Somerset dog-and-pony show — new priorities

The City held an open house last evening to explain to the public what is being done on Somerset Street this year. It was a mix of old news — the section west of Preston remains  unchanged from last year except for some details — and new news for the section east of Preston up to Booth.

The new stuff comes in several formats. The consultants and city staff had all the public consultation team members on hand, with name badges, to explain what is proposed and to tell their neighbours about some of the tradeoffs that were made to get to these results. This results in a less “top-down” message and reflects the reality of the community input. Of course, this messaging won’t work unless there was genuine community involvement; the simple we-are-talking-to-you-because-we-have-to approach still used by many city teams cannot plaster a veneer over the top.

The Somerset consulting team from Delcan is working on Rideau Street (east of Dalhousie St to Cummings Bridge) next. They are continuing with their new approach. Instead of having separate technical advisory committees (the engineers, traffic boffins, sewer geeks) and a public advisory committee (those neighborhood keeners who want an intelligent city streetscape, and a BIA committee, they are rolling all of them into one advisory group. This will force a wider variety of players to understand other competing demands for the scarce city space. Should be fun.

Also new at the Somerset meeting were information boards that offered real information with some meat in it. For example, for cyclists the sharrows and bike lanes were shown with detailed measurements:

The Somerset project is the first one in the City to try planting trees on a bridge. The road rises up to cross over the O-Train cut. The lengthy approach from the east side results in a barren walking experience, cut off from buildings and exposed to winds and sun. To moderate this, the outside traffic lanes are being given over to a painted bike lane, and a series of concrete planters about 30′ long and 24″ high which will be irrigated to supply water to hardy locust trees. If this scheme works, it will make it much more attractive to walk to school or to the Plant Rec Centre:

Rather than selecting an “off-the-shelf” bench for the Chinatown portion, the team chose a plain steel back bench that will laser-cut with a decorative pattern. The designs on the bench backs — created by a local graphic designer — will be Asian-themed to reinforce the Chinatown Royal Arch designs and colours:

There will be laser-cut garbage receptacles and some granite inserts in the sidewalk with figures from the Asian zodiac.

Construction begins April 18th. The section west of Preston should be completed and landscaped by November; the area east of Preston in Chinatown will see major construction done this year and finishing landscape touches in spring 2012.

9 thoughts on “Somerset dog-and-pony show — new priorities

  1. It looks pretty good to me too but I don’t like the idea of having the bikes protect the cars from traffic. Is it so difficult to put the bike lanes between the parked cars and the sidewalk?

    1. I agree with you Chris. I visited a friend in a small city in Bavaria, Germany a few years back and their “raised beside the sidewalk but clearly marked” bike lanes blew me away. It just made so much SENSE! They also had convenient handles on the traffic lights at street corners so bikers could stop and hold the handle, without having to lean and take a foot off a pedal. I believe that in the above plan the parking and bike lanes should be switched.

    2. There isn’t enough room for dedicated bike lanes. Much earlier in the process they ran every possible scenario and each time there wasn’t enough room for them.

      The point of the sharrows is that this is how the street would be designed anyway, but they reinforce to motorists that cyclists have the right to be there.

    3. Once you take into account that about 3.0 m must be set aside for each general traffic lane (the number here is 2.35 m but buses are 2.65 m wide… hence the concept of the sharrow in the first place), you’re down to 1.35 m for each bike lane (though the parking lane is a bit wide for cars that are typically less than 2 m, but it is probably sized to allow delivery trucks to park). Regardless of the wisdom of placing bike lanes to the right of parked cars, having just 1.35 m to do it in is going to be insufficient, if for no other reason than that a “door zone” also exists on the right hand side, a side on which people in cars are far less inclined to look in the mirror (if one exists) before opening the door.

      To get a right of way with two wide sidewalks, two general purpose lanes, two bicycle lanes and two lines of parking is going to require a right of way of about 22-23 m width (72-75′).

    1. Much earlier in the process, we were specifically consulted–and I was specifically asked–about this. I recommended that the special pavement treatment for the parking bays be extended 0.5m (or maybe just a bit less) further out to discourage cyclists from riding in the door zone. I see that instead they reduced the bulbouts, which is why it looked like they did this when in fact they hadn’t. I only noticed this discrepancy last night and was not pleased.

      1. It’s possible they’ve done this, Charles. The diagrams have a scale problem because they’re indicating that the parked cars are occupying most of the 2.4 m assigned to them, but most cars are narrower than 2.0 m (1.7 m is quite typical).

        The 2.4 m space is therefore some 0.7 m wider than the car, so even assuming 8″ (0.2 m) between car and curb, there’s still 0.5 m left on the street side.

  2. 2.4m is the standard used for parking lanes. The plan diagrams showed the cars taking the entire width, and the various project engineers and planners I pointed this out to acknowledged that the lanes were not wider than cars (one agreeing with me that we had agreed otherwise, and one saying that they did it this way for his own reasons).

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