Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New bike store near Centretown

Keeping on the cycling theme of the last few posts, I was very pleasantly surprised on Sunday to learn that Kunstadt Sports just opened a third location at 680 Bank Street in the Glebe (its other locations are on Bank Street in the South end, and in Kanata):

In the front of the store are a bunch of bicycle oddities, including a Sociable bike.

680 Bank was known for a long time as Olympic Sports Shop, which closed and became the Pannier for a while. Tommy & Lefebvre used the shop as a temporary downtown location for a while after their flagship store burned down this spring.

I didn't realize they had vacated the space (which made seeing Kunstadt there even more of a surprize). Reconstruction of T&L's main store is ongoing and they're hoping to be back open by this year's Christmas season (I'm working on an update post).

The best part about Kunstadt being downtown is that the on-site mechanic is Mike Plummer, who has been in the business longer than anyone else in Ottawa (coming in second is Peter Conway of McCrank's Cycles, also in the Glebe). Mike is the guy other bike shops send you to when you want something over their heads. Mike indulged me in a photo:

This new store opening is timely, as Joe Mamma's is moving (location not yet confirmed). Their shop service is also top-quality, and if they move out of the downtown core, Eric's fast and personal service will be sorely missed.

On a personal note, I'm also pleased because I needed some work on my bike that only Mike could do, and I had been putting it off for years because I didn't want to trek out to one of the other Kunstadt locations.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The evolution of bike cutouts

In the Previous Post, I documented the construction of the traffic island on MacLaren at O'Connor, which reinforces the "no going straight" sign while allowing cyclists to continue through. I also mentioned many design elements that the island incorporates. I'd like to explore the progression of previous generations of this type of facility in Ottawa.

One of the earliest versions of this type of traffic-shaping bulbout still around is on Lisgar at Kent, next to Hudson Park Phase I, shown here in August 2009. There are two "no through traffic; bicycles excepted" signs (one partially obscured by a "trucks turn right" sign), and there are two triangular concrete intrusions into the roadway on each side of the intersection, which together make it impossible to drive a car straight through the intersection without going over one of them. There's a bit of a dip on the left side of the near triangle, which appears to be an attempt to allow cyclists to go over it.

The next generation is a stand-alone island on the near side, on Cooper at O'Connor, next to Dominion-Chalmers United Church. People in the photo below are lining up for a Chamber Music Festival show in August 2008. The gap in the island allows cyclists to go through, while it's clear to motorists that they must turn right. Unfortunately, the "no parking" signs allow cars to block cyclists' access: in this case, the car had a disabled parking permit on the dashboard, allowing them to park in a "no parking" zone for up to three hours. The construction of this one was also pretty shoddy. It was originally just a perimeter of short concrete barriers filled in with asphalt, and the barriers would get knocked out of place, blocking the through channel. It looks like it's been repaired with a more permanent construction.

There is an even more sinister version of this on Kirkwood. As a traffic-calming experiment, they put in large bulbouts on alternating sides of the street, to slow motorists down with a zig-zag. (They tried a similar thing one year on Kent, but once the snow fell and you couldn't see the pavement markings, people just went straight, so they abandoned that idea and put bulbouts on only one side. This is why it's so hard to a safe distance up Kent when crossing westbound.)

So on Kirkwood, the roadway is designed for motorists to zig-zag and for cyclists to go straight along the edge of the road. There are a few big problems with this. As shown in the photo, cars can park in the way, blocking this route. Some park a lot closer, completely blocking the cutout. It also gets filled up very easily with gravel, leaves, sticks and other debris, which sweeper trucks obviously can't reach. Lastly, motorists on cross-streets don't expect to see anybody coming from that far away from the centre of the road. But once they built Kirkwood this way, they didn't have money to fix it, so it remains a treacherous facility for cyclists. Most cyclists I know stick to the left of the solid white line.

Another problem with the Cooper/O'Connor generation of traffic islands is that the gap for cyclists is too narrow. Too narrow to allow some wide cargo bikes, but more importantly, too narrow to allow snowplows to pass through. So instead the cycling facility becomes a snow dump, as shown here in January 2007:

The most recent island at MacLaren and O'Connor (the subject of the previous post) was built wide enough for sidewalk plows to pass through, as shown in this photo from Friday:

However, that doesn't mean they always do clear it, as shown in this shot from last November (just before the transit strike), which was prevoiusly posted in Centretown, Darkly, Under Snow:

Of course, the downside of having a wide-enough cutout is when an idiot taxi driver comes along thinking his car will fit. This driver's tires got stuffed and the tire sidewalls rubbed against the curbs as he struggled to drive through.

There's one more in Centretown, on McLeod at Bank Street. While it's dug up now as part of the Bank street reconstruction, here's what it looked like last December. You can see it's a long triangle with no cutout for cyclists.

While the signage allows cyclists to go straight or left, doing so was always tricky, because there wasn't much clearance in the opening, and you had to jog around. Right-turning motorists behind you had to be patient while you waited for both directions of traffic on Bank to be clear, while they would only need the nearest lane to be clear for their forced right turn.

In preparation for Bank Street being closed for reconstruction this summer, they removed the triangle in April to allow for through traffic. For reference, the Metropolitan Bible Church is to the right of the shot out of frame, and the Tommy & Lefebvre site is across the street on the left.

Back in November, it looked like there weren't going to be any cutouts along Bank, so I fired off some e-mails pointing out that one would be ideal at this location. In April, I was sent the following drawing showing how a bike cutout will be installed at this location. It matches well with the angle at which McLeod crosses Bank.

In general, curb bulbouts reduce the distance between sidewalks, thus reducing pedestrians' exposure to motor traffic while crossing, and they also calm traffic by reducing the lane width at intersections. These ones shown in this post have the added function of discouraging unwanted behaviour, in this case, going straight through an intersection. But there can be side effects, some of which aren't apparent until they're installed and in use. Bulbouts must leave enough room for a shared motorist/cyclist lane (minimum 4.25 metres), and if cyclists are allowed through them, there must be a track that is clear of debris and easily navigable. With each iteration, new things are tried and past failures are worked out of the design, but these are painful lessons, as the failed designs can stick around for years until the entire road is rebuilt.

Other examples of road design evolution through experimentation include concrete crosswalks and roughened crosswalks, both of which help to delineate pedestrian zones. The first kind does it visually, and the second kind audibly (car tires going quickly over it make a buzzing noise). The Mid Mod has already shown the latest iteration of the zebra crossing in front of City Hall; I might do a post sometime down the line on crosswalks at intersections.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

MacLaren & O'Connor traffic-calming bulbouts

The orphan plot in the island at MacLaren and O'Connor will be the subject of a Guerrilla Gardening event this Saturday, 10am to noon. Here's the invitation from Councillor Holmes(emphasis in original; links added):

Guerilla Gardening Project

WHERE: Mclaren and O'Connor, NE Corner

WHEN: Saturday September 19TH (10am-12pm)

Dear friends,

As summer draws to a close I thought it would be a good time for us to get together for a small guerilla gardening project.

As some of you may have noticed the island plot at Maclaren and O'Connor is being cared for by a friendly, green thumbed, neighbour. Recently much of this person's hard work was cut down by overzealous staff who had confused these new plantings with weeds. Sadly many of the plants were lost before staff could be advised of their error. However, thanks to this persistent neighbour, plant life has again returned to this little plot. Although it has been populated with poppies, day lilies, golden rod and a host of other species there is still room for more.

Can you please bring one or two hardy perennials from your home gardens for this project. If we have too many we will simply find a nearby location to transform. And do you have any other areas that are in need of a little greening so that we can plan our next project.

I hope that the DCA and the CCCA, along with all Centretown gardeners, can work together with my office over the winter months to find new locations for guerrilla gardening, and to develop an action plan to transform Somerset Ward's numerous bulb-outs, boulevards and hard surfaces into vibrant, soft green spaces.


I mentioned about this island in June, in the post Urban Tree Conservation. Its purpose as a traffic-calming measure is to reinforce the signs that prohibit motor traffic from going straight through the intersection, while still allowing cyclists to do so. This discourages commuters from cutting through neighbourhood streets. I posted the following photo with what would be one of many City-provided trees planted in that island that have been subsequently removed by a different City crew:

Here's what used to be there, looking East. You can see there used to be a bit of a bulbout with a stop sign planted in it. The construction pylons outline the location of the new island to be built:

Across the street (actually a few days earlier than the above photo), you can see the initial outlines and pavement cuts for the bulbout on the West side of the intersection:

Looking down O'Connor from Somerset in late October 2007, workers are pouring the cement for the West side bulbout:

And here it is the same night, freshly poured (looking East). Only the West side has been done so far.

Four days later, the freshly-poured island on the East side is installed (looking West). You can see the space on the right for the cyclist through access.

Looking down the left-turn lane, you can see how the two bulbouts make it clear that you're expected to turn left: to continue along MacLaren, you'd have to turn into the one-way traffic on O'Connor! There are many signs to reinforce this. However, the outermost part of the bulbout is nearly flush with the asphalt as an acknowledgement that many people will still attempt this manoeuvre. Interestingly, the exception for bicycles is duct-taped out on the sign on the left, probably a temporary measure until the cyclist access was paved and finished.

Just a couple days later, the asphalt around the island was laid. You can see that the part of the concrete island that is in the crosswalk is flush with the crosswalk. The parking meter nearest the island has been put out of service, and was later removed.

Here's the new intersection in action: a pickup truck is turning right from O'Connor to MacLaren, and a car coming from MacLaren is preparing to turn left onto O'Connor. A couple of pedestrians are standing on the bulbout and taking advantage of the shorter distance to cross it as a result.

Here's a shot from late July 2009, taken with a tripod. You can see the signage has been cleared up, the parking spaces have been removed, and the moon shines in the sky behind. I really like that funky tree on the right. There are also some plants in the island--I believe these are the ones referenced in Councillor Holmes' letter, which some City workers thought were weeds.

There are a lot of details to incorporate into the design of this type of intersection modification. I've mentioned many of them in the example above. But there have been many attempts where--to put it politely--we learned some of the lessons applied at MacLaren/O'Connor. I'll illustrate these in an upcoming post-the evolution of bike cutouts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CCCA Meeting tonight

The Centretown Citizens' Community Association is having its monthly meeting tonight at City Hall (Colonel By room).

The meeting agenda is posted on the minutes page on the website. I think the highlight will be the Mid-Centretown Community Design Plan, whose Terms of Reference will be going to the City's Planning & Environment Committee sometime soon.

Also more dry, but of interest to CCCA members, are some proposed changes to the by-laws, for subsequent consideration at the Annual General Meeting (which will be held on Wednesday, October 21 at St. Theresa Church on Somerset and Cartier--I'll blog that closer to the date).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Firefighters memorial

As mentioned in the post Firefighters Memorial Sneak Peek, there was a ceremony on the 11th to commemorate fallen soldiers in the Ottawa Fire Service, following a parade from the Museum of Nature. This year was special because the first phase of the local firefighters' memorial was unveiled (as opposed to the national firefighters memorial, to be built near the new condo on Lebreton Flats)

As I arrived, the parade was just finishing up, with historical fire vehicles and equipment coming up off Laurier Avenue onto Marion Dewar Plaza, many being pulled by volunteers:

These vehicles assembled in front of City Hall.

The ceremony was being held across the grass at the site of the new memorial. Behind the memorial, a gargantuan Canadian flag was suspended from ladders 13 and 24. Many firefighters in dress uniform were arranged to watch the ceremony:

There were many civilians, including passersby and family and friends of lost firefighters.

Most of those, I suspect, were in the seating area in front of the three long rows of firefighters.

Politicians and other officials were kept contained in a stage area. The woman on the grass with the salmon coloured shirt is Louise Carota, who designed the monument.

While those officials were on a stage, the attention was focused on the monument, from which most of the speeches were delivered. Here the contributors and contractors are being recognized. Signs were posted on the monument recognizing the contributors; unfortunately, these have since been removed.

On the other end of the memorial the band played. You can also see many fire trucks parked on Laurier bridge.

Pumper P11B was covered in black ribbons and the lights were covered in black cloth. Members of station No. 11 presented the plaque with the names of firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.

This, of course, is just a slice of the memorial. I was pleased that the ceremonies tended to focus on the loss of local firefighters, and on the work involved to get the memorial built. It was very formal and ceremonial.

You couldn't see them from in front of the memorial, but these eight firefighters were standing at attention beneath the massive flag. While some of my friends have said they thought the flag was a bit much, I'm impressed merely from a technical standpoint: not only is it big, but it was windy. It was tough getting photos of the flag hanging straight down.

For links to relevant sources, including the fund for the next phase of the memorial, please see the previous post on the firefighters memorial.

Centretown Art Tour this Sunday

If you haven't seen the posters or promotional cards for the Centretown Art Tour 2009, then your seeing eye dog did.

It's promising to be a very funky event, with eleven different artists showing their work. Here's the map. More details about the third annual Centretown Art Tour are available on their website.

The Centretown Art Tour is this Sunday, September 13, 2009 from 10am to 6pm. Admission is free, and some artists are selling their works. Go! Support local, independent artists!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Firefighters' memorial sneak peek

The 8th Annual Ottawa Firefighters Memorial Service (PDF) will be held next Friday, September 11, 2009 at City Hall, organized by the Ottawa Fire Fighters Community Foundation. At 11:30 a.m., there will be a march from the Museum of Nature, up Elgin Street, to Festival Plaza (soon to be renamed Marion Dewar Plaza).

This year, the ceremonies will be joined by the unveiling of the completed first phase of a new memorial to fallen firefighters. According to the Donor Wall Pledge Form (PDF), "The monument will be a permanent marker to honour Ottawa Fire Fighters who have fallen in the line of duty. It will also be the site for the annual Ottawa Fire Fighter Memorial Service." The campaign to build the monument dates back at least to December 2002/January 2003, when Ottawa's Emergency and Protective Services Committee supported and City Council contributed $1000 to the project. The concept and location of the monument was Approved by City Council in June 2006.

Back in May of this year, two bronze figures took temporary residence in the foyer of City Hall, accompanied by an easel depicting an artist's rendering of the memorial on which they would be installed:

Here's the memorial site, on the far end of Festival Plaza, shortly after breaking ground. NDHQ (National Defense Headquarters) is visible in the background.

On June 1st, they were preparing to pour the foundation block. Behind the fencing, you can see the last bit of the pathway that used to connect to Laurier Bridge.

Ten days later, the foundation had been laid, and the formwork was assembled for the walls of the monument. From this angle, the curve in the back wall is obvious, but looking at my later photos from other angles, it's very subtle. On the right in the background is the stage for the Festival Franco Ontarien 2009:

By late June, work had progressed noticably, as shown in the shot below. Note the sign on the left of the shot, a white circle on a square blue background. There are four of them around City Hall. I've been told they are a universal sign indicating a place of refuge, but I can't find any references on the Internet.

The concrete foundation had been laid, the red concrete walls were erected, and the floor slab was setting when this photo was taken.

A few days later, the floor slab was dry, and work was being done to install the electricals and the pipes for the water feature. You can see the underground pipes and cables stretching around the back of the monument. A concrete pillar contains pipes for electrical connections.

In this view from the other side, we can see some steel rebar sticking out from the foundation slab, presumably to attach to the second phase of the memorial. There are two more pillars in front of the monument. In the centre of the monument is a large concrete feature.

By mid-August, the undeground work was mostly done and the landscaping had begun. A new pathway was built with precast concrete pavers, winding around the monument. See what I mean about the back wall not looking curved from this angle? This monument plays some neat visual tricks that way; artist Louise Carota did a good job of designing it.

Here's a closeup on the pathway. A worker left a large drink container on the wall.

Back at the front, soil has been filled in around the columns with the electrical fittings. Cartier Square Drill Hall is in the background.

Inside the monument are three small concrete blocks sticking out from the floor. A precast concrete paver was laid next to one to judge the height of the blocks once the paving stones were added. You can see the drink container again on the back wall.

Here's the central plinth, with the sun coming down behind. Its shape is reminiscent of a firefighter's crest insignia. Again, some sample pavers were arranged around it.

By yesterday, there were just a few finishing touches left. The firefighter statues had been installed; the pavers had been laid; trees, sod, and flowers were planted; and some holes had been dug along the pathway for more decorative light standards.

The paver pattern inside the monument is pretty interesting. Varying patterns and designs of brick scatter out from the plinth in a radial pattern.

Here are the two statues. You can see lights on the floor of the plinth.

From behind, the ground and pathway follow the sloping back wall, so you can't really tell the wall's height.

The firefighter's hose will actually be functional: it will spray water out toward an archway, which will presumably be built in phase II of the project at a later date. I'm not sure how (or if) it will function until then.

For those interested in Ottawa firefighting history, have a look at this page on Bytown.net, which documents Francis Graham, the a member of Ottawa's first professional fire department, and the first Ottawa firefighter to die in the line of duty (in 1877). Captain John Graham, son of the previous, eventually became Fire Chief, and Station #10 (Old Ottawa South's "old firehall"), was named in Chief Graham's honour, before being decommissioned in 1974. It is the only heritage fire hall still in public hands and publicly accessible.

While you're waiting for the parade next Friday, you can also check out the website of the Ottawa Fire Fighters Community Foundation, who have a wall of honour listing Ottawa fire fighters who died in the line of duty.