Monday, March 5, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 1: Introduction/Overview

Last year, Somerset Street West was dug up between Booth Street and the far side of the bridge over the O-Train tracks (Just as Bronson will be this year north of the Queensway. There's an open house tonight at McNabb Community Centre at 6:30pm to talk about the construction phasing for Bronson). This is the first in a 15-post series detailing the reconstruction, from someone who was involved in the reconstruction from the very first committee meeting of a long, involved process. Shown here is one of the public open houses at the Plant Bath:

After sorting through hundreds of my photos from this construction project, I'm proud to present this saga in rich detail. I'll be posting one or two entries per week. Here's the roadmap:
  • Part 1 (below): Introduction and overview
  • Part 2: West of Preston
  • Part 3: Wider sidewalks with unit pavers
  • Part 4: Under Chinatown (Booth to Preston)
  • Part 5: Aside — Rochester/Spruce sidewalk
  • Part 6: Poles & signals
  • Part 7: Trees & bike racks
  • Part 8: Bridge sidewalks A
  • Part 9: Bridge sidewalks B
  • Part 10: City Centre
  • Part 11: O-Train pathway — planning
  • Part 12: O-Train pathway — tunnel construction
  • Part 13: O-Train pathway — cantilevered boardwalk
  • Part 14: Bridge railings
  • Part 15: Finale - decorations and art

There were many other great photos and topics that didn't fit into the series that I intend to draw from subsequently. I did a similar series on the Bank Street reconstruction in 2009, though I wasn't involved in the planning part of that project. Other multi-part series can be found under the label Tours.

Now let's get this series started!

Part 1: Overview

Officially, this total reconstruction of Somerset Street consisted of phases 3 and 4 of the Wellington Street West reconstruction, which involved the reconstruction of Hintonburg's main street in the previous few years. Since Chinatown east of Booth was done a decade or so ago, these were the final sections in the reconstruction of the century-old water mains and sewers along Somerset and Wellington all the way from Elgin to Westboro.

I'd given some background on the planninng process in my post advertising the March 2010 public open house (the event where the first pic above was taken). I had also posted some "before" pics of Somerset West (low res) in a Picasa web album.

The two blocks east of Preston Street are on a steep Chinatown hill, and on their own consisted of a single phase of construction. Prior to reconstruction, this section of Somerset Street West was four lanes, but with parking lanes it functioned like a two-lane street. Traffic volumes more closely resemble a two-lane street than a four-lane one, so the curb lanes were extraneous.

West of Preston it's a similar situation. The sidewalks are relatively narrow, and the street four lanes wide.

A lot of different types of machines were involved in the construction process. This one, which I grew up associating with snow plowing, is a grader. Despite its size, it's responsible for the delicate task of making sure the gravel road bed is shaped properly before the asphalt is laid over it.

In broad strokes, a view from the hill gives a sense of how the lanes were reconfigured. Here in late July 2011, we see Preston Street in the foreground, the bridge over the O-Train directly ahead, and the ubiquitous Minto Metropole condo building in Westboro behind it. Rochester Street and Booth Street are behind the camera. Traffic over the bridge is reduced to one way while the bridge is rebuilt one half at a time.

By mid-August, traffic is still passing one way over the bridge, and work has started in Chinatown, also reduced to one direction toward Preston. District Realty's 18-storey apartment building is on the Hintonburg side of the tracks, on the left. This is likely to be joined soon by another tall building, this time from Claridge, as Eric Darwin documents in a post on West Side Action.

And those will be joined by even more tall buildings. The Hintonburg Community Association and the Dalhousie Community Association are hosting an open house on Tuesday March 6, 2012 at 7pm at Tom Brown Arena, where City of Ottawa planners will present their plans for the Community Design Plan for development along the O-Train corridor. Despite the rendering in the DCA blog post, the taller buildings will be along Somerset Street, eventually replacing the City Centre building (Part 10).

Below, much of the work is finished on the road in October 2011, with the bridge still closed for the installation of the O-Train tunnel (Part 12).

Finally, in early December, it's all opened back up. Work continues east of Preston up to Booth, and will be completed in 2012.

A couple of highlights: the new sidewalks up the bridge (to be detailed in part 9) have a red band along the edge. A similar treatment will be used on Bronson Avenue. The curb lanes have been made permanent parking lanes, and bulbouts reinforce this. The easiest way to think of it is instead of a four lane street with bulbouts, it's a two lane street with parking bays. Other than this one, most of the mid-block bulbouts are at driveways, where parking wouldn't be allowed anyway. Fire hydrants have also been located to avoid being in front of potential parking spots.

To further reinforce the separation of the parking lane, brick pavers were used in the 2.4-metre parking lane. This is very similar to what was done on Preston Street. A finer gravel was used underneath these pavers.

The bricks are interlocking to withstand the pressure of cars parking on them. The parking is important to the neighbourhood, because the basketball court at Plant Recreation Centre is taken over as parking for the winter months, where more people need to drive to get there. With more on-street parking spaces available, the basketball court can be reclaimed earlier in the season as parking demand tapers off.

The parking lane is slightly wider than the bulbouts, allowing a continuous row of pavers along the street. This reinforces the visual impression of a narrower street, which encourages people to drive at a more reasonable speed.

So that's an overview of the project. Wider sidewalks, calmer streets, more trees, and clean finishings make a big difference to improve the feel of the neighbourhood.

Tune in soon for Part 2 of 15: West of Preston.

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