Albert Street reconstruction – Back to the Future?

jan 2013 041


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.












10 thoughts on “Albert Street reconstruction – Back to the Future?

    1. Alas, Matt, you won’t be meeting me, as I have yet another engagement that means I will absent both those public meetings. She who must be obeyed says so.
      However, read the post, and keep some of the points in mind when you give them your views.

    1. WJM: actually, I quite like the saw-tooth brickwork between the walk and the curb, and I do recall there are some raised planters in a few spots, including in the centre median. Not fab, but for timid ole Ottawa, better than the typical sidewalk-glued-to-the-curb.

  1. Beyond the known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, given the way the City operates there are probably a few unknown knowns kicking around too, i.e. things that are known to the City in the abstract sense but unknown by those whom you were dealing with.

  2. Went to the open house. What was presented (with a few minor modifications) is a rather nice dream. Trees in the median and nice separated bike lanes that serve double duty protecting the sidewalks from traffic lanes. Unfortunately there was absolutely no information about the realignment for the busses (and bus stops) during the LRT construction. This is the real issue, and just about everyone seemed to be asking about it.

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