Caring for Pedestrians — ice and drainage edition

near EY Centre

I was out at the EY [trade show] Centre a short while back. Despite being beside the transitway, and there being sidewalks, the connections for people who walk or people who use transit still manage to be awkward at best, discouraging when worst.

The Home Show event brought with it the worst.

Picture the scene: its 9pm.

Dark. [ergo, no pictures of the actual scene of the ….]

No signs to the transitway (service to the actual EY Centre itself is hourly and that bus had just gone, and the stop itself is not visible from anywhere indoors to wait). So I traipsed across the thousand acre parking lot, trotted along the highway, and begged for a crossing light.

On the sidewalk under the parkway the entire pedestrian area [but not the car area] was flooded with 5″ thick ice. It was wonderfully slippery. I assume in the daytime it is delightfully slushy. Water gathers on the sidewalk because it is the lowest spot, shaded from the sun’s feeble heat, and the entire area is graded to drain over the top and onto the sidewalks. 

Apparently, our engineers feel it is vital for people who walk to have 16′ clearance to the overpass above, just like tractor trailers do. Funny how sometimes people who walk get motorist-convention standards, and sometimes cannot. Notice too the concrete wall between the three pillars that retards drainage, and the minimal elevation of the sidewalk above the road surface.  Read on …

Notice the slopes on each side of the airport parkway. All that melting snow runs down over the sidewalk because the City’s engineering standards call for it to do just that. Now for roads, we have a different standard. Water running downslope must be intercepted first * by a draining swale or ditch and diverted into a pipe or catchbasin. Mustn’t let people who drive find a damp or slippery spot.

If people are cycling or walking in the early spring or late fall, you might find pathways specifically designed for the safe and efficient movement of said clientèle … covered in precipitation in all its wonderful forms.

Here is the sidewalk that connects the upper and lower halves of Primrose. It is wildly popular, being a nice pedestrian-only route, free of the cars and trucks and buses dragging walls of slush and gloop to bathe pedestrians along Albert Street through the Flats. It is on a slope (it is called Nanny Goat Hill for a reason) and has been carefully engineered so that the walkway is a combined walkway-storm drain.** In certain seasons, it rivals any Sens rink for traction:


At least there is a partial handrail on this walk. One has to cling for dear life.

When the City was designing the O-Train multi-user pathway, there was this large-ish slope that just might contribute run off to the pathway.  Absolutely not, said the city design staff, when asked to intercept the runoff so people who walk or people who bike could remain safe and dry, our standards don’t permit that. Out of the question.


Now it was sunny when I took this picture, and the run off has, well, run off. But just a few feet further north, the underpass under Somerset Street was still a treacherous frozen puddle, and a little further on was this opportunity to make your footprints using the run off from all the area to the left:



Here’s an example of a path done right. The drainage runs down the grassy slope into a ditch. Water on the asphalt runs to the left into the ditch, as the pathway has a slight tilt in that direction. Every once in a while, a catch basin directs the water under the path via a pipe and the water continues off to where-ever it was going.

oct 2013 270

 Note to readers: I wrote this story on Wednesday, and scheduled it to follow another post on pedestrian theme. In light of the tragic accident under the Heron Road Bridge, also it seems, due to our engineering standards that drain water and ice over the top of sidewalks and paths, I rescheduled this story to run first. I now regret not including a photo of the ice sheet under the Somerset Bridges  … but then one can find these conditions pretty well all over the city, reflecting the total contempt our infrastructure providers show for anyone not driving a car. For what’s its worth, I used to go to Carleton U via the Heron Road Bridge, descending from the No 77 bus stop as it was back in the day.  All the water running off the bridge hit giant splash pads under the bridge and then ran off over the sidewalk. In winter, the shaded area was giant puddles. Apparently in 40 years no one noticed the problem?? Really?? Or just didn’t give a F about people who walk or use transit or cycle?


* Yes, I am sure someone can point out spots in the city where water does flow over the surface of the road. I walked on one yesterday, on Carling near Fox Cresc. But these are noticeable because of their rarity, and certainly  aren’t prominent features of new road construction. Pathways and sidewalks doubling up as surface water storage areas and drains, alas, is a deliberate feature of our design.

** In discussing  with City engineers and planners the continuing puddling at many corners along the recently rebuilt and “pedestrianized” Preston Street, staff simply cannot comprehend the problem. They designed the street to “pond” or “store” water on the surface when it rains, so as to keep the sewer underneath the street open for draining the head end of the pipe which is uphill in the Glebe.

Engineering staff couldn’t see this as a problem, because if was raining, why would anyone be out walking?  If it recently stopped raining, and there were puddles, then don’t go for a walk. They genuinely seemed to believe that walking is a discretionary recreational activity to be employed on selected nice days. They truly have a “car window view” of the city.

2 thoughts on “Caring for Pedestrians — ice and drainage edition

  1. Maybe we’re just trying to integrate a little more nature into the outdoor experience. My path to work has a puddle deep enough that I’m just waiting for the ducks to nest, and, later in the season, I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of greenery sprouts from all the surface-integrated planters. Saplings are a great way to warn bicyclists of wheel-eating cracks.

  2. We absolutely need to convey our message better. Perhaps the planners/designers need to be given a bus pass and have their car / truck keys removed? A week a month for a year should give them a different perspective I also note that the City Roads & Traffic people always seem to be driving vehicles and never walking. As someone who walks in almost all weather, not just lovely sunny days, I am very aware of the issues you raised and do my best to stay upright as I slide along the paths and sidewalks all winter.

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