West Side Transportation Cornucopia, part viii – Albert-Slater alert

The City is hosting an “open house” on Tuesday (Nov 28, 5.30pm  onwards  ) to show their plans for the future Albert and Slater Streets between Empress (the Good Companions) and Waller (Rideau Centre, UOttawa U). Here are some things to keep your eyes on when you go. And speak up, or else you get what someone else wants!

In August 2018 we expect the new Confederation Line to open. Then the City will keep the old downtown bus transit priority lanes between Empress and the Rideau Centre in place for six months, longer if necessary, in case there has to be bus replacement service if there are shutdowns on the new LRT. By then, it will be mid-winter, so physically closing off the old bus lanes and starting to reallocate the space to other uses may only start once the snow melts, say May 2019. 

The City will be displaying their intentions at the Monday meeting. Note that the plans are “high level”, showing lanes and spaces, with enough detail to prove they are workable, but without all the fine grain detail of exactly where the stop line is. Things like bus stops and turn lanes may well shift a bit. But key constituent parts of the plan are …

  • Albert one way westbound
  • Slater one way eastbound
  • right side of the road bike lanes (painted or separated with temporary curbs) or cycle tracks (raised up behind the curb, like Main Street or Churchill)
  • sidewalks on both sides of the streets … everywhere?
  • no more right lane off-peak on-street parking, but more 24-7 parking in protected bays
  • much less horizontal weaving of traffic lanes, and no suddenly disappearing lanes
  • bike lanes that shift from right side of the road to being along the centre median, right in front of the Rideau Centre
  • promises of landscaping and planters, but few details yet. Alas, removing existing trees is identified right from the start.
  • a similar landscaping and car lane and bike lane pattern on all the blocks, in both directions, for consistency and legibility and safety

Let’s start at the Empress end of things, and work our way eastbound through the downtown, looking at the major components of the plan.

1. Instead of splitting Albert and Slater in front of the Good Companions, the new split will be a bit further east, in front of the new Library. The City will makes the grades gentler, and make the whole Bronson-slater-Albert-intersections more regular. This is conceptually good. But I encourage you to take your finger and trace your route through the area as if you are a pedestrian or cyclist or motorist and see if it works for you. Remember, the current design has sidewalks that lead you into dead end traps, lacks sidewalks on numerous sides of roads, etc.  If you are cycling through the area how will you go eastbound? westbound? northbound? southbound? are routes obvious and un-devious? Ditto for pedestrians, are you an afterthought or are you getting a complete connected network.

2. What happens to the old Slater running along the treed escarpment from Empress to Bronson? The wooded slope is public greenspace, and very valuable, even you cannot walk on it. It is refreshingly green, a treat for the eyes, and ears, and a nice source of cool and fresh air in summer. The City is “trading” the old Slater right of way for some of the NCC lands nearer Bronson to make their new road interchange. And, according to the current plans, they are even giving the NCC an additional 30′ south of the old Slater curb line. Will this treed slope be cut into to make parking garages? Will residents have any chance to see or enjoy the slope once the NCC lands are sold off to become condos or offices? Is it important that residents have continuing access along this green escarpment by having a [conceptual] 10′ wide (or so) right of way along the south curb line of the old Slater, for a walking path or MUP?


3. One of the most attractive features of the current Albert Street from Empress to Bronson is the double row of trees along the MUP. They have been in place for about 10 years now, and grown big enough to be noticeable and most are thriving. Will they remain? Or be cut down to be replaced by new twigs with a high failure rate? And check out that passenger pick up and drop off (“PPUDO”) zone in front of the new Library. It removes a lot of trees, and replaces them with asphalt or pavers. Makes the road look wider, which means cars will go faster. Are there alternatives to the PPUDO zone? (Hint: how about a wonerf-style laneway running around the back of the new library, to a new school bus and VIP drop off to the back side of the main lobby, sort of like the lobby at the War Museum or National Gallery? Other ideas?)

4. The current plan puts light posts and landscaping set back from the road. Roads that look wide induce speed. Are there alternative layouts? ( Think of Preston, Main Street, or Lisgar).

And Bronson Hill, what a dozy for pedestrians! Can anything be done to make that San Francisco style hill more pedestrian friendly and safer, esp in winter? (for eg, hand rails on the outside edge of the sidewalks — and yes, there are handrails on a few steep sidewalks in the city already …).

5. There is funding to rebuild the new streets west of Bay, because the roads have to be rebuilt and new sewers put in. And the bridge deck on parts of the MacKenzie King Bridge need rehabilitation and cannot be put off forever. Now, look at the plans for the Bay Street to Elgin section. The plans are for interim improvements, ie temporary improvements, to stake out the spaces for different users, to try out the new arrangement, and eventually install a modified permanent version of these whenever the streets are next dug up for total rebuilt (sometime in the next 20 years). The interim improvements are necessary to prevent the freed up bus lanes from just becoming more parking. Did your councillor vote enough money to build all these improvements in one summer season? Is it possible to spread the construction over several years without vehicles claiming the unbuilt spaces?

6. Wiring is buried in the downtown core. It is not in the area west of Bay Street. Are wooden poles and overhead wires of use or aesthetic value? Should they be buried? Should the City pay for this, or could it be a bond whose repayment is put on adjacent property hydro bills for the next 20 years? (Note, in the suburbs and new areas the City requires that new homeowners and commercial uses pay for the underground wiring themselves, but hasn’t yet extended that obligation to older areas getting new wiring or rebuilt streets).


7. The City is proposing some concrete planter boxes on the painted bulb outs in the core during the “interim plan” phase. Are there enough planters to make a visual difference? Are they big enough? Other parts of bulb outs are marked with flex posts. Is this adequate? Is it good enough to paint zebra stripes on the bulb outs or should the temporary measures be more significant? (recalling that these expenditures will eventually be “thrown away” after a few years/decades, although concrete planters can always be relocated and repurposed).

8. Notice there are still some curbside bus stops in the downtown core. There will be ongoing OC Transpo local routes in the core, and all the STO buses will move from Wellington onto Albert-Slater. There isn’t too much detail yet on how buses/pedestrians/cycle track users will share space. Picture a bus with the wheelchair ramp extended. Will the general concept of bus track behind the bus loading island, with a shelter either on the island or set back on the sidewalk work? Just because it works in other cities doesn’t mean it will here …

9. Notice the intersection of Slater as it approaches Elgin Street. There is an unusual lane configuration here, trying to improve cyclist safety given the vehicles in the right turn lane also go straight ahead into the NAC garage. How will cyclists turn right? What if a car “misses” the entry point to the separated right turn lane? Run your finger through this intersection pretending you are cyclist, motorist,  tourist in a car, tour bus,  pedestrian, or pedestrian tourist.

10. Notice the intersection Albert and Elgin. The plan skirts around the British High Commission bollards/car bomber barricades. Yet down on Sussex, the US Embassy crash barriers are now incorporated into landscaping and tracks and sidewalks. Is the bare bones approach good enough for the Brits? Good enough for Ottawa?

11. Notice the proposed planters on the MacKenzie King bridge. These have proved wonderful on Somerset bridge over the Trillium OTrain line. And there are some on Sussex too. Are the ones here a luxury or a necessity?

12. Talk to the planners about how the right curbside cycle lanes/tracks will shift to the centre median in front of the Rideau Centre. I think the scheme will work. Others are not so sure. If you cycle, check it out !

13. The plan largely leaves the “status quo” east of the Rideau Centre. Is this good enough? Is there too much freeway-style swooping and curves and wide roads and wider intersections here?

Whew … this list could go on and on. But this is enough to alert faithful readers to some of the issues that can be spotted at the City’s open house next Tuesday at supper time and evening.


10 thoughts on “West Side Transportation Cornucopia, part viii – Albert-Slater alert

    1. all STO buses will move to Slater/Albert. That is not speculation. You can, apparently, check out their future route maps on on the STO website. Ditto, apparently, for OC Transpo. I have seen so many variations of the maps that I have stopped paying attention. And I expect there will be many more changes to come to them too.

      But the key fact remains: all STO buses move to Albert/Slater.

      As I understand it, from my last looking at the plans, and I confess to not using those buses so I may have misapprehended some of it, is that STO buses going west on MacKenzie King / Albert Street will turn up Kent Street to Queen Street and stop in front of the subway entrance under the Podium Building, then immediately take advantage of a special bus-only right turn lane onto the special bus-only north-bound road that has been installed on Lyon (east side) running from Queen to Wellington (and thence, buses continue on the Portage to Gatineau).

      Buses from the Portage Bridge will turn southbound onto Lyon, stop at the Lyon subway entrance (SW corner of Lyon/Queenn near Barbarella’s) then continue a block south to turn left onto Slater and continue eastbound through the core and to the Rideau Centre.

  1. The recently re-elected mayor of Gatineau made public statement a few weeks ago regarding the availability of Federal funding for Greenish transport options and the desire of the mayor elect to secure some of this funding to implement an LRT connector over the Wellington Rwy bridge.

    I am a little uncertain if the revamped bridge was to be actual LRT or a paved deck to permit bus transit.

    If an LRT extension across the river this would increase travel on the Ottawa side and should greatly reduce the need for STO bus transit as all STO traffic could feed to a transfer point on the Gatineau side (there is significant wild space available for such a bus / LRT transfer station) and this should greatly reduce bus traffic through the downtown core which is good for peds and cyclists.

    Such a routing would permit boarding LRT in Gatineau and getting out to the Airport.

    Depending on transfer times between Trillium and Confederation lines it would also support filling the daily cubicle quota at Tunney’s.

    But my reading of things is that just getting the bus traffic out of the core would make the city a much better environment for everyone.

  2. As a pedestrian with COPD I can’t walk blocks and blocks to get to my destination. There has to be some sort of bus going east/west through midtown for me to get around. Walking from Queen Street will be impossible for me to reach all my destinations. As for the Bronson Hill- anything to help me climb it would be appreciated.

    There has been some talk that transferring from feeder buses to the LRT will deter people from using the LRT and revert to taking their cars downtown instead. These are the people from Kanata etc who for years are used to getting an express bus from their neighbourhood to downtown. Every other major city has feeder buses, streetcars etc to a subway where people transfer and then they transfer again to a local bus to get where they are going.

    “Optimization” got me used to transferring although I can no longer carry groceries or other heavy loads because the transfer points are just to far to walk to. Am. I th only one that finds walking from one bus to transfer to another way to far? Your thoughts?

  3. I will be looking for a better protected cycling link between the SJAM cycle lanes at Mill Restaurant and the downtown Laurier cycle lanes. All the current routes are either too steep ( Bronson- Laurier) or too much traffic ( Wellington- Lyon – Laurier for the casual -older cyclist or tourists.

    The NCC cycle paths near under the SJAM Bridge near the Mill could also be improved to make them safer ( improved sight lines, separated pedestrian and cycle lanes, signs etc).

    I think Mayor Watson would be hard pressed to cycle any of the current links. My suggestion is that the City introduces a “Watson Standard” for these cycling links whereby if Mayor Watson is able to use them then most cyclists should be able to us them as well.

    Protected links from Albert to Scott Street and the Market is also needed.

    All of these improvements will be needed to increase the cycling capacity over the next 50 years if we are to approach cycling volumes in Cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen

  4. I don’t understand the need to change STO routes to make them zigzag through Ottawa. Most of them come over one bridge, make a turn onto Wellington and continue to another bridge with one more turn. Can’t Rideau continue as transfer point? Why shouldn’t there be buses on Wellington?

    1. Ahhh, Stephen, the NCC is one of those orgs that thinks buses blight streets. So they want them off Wellington. The excuse is that they want to put a bi-directional cycle track (similar to O’Connor) along the north curb line of Wellington. Note that this would connect to the one already on Portage Bridge … to Gatineau … back on the existing cycle lanes on the Alexandra … and then along the new bike track in front of the US Embassy.. Ergo, the ceremonial route for tourists and commuters etc etc.

  5. My guess is that the long-term plan might be to close off Wellington to motor vehicle traffic between Bank and Elgin.

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