Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 4: Contemporary sidewalk design, not on Rochester

I swapped parts 4 and 5 of this series so I could put this one in as a Peds On Weds Wednesday post.

The previous post of this 15-part series on the reconstruction of Somerset Street West showed the reconstruction of the sidewalks between Booth and Preston. Rochester is the street in between these two, and I figured we could take a little detour to talk about some sidewalk work in the area, and sidewalks in general.

While the roads, sidewalks and utilities underneath them were being dug up along Somerset Street West this past summer, the sidewalks were being replaced on Rochester Street and Spruce.

Not too far north of Somerset, the old sidewalks were dug up in early September, after the rest of the block was already prepared for concrete to be poured.

At the north end of the block, looking toward Somerset from Spruce, we can see the shape of the concrete forms creating the bulbouts (which are not new to this corner).

And here we see a section of sidewalk already poured and set along Spruce between Rochester and Booth. The sidewalk is the old "wavy" style, where the entire sidewalk twists and lowers for the benefit of cars that cross it to get into private laneways. Meanwhile, pedestrians are given an uneven surface that is uncomfortable to roll a wheelchair on, and dangerous to walk on when icy.

In fact, just a couple of days ago, @OttawaVeloVogue tweeted that she slipped and fell on a similar wavy sidewalk on Pretoria (where the whole sidewalk is slanted—see this Google Street View)

The City has taken up the so-called "Toronto-style" sidewalks, where the sidewalk stays flat at the top, and at driveways only half of the sidewalk tilts down toward the roadway. This design was piloted on Fifth Avenue in the Glebe and on Holland Avenue in the Civic Hospital neighbourhood, and has since been installed on most streets with a conventional sidewalk (i.e. mainstreets with wide sidewalks are spared this design).

In theory, the benefit of the "Toronto-style" design is that there is a continuous flat surface to walk on, but it nevertheless causes consternation to pedestrians. So long as you are walking single-file it is fine, but if you have to pass someone, if you are walking two abreast, or if you are pushing a wide mega-stroller (arguably an essential parenting tool in the winter), it is a much less comfortable ride.

Even more recently, some flat sidewalks have been installed, as documented by Eric Darwin in July 2010 using Athlone Avenue in Kitchissippi ward. I've also seen them on Holmwood Avenue in the Glebe, at the end near Bronson Avenue (ironically, a stone's throw from Fifth). Eric describes some of the advantages he sees in this design, though I haven't had enough experience with them myself in various weather conditions (not only because there aren't any of these in Centretown, but also because when I do walk, I tend to do it in the road).

Unfortunately, neither design could be used when Spruce was rebuilt because the road on one side and the driveways on the other side were already at a certain height, and the price of the sidewalks would have been much higher if the driveways had to be rebuilt also.

Tune back in for part 5 of the 15-part series on the reconstruction of Somerset Street West, where we get down and dirty into the reconstruction of Somerset between Booth and Preston.

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