Making sidewalks safer


Perhaps I should clarify: this is about making sidewalks safer for pedestrians. Not motorists.

All too often, the city makes sidewalks unpleasant appendages to the real users of the public right of way, the all-important motorist. The city directs traffic to travel at high speed mere inches away from pedestrians. The city then uses the space at the edge of the road to collect water, salt, slush, snow, and debris, all well-located and handy for hurling at pedestrians. Pedestrians are not only made to feel unwelcome, but feel their safety is at risk. And let’s not revisit the roller-coaster sidewalk slopes designed for motorist convenience and pedestrian falls.

Why does anyone walk in a city designed to make it so unpleasant?

Occasionally, the city does something to make the pedestrian world better: for example, go to Preston Street, or West Wellie, for sidewalks that are a joy to walk on.  But for every example of an improvement, there are ten more Bronsons where the city is determined to make pedestrian life  hell and  to make peds suffer. And continue to suffer. And then suffer some more.

I had noticed the planter-barriers along Isabella near Loblaws before, but always when cycling along the street (NOT fun!) and unable to stop. Last week, I stopped. And looked. And walked both ways. What a joy! The concrete planters are large enough to feel like a real barrier between the sidewalk and road. Being a pedestrian actually feels safe here. I presume the barriers block some salt and slush spray. This area is no pedestrian nirvana, but the planters do work to improve an awful street.

The planters aren’t big enough for trees, but a similar set of planters will be going in on Somerset in 2011 as it slopes up towards the O-Train overpass. For these, the city planner and landscape architect worked to incorporate  trees.

The planters take up about 36″ of space; and are set back only about 8″ from the curb. The close proximity of the concrete wall to the travelled portion of the road helps “narrow” the road visually and might even calm traffic flow. As a fairly timid elderly cyclist, the planters did not intimidate me. There are similar planter installations on Rideau Street which also serve to separate busy sidewalks from the wall of buses on Rideau.

Shrubs and annuals are in the planters. The new ones for Somerset will be a similar height, but because of the slope of street, one end of the planter will be about 30″ above the sidewalk and the other end about 12″ (the planters “step” up the sloped street). The Somerset planters have been designed for locust trees, as used on the rest of Somerset through Chinatown.

Thick enough concrete and solid-looking enough to intimidate motorists. Not the common characteristic of the pedestrians and elderly people usually directed to position themselves by the curb.

On Somerset, city planners asked the community to choose between a wider sidewalk with standard curb, or a narrower sidewalk with the planter amenity. The planter option won hands down, in part due to the exposed elevation of Somerset near the O-Train.

Could I ever hope … pray … fantasize that the Bronson planners might ask pedestrians for what they want along Bronson? A planted boulevard, even if it’s in a box, might be a lot better than anything yet on the table for that troubled mainstreet.

To close, here’s an even more extreme version of what a sidewalk-side wall and planter beyond could look like: (hey, if the city wants fake trees on Bronson, maybe they could be palms…)

4 thoughts on “Making sidewalks safer

  1. Eric -2 Points:

    I seem to recall reading something about these planters in Clive Doucet’s ward report. The Retirement residence there wanted to put up metal poles to protect their residents. Clive/the City was able to convince them to put up planters instead. I might have it wrong though.

    Second, I spoke with the cities bicycle people about riding down Isabella. They said that the traffic engineers won’t let them touch the street because of the Queensway access. Even where it funnels onto Elgin/QE Driveway (and joins the new bike lane on Pretoria) and is 2 car widths wide for a single lane, they will not allow any road sharing because they claim that it might “back up traffic trying to get off the Queensway”

  2. Chris: Clive wanted planters because … he didn’t think of fake trees first. With respect to cycling on Isabella, I recall going to a public meeting years ago on the streets around there and residents complained they all functioned as freeway on and off ramps, and the city planners, po faced, denied that they could possibly be on and off ramps because, by definition, such ramps would not have buildings or residences along them. Therefore, there could be no problem. If you go to meetings long enough everyone builds up a case history of such idiotic planning examples, and gets … weary? cynical? That is one reason I do not frequent scheduled planning and consultation meetings such as PTAC (per Julia’s suggestion). Rather than deal with multiple issues on a city wide basis (which is a valid endeavor) I prefer to fight battles on a local basis, where I can see the detailed picture, and where positive results have a neighborhood impact. Probably that’s a bit selfish, but hey, it’s my time.

  3. The photo you used, regarding the use of planters only encourages a a higher traffic speed. It is a barrier, maybe safe, depending on the speed and wieght of the vehicle and the resistive strenght of the planter. How secure the planter is attached to the concrete slab. Make the street more pleasant, and a uderstanding of the hiearchy of different transportaion modes would help you to assist in optimising a functional design.

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