Doing something about the lack of trees downtown

and and stepping back a few feet, here is a view of the whole installation, on top of one of the select few parking meters posts that got turned into a bike rack. Hey, it could be worse. Mayor Watson might have added a pole with tin leaves to make fake plastic trees, as were proposed for Bronson Avenue.      Continue reading Doing something about the lack of trees downtown

Civic Gateways (absence of)

Ottawa is nicer than many other cities. Despite the criticisms of the NCC, they do engage in long term planning and city building that generates a sense of grandeur or pride. Without them, Ottawa would be vastly impoverished, just another short-sighted mid-sized city planned with short term expediency the governing rule. Ottawa is engaged in a worthwhile planning exercise for the downtown core, called Downtown Moves (DOMO). The removal of the bus lanes by 2017-18 creates the opportunity to remake the surface streets in a more livable and pleasant way. And not just replace the bus lanes with parking lanes. For this strategic thinking … Continue reading Civic Gateways (absence of)

Life’s a Beach, even downtown

The NCC is responsible for most of what is good and attractive in Ottawa. In the process of delivering the nice stuff, the NCC relies on government ownership of the property. Alas, the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play. Measures intended to promote access to the waterfronts end up cutting them off, “public” space is too often “dead” space. The introduction of a new urban beach in downtown Ottawa might go a long way to rectifying this. The beach, between Ottawa U and the canal, on the east side of the Corktown Bridge (not to be confused with Corkstown Road, which is … Continue reading Life’s a Beach, even downtown

Dismal, and better

Downtown, the new EDC building has a planter on the O’Connor side. It’s pretty dismal, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron. Part of the problem may be that much of the planter is under the overhang of the building, so lacks water and maybe even enough light. The predicted problems were correctly identified by Urbsite last year: It comes as no satisfaction to see the prediction come to non-fruition. Such careless architecture and finishing. In contrast, they put a planter by the front door that looks pretty good; maybe you are supposed to forget about the rest of the … Continue reading Dismal, and better

One way street cycling

There are conflicting views about one way streets and cyclists. Some cyclists feel one way streets are designated that way for the convenience of motorists, and being human-powered “active transportation” mode, the rules simply don’t apply to them and cyclists should be allowed to go the “wrong way” down the one way street. Another version of entitlement. Others feel cyclists are sort-of motor vehicles, and for that reason or because of safety concerns, should obey the one way designations. Anyone who drives will have noticed the signs, usually on freeway or limited access roads, that scream out “wrong way – recuillez”, that … Continue reading One way street cycling

Integrated intuitive wayfinding system for pedestrians

These few pictures are from a tourist-oriented city. No, not Ottawa. This is a cross walk, of course. You recognized it right a way. Red, for visibility. With a decorative wiggling line through the middle that invites walkers. Very unrigid. And this is a similar shot, except now we can see both this intersection and the adjacent cross walk. The line leads the pedestrian on to the park and to harbour front area. Note the lack of signs on posts explaining to pedestrians that this is the way to walk. And the line continues through the park, leading us to … Continue reading Integrated intuitive wayfinding system for pedestrians

Measuring the Pedestrian Level of Service

The level of service concept for vehicular traffic has been around for decades. Segments of road, or intersections, are rated by the how well the motorist is served. A number of US states and cities apparently mandate intersection widening when a level of service F is hit. I know very little about LOS, but apparently if you don’t get through the intersection on the first light after joining the queue, then that is level F. It can scarely escape our notice that rating F is frought with connotations of unacceptability, of could do better. Pedestrian sidewalks, however, are made to a standard … Continue reading Measuring the Pedestrian Level of Service

Major changes coming to downtown streets

The current downtown Ottawa is rather blah. Some might even call it bleh. Over the decades, it has become a motor-vehicle-oriented environment, with the fast movement of vehicles the main only priority. We all know about the walls of buses. And the priority given to automobile commuters over pedestrians. Trees: rare as hen’s teeth. It has become a downtown one goes to because you have to. It is not a shopping, or even much of a recreation destination. All rather sad. When the LRT is opened, there will be major changes. Most OC Transpo buses will be off the Albert … Continue reading Major changes coming to downtown streets

Windows on the world

Buildings must be interesting on the ground floor, that’s one of the key principles of a vibrant city at the sidewalk level. Too many of downtown Ottawa’s buildings are dead at the ground floor. That’s what makes the Delta Hotel’s renovation of their downtown property so exciting. They are busy tearing off the solid concrete walls of the Skyline  Crowne Plaza Delta and replacing them with windows, windows that actually allow people on the sidewalk to see into the building. In case you can’t remember, here’s what it used to be: I remain unthrilled with their Lyon Street facade, though. While no one … Continue reading Windows on the world

Here comes the sun

There is a newish condo building downtown. Very high end. The ground floor isn’t, that is to say, the building really starts one floor up and the floor at the same level as the street is windowless and contains lockers, parking, or something to be hidden behind large concrete planters that are higher than a human is tall. A bit like the Maginot Line. The high planters have rows of dense shrubs planted along their bases. Rows of identical shrubs, not for the enjoyment of passing pedestrians but designed to be seen at a glance from speeding cars when only a large mass planting … Continue reading Here comes the sun

On a Clear Day, (Dead) Councillors can see forever …

Back a few months ago when there was snow on the ground, I typically played around with it a bit when sent out to conduct my onerous shovelling obligations. For the first pass, I would make my six-foot-short sidewalk have perfectly vertical snowbanks on each side. Nice straight sides, looking like the whole bank was sculpted at once. A mini Corinthian Canal: Later, when the crisp edges started to blur, I would convert the sliced-through snowbanks into a gentle glaciated valley, with the sidewalk at the bottom and then the parabolic sides. This is a useful metaphor for Ottawa’s sight lines and view cones. There are a number … Continue reading On a Clear Day, (Dead) Councillors can see forever …

Planning in Ottawa, the Clint Eastwood Version

Last week the packed Urban Forum lecture heard and saw Dr David Gordon from Queens expound on planning and urban design in Canada’s Capital, 1800-2000. Note the cut-off year: amalgamation; also removing the necessity to venture views on current plans such as the LRT. He reviewed planning over the century using professorial wit and hectoring. His theme was drawn from spaghetti westerns, particularly The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. You’ll see the various planning efforts allocated to these categories in the picture below. Indeed, reviewing the outline below will give you a very complete summary of the plot. Like any … Continue reading Planning in Ottawa, the Clint Eastwood Version

Phoenix LRT (part ii)

In the downtown Phoenix transit plaza there were these brightly coloured display boards. From a distance, I thought they were route maps or timetables. Upon closer inspection, they proved to be laser-cut metal sheets. Each one showed a subway or rail transit map from the major cities of the world. I felt a bit – discomforted – inspecting these. Was little Phoenix trying to cast itself in the Big Leagues, rather like Toronto (used to) cast itself as “world class” which simply proved it isn’t? Was it pompous? Or was it just Public Art? The station closeup (above) shows a number … Continue reading Phoenix LRT (part ii)

City wins battle; Mayor losing the war

Last night the City held a public meeting to tell residents all about the plans for Bronson. Well over a hundred people turned up. All were glum, and subdued. Resigned. Was I alone in sensing the seething resentment beating inside those winter coats? Recall that Bronson was widened from a street to a road back in the late 50’s. It was a bad road back then. And it only got worse. It’s bad for motorists. It’s bad for residents. It’s bad for landlords*. It’s bad for anyone who tries to walk along Bronson’s pathetic sidewalks. It’s life threateningly bad for … Continue reading City wins battle; Mayor losing the war

Mr Clean’s Magic Eraser hits Downtown streets

Installing the separated bike lane (SBL) on Laurier Street downtown was a new experience, with lots of little details to figure out. Fortunately Laurier had just been resurfaced, so City staff had a clean slate to work with. Less aesthetically, the lines were painted on the street, changed slightly, repainted, shifted again, repainted… leaving a rather confusing mess. At the last minute, just in time for the SBL opening,  work crews painted over the ‘wrong’ lines with black paint. This was obviously a short term fix, since the first thing to wear off would be the black paint, revealing the white lines again, which … Continue reading Mr Clean’s Magic Eraser hits Downtown streets

Downtown Moves

The folks running the Downtown Moves study had an open house last evening. I was very pleased and surprised at the large turnout  around 6pm. Some attendees were the usual suspects we find at these events, ie the city builder activists and those promoting their favourite causes. There were a l0t of “new” faces as well. All good. One of the display boards offered attendees the opportunity to put a dot on the main cycling and pedestrian problems in the core. Jumping right out at any viewer was the cluster of both ped and cyclist dots at the Albert-Bronson intersection, especially … Continue reading Downtown Moves

Could the city actually install benches ?

This is another post building more detail on the original Downtown Moves series in While health and fitness naggards complain we sit too much, everyone wants to sit sometimes. I love to walk to places in my west side neighborhood, and walk into the core at least three times a week in the winter. (In the summer, I bike many of these trips, plus my travel zone expands…). Twenty years ago, most shopping malls had few benches in the mall area. Those that were there were to catch collapsing shoppers before they hit the deck. But there seemed to … Continue reading Could the city actually install benches ?

You can improve what you measure; and we aren’t

This is the next in a series of posts building on the Downtown Moves articles I did in late December at the site. The Downtown Moves team did a sort of crowd sourcing exercise to identify the problems and some solutions for the downtown enviornment. City staff, consultants, and amateur planners/keeners like myself heard three prominent speakers on urban issues, then sitting around tables of six to ten people cranked out solutions to perceived problems. The consultants then sorted these ideas into major clusters. This is a perfectly legitimate method of finding a bunch of things to do, quickly. I … Continue reading You can improve what you measure; and we aren’t

Is it time for a Sparks Street bike mall ?

Late last year I wrote a two part post for on the Downtown Moves project, a scheme aimed at improving the downtown pedestrian and cycling environment. This improvement is to make the LRT project work better by improving access to the stations; and to improve the downtown post-LRT implementation when the space currently occupied by bus movements will be much reduced. There were a lot of ideas in those posts, and some are worth elaborating on.   Today, can the Sparks Street mall be improved by making it a bike mall? Downtown pedestrian malls were all the rage a few decades ago. Some are still thriving; many … Continue reading Is it time for a Sparks Street bike mall ?

Hotel guests in a sandwich

It’s easy to watch the construction at the base of the Delta Downtown hotel. It is a delight to see the driveway ramp gone, although they are simply replacing it with a flat one at grade. Nonetheless the awkward ground floor arrangement needed major surgery. Only apparent from a distance: the top floors are also being renovated, as evidenced by the plan sheets taped to each window on the top four floors. Continue reading Hotel guests in a sandwich

Faulty Prescription for Infill Problems

(Above: good looking infills that may not be possible under the proposed new rules) The City is concluding its study of infill housing projects in the downtown wards. They examined every infill built over the last few years, photographed them, and analysed what went wrong. The most obvious problems related to new buildings being too massive compared to their neighbours, too hard paved in the fronts (often leaving no soft landscaping at all) and too many  garage doors that blight the street. So, they came up with some solutions. Alas, I left the public reveal of these solutions feeling rather let down and discouraged. … Continue reading Faulty Prescription for Infill Problems

What should go at street level? (part ii – the bad)

I wrote this post last week for, you should have read it there! It got a number of responses so for this version of it I have corrected and clarified some things. There are also more pictures, because that is the WSA style! Thank you for reading. __________________________________________ What should go at street level? Large property development firms are seldom compared to little domesticated birds. But in some ways they are canaries in the coal mines of the urban streetscape. And the song these messengers sing is not a cheerful tune for downtown pedestrians. Consider this not-so-old  downtown condo: … Continue reading What should go at street level? (part ii – the bad)

Bus Depots are Dead, thankfully

City committees will shortly be discussing a redevelopment proposal for the site of the Voyageur Bus Terminal/Gare d’Ottawa. Alas, the development will proceed only if Voyageur moves out of the terminal. Bizarrely, some councillors and community activists want the bus station to stay on Catherine Street. They express concern for the price conscious users of the cheapest mode of intercity transport. I think their concern is misguided thinking that is twenty years out of date. In the old bus model, Voyageur had to have a terminal building for passengers to arrive early and line up for the bus. Passengers who wanted a good … Continue reading Bus Depots are Dead, thankfully

Making a pigskin purse from a sow’s ear

The Skyline  Crown Plaza  Delta Ottawa Centre hotel is finally correcting that awful Campeau-induced blight on the downtown. The Place de Ville complex is fully a product of 60’s thinking: big buildings, on barren plazas, with few or no windows on the ground floors, and utter domination of the streetscape for automobiles. Now maybe Robert Campeau rode up to his buildings in limo, sailing majestically on those ramps leading to hidden-from-the-street front doors. But for the rest of us, those buildings denied the public street and tried to suck pedestrians down into an underground shopping mall. For the last forty years, there have … Continue reading Making a pigskin purse from a sow’s ear

The Queensway Forest

One of the recommendations in the New Centretown Plan currently doing the rounds, is for a densely planted urban forest along the banks of the Queensway. Currently, there are some unpretty barren spots: And even where there is a bit more planting, it is sparse: Compare that with the lush vegetation a bit further west, along Edgar Street: A couple of observations: the lush growth shown above does not look “planned” or “planted” by landscape architects. I saw no evidence of retaining walls, gabions, well spaced hardwoods, scenic selection of trees … no, they just appear to have grown there all by themselves. Aided, … Continue reading The Queensway Forest