The City is hosting an “open house” on Tuesday (Nov 28, 5.30pm onwards ) to show their plans for the future Albert and Slater Streets between Empress (the Good Companions) and Waller (Rideau Centre, UOttawa U). Here are some things to keep your eyes on when you go. And speak up, or else you get what someone else wants!
In August 2018 we expect the new Confederation Line to open. Then the City will keep the old downtown bus transit priority lanes between Empress and the Rideau Centre in place for six months, longer if necessary, in case there has to be bus replacement service if there are shutdowns on the new LRT. By then, it will be mid-winter, so physically closing off the old bus lanes and starting to reallocate the space to other uses may only start once the snow melts, say May 2019.
The City will be displaying their intentions at the Monday meeting. Note that the plans are “high level”, showing lanes and spaces, with enough detail to prove they are workable, but without all the fine grain detail of exactly where the stop line is. Things like bus stops and turn lanes may well shift a bit. But key constituent parts of the plan are …
- Albert one way westbound
- Slater one way eastbound
- right side of the road bike lanes (painted or separated with temporary curbs) or cycle tracks (raised up behind the curb, like Main Street or Churchill)
- sidewalks on both sides of the streets … everywhere?
- no more right lane off-peak on-street parking, but more 24-7 parking in protected bays
- much less horizontal weaving of traffic lanes, and no suddenly disappearing lanes
- bike lanes that shift from right side of the road to being along the centre median, right in front of the Rideau Centre
- promises of landscaping and planters, but few details yet. Alas, removing existing trees is identified right from the start.
- a similar landscaping and car lane and bike lane pattern on all the blocks, in both directions, for consistency and legibility and safety
Let’s start at the Empress end of things, and work our way eastbound through the downtown, looking at the major components of the plan.
1. Instead of splitting Albert and Slater in front of the Good Companions, the new split will be a bit further east, in front of the new Library. The City will makes the grades gentler, and make the whole Bronson-slater-Albert-intersections more regular. This is conceptually good. But I encourage you to take your finger and trace your route through the area as if you are a pedestrian or cyclist or motorist and see if it works for you. Remember, the current design has sidewalks that lead you into dead end traps, lacks sidewalks on numerous sides of roads, etc. If you are cycling through the area how will you go eastbound? westbound? northbound? southbound? are routes obvious and un-devious? Ditto for pedestrians, are you an afterthought or are you getting a complete connected network.
2. What happens to the old Slater running along the treed escarpment from Empress to Bronson? The wooded slope is public greenspace, and very valuable, even you cannot walk on it. It is refreshingly green, a treat for the eyes, and ears, and a nice source of cool and fresh air in summer. The City is “trading” the old Slater right of way for some of the NCC lands nearer Bronson to make their new road interchange. And, according to the current plans, they are even giving the NCC an additional 30′ south of the old Slater curb line. Will this treed slope be cut into to make parking garages? Will residents have any chance to see or enjoy the slope once the NCC lands are sold off to become condos or offices? Is it important that residents have continuing access along this green escarpment by having a [conceptual] 10′ wide (or so) right of way along the south curb line of the old Slater, for a walking path or MUP?
3. One of the most attractive features of the current Albert Street from Empress to Bronson is the double row of trees along the MUP. They have been in place for about 10 years now, and grown big enough to be noticeable and most are thriving. Will they remain? Or be cut down to be replaced by new twigs with a high failure rate? And check out that passenger pick up and drop off (“PPUDO”) zone in front of the new Library. It removes a lot of trees, and replaces them with asphalt or pavers. Makes the road look wider, which means cars will go faster. Are there alternatives to the PPUDO zone? (Hint: how about a wonerf-style laneway running around the back of the new library, to a new school bus and VIP drop off to the back side of the main lobby, sort of like the lobby at the War Museum or National Gallery? Other ideas?)
4. The current plan puts light posts and landscaping set back from the road. Roads that look wide induce speed. Are there alternative layouts? ( Think of Preston, Main Street, or Lisgar).
And Bronson Hill, what a dozy for pedestrians! Can anything be done to make that San Francisco style hill more pedestrian friendly and safer, esp in winter? (for eg, hand rails on the outside edge of the sidewalks — and yes, there are handrails on a few steep sidewalks in the city already …).
5. There is funding to rebuild the new streets west of Bay, because the roads have to be rebuilt and new sewers put in. And the bridge deck on parts of the MacKenzie King Bridge need rehabilitation and cannot be put off forever. Now, look at the plans for the Bay Street to Elgin section. The plans are for interim improvements, ie temporary improvements, to stake out the spaces for different users, to try out the new arrangement, and eventually install a modified permanent version of these whenever the streets are next dug up for total rebuilt (sometime in the next 20 years). The interim improvements are necessary to prevent the freed up bus lanes from just becoming more parking. Did your councillor vote enough money to build all these improvements in one summer season? Is it possible to spread the construction over several years without vehicles claiming the unbuilt spaces?
6. Wiring is buried in the downtown core. It is not in the area west of Bay Street. Are wooden poles and overhead wires of use or aesthetic value? Should they be buried? Should the City pay for this, or could it be a bond whose repayment is put on adjacent property hydro bills for the next 20 years? (Note, in the suburbs and new areas the City requires that new homeowners and commercial uses pay for the underground wiring themselves, but hasn’t yet extended that obligation to older areas getting new wiring or rebuilt streets).
7. The City is proposing some concrete planter boxes on the painted bulb outs in the core during the “interim plan” phase. Are there enough planters to make a visual difference? Are they big enough? Other parts of bulb outs are marked with flex posts. Is this adequate? Is it good enough to paint zebra stripes on the bulb outs or should the temporary measures be more significant? (recalling that these expenditures will eventually be “thrown away” after a few years/decades, although concrete planters can always be relocated and repurposed).
8. Notice there are still some curbside bus stops in the downtown core. There will be ongoing OC Transpo local routes in the core, and all the STO buses will move from Wellington onto Albert-Slater. There isn’t too much detail yet on how buses/pedestrians/cycle track users will share space. Picture a bus with the wheelchair ramp extended. Will the general concept of bus track behind the bus loading island, with a shelter either on the island or set back on the sidewalk work? Just because it works in other cities doesn’t mean it will here …
9. Notice the intersection of Slater as it approaches Elgin Street. There is an unusual lane configuration here, trying to improve cyclist safety given the vehicles in the right turn lane also go straight ahead into the NAC garage. How will cyclists turn right? What if a car “misses” the entry point to the separated right turn lane? Run your finger through this intersection pretending you are cyclist, motorist, tourist in a car, tour bus, pedestrian, or pedestrian tourist.
10. Notice the intersection Albert and Elgin. The plan skirts around the British High Commission bollards/car bomber barricades. Yet down on Sussex, the US Embassy crash barriers are now incorporated into landscaping and tracks and sidewalks. Is the bare bones approach good enough for the Brits? Good enough for Ottawa?
11. Notice the proposed planters on the MacKenzie King bridge. These have proved wonderful on Somerset bridge over the Trillium OTrain line. And there are some on Sussex too. Are the ones here a luxury or a necessity?
12. Talk to the planners about how the right curbside cycle lanes/tracks will shift to the centre median in front of the Rideau Centre. I think the scheme will work. Others are not so sure. If you cycle, check it out !
13. The plan largely leaves the “status quo” east of the Rideau Centre. Is this good enough? Is there too much freeway-style swooping and curves and wide roads and wider intersections here?
Whew … this list could go on and on. But this is enough to alert faithful readers to some of the issues that can be spotted at the City’s open house next Tuesday at supper time and evening.