Monday, November 29, 2010

Another repair: McNabb Park

In mid-October, I noticed a problem with this sign for McNabb Park at 320 James Street:

In case you can't see quite what the problem is, here is a different view showing how warped this sign has become. Give it a bit more time and it'll break, leaving us with either a neighbourhood in tatters or a bill for an expensive new sign.

I sent the above photos to Councillor Holmes' office, who then forwarded them to the appropriate person in the Parks, Recretation, and Cultural Services department in early November. In less than two weeks, the signpost had been realigned and re-welded:

These little easy-to-do repairs are just another thing that the City can do to keep Centretown functional and looking good. All it takes is a call to 3-1-1 or e-mail to, and occasionally a follow-up. Once they know about these problems, they're fixed pretty quickly!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Montreal part 6: Bikes on Trains

Welcome to Part 6 in the series "What I learned in Montréal," documenting the day trip a friend and I took in May to check out Montréal's cycling and transit infrastructure for lessons that can be applied in Ottawa. Previously, in Part 5, I talked about the aesthetic aspects of the Métro stations.

In today's post, I'll talk about how Montréal integrates its subway system with its cycling network. Bicycles are allowed on metro cars, but they must use the front car, as indicated by these yellow decals on the platforms.

As these "Bienvenue aux vélos" signs indicate, they are permitted all day on weekends, and on weekdays between 10am and 3pm, then from 7pm to midnight. The sign also lists other restricted hours for special events, and includes a general warning that bicycles may be refused at any time if it gets too busy:

We only saw two bicyclists on the Saturday that we were there, though we didn't check out the front car, which can be a long walk from the stairs, as this cyclist demonstrates in Outremont:

That cyclist took the escalator, but the fixie-rider in this photo at Berri-UQÀM opted instead for the stairs. The unicyclist was indecisive.

At many stations, cyclists can't get through the turnstiles, and instead must get the attention of the ticket clerk to remotely open one of these gates.

Unfortunately, these gates are often far from the ticket booth. Here in Côte-Vertu, the ticket booth is off camera, to the left of the turnstiles. At one station, the ticket person was so engrossed in her crossword that the cyclist couldn't get her attention; we had to knock on her window to get her attention on his behalf.

Outside the stations, there is limited bicycle parking. Here at Lionel-Groulx, you can make out some racks on the other side of the glass. They're obviously difficult to get to, which is good for deterring thieves, but inconvenient, I'm sure, for cyclists. I don't know if the rack was empty because it was a weekend, or because it was too far out of the way.

At Outremont, there were some more bike racks which had a number of flaws: they aren't bolted to the ground, they aren't spaced conveniently, and they aren't covered by a canopy. (see my June 2009 post on Bike Rack Blunders in Ottawa. Also, the APBP has released the second edition of its Bicycle Parking Guidelines, available to non-APBP members for $45. The first edition remains free for download). There is also a Bixi station around the corner.

There are a few lessons for Ottawa, many of which are already a part of our Transitway and O-Train infrastructure. Good, secure, weather-protected bicycle parking is important at our major stations--especially those outside the downtown core. Elevators will be helpful for cyclists getting to the surface. Transit stations should also include room for bike rental stations, to help fill in the "last mile" of the trip.

Stay tuned for the next post in the What I learned in Montréal series: Part 7: Bixis and Bicycle Parking.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lyon Bike Lane: Sharrows on Arlington

As speculated in the post Lyon Street Repaved: Cyclists get their sharrows in September and in Cycling Updates in October, sharrows have been added to Arlington to connect the end of the Lyon Street southbound bike lane to the pathway at Percy.

Someone e-mailed me the day they were applied and I went over to check them out. Here's the view along Lyon Street, with the sharrows on Arlington going West (to the right side of the screen):

Unfortunately, and as I mentioned in a post to Citizens for Safe Cycling's public e-mail discussion list, they're not exactly the most ambitious application of sharrows. For example, you can't even see them from Lyon, which defeats the purpose of having them out there to show cyclists where to go next when the lane ends.

Once you do make it onto Arlington, you see two problems. First, the sharrows are very close to the curb, which is an area always full of debris and which promotes the idea of "cyclists move out of motorists' way, even on quiet side streets". A Google Images search for Sharrows turns up lots of examples of proper sharrow positioning.

Second, there are only three per block, one at each end and one in the middle. Not exactly rolling out the red carpet. It makes you wonder if they'll do a similarly half-hearted implementation of the Segregated Bike Lane on Laurier, causing that pilot project to fail.

Here's what they should have done at Lyon and Arlington: sharrows going around the corner so that cyclists can see well in advance where the cycling route goes.

Once you get along Arlington to Percy Street, there also isn't much indication that you're supposed to turn left here. (Of course, in my cycling route plan for Percy, you'd also be able to continue straight on Arlington).

In Montreal, where I fell in love with Sharrows, they use them properly: to indicate (a) that cyclists have a right to use the road, and (b) where the otherwise invisible cycling route goes when you get to an intersection. When the cycling route takes a turn, the sharrows make it painless to follow the route, as in this Google Street View of Stuart and Saint-Viateur (click the image to go to the location in Google Street View):

As with Ottawa's ever-cautious bureaucracy, a small step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction. Let's hope these sharrow show them the way to implementing them more boldly to connect cycling routes.

Check out the public open house on Thursday at City Hall for the Segregated Bike Lane pilot project. The latest proposal is for Laurier Avenue, which actually isn't all that bad.

Visit for more details, including the draft drawings of how the street would be configured and Vélo Québec's review of the proposals. The public meeting on Thursday is from 6:30pm to 8:30pm with a presentation at 7pm.

Monday, November 22, 2010

City removes heads from parking meters; exposes bikes to theft (video)

The last couple weeks, the City of Ottawa has been removing parking meters as part of their plan to switch to Pay & Display parking, and convert some parking meters to ring-and-post bike racks. Unfortunately, despite various assurances, there won't be enough racks to replace the lost meters.

Here is a shot of the City workers removing racks on Somerset street at Arthur:

As was reported in the Ottawa Citizen today, the City has removed the heads of parking meters on Frank street that still had bikes attached. The City claims they have added a fixture to the tops of the posts to protect the bikes from being stolen, but they do not offer the protection of a parking meter head: bike locks can still be easily lifted over the tops of the posts and the bikes stolen, without any tools.

Ironically, we used to tell cyclists not to lock their bikes to signposts because the signs could be unbolted and the bike lifted over them. Instead, we recommended parking meters (which, since they contained money, had to be securely fastened into the ground). Now I guess the reverse is true!

See the video below for a demonstration of how a bike lock could easily be lifted over the bar. If the lock is only attached to the frame, a thief could easily lift the bike off and ride the bike away, and nobody would think it the least bit suspicious:

If you come across a place where there isn't anywhere to lock your bike, please e-mail and cc your councillor, especially if there used to be a parking meter there.

[Look for more one-photo posts under the label Singles]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yet another sign of winter

The Rideau Canal Skateway chalets recently made a trip through Centretown, and in a similar expression of Ottawa's love of the skate blade, the ice rink boards set up at area parks for the winter. Here's a shot of the City workers delivering the Boards to McNabb Park.

I have fond memories of this ice rink. When I attended McNabb Park Public School (which has since closed and re-opened as an alternative school), I remember skating on the rink for my fifteen-minute recesses. After walking down to the far end of the yard, putting the skates on and taking them off, I only got about five minutes of actual skate time!

When I was in grade 2 or 3, there was a kid in grade 4 or 5 who was much taller than all the others. He had quite the reputation for being one of the most athletically proficient kids in school. But when it came to ice time and hockey, he didn't so much skate as he walked with skates on. It was a reassuring lesson that nobody's perfect.

[Look for more one-photo posts under the label Singles]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bronson and Cycling: Quite the opportunity. Really!

I've been up till the wee hours of the morning every night for the last couple of weeks, working on either Rescue Bronson Avenue materials or preparing for last night's CCCA Annual General Meeting (where I was acclaimed as President), or both! My head and body hurt from all this community work, but they're both very important causes.

However, the Bronson Avenue Public Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting is tonight (sorry, the City insists it's by invitation only), and I wanted to assemble these materials on cycling and Bronson in advance of that meeting.

I'll start off, curiously, with this photo of Garland Avenue in Hintonburg.

Garland is a small but important street that branches off the intersection of Wellington Street West and Somerset Street West. During the recent reconstruction of Wellington Street West (or "West Wellie", as Eric Darwin calls it), the project engineers and consultants concluded that there wasn't enough room on West Wellington for a bike lane. Instead of saying "oh well", they decided to improve the parallel cycling connection one block North on Spencer and Armstrong streets. Unfortunately, Garland, which connects Armstrong with Wellington and Somerset, was only one way. Cyclists would have to take a major detour to get from Armstrong back to Somerset. Still undeterred, the project participants decided to add a contra-flow bike lane to Garland to allow a two-way cycling connection along the route (which continues along Somerset West), alleviating this barrier.

Fast forward to Bronson Avenue. At the first PAC meeting for Bronson Avenue's reconstruction, I argued that Percy Street (one block East of Bronson) should be improved as part of the Bronson reconstruction, just as a parallel route had been arranged during the West Wellington reconstruction.

The project consultants scoffed. "Bronson isn't a designated cycling route in the Ottawa Cycling Plan," they said (paraphrased, of course), "and Percy Street isn't Bronson Avenue, so we have no responsibility to provide or improve cycling facilities on either street."

Well, here's a closeup of Centretown in the Ottawa Cycling Plan. Specifically, figure 3-4c on page 72. The brown lines are the "spine", or major, cycling routes on the City's cycling network, and the green lines are the "neighbourhood", or local cycling routes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Montreal part 5: Métro station look and feel

Welcome to Part 5 in the series "What I learned in Montréal," documenting the day trip a friend and I took in May to check out Montréal's cycling and transit infrastructure for lessons that can be applied in Ottawa. Previously, in Part 4, I talked about our brief look at the bus system.

Station design is one of the few things the public is being consulted on for Ottawa's Transit Tunnel system, most other aspects of the system resembling a foregone conclusion. While I discussed more of the functional aspects of station design in Part 3, in this post I'll look at some of the more aesthetic aspects of station design.

Many of the station entrances used diner-style flipping doors, such as these at Place-d'Armes. Apparently they are useful in dealing with the significant changes of air pressure that occurs when a train pushes into and out of the station. Otherwise, the doors would be very difficult to open when a train arrives.

Each station had a unique look, and many had artistic motifs on the walls. At Henri-Bourassa station, there were some neat terra-cotta patterns that raised out of the walls.

At Outremont station, there is an installation called "light well"--as in a well of light--that brings light all the way down to the platforms. Because of these efforts, the Métro's deep stations are much more open and welcoming than Toronto's, which are shallower but much darker and more cramped. I've got a photo of the ground level end of this light well coming up in part 7 of this series.

At Charlevoix--which has the deepest platform in Montréal's system, another scheme to brighten up the depths of the station is this faux-stained glass motif on the light well alongside the escalators to the mezzanine level.

Further down Charlevoix, switching from light themes to darker ones, this service passageway is gated off from the platform, but still in plain view. You can see the last little bits of light coming down the light well that didn't spill out of the coloured windows. I suspect it also functions to balance the air pressure between the stacked platforms.

The Jean-Talon station has platforms on both the orange and blue lines. As a subtle but clear way of informing passengers of which line they're on, the Sialex floor tiles are coloured accordingly. You can see the blue stripe leading to the escalator down to the blue line platform.

On the blue line platform, which intersects with the orange line one level down, there are blue tiles. A two-storey mural covers the wall of the opening looking down from the orange line.

Not all platforms have large open spaces. The Place d'Armes platform is just one floor below the entrance we saw at the top of the post. As a result, it has a relatively low ceiling. Nevertheless, the side platform configuration and bright lighting keeps the station open.

Back again at Outremont station, the open area and wide balcony reminded me of a brutalist version of the extravagant Moscow metro.

The Place-des-Arts station is very bright, and the perimeter balcony reminds me of the Carlingwood library. You'll also note the blue light, which indicates the location of the emergency telephone.

In the discussions for the Ottawa tunnel stations, one of the suggestions was to leave the excavated rock exposed. There was some romantic notion used to justify this idea, which is really just a cost-saving measure. On this escalator bank heading down to the yellow line at the Berri-UQÀM station, the ceiling is finished with a nice, clean geometric pattern.

Benches are another element that can define the style of a station. Montréal's métro platforms have many benches, and each station has a unique design of bench to match the station's style. By contrast, I was in Toronto last week, and the subway platforms have very few benches and they are an afterthought to the station design. Many waiting passengers squatted on the ground, even just for a couple of minutes.

While some stations had benches just sticking out from the wall, some had recessed areas for benches, presumably to allow other passengers to walk by unobstructed:

The walls of Place-des-Arts platforms are angled, again allowing lots of room for others to walk past:

The benches are made of sturdy blue materials:

One of the items brought up at a meeting on the design of stations was the relationship between benches and terrorism. One participant suggested that benches should be designed so that bags can't be left underneath them, lest they contain suspicious materials (this after concerns about homeless people leading bench design to prevent people use the tops of them either). So these little square marble ones at Charlevoix would be okay (though maybe not--there's a gap behind them)...

...but these stone benches at Outremont would be out.

There were a few stations with rather peculiar designs. These yellow bucket seats at Côte-Sainte-Catherine meet the can't-leave-anything-underneath-them requirement, but look very uncomfortable.

These seats at Plamondon remind me of Playskool toys, but otherwise look utterly uncomfortable. Points for creativity, I guess.

While a discussion on bench design may not be to everybody's fancy, well-designed benches contribute to each station's unique look and identity, which in turn can help passengers navigate the system. In the next post in the Montréal series, I'll talk about bicycles and the Métro. In the meantime, why not catch the game on the big screen on the platform at Lionel-Groulx?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Cambridge Street stitch in time

While most street signs are attached to their posts with metal straps, some of the new blue signs have been attached with bolts driven directly into the wooden pole. While this gives a cleaner look, the signs seem to be prone to coming down. Here's one in Old Ottawa East that fell down at Echo and Graham, which looks like it was damaged in the fall:

While the City builds its own signs in-house the cost of a new sign can come to a few hundred dollars once you factor in installation. In the meantime, navigation is more difficult for people who have no sign to see (and Ottawa has very high standards for signage, compared to what I saw in Montréal).

I recently noticed the street sign for Cambridge Street North at Arlington was coming loose from its post. I called 3-1-1, but the sign was not repaired a couple of weeks later and getting worse.

I then e-mailed the City near the end of October and received a reply from 3-1-1 within three days. On the fourth day, I noticed the sign had been repaired.

For the minimal cost of sending out a crew with a ladder and socket wrench, the City saved the cost and time to make and install a new sign.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CCCA Documentary now online, AGM next week

The annual general meeting (AGM) of the Centretown Citizens Community Association is Tuesday, 7pm @ City Hall (Colonel By Room), and a lot of people may not know what the association is all about.

While the association's many members and eight committees are also involved in a lot of current initiatives, including the mid-Centretown Community Design Plan being conducted by the City and the Rescue Bronson Avenue effort being led by the CCCA in partnership with other community groups, our biggest accomplishment has been the groundbreaking community-driven process to develop the Centretown Plan in the 1970s and our continued efforts since then to defend the Plan. But the Centretown Community Association (as it was known at the time) was formed in 1969--four years before the Centretown Plan was initiated. I talked a bit about the context for this in a post in August 2009.

At last year's AGM, I presented a slideshow on the beginnings of the CCCA on behalf of the Centretown Heritage Committee, and in April turned this into a video which was screened at a special event, where the four couples who started the association were given honourary lifetime membership in the CCCA.

I'm now able to share this video which shows how much hard work has been contributed to make Centretown the wonderful neighbourhood it is today. View it below or on Youtube at

I hope this video inspires you to come to the CCCA's Annual General Meeting on Tuesday and that you will and participate in our activities to carry on this long history of making Centretown a great place to live, work, and play.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rescue Bronson Avenue - next steps

Lots of people came out to the community forum to Rescue Bronson Avenue last night. Representatives from the CCCA, DCA and CCOC joined Councillor Diane Holmes to present our vision of the Rescue Bronson project, and give people in the room a chance to speak.

(skip meeting summary)

Somerset Ward Councillor Diane Holmes introduced the project and its context. You can read more on the background in my previous post, Rescue Bronson Avenue this Wednesday! The photo below shows just the front third of the crowd at the McNabb Park Community Centre's assembly hall

Next, Eric Darwin, President of the Dalhousie Community Association and blogger at West Side Action gave a great presentation talking about Road Diets and why one can work for Bronson Avenue.

Many people were interested in Eric's references to research that shows that a road diet can carry the same amount of traffic with a different lane configuration.

The next speaker was Robert Smythe, who has been active in Centretown as far back as the 1970s. Robert gave a presentation on the Escarpment Plan, which was generated a couple of years ago after two years of solid, extensive consultation with the community and stakeholders. The Escarpment is the area near the Ottawa Tech playing fields, down the hill at Albert/Slater toward Lebreton Flats. The Escarpment Plan, which has been incorporated into the City's Official Plan, contains a number of recommendations relevant to the north end of Bronson Avenue (which the Bronson Avenue consultants didn't bother to look at).

I then gave a social media report and talked about Rescue Bronson's web site, Twitter feed, Facebook page, and online petition (which is now at over 150 signatures!)

I highlighted some of the comments made by Rescue Bronson supporters on the petition, on our website, and on various news outlets' comment sections.

Next, people in the audience got a chance to give their comments. There was such a variety of comments, it is clear that the reconstruction of Bronson should be put on hold so that the City and the consultants can actually look at the problems identified by the community instead of pretending Bronson works the way it's built now.

We've received many compliments that this was one of the best consultations people have been to (some suggest it's because it wasn't organized by City staff!), and others are glad that we took the time to present this information to the community members, many of whom were unaware that a reconstruction project was going to happen in their own back yard.

Next Steps

While Eric spoke to the media (above), attendees filled out a big stack of comment forms that we're going to go through as quickly as possible so we can tell people about what happens next. We could use a volunteer or two to help with that data entry today and tomorrow--contact councillor Holmes' office if you can help out with that.

In addition to continuing to spread the word and get people to sign the petition, we'll be establishing a working group so that interested volunteers can help get more involved. E-mail if you want to volunteer for Rescue Bronson Avenue's working committee.

Rescue Bronson Avenue will also be making a presentation at the CCCA's Annual General Meeting, next Tuesday, November 17, 2010 at 7pm at City Hall (Colonel By Room). If you live between Bronson and the Canal, between the Queensway and the Ottawa River, you are eligible to be a member of the CCCA. Why not come out and support your community association!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Grant House Freshens Up

150 Elgin Street--or Grant House, as it is formally known--was built in 1875 for member of parliament Sir James Grant, "a prominent physician" according to the heritage plaque on its front wall. The plaque also observes that "this house recalls the former residential character of Elgin Street."

At some point, the building was purchased for the University of Ottawa's University Club, which as early as 1930 was eyeing fresher digs.

In the 1970's, the house was threatened with demolition as part of the plans for the Downtown Distributor, a megaproject to create a 17-lane east-west expressway through downtown in the blocks between Laurier and Gloucester avenues. Ironically, the Distributor project saved the building, as the City expropriated the building from the Club in 1966, as its only legal option to prevent developer Bill Teron (known now for founding Kanata) from building a 14-storey tower on the site. Had the tower been built, the City's bill to expropriate and demolish it for the Distributor would have been much more expensive than for the existing building. The Club had been thinking about a new location .

Evidently, the City-owned house sat vacant for five years, as it was reported in the January 24, 1971 issue of the Centretown News (before the paper passed hands from the community to Carleton University's journalism department) that the house to be demolished to make way for more parking. Since the house would be demolished in a few years for the Distributor, why not use it to expand the lucrative parking venture in the neighbouring lot?

In the March 7 issue, Centretown News readers objected to the demolition proposal, and supported the proposal by the Mayor's Committee on Youth to use the building as a 60-bed youth hostel. This community outcry, in partnership with Alderman Mike Cassidy, saved Grant House from demolition.

As we now know, neither the hostel plan nor the Distributor came to pass (the hostel idea would later come to fruition in the Nicholas Street Gaol, another building on the Haunted Walks tour), and Grant House would be turned into Friday's Roast Beef House by restauranteur Ken Dolan for a 37-year run from 1972 to 2009. The restaurant closed in 2009 after an 80% rent increase in 2003 combined with a 25% decrease in sales that didn't pick up after a regular seasonal lull. Even those who didn't visit the restaurant were familiar with the greeter in Victorian coat and tricorne hat who stood in the doorway cheerily bowing to passersby.

But after September 2009, the house sat empty.

The rights to the Friday's name were bought by Moishe Smith of Prime 360 on Laurier. Smith balked at the asking price for rent on Grant House, and instead brought the restaurant to Somerset Village, at 343 Somerset Street West. The revived Friday's opened in March. [Edit: it subsequently closed. Burgers on Main opened in early 2012 at 343 Somerset

Then, earlier this year, plans for a $2M renovation were announced to turn Grant House into a high-end steak and seafood restaurant, by Marisol Simoes and husband Zadek Ramowski. The two own and operate two trendy restaurants in the Byward Market.

The renovations are now underway, beginning with new windows and a fresh coat of paint for the old Victorian manor:

The block had been sold by the City of Ottawa to Morguard, which had earlier planned to build an office tower with the Ottawa Concert Hall at the ground level (retaining Grant House untouched). However, those plans have stalled when the Friends of the Concert Hall couldn't raise enough funds to match the municipal, provincial and federal contributions.

The house stands as a monument to Centretown's residential heritage in a district that is now filled with large commercial and institutional buildings. We should be greatful to the Centretowners who spoke up in 1971 to keep this house from being lost forever. Their effort is reminiscent of the current Rescue Bronson initiative, a team effort of the CCCA, DCA, CCOC and Councillor Diane Holmes. Rescue Bronson seeks to prevent the City's plans to widen Bronson Avenue, and reconfigure the section north of Gladstone Avenue to a three-lane arrangement that will carry the same traffic but allow more space for the residences and pedestrians who walk along the street. This would help rescue Bronson Avenue from the car-centric style of road planning that gave us the Downtown Distributor and breathe new life into what is officially a gateway corridor.

Rescue Bronson is holding a public meeting tonight at 7pm at McNabb Community Centre. Visit for more information and to sign the online petition to Rescue Bronson Avenue.