Seeing Seattle (viii) Misc street observations

Visiting other cities reveals so many subtle differences in how something can be done. It breaks my assumptions — often implicit — that things “just are that way” as a matter of course.  So rather than look in depth at some significant urban planning diffences, which will be subject of future stories (drainage swales, bus stops, etc) lets look at a few miscellaneous differences.

Here’s a few examples.

Seattle’s Chinatown, being remonikered as the International District, seemed to have a heavy import-export-industrial flavour to it, rather than being a restaurant row. There was the requisite Chinatown Arch, albeit much more modest than Ottawa’s Royal Arch.  An Arch in central urban areas is visible only from limited perspectives. Somerset Street, for example, is one of our few curvy streets, and many blocks of Chinatown are out of its sight. Seattle reinforced the Asian them with post-mounted dragons, in various colours.  I’d love to see some of these at each end of our Chinatown:

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Street signs in Seattle are regularly put at waist height, rather than towering 10′ up in the air.  I presume some of our height fetish is for snowplowing (surely a cheaper solution is fewer signs, but I degress). But take a look at these:

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Our engineers would have a fit that the sign might be hit by a car door. And note the round disk set in the pavement. It’s a magnetic sensor that identifies if a car is in the parking spot. I wondered if this was linked to the pay-and-display parking as it could theoretically sense if a car was there over the time limit (which in Seattle, ranged from 3 minutes to 10 hours).

And don’t you just love this heavy duty cast metal lamp post? Old ones abounded, and new ones were being installed too.  Makes the phrase ‘Urban Delight” take meaning. And those bollards, set right into the cement, not the decorative plastic ones Ottawa bolts to surface of the sidewalk. So many American cities defy the stereotype by actually controlling cars seriously.

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I frequently saw push-buttons for requesting a walk light mounted in a convenient location at the crossing.  Overall, I think buttons should be done away with (suggestion for our frugal mayor…) :

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Ottawa has several street staircases, and I love them.  I really value that I live on one such street, Primrose. And we had to fight hard to keep the stairs, as the city tried to remove them a few years ago. I guess if cars can’t use them, they must be valueless.

I took an architectural walking tour in one neighbourhood. The tour leader said Seattle has 630-some street staircases!  Not all were in super condition. These two new ones were in the downtown core area, and were finished with pride:


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Not every staircase had an adjacent elevator for equitable access. The ones in Ottawa on Primrose and Empress seemed to escape Ontario’s accessibility rules (maybe grandfathered?).

But an active proposal for a new stair off Somerset Street onto City Centre Avenue at the Domicile condo site (presently occupied by a paint store and an antique dealer) is running into difficulty complying with the rules. If the stair is installed (and Domicile is enthusiastic about incorporating that into their condo site, kudos to them!) then the city thinks it has to install an elevator too. And since sometimes elevators break, maybe a pair of elevators? Alas, to fit them into the space is proving difficult, and suddenly mission creep is upon us, and they are looking at moving the underpass, building a new one, changing road grades, contorting walkways…  Possibly a case of perfection being the enemy of the good. [you’re getting older Eric and more decrepit yourself, so don’t knock that elevator you might want it for your wheelchair scooter — editor].

At this stair near the downtown train station(s) the outdoor stairway, blended into a adjacent infill condo project, had one of these stair lift elevating devices installed, instead of a full elevator:

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Intensively tree-lined streets in Seattle wasn’t reserved just for high profile areas. In this suburban industrial park near my apartment, note how the street is one lane for motor vehicles, a bike lane, a set-back sidewalk with trees and underplanting, and in the centre, the boulevard is heaped up with dirt and intensively planted.





In other sections the centre boulevard was planted with trees planted quite close together. Streets like this are rare in Ottawa, but upon venturing out to see Ottawa’s Eiffel Tower (knocked over on its side) ie the new bridge out in the boonies, I got detoured through Barrhaven onto Leikin Street and discovered it to be just as nicely landscaped. When can we see this treatment for Booth? Albert? Lees? and other urban streets.

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Throughout the US and Europe I see lots of artistic effort put into making retaining walls and sound barriers attractive.  Pictures have been featured here numerous time before. This was a common west-coast design:

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Where street planting isn’t possible for some reason, vertical green walls can be employed. This example is a simple wire trellis with vines on it and it really softened the hard landscape.

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