the LRT. The extension is also in the OP as a permanent route. Will this new road surface be permanent or will it be temporary? Answer: most likely temporary, with catchbasins and sewers  and curbs and asphalt installed and then removed again. It’s just a throwaway cost of building the LRT. Gotta save the cost of building an overpass over the LRT. (Background info: if the City builds the overpass now, it gets to pay for it. If it waits a dozen years — or lifetimes — until NCC developments reach this area, then the NCC builds it. And if the temporary road looks at all permanent or parts of it remain in situ, there is the issue of pedestrians and cyclists forcing their way through this popular alignment much as they do now, to the frustration of the NCC and City who try to close it down).

Booth Street is one of those primarily residential streets that the City has decided to redeploy as a major commuter arterial to and from Gatineau. It’s an awful mess now, with huge queue backs, and a severely impaired living arrangement for residents. Nope, won’t address that now.

What about traffic calming bulb out dimensions on Booth? Remember, the City agreed to narrow traffic lanes on Booth (south of Albert) as its concession to slowing traffic. These lanes are narrower than what the city calls for on cycle routes, and somehow Booth which used to not be on the cycle routes has magically appeared as a cycling route. How will the city resolve these two policies, one calling for narrower lanes and one wider? No answer. Another known unknown.

Well, how about the redesign of the Booth – Albert intersection? Can we comment on that? The neighbourhood PAC has some suggestions! Nope, the public consultation doesn’t include that key intersection in the middle of the strip, nor is that intersection designed yet, and however it is designed will be up to the RTG who will design it to fit their LeBreton Station needs. Period. Another known  unknown.

Well, how about the little side streets, like Lorne, Perkins, and Empress, some of which have almost no traffic, could we look at doing something nicer there since a standard street design with two lanes of traffic, parking lane,  two sidewalks, two sets of curbs and catchbasins aren’t really needed? Maybe something more mews like, that would actually cost the City less to build and maintain? Nope, not interested.

What about the Albert intersection with Rochester, which is a lengthy north-south street that intersects with Albert. And is a designated bike route parallel to and much safer to use than Booth.  It is a legal intersection, with crossing rights for pedestrians and cyclists, how will that be handled? Answer: no measures will be taken to improve this intersection.

The City’s LRT plan boasts that it will be connecting the LeBreton Station to the Broad Street alignment that crosses the aqueduct and goes to the War Museum and  Bluesfest site. This also aligns with Rochester Street. Will there be any provision to cross the LRT or will this remain another one of those “missing links” in the urban network? Sorry folks, no answer, because one city department simply can’t talk to another one,  coordination being the latest mortal sin.

Now it may be that the City has resolved many of these issues in the last week. That’s another unknown. But it is known that the public is invited to the Dalhousie Community Centre this Tuesday at 7pm (corner of Empress-Somerset) to review the plans and offer comments.

I encourage you to go, not so much to ask about the current plans, because so much about them is  known to be unknown, and undoubtedly there are unknown unknowns, and you’ll have to listen very carefully to distinguish between might be’s and could be’s and may be’s and whether it is 2013 or 2018 that something might be done.

But you can at least tell them what you want: A real street, pedestrian and cyclist friendly, well landscaped,  not another pretend freeway like Bronson or King Edward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bayview Station (final)

The saga of the amazing perambulating Bayview Station is nearing completion.

Recall that the station has been proposed in various scales, sizes, and locations. Well, the final plan is available exclusively to readers here.

Bayview Station is back to being “on the structure” of the transitway bridge over the O-Train cut (yes, I know, the O-train isn’t in a cut, it’s on the level, it’s the road that is elevated, but  such is our road-focussed society that the road becomes the normal level, and the flat becomes the hole…).

The new station is in the same style as the majority of other proposed LRT stations. It has an arched roof made out of metal diamonds or triangles finished on the underside with wood. The exterior colour is usually shown as a light coloured metal.

It is an LRT station, not an O-Train station, so the station itself is on the LRT alignment and the O-train platforms, to be rebuilt on the west side of the track, are largely uncovered and seem to remain bus-shelter style. They do get some additional shade and rain protection from the overhead bridges, especially with the O-Train platform shifting slightly south to be directly under Albert Street. Still, I wonder if it worth lobbying to have the O-Train Station built to a similar standard of the LRT station.

I also note that the current configuration will work equally well for the O-Train terminating at Bayview or continuing on to Gatineau via the Prince of Wales railway bridge (provided it is not converted by the city to a road bridge for the STO). This configuration does not work well if the O-train tracks are someday turned at Bayview to go east towards LeBreton Station. The option of having direct train service from the airport to the downtown is not yet foreclosed although planners have not been enthused about the link.

The main entrance is on the O-Train level. The stated reason for this is that the station is primarily a transfer station between the E-W and the N-S rail service. An unstated reason is that the STO wants to build a major transfer station for its Rapibus line at Bayview. So in the picture below, the station is viewed from the north, between the Ottawa River Commuter Expresway and the head of the O-Train platform, where Bayview Yards is now and the proposed Rapibus station might be:

The two tall towers immediately behind the station (pictured above) are the proposed Phoenix 35 storey twin office towers (6500 employees, 200 parking spaces, so it is really-transit-oriented development) located on the triangle of land immediately south of the Station and before you get to the existing City Centre 8 storey tower.

The elevated station is built on the existing structure. The only widening of the structure will occur for the stairs and elevator shafts going down to the O-Train.

Here’s a daytime view of the station, now seen from Albert Street, just west of the O-Train, on the opposite side of Albert from the Tom Brown Arena. Note that there is no pedestrian entrance from Albert on this side of the station. Hintonburg and Mechanicsville residents will generally approach the station through the O-Train level entrance and a series of ground-level pathways extending on the north side of the Station  structure to Bayview Road (this is also the Bikewest route); or to the south on a flat pathway extending along the edge of the Tom Brown soccer field.

The whole LRT station is supposed to fit on the existing structure. The extensions on each side support the stairs and twin elevators on each side. I suspect the roof detail for the stairways has not be designed yet, as none is shown. Presumably the stairs will also contain escalator(s) but it is hard to tell from the plans provided.

Personally, I think we could cut some costs by providing stairs and elevators only, and skip the escalators. We need to walk more, and a 20′ flight of stairs twice a day might help reduce some coach-potato-office-cubicle bellies and promote coronary fitness. But if there are escalators, I will of course join everyone else in using them and skipping the stairs.

If you go back up to the top picture, you will notice a flight of exterior stairs at the northeast end of the platform (far left). These are denoted as “emergency stairs”. I confess to some confusion here. If the emergency is a vehicle crash, or bomb scare, why do the stairs keep one close to the structure? If it’s for “maintenance emergencies” the stairs are unusable for the handicapped, strollers, etc. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more useful to put in a asphalt ramp similar to the walkway there now?

Access to the new Station from Dalhousie (ie, from the east) is via a secondary entrance at the Albert Street level at the SE corner, where the OC Transpo Albert Street bus stop is now. This corrects a major failing of previous designs which favoured transferring passengers and only minimally serviced walk-in clientelle.

Here is a plan view of the Bayview Station:

The station itself is primarily the yellow (fare-paid area inside the turnstiles) area shown on the existing structure that carries the transitway over the O-Train. Note how the bridge has been widened just enough to locate the stairs and elevators. The O-train platform has been moved to the west side of the existing tracks, and extended a bit further south, beyond the Albert Street overpass shown in white. There is a pedestrian pathway running off to the southwest by Tom Brown arena. The entrance for people coming from the east is on the Albert level, and shown in pink. Most readers can double click on the drawings to  enlarge them to full screen.

The plan shown above also shows that the City has been listening to public input. There is now a  connection to the Albert Street multi-user path on the east side. The path along the soccer field at Tom Brown will be very useful and direct, and eliminates the need for a flight of stairs up the steep hill to Albert Street where the path is now shown doing a sharp S-bend.

I was out walking the Station area on Friday with City engineers and consultants figuring out just how to wiggle the N-S bike path through the station area. This path will be constructed next year, in 2012, from the River up to Gladstone Ave. While on the platform areas with the plans in hand, the access routes seem to make a lot of sense and will provide direct and safe access to the station from the surrounding communities. The trick right now is trying to route the bike path through and keeping it open during the conversion of the transitway to the LRT.

Here’s a close-up of the main station entrance at the lower, O-Train level:

It is not perfectly clear from just this drawing, but there is lots of room for the pathway on the west side, from Hintonburg, to pass under the stairs as the stairs shown on the plan above the words “lower plaza” are really 16′ up at that point. Try to compare the pic at the top of the post with the drawings if you are really keen to see the details of the circulation.

I still think the Station is underserved with bike racks, but now areas for expanded racks have been identified. The curvy green dotted line in the illustration is the bio-swale designed to carry runoff waters down the slope in a decorative and ecologically sensitive manner. The drawings show most of the station sides glazed in, as is befitting this windy spot; I hope the few unglazed sections are built so that glazing can be added later if required.

For keeners, the illustrations shown the supporting pillars under Albert Street as black circles; but the ones under the transitway are shown as hollow black squares. Readers may also find it helpful to go back to last weeks post about the Bayview-carling CDP which has areal illustrations of the area around the station all built out.

In sum, the designers seem to have finally gotten this Station right. Now, to build it…

Sim-City model: Bayview-carling CDP

The City has been sporadically doing up a CDP (Community Design Plan) (which is a plan of dubious effectiveness under the Official Plan) for the O-Train corridor running from Bayview Station to Carling Avenue.

Residents frequently ascribe its tardiness to a desire on the part of the City to see all the developable land purchased and rezoned before the plan is drawn up. In that way, the city won’t have to continually amend it.

The City is committed to having CDPs done for all the stations along the OLRT. Having seen some of the in-progress ones I’d have to say they are better than nothing.  At least they might tell some residents (and Swiss immigrants) that they won’t be getting what the current zoning is for.

And having seen some of the completed ones, I have been left shaking my head that they could ever have been passed with any sincerity as to upholding them. I just don’t see scattered four storey infills as the definition of intensification. Nor will the OMB.

With that in mind, let’s look at the Bayview CDP. In particular, the Bayview Station end of the plan. (Recall that the Carling end of the plan is undergoing a feeding frenzy with Ottawa and Toronto developers gulping up every lot; and the middle section, around Gladstone, is about to get a lot hotter with  upcoming development of the former printing plant that occupies one entire block at Gladstone and Breezehill).

The City has decided against holding a real world public meeting on the plan, instead exploring an online public meeting. You can find it here: http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/public_consult/carling_bayview/index_en.html The last item on the menu on the left of their page is titled Online Open House, click and…   

There are three videos at the site; the first and second are for the very patient raw beginners (you know, the equivalent of the first dozen display boards at a real meeting, which are full of text, and you just skip over to get to the meat in the last few panels on the other side of the room). The third video shows the recommended plan. It is 20 minutes long, but is worth watching. (Remember, it’s still quicker than going to a real meeting…).

Here is what the area looks like, as seen by a future migrating Canada goose:

In the centre is the LRT Station, although we are not sure yet if it exactly there, or somewhat further to the left (west) directly over the OTrain tracks. The green buildings running off to the upper right above Albert Street are the approved plans for LeBreton Flats, currently likely to built in 2067 (our bicentennial) if the current buildout pattern is continued by Malhotra’s great grandchildren who will by then be owners of Claridge.

Immediately below (south of) the LRT Station is the proposed Phoenix triangular development at 801 Albert. This is for two 35 storey office towers employing about 6500 civil servants and having a total of 200 or so parking spots since everyone will come by transit or bike path. Having seen these proposed plans in some (preliminary) detail, the office complex ain’t too bad for the site.

Running further south in the picture along both sides of City Centre Avenue the planners envision mixed use developments that are highest closest to the O-Train and lowest adjoining the existing houses of the neighborhood.

I look forward to presenting these pictures at future planning committee meetings and OMB hearings when objecting to office highrises in the areas they now show as continuing to be low rise residential. Indeed, the L-shaped building in white at the lower right (in the above picture) is the proposed Domicile condo at the corner of City Centre and Somerset (present home of International Paints and Fine Thingys Antiques). Planners show it as 5 floors; the developer is already proposing 12.

Here is the city’s artist impression, the perspective from Dalhousie:

The pink houses are the existing neighborhood residential. Preston Street runs on a diagonal on the lower right; Somerset runs on the opposite diagonal lower left.The top- most pink townhouses are Walnut Court; beyond them is the proposed LeBreton project in turquoise ( a pleasant break from the yellow brick now being used). Notice how the buildings step up from stacked townhouses adjacent the pink neighborhood, to high rises along the OTrain. The tallest twin towers are Phoenix’s, opposite the Bayview Station. Immediately south of them (a bit to the left in the pic) are six blocks of towers built on the City Centre warehouse complex site.

The City has kindly shown us a persective from Hintonburg too:

This time the view is from a hot air balloon just north of West Wellington after it met Somerset at the triangular park shown on the lower right. The elongated low rise white building is Tom Brown (yes, I know its orange in real life, just pretend…) which has had some whopping big additions put on the west, north, and east sides of the existing building. The city has also shown a new ped bridge reconnecting the chopped up parts of West Wellie, allowing us to walk over the OTrain tracks and use the bike paths to be built there in 2012.

Off to the left (north) are new white buildings for the Bayview Yards area. One of them sports a curved middle section, evocative of the old train roundhouses that used to be nearby. Beyond Tom Brown, on the other side of the OTrain, are the two tall Phoenix towers, and to their right (south) are the Equity City Centre buildings.

Alas, just chopped off the far right edge of the picture is the site at the corner of Breezehill and Somerset, beside Devonshire School, which Claridge is now clearing in preparation for a yet-unrevealled condo and shopping complex.

The last view of this exciting mega-node sim-development is from Mechanicsville:

 

It shows the view from the 28th floor of the proposed Urbandale condo tower on Parkdale Avenue. In the foreground is Laroche Park; off to the left is the Ottawa River Commuter Expressway and the river itself. The proposed  condo towers on the far side of the park may be some time coming because they are on contaminated soil (the uncontaminated lands were reserved for non-buildings) and no one yet has the heart or dollars to remediate the crap found there. Notice how the buildings rise up as the view goes east, to their highest point (on the Mechanicsville side) at the west end of the new Bayview Station itself.  The penultimate height and bulk of building is still the Phoenix buildings in the distance on the south side of Albert at City Centre Drive.

While the decision to hold a on-line public consultation has been controversial, it is still useful. Most useful of all are the 3-D sketchups of how the properties could develop. The buildings shown are, of course, a planner’s wet dream, nicely stepped up in height and density, and varied in form. Builders prefer to build clones of the previous building, or in pairs, to save money. But unlike 2-D flat drawings of zoning codes, the 3-D view allows way more people to imagine what might develop.

IF the plan passes, and the zoning is put in place to match the pretty sim-city models shown, will council have the courage to insist on the zoning being followed? Or will council continue to fob the hard decisions off to the OMB?

Now that you’ve seen the pic, go to the city site http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/public_consult/carling_bayview/index_en.html , click on Online Open House (last item on the menu on the left) and watch  video #3. Some sweet voiced lady will walk you through the Bayview of a Brighter Tomorrow!

Planning the O-Train bike path

Okay, so it’s not really a “bike path”, the City doesn’t have any of those. We have MUPs, or Multi User Paths, which are shared by cyclists, dog walkers, parents with wailers, grannies with yappers, kids alone,  etc. (It makes an interesting contrast: on roads, cyclists are told to play nicely with cars, buses, and tractor-trailers going 70km; off road, cyclists are sent to play with various pedestrian folks).

I’m on the PAC (public advisory committee) for the O-Train path that will eventually run from the Ottawa River pathways south to Dow’s Lake. The City will construct the section from Bayview Station to Somerset (or maybe Gladstone) in 2012. (This doesn’t mean you will ride on it in 2012, unless you winter cycle next December 15).  

looking north from Somerset viaduct, towards Bayview and the Ottawa River

 The path will follow roughly the dirt trail on the right side of the fence (in the pic above), unless we can convince (ie, pay for ) OC Transpo to relocate the fence a bit further left (west) since they don’t need the large right of way they fenced. Nor, BTW, does the fence follow the property line, which is six inches out from the concrete pillars holding up the elevated service road along the back of the City Centre Building bays.

The path will go under Somerset using the newly constructed underpass, subject of many previous posts, and then swing back upslope to join Somerset on the south side roughly where the billboard is located. A flight of stairs may also be installed, to forestall the inevitable goat path that would appear as peds shortcut the longer bike/wheelchair/perambulator pathway.

the as-yet unlit underpass with its virgin walls

 I wanted to make a checklist of points for the PAC meeting, so I don’t forget anything, and thought I would share them with you, gentle reader. The “experts” at these meetings are generally very nice, but can be overly bureaucratic (corrupted by the motorist-mindset at City Hall) and it never hurts to remember what the user thinks is important.

 1. the sloped path on the south side of Somerset needs to have all overland drainage run away from the path. If there is an upslope area, an intercepting swale is necessary to prevent early morning and early evening “freezing” patches in spring and early winter.

2. the flat path going overland should be elevated at least 12″ above the surrounding soils, to promote drainage, reduce flooding when the soil is frozen and it rains, and so users feel higher than the surrounding areas to have good visibility and enhance subjective safety. Of  course there should be a gentle gravel slope leading off  the edge of the asphalt to prevent erosion, cracking, and cyclist spills

2b. since the path is shared by various users, including commuter cyclists who are likely to be emulating Lance Armstrong velocity, it needs to be w-i-d-e.

3. there should be rest areas along the path (mainly for pedestrians, but useful for dog walkers, and parents with wailing 2 year olds who want “out”). I am not a fan of the NCC-style bench-up-tight-to-the-path solution, and benches are expensive to install and maintain. Instead, I’d like to see stonedust-paved bulb-out areas that lead rest-takers 10′ or so off the path, where they are less likely to get run over by MAMILs (middle-aged men in Lycra), and can relax, sitting on large flat boulders as benches. The City has a generous stockpile of these rocks heaped up along Pinecrest Creek transitway just north of the Qway. Let’s put ’em to good use here…

4. the path needs to be lit, with ped-scaled light fixtures, like at the east end of Corkstown bridge over the Rideau Canal, or along the Albert Street MUP just west of Bronson. Parts of the area along the O-Train corridor are “behind” warehouses etc and need to be lit up to enable their use by women and people with various sensitivities towards safety. This path will eventually form a very important and busy feeder link to the Bayview Station as well as a link to BikeWest and the ORP. We can’t afford not to light it.

well-lit Albert MUP

5. the city is apparently considering a fancy 21′ staircase structure on the north side of Somerset, by the City Centre complex, for peds to access the path, and for cyclists who are gung ho to carry their bikes up the stairs instead of riding around to the south side. This stair costs lots of money, I would rather it be spent on extending the first phase path all the way to Gladstone; leave the stair to the future. The stair, BTW, is because some think it “too dangerous” for westbound cyclists to cross the street without a traffic light to access the bike path staring from the south side of Somerset …

6. Similarly, at Gladstone, the path would come out right by the billboard on the NE corner of the rail overpass. Last time I talked to the City, they were alarmed at the idea of installing curb cuts here so that cyclists could access the street to cycle onwards, or to cross the street: “But there is no traffic light there, it’d be too dangerous”. Fie on that. Put in a bit of chicane or maze to slow down cyclists so they don’t speed across Gladstone. Or put in a half-light, with activator buttons 150′ down the trail on each side. But don’t “promote” cycling by forcing them to dismount and carry their bike over the curb to get to the  -eventual –  continuation of the path on the other side…

7. the city-owned right of way along the O-Train is quite wide between Gladstone and Bayview Station, I’d like to see it all treated as parkland. This means rough landscaping it all, demarking the boundaries to prevent encroachment by dumpsters, dumpers, and vehicles. And to prevent adjacent building sites from encroaching onto the public realm for “staging”. Given the wide open nature of the area, with no overhead wires, I’d like to see the area planted with big trees — burr oaks, chestnuts, walnuts, and other large-growing trees. If the city can’t afford to do it, supply a few planting beds and let the community plant tree seedlings. I wouldn’t like to see the city ‘cheap-out’ by leaving the O-train corridor as a untended unloved industrial track wasteland, to be clear-cut every decade or so to keep down nature. This is a prime green connector between the Ottawa and Rideau River ecosystems, we should be proud of it.

7b. The Bayview Station designs all show water run off from the station roof being directed down stone channels to the valley floor. I’d love to see a proper water run-off storage pond built, to moderate run-off and reduce flooding, and because they are attractive and good for urban wildlife (ducks, raccoons, etc).

8. the Bayview Station design is an amazing shape-shifter. Every time we see it, it has moved to a new location, with its main entrance at the OTrain level, no at the Albert level, no it’s on the bridge, etc etc. Pretty much constant in the latest designs has been a delightful accommodation of the north-south cycling route, sometimes it even runs right through the station (the non-fare-paying part). It is important that this cycling link be kept, and that it be rideable (not a “dismount and walk your bike” zone)*, shareable, and generous sized.

8b. as the bike path ascends from the valley floor up to the Bayview station platform level, the slope should be long, and gentle, with a generous “flat” zone as riders approach the station. This will require more fill to construct the long slope, and thus more expense, but the path and slope must be visible from top and bottom, and from the Otrain platform, to conform with principles of Crime Prevention through Evironmental Design (CPTED)

9. this north/south bike path (oops, MUP) also needs to connect well with the E/W bike path proposed for construction in 2017 along the north side of the LRT line from Bayview underpass to LeBreton Station to the downtown.

10. could the NCC please, pretty please, complete the Bayview Station to ORP link at the same time, in 2013, as we all know they are bustin’ a gut to close the Preston Extension (and if they don’t do it, the LRT people are telling us they will, as early as 2013, for our own safety, to keep us out of the LRT right of way).

11. can the City please do the southward sections in 2013, so that cyclists can get over Gladstone, to join the existing path along the OTrain, up to Carling, where a half-light crossing is due to be installed in 2012-13, enabling cyclists to join the driveway paths or go south to Carleton, Mooney’s Bay, and other destinations?

the 1963 section of the path, from Young to Carling, is plowed in the winter

There are lots of other considerations for the pathway design. The group discussions at the PACs are often fun and educational. They really bring out the truism that together everyone achieves more.

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*for those that care, the last station design for Tunney’s showed the Bikewest path as interrupted by the Station waiting areas, and it definitely looked like it was a “stop, dismount, and walk your bike” zone rather than a ride-through-shared-space-carefully zone. Sigh.