On separating cars from cars

City streets with centre boulevards can be found in many places. Usually they exist primarily for traffic planning purposes – to allow space for and to direct cars to turning queues; sometimes just to separate opposing directions of traffic.

Most, like Carling Avenue in Ottawa, have minimal landscaping: some grass, mostly weeds, and occasionally a few trees struggling to grow in the gravel road base since top soil is rarely employed in tree planting. As city traffic and planners said when planning the reconstruction of Carling near Dow’s Lake: if you want pretty, talk to the NCC.

This is gradually changing though. Or formerly poor cousins on the “other side of the river” have two gorgeously landscaped centre boulevards (Allumettieres and Maisonneuve are two cinderella streets transformed by care and attention to design). They make Ottawa roads into signposts of hicksville. The reconstructed Albert Street through LeBreton Flats will, by dint of community pressure, have some landscaped centre boulevards in a few spots. It will also┬ábe┬álaid out as a complete street, with separate cycling facilities. (remember, this is the 2018 layout, not the “temporary 2014-2017” layout going in now).

I cannot recall seeing raised centre boulevard planters anywhere in Ottawa. I first saw them in Chicago a decade and half ago, which surely has as severe a climate as Ottawa. I see them often in the motor-centric US of A. And a few weeks ago I came across some on the south side of the Jacques Cartier bridge in Montreal.


The yellow line is your clue that what is shown is the left side of the traffic lanes, ie, the centre boulevard. The planters have rows of hardy shrubs planted therein. They certainly seemed alive and growing to me. Possibly they are irrigated (Ottawa got its first irrigated side-boulevard planters on Somerset viaduct (west of Preston) just last year, and believe me, it was a huge ordeal on behalf of community activists to get this implemented).


This shot shows typical decorative grasses planted in the raised environment. I suspect the winter is every bit as rough on the south shore of Montreal as Ottawa. And the suburban “arterial” / traffic sewer shown here was busy and wide and no doubt heavily salted in the winter. Whoever planned this planter didn’t get dissuaded by the (false) notion that the boulevard is needed as a snow repository in winter — look at Carling Avenue this winter and I challenge you to find any stretch where the city regularly plows snow to the centre boulevard, it is exclusively plowed to the outside of the road.

Instead of planters and trees, Ottawa’s boulevards are characterised by semi-dead weedland, and enhanced by five foot chain link fences to prevent road crossings by unauthorized users, ie pedestrians. Most specifically students, since the fences tend to co-locate in proximity to high schools (see Carling at Broadview; Carling at Lincoln Fields). These fences are ugly as hell. Why haven’t guerrilla gardeners yet gone out to put virginia creeper vines in a few spots to turn these into green walls?

If any readers know of a centre boulevard raised planter in Ottawa, let me know, and I’ll google it.




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