The planning process for the reconstruction of Somerset Street is underway. It is an accelerated process, since the streetscaping component is getting underway now, for construction this year from West Wellington over the Otrain to Preston, and construction in 2010 from Preston to Booth. Presumably the style of streetscaping selected for these segments will be later extended from Booth further east through Chinatown.
Purpose of streetscaping: an improved pedestrian and cyclist environment, minimized through traffic, with reasonable accommodation for parked vehicles.
Part (i): Wider Sidewalks
The problem …
Historically, transportation planning practice in Ottawa focused on moving and parking the maximum number of vehicles. Sidewalks currently are curb-side appendages that bear no relationship to pedestrian desire lines, movement, or volume. Most sidewalks are impeded by utility poles, sign posts, traffic signals, and other objects.
Problems are most noticeable at intersections where two pedestrian traffic volumes cross but the sidewalk does not get wider, in fact it often gets narrower.
Pedestrians are directed to stand to wait for a walk light in the same spot as pedestrian cross traffic is directed to move into the intersection.
Other major problems with narrow sidewalks occur at busy destinations (stores, rec facilities, office buildings, schools) and where bus waiting areas are superimposed on top of the sidewalk, resulting in conflicts among through pedestrian traffic and waiting or turning pedestrians.
Narrow and unpleasant sidewalks encourage jay walking and irregular pedestrian movements as people try to avoid congestion. These movements in turn conflict with motorists’ expectations of where they will encounter pedestrians.
The wider sidewalk solution …
To achieve a pleasant and useful urban environment, sidewalks need to be wider. They need not be uniformly wider, but can vary in width, taking up as much available space as possible. Bulb outs at intersections and bus stops provide more pedestrian space and reduce movement conflicts. They also reduce the crossing distance and time that pedestrians are in conflict with vehicular movements. Widening also permits the expansion of café’s, fruit stands, newsstands, and other sidewalk-friendly business uses.
During sidewalk reconstruction, every effort should be made by the responsible planners and project managers — encouraged by the community and business associations – to integrate the immediately adjacent private property and access points into a cohesive pedestrian streetscape. This will take the form of sidewalks extending onto private property or right up to property entrances; extending matching sidewalk textures and grades onto adjacent properties, and continuous landscaping themes on city and private properties. In some cases, door steps to businesses can be eliminated in favour of smooth step-free crossings.
Wider sidewalks shift pedestrians back from the moving-vehicle traffic lanes. A slightly less-wide sidewalk will work just as well if there is a parking lane along the sidewalk as it provides the “set back” function from moving traffic.