Sidewalk spacing

This is a post I wrote for Spacing Ottawa earlier this week. I repeat it in case you managed to miss it at that site. It was subsequently picked up on the national spacing network, as our problems with sidewalks are common throughout Canada:

Sidewalks are installed by the City as an after thought. They are simply glued to the side of the curb on the assumption that if the road geometry is good for cars, it’s perfect for pedestrians. There is little consideration given to pedestrian origin or desires. And certainly no thought is wasted considering the pedestrian experience when actually using those sidewalks.

We humans want to walk. We are built to walk. It’s good for our health (so much so it is now branded as active transportation). Or maybe we are car free by choice or economic circumstances. We are fortunate that so many streets in Ottawa are sort-of complete, ie with sidewalks.

The picture shown above illustrates the dire predicament faced by pedestrians in the city. The spray of water-borne salt, grime, and uck is visible on clean snow. But it is present year round, it’s just that there is no clean snow to illustrate the spray pattern in spring, summer, or fall.

Given the contempt we treat pedestrians, it’s a wonder that there are any pedestrians at all.

The scene shown above does have a redeeming feature. It shows one of the very rare situations in Ottawa where the sidewalk is set back from the curb. It is also about 18″ higher than the curb, which promotes drainage and improves subjective safety by elevating pedestrians.

This pleasant sidewalk (actually, it’s a MUP – multiuse path — open to cyclists and pedestrians) may not be around much longer. The City is studying the reconstruction of Albert Street this year. This will involve widening the road for some blocks (mostly between Empress and Preston). This may reduce the boulevard between the curb and the walk, which will in turn reduce the buffer zone that makes the walk pleasant, and will result in the sidewalk being lowered to curb height again. This is, of course, part of the City’s improvements to encourage transit use and active transportation.

The sidewalk path along the north side of Albert and Scott Streets illustrates what we should be doing much more of. But alas, when planning the reconstruction of Carling Avenue, where there is abundant space on the south side to install several kilometres of  MUP from Madawaska Drive to Island Park, the City intends to install only a few sections of concrete sidewalk tightly glued to the curb line. What could and should be a minor joint exercise among the City, NCC, and Farm, instead is not evaluated because it is too “complicated” to consider.

The City will, however, spend similar amounts on advertising advocating that we walk. If we dare.

3 thoughts on “Sidewalk spacing

  1. This just hits home for me so strongly as I walked down Bank Street in the Glebe. 4 lanes for cars, and narrow 5 foot sidewalks on either side – literally too narrow for four people to walk side by side, and with telephone poles, not enough room for 4 – this means that if you are walking beside someone, every time you walk past someone in the other direction, you have to break off.

    It is absurd that we have developed the entire streetscape for automobiles. And if I suggested losing a lane of parking, so that each sidewalk could be widened 4 feet, I would be considered the crazy one.

  2. Eric

    You might have pointed out that the sidewalk on the other side of the road, has no height, no distance and an even greater risk of the “active transporter” being drowned in any season!


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