Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Peds on Weds: U of O knows where peds go (Bronson, though, no)

Riding through the University of Ottawa recently, I noticed that the north-south crosswalk was repainted on the bend between the Montpetit building and the Brooks residence. Notice that the crosswalk was realigned when it was repainted. You can still see the old zebra crossing, which is blacked out.

Being on private property, the University can design its streets and pavement markings however they want to. By contrast, City of Ottawa streets are beholden to the designs dictated by traffic engineers' manuals. The new uOttawa crosswalk is actually longer than the old one, which is a big no-no in the guide books used by City of Ottawa engineers. Pedestrians need to be directed to cross where the distance is shortest between curb lines, say the rules. The theory is that if the City encourages pedestrians to be in the road longer than they absolutely need to, it exposes the City to liability.

However, the City engineers' position doesn't reflect reality. When you look beyond the curbs to the route that most pedestrians walk, it's clear that the new alignment is the natural path that would be taken by pedestrians, even if it 'exposes them to traffic' for a longer distance.

This is something I've long given up trying to communicate to the Bronson Avenue engineers. Here are a couple of paragraphs I wrote on the subject back in November leading up to the public open house:

"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.

Now, that second one is better, but it's still only looking at the curbline-to-curbline distance, instead of the shortest path for the whole route through the intersection. In so doing, they're assuming that pedestrians will detour away from the intersection to cross in the crosswalk. (Not to mention the fact that wheelchair users, the para-pedestrians, are often forced to enter the intersection at the corner because that is often the only part of the sidewalk that is level with the road surface)

Below I've drawn in red where I walk when I'm going down Gladstone. I walk down the sidewalk, and continue in a straight line. That is what I consider a shorter route, even though more of it is on asphalt.

Naturally, not all pedestrians are coming from Gladstone and staying on Gladstone after crossing Bronson, though I suspect most are.

Of the various other combinations of origins and destinations a pedestrian can take to cross here, the 'shortest distance' scheme only really benefits those who come to the intersection along Bronson from the north (left of image), cross Bronson, then go back north to where they came from but on the other side of Bronson (and ditto for people coming from and returning to points south of Gladstone along Bronson). I suspect this is the combination encountered the least.

A more common route option would be those who are walking along Gladstone and need to cross Bronson to walk up the far side of Bronson (or vice versa). As a sample route, let's assume I'm walking from my place on the north side of Gladstone (top of image, left sidewalk) to Dolmades, which is along Bronson on the northwest corner of the intersection (bottom left of the image).

To do this the way the intersection used to be (see the aerial photo screenshot above), I would walk from the sidewalk along Gladstone, enter the intersection outside the crosswalk, cross over the crosswalk, and leave the intersection to the store's front door, right in front of the white stop bar for vehicles. For most of the crossing, I'm not in the crosswalk, and for half of it I'm in the huge gap between the crosswalk and the line behind which vehicles are supposed to stop (but never do). That's not very safe, but according to the traffic manual this is the "recommended" crossing. Same for the south side.

The crossing distance is improved a bit with the engineers' revision with the northeast (top-left) corner coming closer into the intersection, making the stop line/crosswalk gap is a bit smaller, but the City's design still keeps the cars well back from the intersection, giving me a false sense of security to walk where in fact motorists are likely to creep forward. So as I'm making my shortcut to pick up Greek takeout, a motorist stops after the stop bar and whacks me.

If, however, you put the crosswalks in the path that pedestrians want to take (in red, as before), you can move the stop bar up closer to the intersection (see below), allowing motorists on Bronson to see further up Gladstone before entering the intersection (to see that it's safe to cross), and giving pedestrians a more realistic indication of where to expect cars to stop. There's less ambiguous space where a pedestrian can get hit.

The underground work is mostly finished at Bronson and Gladstone, and new curbs and sidewalks are in the process of being installed right now. It's great to see on the ground how much shorter the crossing distances are. Gladstone will reopen to east-west traffic by Labour Day, though work will continue on sidewalks and landscaping with the one lane of traffic each way.

The crosswalks won't be painted until after Bronson is repaved in October or beyond, and the concrete crosswalks likely won't be installed until sometime next year. Unless the University of Ottawa decides to open a campus at Bronson and Gladstone sometime soon, the City's traffic engineers will still be in charge, and they'll put in the crooked crosswalks according to their manuals, making this discussion a purely academic one. And even if the point weren't moot for that reason, it would be anyway because I'll still cross where I want to, not just between the lines.

At least U of O knows what I'm talking about!

Edit: Success! The lines on the north side crosswalk at Bronson and Gladstone were painted
where the red lines go! Either someone read my blog post, or it sunk in to the engineers' heads after all those times I mentioned it to them in meeting after meeting.

[Tune in on Wednesdays at noon for a new pedestrian-themed blog post. View the Pedestrians label for previous Peds on Weds posts]

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