Put Bronson on ‘road diet,’ city told
Community groups spot chance to fix street in coming roadworks
By Neco Cockburn, The Ottawa Citizen November 10, 2010 7:38 AM
OTTAWA — Community advocates want the city to make Bronson Avenue safer and better-looking after it’s torn up to replace old sewers and water mains.
The city’s most important north-south artery is jammed at rush hour, and often at other times, too.
There’s not much room to widen it.
And even if the city could, the extra traffic and noise and pollution would be bad news for pedestrians and nearby residents.
Starting as early as next year, Bronson is to be ripped up and rebuilt between Highway 417 and Queen Street. After that, the reconstruction moves south of the highway, to the Rideau Canal.
The entire project is expected to take up to eight years and cost almost $60 million, according to early estimates.
Community groups and a city councillor say it is the perfect opportunity to redesign the busy four-lane road and make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Staff say they’re looking at options, but potential changes are limited by the amount of space available and the heavy traffic on the road, including trucks and buses.
The biggest change proposed by community groups is to put Bronson on a “road diet” by cutting it down to three lanes between Gladstone Avenue and Laurier Avenue.
Instead of four lanes, two northbound and two southbound, there would be a two-way left-turn lane between single lanes of northbound and southbound traffic.
Drivers in each direction would get “one straight-through lane,” and vehicles would no longer be backed up or caught in stop-and-go traffic when drivers make left-hand turns, said Eric Darwin, president of the Dalhousie Community Association.
Meanwhile, space freed up through the lane reduction could be used for a tree-lined median in some areas and parking in others, Darwin said, adding that cities in the U.S. and Canada have successfully implemented “road diets” on streets that have similar traffic volumes.
Under a “holistic” approach, planter boxes or widening some intersections to create turning lanes could also improve the road, Darwin said.
“The idea is to handle the same amount of traffic, but to do it better,” he said.
But city program manager Darryl Shurb said that while reducing traffic lanes can be good for a community, “the problem with Bronson Avenue (is that) it’s the major arterial road north-south for the city,” with a large traffic volume, including a high percentage of trucks. It’s also a transit route, Shurb said.
“It definitely is a very, very difficult area to work with.”
Darwin said staff during a meeting this spring proposed widening the road and narrowing sidewalks, and suggested using “fake tree” structures to beautify the area.
Shurb said staff are “very concerned about the safety of pedestrians” and are taking steps to improve the road. Staff said they first proposed cutting back a few sidewalks that are wider than the city’s two-metre minimum standard for Bronson, but decided against the idea after hearing from the community.
The so-called fake trees were an artistic rendition of structures that could be used, since buildings along the road often don’t allow much room for trees, Shurb said, adding that staff will try to plant as many genuine trees as possible.
“We didn’t want to show up to a meeting … without some examples of things we can do to try to beautify the street.”
Staff have determined that reducing the number of lanes would cause most of the intersections to meet the engineering definition of “failing,” since vehicles would be waiting more than three minutes at each intersection during rush hour, Shurb said.
“This would push traffic into the residential areas and have them bypassing Bronson, which is not advantageous for the community because you want to keep your traffic on arterial routes and keep your residential streets with lower traffic,” he said.
The three-lane configuration would also get jammed with drivers trying to make right-hand turns into properties along Bronson, staff said.
Darwin said he’s concerned that city staff are “really closed-minded to things that might work better” and are most interested in how vehicles can use the reconstructed road.
His association has launched a “Rescue Bronson” campaign that includes the Centretown Citizens Community Association, Somerset Councillor Diane Holmes and the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, a private non-profit housing organization that owns buildings on the road.
Staff are discussing potential changes with the community groups as they work on the project’s preliminary design, Shurb said.
Among options being considered are “bulb-outs” for sidewalks at intersections, which create a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross and make space for landscaping or plants, Shurb said.
The overall streetscape could be improved through nicer concrete designs, lamp posts or planter boxes, he said, and curb lanes could be widened, making it safer for cyclists. (The width of inner traffic lanes would then be reduced.)
As well “we’ll definitely be increasing, on average, the sidewalk widths,” Shurb said. Much of Bronson has sidewalks that are less than two metres wide. Most of those are to be widened, except where buildings have encroached on city property.
Shurb said staff are working with a narrow right-of-way along Bronson, and may also discuss with property owners the possibility of planting trees on their properties. Darwin doesn’t think that would be successful.
Holmes said staff during early discussions in the spring “seemed to be saying ‘We can’t change much to do with Bronson.’”
She wants them to explore various options, adding that the road diet is just one idea. Public input is also important, Holmes said.
“We want to hear from residents and businesses. Many people who talk to me talk about Bronson as being a real barrier for walking east-west,” she said, adding that budget deliberations will determine whether the sewer and watermain replacement goes ahead next year.
The Rescue Bronson effort is to hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. today at the McNabb community centre, 180 Percy St.
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NOTE: the CBC All in a Day interview with local neighborhood rabble rouser, aka me, will be at 5.10 today, not the 4.40 time slot previously posted.
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