Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bronson reconstruction public open house Thurs Nov 24, 6:30pm at Centennial

After a handful of meetings of the Public Advisory Committee (PAC) for the imminent Bronson Avenue reconstruction, the city's project managers and engineers will be presenting their plans to the public next Thursday evening at Centennial public school, 6:30 pm. All are welcome to come and share their feedback. More details are here on the City's website.

Much has been done behind the scenes by community representatives on the PAC to squeeze out every last bit of improvement in the plans, and you can help increase the pressure by signing the Rescue Bronson Avenue petition.

As you will recall, community groups united under the banner of Rescue Bronson Avenue to fight back at the engineers' assumption that the road should go back exactly as it is, except with wider lanes.

Rescue Bronson is made up of representatives from the CCCA, DCA, CCOC and Diane Holmes (I'm formally involved with all but the CCOC), and was previously pushing for the more northerly parts of Bronson to be put on a "Road Diet". North of Gladstone Avenue, the traffic volumes drop considerably, and again at Somerset. By reclaiming some space for pedestrians on Bronson, there would be shorter crossing distances, a less hostile walking environment, slower (though not necessarily less) traffic, and shorter crossing distances--altogether a safer street. In the last week or so, Scott Street got such treatment:

Alas this was not to be, and the Rescue Bronson crew went back to the root of the concern: improving the pedestrian atmosphere. Despite losing the Road Diet battle, the current plans are much improved over what was presented at the frist PAC meeting as an all but done deal.

For example, Gladstone and Bronson was originally drawn almost exactly as it looks now--albeit with even wider crossing distances--and the caption proclaimed "Enhanced Pedestrian Facilities" (the image below is from one of the Rescue Bronson walking tour posters from this past May):

But after a year of reminders of how horrible it is to cross this intersection, the drawings have shown improvement. At the top left of the picture below (click to view full size), you can see that the grey line indicating the outer edge of existing sidewalk is now where the inner edge of the sidewalk is, resulting in a reduced crossing distance and a slightly less askew crosswalk.

We're still trying to remove the left turn lanes so that there's more room for pedestrians at the north-west corner (bottom left of the picture), but the engineers are terrified of the prospect. We've been told that the four lanes drawn on Gladstone are a typo, and they're not planning on adding to the current three.

Another battle we're still fighting is the widening of Bronson's lanes themselves. The traffic engineers, referencing their manuals and technical guidelines, say that Bronson will be safer by widening the lanes. However, the manuals define "safer" as "motorists save a few seconds during peak traffic periods". The problem is that this encourages faster speeds at non-peak hours--and collisions on Bronson involving pedestrians are 3.7 times more common when traffic is ligher than during peak hours (when adjusted for per-hour and traffic volumes). These figures are from 2006-2010, so they don't include the many high-profile collisions on Bronson (many at Somerset) from this year.

By widening the lanes, you encourage faster traffic, which will only make things less safe for pedestrians. Cyclists don't fare much better, due to a counterintuitive argument I won't get into (but I've written about other cycling aspects in this post).

Faring the worst from the lane widening is the landscaping. While two feet might not sound like a lot, the front doors on Bronson Avenue can be just a couple metres from the road edge, with a 1.8m sidewalk taking most of that space. Most of the concrete steps, such as Peace Tower Church (formerly Erskine Presbyterian), will have to be rebuilt because the sidewalks (pushed outward by the widened roadway) will overlap with where they are now.

And this row of ten or so trees--which took decades to get to this size--will be removed because they are in the middle of where the sidewalk will be.

When we asked why the road can't simply be shifted a foot or two to the west to let these trees rest in place, the engineers stressed that Bronson's curbs wouldn't line up on either side of Somerset! Like they line up on Gladstone (above) or Somerset?

One wonders how much experience, if any, these particular engineers have with rebuilding century-old downtown streets on narrow rights of way. The road has existed for 50 years with its current roadway width, yet somehow it would be chaos if it weren't two feet wider because a technical guide based on ideal hypothetical situations says so.

Another target of Rescue Bronson is to get a signalized crossing at Arlington. You'll note that it's the only calm street that crosses Bronson north of the 417, making it ideal as a cycling and pedestrian route. I talked about it in the Bronson and Cycling post which I repackaged into a slideshow for the talk to Citizens for Safe Cycling's AGM this fall.

Unfortunately, the 15-year-old traffic count found that there weren't enough pedestrians crossing at Arlington to meet the city's standards (called "warrants") for putting in a signal. They did another count last week (using an automated system involving a camera at the top of the white pole in the photo above) to see if things have changed.

The engineers are also concerned Arlington's proximity to Catherine, despite signals at the same crossings of Kent, the same distance apart. The engineers would prefer to see a signal at Flora--it looks great on a map, halfway between Gladstone and Catherine--but I don't see how detouring one block north from Arlington (to Flora) will be much more attractive than detouring one block south (to Catherine). Or worse, cyclists will cross at Flora and ride on the sidewalk to Arlington. One of the top complaints from pedestrians at Diane Holmes' Sidewalk Summit last week was sidewalk cycling.

The owner of the building that houses Auntie Loo's treats remembers the intersection well. When he was growing up, his father owned the building at the corner of Bronson and Arlington that's now the newest location of Papa Joe's Pizzeria. He says that on three occasions in decades past, the building was struck by a car, sometimes badly enough that the structure needed to be rebuilt.

On a lighter note, there has been some discussion on the public art component to the reconstruction. Chinatown's own Adrian Göllner has been hired by the project team to identify art opportunities along the route. Rather than a series of smaller items like Preston Street's Postcards from the Piazza or Wellington West's marble fire hydrants, the concept for Bronson is to have two or three larger (and not necessarily related) art pieces.

I won't spoil the details before the open house, but I think it's safe to say that it won't be at this corner of Bronson and Somerset, where there's barely any room for to wait for the bus without blocking others walking by.

But the more things change, the more things stay the same. The public circulation notice indicates that the block east of Bronson on both Laurier and Gladstone are included in this work, but the PAC hasn't had a chance to give input on these sections, much less seen any drawings.

Despite an opportunity to coordinate the work on the Laurier block with the Segregated Bicycle Lane project, the Bronson team said had no plans to change Laurier's configuration, only to redo the stuff underground--which is exactly where we started on Bronson a year ago!

Act Now!

There's still work to do, and not much time to do it in: the work is scheduled to begin in February 2012, meaning the plans must be finalized and the contracts tendered awfully soon (and although the work will be split in two, it'll be bundled into one contract for the entire Laurier-to-Arlington stretch).

Please sign the Rescue Bronson petition if you haven't already, and come out to the public open house next Thursday, November 24, 2011, at 6:30pm at Centennial Public School (Gloucester/Bay/Percy) and voice your opinion, and send in your comments.

Bronson is an ugly, cold, unfriendly, divisive traffic gutter... but it doesn't have to be!

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