Queen Street perambulations

It seems Queen Street has been under construction for so long I’ve forgotten what it used to look like.

I shudder to think of what it would be like if the City had opted for cut-and-cover along that corridor rather than the deep mined tunnel.

Since several (big) holes had to be dug to provide ventilation or human access to the subway below, it made sense to rebuild the street and sidewalks at the same time. It was remarkably prudent for the city to try to widen the sidewalk zones at the same time to accommodate the hordes of people expected to be accessing the stations via Queen Street. And the pavers are pretty:

I remain concerned that the City has not shown itself capable of maintaining previously-installed concrete paver sidewalks. Once a few years old, will they become potholed like the ones on Wellington West, or god forbid, blanketed in Watson-bandaids made of cheapened black asphalt? Mind, I don’t think the city could lessen its asphalt specs any lower than the crappy quality it has called for during the current regime.

I’m not a fan of sticking in tree lots of tree transplants into ill-prepared holes in the paving base. In previous years our politicians opted for lots of trees with – IMO – low survival rates. “We tried” seemed more important than “we succeeded”. And I still fear that is the case when viewing the tree planting at Bayview Station, for example.

But along Queen I see some evidence of larger tree planting zones with more earth exposed to rain and air. Hopefully equal care went into making a good depth of topsoil for the tree roots, and that these are not just the same shallow tree pits elevated up behind granite curbs.

The built in “benches” are of the sort only architects could love. Completely backless, they do little to attract bums. Which may be the whole idea. And for 350 days of the year, they are bum-numbing cold. (The washroom in the public right of way, shown below, is only temporary. Ottawans can hold it in for a long long time.)

I entertain a faint hope that at the last minute wooden toppers will be added to the granite, similar to these benches on Fleet Street:

There are also a few “conventional” benches installed along the street, one shows up in the corner of a pic further on in this story.

A bit further west along Queen, I noticed some silva-cell tree planting zones outside 121 Bay Street condo, which lost most of its perimeter planter boxes that did so much to enhance the exterior of that Teron-designed and built brick complex.

It bears repeating: I’ll take fewer trees, very well planted, that may indeed grow and thrive, over sticking in dozens of doomed twigs.

Granite accents show up elsewhere along the street, for example, under this lamp post:


The post above is well sited, close to the curb, leaving a large unobstructed sidewalk. Elsewhere, pedestrians are not so lucky:

Alas, not only will most of the granite pedestal be out of sight, the post is set too far back from the curb.

Please do note that I said “set too far back from the curb”. Because light posts and other obstructions on the sidewalk  (quaintly called “street furniture” as if that makes them more palatable) should be located to accommodate pedestrians.

But on Queen Street, like most Ottawa streets, the lights are arranged in dead straight rows for blocks at a time, regardless of where they land on the sidewalk. These look great from cars. The faster moving, the more regular and nice they look. They frame in the sides of the street with a nice regular edge.

Of course, to the motorist, any wandering curbs thus become annoying obstructions. Preston is the only street I know of that the lights were arranged to relate to the sidewalks and bulb outs rather than the travel lanes. We remain resolutely auto-centric.

At the intersection below, one of those dreadful traffic-signal control boxes that seem to proliferate like triffids:

Yes, the City allowed the regulated 5′ clearance on the curbside of the box to permit a sidewalk plow to pass. But still, the damn box is in the middle of the sidewalk. And on a larger concrete pedestal to boot, to protect IT from those same damaging plows.

Later, I gather we may gain some of those “kiosk pillars” with advertising, maps, and directional indicia on them. The NCC has a bunch on its Ceremonial Route. Mind, in Montreal, they sometimes combined the traffic control boxes with the kiosks. And in most cities the control boxes are waaaaaay smaller and hang on the signal post itself. But we apparently have such as surplus of sidewalk space we can afford freestanding boxes and posts, one per city silo.

Queen Street pavers are mostly gray, with pink and black accent pieces. I expect this street design will be the model for the rebuilding of Albert and Slater. As it seems to be the model for rebuilding Elgin. I do hope each street gets different coloured accent pavers. It would help, sort of mental breadcrumbs to help one find the way and distinguish one street from another.



6 thoughts on “Queen Street perambulations

  1. Eric, I’m curious on your take on the flex street model that has been rolled out on Queen, and is slated for Elgin Street. I understand the rationale for Elgin Street, where having parking spaces that can be cleared for festivals, patios and other public amenities, but on a street like Queen, which is largely institutional in character, my feeling is that flex parking really amount to a gussied up roadway. I have a hard time imagining that the City will actually banish rush hour parking to enable better pedestrian flows to and from LRT stations, and certainly don’t see Queen becoming the heart of Ottawa’s street festival industry.

    1. I share your mixed feelings. While the City could use the flex spaces for rush hour pedestrian flows to the LRT stations, that is also when they have value as passenger pick up points. And they could be used for summer cafes … but then so could conventional parking spots. I do wonder if the brick paving is greenwashing, making the street corridor look more ped friendly than it is. On the other hand, it is better than regular parking spots, which would be even harder to convert to city building and place building uses in the future. There are similar spots on Rideau in front of a student residence, a former hotel. When it was a hotel, there were often taxis on the spaces. Now as a residence, I note I can usually walk straight through the “parking zone” as it is sans cars, which is an improvement. I’d leave the jury out on these flex zones.

  2. The planter boxes surrounding the trees are a major step forward in helping the trees survive. They will limit the amount of sidewalk salt that pollutes the soil, while keeping the plows away from the trunks. The extra depth of soil will help as well. Did you notice any automated watering systems? It can get hot and dry in the (distant) summer months.

    1. I would rejoice if the raised beds were increased amount of growing media for the trees. However, I dont know if they are. They may be just the usual minimal tree hole volume, elevated up 18″ because of utilities underneath.

      Irrigation? As one of the city’s favorite landscape “architects” said, the soil volume is enough to support a tree in an average month. What amount a dry month, I asked? The tree might recover, i was told. Then again, it might simply dry up and die. Pathetic low standards here in Ottawa.

  3. The new Elgin street will be lost to bicycles. Slater is largely a no-go for bicycles now. Queen looks like it will be lost too… Albert is a no go zone as well…. unless you think those MUP’s are actually usable for cycling West of Bronson. We are being squeezed into a couple of segregated corridors. Is this what our cycling future is?

    Laurier is OK EW (west of Laurier Bridge) and O’connor is good NS – but you still have to get to your destination from there? Dismount on Laurier and O’conner and walk the rest of the way to your office?

  4. Pavers are not durable, and no matter what different colours of stone or aggregate you use, they all end up weathering to the same dismal grey.

    Within two or three winters, they will be tripping and puddling and icing hazards that will need to be repaired or replaced at significant expense.

    Death to pavers.

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