More exciting drainage swales, in industrial parks

Seattle and its suburbs had an abundance of drainage swales. That might reflect the high seasonal rainfall. In a suburban industrial park (in Redmond or Bellevue, I’m not sure) , about half populated with businesses and the other half being vacant lots, the existing roads had been retrofitted to accommodate swales. The existing infrastructure looked to me to be about a decade old. At each half block, a pair of bulbouts had created a “neckdown” or pinch in the road. A crosswalk was installed, simply marked with a zebra stripe and fluorescent sign (Ottawa traffic engineers are horrified at this … Continue reading More exciting drainage swales, in industrial parks

Community Gardeners carry on …

Community Gardeners, sometimes called guerilla gardeners, inspired by a love of plants, work to beautify their neighbourhood through planting things. Sometimes this is into otherwise empty planters the city leaves scattered around. Other times it is in less-expected places, ie real guerilla planting. Here is the community garden planted outside the Plant Rec Centre:   In the Plant case, gardeners worked with the city to install the garden. The city provided a truckload of topsoil as part of the Somerset reconstruction project. Volunteers spread the soil and did the planting with material from other sites and private gardens. A passing … Continue reading Community Gardeners carry on …

More Height, Please Mr Hume, and more Density Too

The City and the Province have policies promoting Smart Growth. Have they been forgotten in a weird sort of beer binge? What gives at the Beer Store on Somerset Street? The quasi-monopoly Beer Store network must be doing quite well, as it is proposing a severe under-use of its land at 515 Somerset Street, opposite Dundonald Park. Recall that the current store, dating from the 60’s, an ugly, squat thing, itself replaced a row of family housing in favour of a suitable-for-the-suburbs sized parking lot that is conspicuously underused. So underused, that like the location on Bank at Lansdowne, the … Continue reading More Height, Please Mr Hume, and more Density Too

If there has to be a Somerset barrier, let it be discrete

Recap: recall that in the last two posts we see the City planning to “harden” various pedestrian walks over the OTrain corridor. We don’t know if this is to prevent objects — or people —  being dropped on the OTrain, or what the priorities, if any, are.  It would be nice to know. And the City’s proposed designs for Somerset Street are simply awful. Presumably, other walks near the Otrain and possibly other transit facilities (hello transitway, hello LRT) will similarly be hardened. So a better design is urgently needed. above: the not-yet-terror-proofed Bayview Station, soon to be populated with … Continue reading If there has to be a Somerset barrier, let it be discrete

Somerset Viaduct hardening

  The local community around Somerset Street had to push very hard to get a pedestrian and cyclist-friendly environment. The results, shown above, are extraordinary (by Ottawa’s low standards): wide walks, bike lanes, ped lighting, trees and shrubs in irrigated-planters where there is no dirt … At the top of the bridge (or viaduct, to be accurate) there is a furnished belvedere. Right now the viewing point is a bit understated, but when the lines of 30-35 storey highrises already in the plans appear, there will be only one sight line to the north and south along the greenway corridor, … Continue reading Somerset Viaduct hardening

Are pedestrians really terrorists?

Are pedestrians really terrorists in cunning disguise, wandering around our city planning to attack transit and transportation facilities? The City seems to think so, as it is fortifying sidewalks and overpasses near the transitway / OTrain corridor to prevent pedestrians from … what? peeing onto the OTrain? dropping ice onto the train? Certainly it is physically possible to drop debris, or even people, over the bridge, but I do wonder if there is such an epidemic of suicides and attacks on trains and buses? Are we engaged in evidence-based spending or exaggerated fear-motivated spending? Consider how the City currently “hardens” … Continue reading Are pedestrians really terrorists?

Tree trenches

For decades urban trees have suffered from cheap planting techniques. Cities all too often opted for the meanest, smallest open square around the tree for water and air penetration, and the hole under the sidewalk was usually not much bigger than the root ball itself. Not surprisingly, the trees were unhealthy, seldom grew, often died. Even where there was plenty of room for a larger opening around the tree, the City insisted the minimum size opening was de facto the maximum size opening (see for example, the older sections of Somerset done in the 80’s). Deep down, I think city … Continue reading Tree trenches

Somerset Planters being installed (finally)

After years of lobbying, approvals, bureaucratic fixes, and engineering and contractual delays, the tree planters along Somerset viaduct are finally being installed. The idea is that these will enhance the pedestrian environment, knitting the communities of Dalhousie and Hintonburg together. The current elevated roadway is windswept and feels isolated. Perhaps more importantly, the precedent has been set for significant plantings of trees where there is no underlying dirt or “room” for tree roots. These may be the first irrigated planters the city has installed; they use water from the Plant Rec Centre building to automatically water the trees. Let the … Continue reading Somerset Planters being installed (finally)

Westside touristing this week

This week will be good for touristing around the west side. Perhaps you noticed mysterious markings on the walkways along Somerset near the OTrain?   Then work crews drilling holes …   The holes were then plugged with paper to keep them clean …   On Tuesday, all will be revealed, as the first of the giant concrete planters arrive on Somerset. Under the odd brick inserts along the walkway is a buried irrigation pipe system connected to a water supply at the Plant Rec Complex. Once put in place, pipes will be drawn up through the bottom of the … Continue reading Westside touristing this week

Chinatown shown the door

Or maybe, Chinatown shows the door. Because the Chinatown BIA has embarked on an ambitious scheme to improve the physical look of the properties along the street by painting the doors and façades of various buildings. Not the whole buildings, but the parts closest up to pedestrians on the walkways. They have commissioned the concepts from the Ottawa School of Art. These were on display to the public and merchants last week. Now the schemes will be revised to reflect the comments of viewers, and painting the doors and some windows will commence later this month. The CBIA focussed on some of … Continue reading Chinatown shown the door

The joys of winter

  The front of these stores on Somerset is much the worse for wear. The cause: walk  plowing. I have every sympathy for the walkway plow drivers. The pavements are uneven. Obstacles abound. Throw in hidden objects and frozen masses of snow, and its a recipe for difficulty. In this case, the plows seem to be crashing into the buildings to avoid the parking meter kiosks:   I have no doubt that the minimum 5′ gap was allowed for when positioning the parking meter kiosk. I did the walkabout with the meter installers with both the Preston and Somerset BIA’s, … Continue reading The joys of winter

Maybe the temporary on Bronson should be permanent

The noisy work crews on Bronson have taken a winter break. They need one. It must be dispiriting for them to be reconstructing Bronson in the same dysfunctional 1950’s pattern of urban abuse. Our city is sometimes like a dysfunctional family, where the mistakes of the prior-generation parents are doomed to be repeated by the so-called adults of the present. Here’s a view of the Bronson-Somerset intersection prior to the construction. Note the big yellow signal lights we so love to festoon above the traffic lanes, suspended on long metal arms in turn supported by freestanding metal posts, sometimes known as “street furniture”. For … Continue reading Maybe the temporary on Bronson should be permanent

One small victory

Dealing with the City, or property owners, can be tiresome. Sometimes there seems to be so little progress. Or progress gets undone by strange decisions, like the City’s push to rezone most of the low rise residential areas south of the Queensway on both sides of Preston, to high rise, now that the neighborhood has been stabilized… But there are victories. Little bits of progress that make one come back and try again. Do you recognize this? Its on Somerset Street, opposite the Plant Rec Centre. It’s the back wall of Luciano’s and May’s Chinese Garden restaurant, beside their parking … Continue reading One small victory

A little rain for the Urban Food desert

Much of the west side of downtown Ottawa is a food desert. Consolidation has been happening in the grocery business for a long time. Individual vegetable mongers and butchers gave way to the one-stop shopping convenience of the groceteria, then the larger grocery store, and most recently the Superstore, whether in big-box malls or spread across the urban fabric. The resulting decline and disappearance of the smaller stores inevitably leaves some greater distance between the remaining or new grocery outlets. This space is sometimes called a food desert. Like any ecosystem, it also offers a niche for the nimble and specialized. Walking … Continue reading A little rain for the Urban Food desert

The shadow knows …

  The city can talk all it wants about how walking, cycling and transit are high on its list of priorities, but the real test is where the feet hit the ground, the wheel hits the pavement, etc. An attractive, safe-feeling pedestrian environment welcomes walking, so that it becomes a desirable thing to do, rather than a “have to” or “should do”. Goodness knows, we have been very successful in making motor car travel the default choice. This bias in the public realm won’t be undone overnight. But sometimes there are very little measures that really help. The benches along … Continue reading The shadow knows …

Main street’s modal split

Annie Hillis of the West Wellington BIA (WWBIA) sent me the following data. They conducted a four-day survey in June, asking 830 people found along their typical older-city main street how they came to the street, their post code, and their shopping habits. The WWBIA main street runs roughly from Bayswater westwards along Somerset & West Wellington to Island Park. The modal split numbers surprised me.  Forty six percent of those found along the street got there by walking; 26% by car; 13% by bike; twelve percent by bus (numbers throughout this story are rounded off). Only 26% by car? That’s pretty low. And … Continue reading Main street’s modal split

Just look down: Adventures in the Chinese Zodiac

Pedestrians on the newly redone bit of Somerset in Chinatown between Booth and Preston are in for a real treat. The sidewalk is paved in blocky precast concrete squares with a textured surface finish. For some time, walkers may have noticed some squares marked out like this: These red dots marked where a few blocks were to be removed and replaced by a same size granite square inscribed with a shallow bas relief of a stylized Asian zodiac animal. These make the street great fun to walk with kids, and amusing for adults too. The zodiac is repeated four times: twice on the … Continue reading Just look down: Adventures in the Chinese Zodiac

Chinatown Art Installation

The City sets aside a certain small percentage of its major capital projects budget (such as road reconstruction) for art installations. West Siders know the ones: Preston Street granite postcards from the piazzas, West Wellie’s marble veggies, the red chairs in the Glebe. The just-getting-completed reconstruction of Somerset between the OTrain tracks and Booth had a very small art budget. One that had to cope with three distinct areas: Chinatown, the bit of Little Italy around Preston, and the OTrain viaduct-bridge. With public consultation, the decision was made to have two installations: one on the Chinatown hill, and one on the viaduct … Continue reading Chinatown Art Installation

Signs of Life on Somerset Street

Somerset has been going through a difficult time for the last few years. The rise of suburban supermarkets with an Asian focus has rendered obsolete the mom-and-pop small stores along Somerset in Chinatown. Many have disappeared. Only a few grocery stores are surviving, eg Kowloon Market, which even seems to be thriving and is a bright spot on the street. In the section from Booth to Preston, business has been complicated by two years of road reconstruction. But the sidewalks are back in place, the benches are installed, and at a large vacant storefront this sign has appeared: I thought it noticeable that … Continue reading Signs of Life on Somerset Street

Commercial renovations

Commercial renovations are very different from residential renovations. They are often done for different purposes. Sometimes a quick and dirty reno is all that is justified by an elderly building or underused site where something much better is around the corner. Many commercial modernizations do not maintain the historic style of the old building. And too often those that try to open up the façade (the modern need to see inside) while maintaining a look and feel and materials similar to the old,  are derided as “faux historic”. Some commercial renovations in our west side community go awry: consider the strip on West Wellington, which whilst … Continue reading Commercial renovations

Cut and paste on our streets

Living near a major road reconstruction project is always educational. Sometimes comical, sometimes depressing. Like most other amateur superintendents, the constant digging, filling, and redigging the same spots breeds a certain cynicism: “They must’ve left someone down there yesterday.” In the first picture below, the new pavement on Somerset at Preston has been cut by the traffic department to install a traffic loop. That wire measures traffic behaviour so that light timing can be adjusted to vehicular traffic flow.   Notice that the loop crosses the lines painted for the cross walk. Alas, the painted cross walk was temporary, until the more substantial and … Continue reading Cut and paste on our streets

Putting the pieces back together in the right order

Sometimes streetscaping projects by the City use lots of bricks or other paving blocks to enhance the sidewalk experience. Other times they use good ole’ concrete. I have mixed feelings about both. The biggest advantage of concrete is that it begs to be trowelled off level. No matter how crude the installation, or unskilled or careless the crew, the finished walk is usually usable. In other words, it’s a forgiving substance. Pavers look nice, but because each one is small they are subject to being laid with an uneven surface. Pavers have the advantage of being removable and relayable after disruption. When pavers … Continue reading Putting the pieces back together in the right order