You'd think it would be easy enough to get from point A to point B, but sometimes in Ottawa you have to go through point C to get there.
I don't mean this metaphorically, but literally. In the diagram below, desire lines (a.k.a. "cowpaths") indicate that pedestrians want to get from A to B, but the sidewalk directs them to go from A to C to B. It's actually worse than this, which is why I'm showcasing it as an example for Diane Holmes' Sidewalk Summit, this Tuesday at 7pm at City Hall.
The story starts at Tom Brown arena in Hintonburg, where Albert and Scott Streets meet on the west side of the O-Train tracks. Last Tuesday, Citizens for Safe Cycling had its Annual General Meeting there and bike parking was at a premium (many had already left by the time I took this photo. At one point, every bench, tree, and signpost had a bike locked to it).
The connection here is that Ottawa's cyclists have had a tremendous amount of success in recent years getting attention and funds for problems that need fixing in order to make cycling safer, easier, and more accessible. Pedestrians haven't had an organized group of their own complaining about the obstacles faced by people on two feet, and this is reflected in the City's spending.
When a pedestrian gets hit and killed on a dangerous road (as many do on Bronson Avenue), there is no group in Ottawa to speak out about it. No group to spread awareness of the problems faced by pedestrians, or even to identify them.
Which takes us back to Tom Brown. Here we are standing at point "A" in the above diagram. To the left is the sidewalk leading to point "C" (where the City wants you to go), and to the right is a well-beaten path heading off in a very different direction toward "B" (called a "desire line" because it shows where people want to go). The street was rebuilt last year as part of a multimillion-dollar project to replace the aging underground infrastructure. Yet the official route to point "B" via point "C" is 360m, more than twice the 150m to get there in a straight line.
On resurfacing-only projects (like last year's on Lyon Street or this year's on Elgin), you can make repairs to the sidewalks, but there is very limited opportunity to change where they go.
Reconstruction projects (also called Integrated Water, Road, and Sewer projects) provide a much broader canvas to work with. Bank Street is a good example: everything was taken out, so curbs and lanes could be redesigned tabula rasa.
Not that this was done here. As we continue along the cowpath, we can see it connect to the bridge over the O-Train tracks.
The embankment is a barrier for sure, but not a show-stopper for most pedestrians. This guy has successfully made it over the rail and was making his way down one of the many paths along the hill.
As Eric Darwin recently observed in a post last week on the same topic over at Spacing, there is considerable erosion to this embankment.
Relatedly, I discovered the reason for the many paths: once the grass wears out, the slope is very slippery, even with dry dirt.
Even, this doesn't stop the pedestrians, they attach a rope to the rail and pull themselves up with it.
So if soil erosion--and even winter--won't stop the pedestrians, it's somewhat amusing that the City thinks these signs will. There's one of these "Private Property" signs here at the top of the hill (point "B" in our diagram), and another at the bottom, not far from the football goal posts (surely for private football games).
In the far distance, you can make out the cowpath leading from point "A", just to the left of the apartment tower.
(The language of the sign is also interesting. The small text in English says "this is not a public pathway," suggesting it's not a pathway at all, but an embankment. The French text says "this pathway is not a public pathway," suggesting that it is a pathway after all.)
The next photo is looking down the bridge from point "B" west to point "C" at the corner of Scott and Bayview, which is so far away you can't even see it. Past the first lamppost, the guide rail posts are shorter, which is another likely reason for there being so many paths down the hill.
And even for those who don't climb over the guard rail, as soon as it ends, they just walk right over the grass. (This is not to suggest that these sidewalks are useless, only that there is a major connection missed)
Here's a shot taken from point "C", at the intersection. While it may look like a fish-eye photo, it's just the way the sidewalk curves. Point "A" is down at the right far beyond sight, and point "B" is up at the left, also beyond sight. You can also see where an extraneous merge lane was filled in with grass. A missed opportunity to plant trees, but a nice gesture nonetheless.
So what is the solution to this dangerous path up the hill? Well, signs telling people they're not allowed to go there don't exactly get to the root of the problem. A safer way for pedestrians to walk through the field and get up the hill (including in wet weather), now that would be a solution.
Pedestrians can succeed at getting results, as was shown in the recent case of the NCC's locked gate at the "Preston Extension," which was reopened following a deluge of complaints to the City and the NCC.
So be part of the solution. Come to the Sidewalk Summit on Tuesday, and work with others toward getting the City to put its best foot forward on pedestrian issues. Help identify locations across the city where pedestrians are an afterthought in road design.
For those livetweeting the event, I suggest using the hashtag #ottwalk. If you can't make it, feel free to send your comments, suggestions, and trouble spots to Councillor Holmes at Diane.Holmes@ottawa.ca, and follow along on Twitter.