Citizen’s take on Bronson

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.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
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.
Read more:

7 thoughts on “Citizen’s take on Bronson

  1. It’s very important to distinguish between Bronson north of Somerset (which is the area ‘Rescue Bronson’ is focusing on and south of Somerset. North of Somerset it is no longer the major north-south artery in the City. Give that part of the street back to the community. One lane in each direction coupled with left turn lane pockets should be given a very serious consideration. It cannot be underestimated what a difference that kind of a change can make to conditions for the residents, pedestrians, and cyclists along that stretch of the road. The argument about traffic becoming backed up because of vehicles making right hand turns off of Bronson seems a bit weak to me. That needs to be examined much more closely to see if it really holds water.

  2. Wow, that is scary. The quotes from Shrub show his priorities very clearly…
    “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 seems like he is keen on turning Bronson into another King Edward- killing whatever neighborhood that might be on the other side.

  3. “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,” [Shrub] said.

    I wonder if he has walked down Kent, Lyon, O’Connor or Metcalfe recently? How about Isabelle or Catherine? There is already a lot of traffic on our residential streets. Percy and Bay, fortunately, have relatively limited traffic and are quite pleasant. (Lyon is much more pleasant than the other five noted above.)

    I almost feel that for good transportation planning, you need transportation planners and engineers to walk, cycle, use transit, and drive through the affected areas. There has to be a more people 5km/h scale used in comparison to car 50-60km/h scale that seems to dominate.

    (I treat Bronson, in many ways, like the highway or canal. There’s a very few places where you can cross it safely, unlike, say, Bank where it’s quite easy to get across whether between or at intersections.)

  4. Can’t make the meeting alas – two kids under four and the other parental unit is working. Regarding the right turn issue… could they leave a portion of lane four intact at high volume right turn intersections and mark it for parking during off-peak hours and no parking (ie allow it to be used as a right turn lane) for peak periods? Would that help?

    1. The right turns the staffer was concerned about were those entering properties, not other roads. This concern indicates to me that the staffer doesn’t understand the flexibility that the third lane introduces to the road. If someone ahead of you is turning into his driveway, you simply pass him in the centre lane. Same with buses and cyclists. This is actually better than having two lanes in the same direction because if you’re in the curb lane and there’s a turning car/bus ahead you have to merge out of that lane into the other lane – which is likely occupied with faster moving traffic. In practise, you just stop and wait most of the time but with an open centre lane you’ll be able to pass and go most of the time. Sure, the odd time the centre lane will be occupied and you’ll have to wait, but that’s life.

      1. I’m not sure using a centrelane as a passing lane is legal… that may be something that should be confirmed before touting it as a benefit, regardless if the function is there or not…

  5. Of course it’s legal. The Highway Traffic Act makes no mention of yellow lines or even driving on the right (only that one has to pass oncoming vehicles to the right). At any rate, the use of a centre third lane for passing is covered in the HTA (this also includes those third lanes on highways like Highway 7 between Carleton Place and Peterborough):

    154. (1) Where a highway has been divided into clearly marked lanes for traffic,

    (b) in the case of a highway that is divided into three lanes, a vehicle shall not be driven in the centre lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle where the roadway is clearly visible and the centre lane is clear of traffic within a reasonable safe distance, or in preparation for a left turn, or where the centre lane is at the time designated for the use of traffic moving in the direction in which the vehicle is proceeding and official signs are erected to indicate the designation;

    By and large, the language of the HTA is quite flexible – considerably more flexible than the design standards of the engineers who build our roads.

Comments are closed.