Fixing the Elgin Redesign

So I was walking at Elgin / Lisgar intersection last week when someone called my name. We spoke for a few minutes. He obviously knew me, and reads this blog, but I don’t know / recall his. [The price of fame …].

He appreciated my criticism of the City’s planned re-do of Elgin, but complained I didn’t  set out a better plan. That would take about as long as a cup of tea, so we popped into the adjacent fast food place for a cuppa and short talk. And now, dear reader, you get a recap of that … Eric’s Napkin Plan for a Better Elgin.

Since so much time and money has been sunk into the current design with sidewalks and “flex space” aka parking on the sidewalks, I left those in place. It will be up to the residents and businesses in the future to ensure they flex in the direction of placemaking and less in the direction of car storage. They may make a good spot for pop-up summer parks or cycle corrals.

I have doubts about the city’s ability to maintain brick paver sidewalks and crosswalks. Look around the city at all those asphalt Watson Bandaids put on existing pavers. Here’s a paver crosswalk where the bandaids obscure all but one last paver:

Why install expensive things we have no intention of maintaining?

So for Elgin, I’d replace most of the planned fancy brick pavers with concrete sidewalks. They are fully functional, albeit lacking the opening photo op of conspicuously fancy pavers. I’d leave pavers in certain select places, like the flex spaces, and depend on concrete at all regular sidewalk spaces. Instead of 5′ squares, I’d tool the concrete into different shaped blocks, rectangles, or offset squares.** I suspect this is cheaper to install, and is certainly cheaper to maintain in practice.

I’d remove all the planned fancy brick “raised intersections”, as the raising is too gentle to calm traffic, and their lowest points are, as always, at the crosswalks.

With the money we’d save on that, I’d rejig the catchbasin plan, relocating them all to the centre line of the street. Yup, water and slush would drain to the centre line. No more splashing pedestrians. No more icy, slushy, puddled and uneven corners. No more cyclists eaten up by catchbasin grates. And no, cars won’t go skidding into each other.

At major intersections, roads would be made of asphalt, sidewalks of concrete. Crosswalks would be painted onto the asphalt. A clear and readily understood vocabulary. Signal lights regulate rights of way. Save a bundle on concrete or paver crosswalks.

And I’d try to get rid of those dreadfully expensive, dreadfully ugly, dreadfully rusty inset steel Lego-dot plates that are supposed to demark the intersections. Please go back to the simpler, cheaper, longer-lasting non-rusting groves scribed in the concrete.

The asphalt roads at the major signalized intersections reinforces the notion that this is the road, with moving vehicles, and is dangerous to pedestrians. The motor vehicle realm, in other words. Motorists will like this aspect of the Napkin Plan.

Now, at ALL minor intersections I’d continue the Elgin Street sidewalk at its full normal height right across the intersecting minor street. Use some leftover lane space for planting big trees. This keeps the pedestrian and retail placemaking continuous for blocks.

For those minor crossing streets, vehicles would be channelled into a high-curbed one-narrow-lane slot that rises up to sidewalk level and then releases vehicles onto the busier Elgin main street. Just like exiting a driveway or parking garage. Vehicles crossing the continuous sidewalk would have a Yield to Pedestrians sign. Pedestrians and shoppers should like the longer stretches of urban place without so many cross streets. And fewer puddles to boot !

Finally, I’d add a festive and place making air to the strip by installing LED lights on wires crossing above the street, mid-block, from side to side, attached to regular lamp posts. These horizontal elements, strings or balls, put as low as legal (16′?) put a “lid” on the street, a roof, and close it in, making it more place like and less freeway like, calming traffic. Seasonably changeable light shows anyone?


Eric’s Napkin Plan…More details available for the price of a cup of tea. Cheapest consultant in town.


** tool the concrete into different shaped blocks, rectangles, or offset squares.  Has anyone noticed that where this was done, maybe 20 years ago, in the Market, or on Somerset, the concrete is still in good repair, or was repaired somewhat to match, whereas the fancier bricks and paved crosswalks have become testaments to the glories of the Watson Bandaid? Here’s some attractive joint patterns:

10 thoughts on “Fixing the Elgin Redesign

  1. Sadly the embedded fake brick mid-block crosswalk on Laurir north of City (RMOC) Hall has not fared well either.
    Something architects, planners and concrete finishers do not realize is that the wide expansion grooves they smooth into the wet concrete sidewalks make very uncomfortable bumps for wheelchairs, baby carriages and bikes(!). It ends up much smoother to do one continuous pour and then the next day saw cut grooves into it.
    Those Lego dot plates are very awkward too. My wife commented they are very uncomfortable inside the NAC (near the stairs/ramps) especially women for wearing narrow (fashionable) shoes due to the high dots in steel.

  2. Watson bandaid! You should trademark that term Eric.

    The city spends a lot of money creating an “elegant” look and feel, and a few years later slaps asphalt on top. Akin to buying an expensive, tailored suit and then patching the minor cut in the cuff with a large denim patch.

  3. Those rusty lego dot plates are also so ugly. The picture you have of them just above some stairs is particularly awful since they, to my eye, clash with the grey, black and pink bricks beside them. I understand they are some sort of standardization for the blind, but do they all have to be that ugly rusty orange? What do other cities do?

    1. dfg: what do other cities do? Use the search button at the top of the blog page to enter MILAN, and I’m sure I have posted pic of milanese and european dots and groves which are part of the base concrete blocks. Never saw steel plates inset in concrete in Europe.

    2. “Those rusty lego dot plates are also so ugly.”
      Yes, but the blind can not see that, so I guess it’s ok.

  4. Some of the dots on Rideau Street are torn from the sidewalk plow, unfortunately turning them into small, vertical, circular shaped foot razors that pierce all but the thickest shoes.

    1. Andy: and those plates are ridiculously expensive to buy, to install (they are set on steel legs into underlying wet concrete or drilled holes) and difficult to maintain. I shiver every time I see them and someone nearby wearing flip flops as visions of slashed toes dance thru my mind.

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