Bronson — stick to the status quo …

The first meeting of the business advisory committee and the public advisory committee (BAC,PAC) meet with City officials and their consultants last night for the first time about the reconstruction of Bronson Avenue, which will take place in segments over the next few years and chew up $40million dollars.

There was no issue with the need to replace the sewers and watermains, most of which date to the 1887-1907 period. The construction project itself will be major, with trenches up to 24′ deep and years of digging, dust, mud…

The main focus was on what is put back on the surface. The City officials and consultants stuck firmly to their position that this is a road project only. Constantly citing the road geometry standards issued by the Roads and Transportation Advisory Council (TAC) and desired lane widths cited in RMOC documents, they want to widen Bronson by an average of 2′ throughout its length.

In its present form, Bronson has evolved over many years and each block is slightly different width and angle. The traffic engineers want to smooth out these differences, and make the lanes more standard. The road allowance is narrow however, and to fit in the standardized lanes they intend to “pare back” the sidewalk widths in a number of blocks to the “minimum” widths permitted by the City.

They constantly appealed to the thirty or so community members in attendance to understand that this widening was primarily to benefit cyclists, by giving them more room. The appeal fell flat; most attendees clearly saw it as a subtrefuge for facilitating car traffic.

The consultants cheerfully described how, after all the road widening and utilty work was done, and everything was paved to the limit of the right of way, their landscape architect (mercifully left unnamed) would be let loose to find leftover bits of land to “green” with trees.

It would be safe to say the City official’s view of how the scheme would unfold — you know, stick to the status quo — was received with as much welcome as a late spring snowfall.

Why, asked the audience, do the planners constantly cite the RTAC lane standards but never the Mainstreet design guidelines? or the “scenic route” designation that Bronson has? (bet you didn’t know the city calls Bronson scenic). Answer: “Oh, we will… after we design the traffic lanes, we’ll see what space we have left over…”

Why, asked the audience, are all the utilties going to be allowed to bury their wires and ducts as shallow as they want which will prevent later tree planting … wouldn’t it make sense to make the ducts 4′ deep so stuff can be planted above? (City answer: “no”.)

Why, asked the audience, do the planners constantly work from the position that the road must have at least four lanes? Why not look at making it three lanes with the centre lane reversing at each rush hour, like on the Champlain bridge? Or why not make it two lanes plus parking bays, like has been done on other arterials such as Preston, West Wellington, Somerset? Why not start with the goal of having wide sidewalks, tree lined streets, a liveable street, and then see how many lanes can be fit into that model??  The city answer: “uh, gosh, I guess we can look at those models and then screen them out after looking at them.” Yup, that’s  what we heard. Actual quote.  No kidding.

It was around this point that Councillor Holmes asked why we couldn’t get the same engineers and city planners who worked on Preston and Somerset who understood downtown neighborhoods, livable streets,and listened to residents and local businesses instead of catering to single occupancy car commuters heading to Pointe Gatineau or Barrhaven? Answer: the contract has been let and the city has confidence in its consultants etc etc.

While the city official and planners insisted that they knew the street was designated a traditional mainstreet … when asked they didn’t know what this meant, or what parts of the street held this designation (hint: its Laurier to Carling in the offical plan), or what a scenic route might comprise.

Audience members knew the area well, offering specific comments and complaints. One person (ok, it was me…) recalled when his parents & grandparents lived at the corner of Bronson and Christie and the front yard held a giant tree and green grass and Bronson was only two lanes and families lived all along the road and walked to school … (warning: don’t try these things today). Contrast that to the meeting last night held in the old Immac High School with the din of traffic outside so loud it drowned out the speakers.

They did throw out some bones to the audience. A pedestrian refuge (little triangular island) is proposed for the middle of Bronson on the south side of Albert “because there is too much pavement there we don’t need”. They will actually decrease curb radii at a number of intersections where one way streets meet Bronson — mind you, these radii decreases are just going to match the RTAC standards and will decrease the crosswalk distance on already quiet side streets.

They promised to look at the issue of pedestrians crossing Bronson at Arlington (in front of Harvey’s … it is great lunch time entertainment to watch people get stuck on the yellow centre line as they try to cross this street).  They promised, decidedly unenthusiastically I thought, to examine community-suggested improvements to the intersections at Somerset and Gladstone. And pedestrian discomfort at various specific spots, but only to the degree they could do something without increasing the city right of way, ie no property acquisition, and apparently in this 40 million dollar project there is absolutely no budget room for any retaining walls or similar mods that might be necessary to widen a sidewalk against a slope or drop off of as little as 3′.

A hit tune from a few years ago kept going through my head throughout this evening of unfortunate events: stick to the status quo, do what you know. (Maybe it was the high school location that did it…) It will be … interesting … to see if this road-widening traffic-facilitating scheme can be turned around into something else. City rights of way like Bronson only get redeveloped once every hundred years, we’ve got to get it right.

Overly wide city sidewalk awaiting “paring down”