Monday, September 30, 2013

Bronson reopens for the last time

After two years of construction, Bronson Avenue reopens to through traffic today, whereas it had been closed between Laurier and Somerset (the headline of the linked PSA wrongly states Gladstone). I thought I'd post some snapshots to summarize the progress.

As with last year, the reopening isn't necessarily something to celebrate, as Bronson will no doubt return to its status as a traffic sewer for hasty drivers with little or no connection to Centretown, the roadway is the same width as before the reconstruction (despite the Community's strong desire to get it rebuilt otherwise), but without all the potholes to slow them down. There will hopefully be some degree of relief on the side streets which have been host to cut-through traffic when Bronson was closed.

Recall how disruptive the closure was to road users of all modes. Not only did it disrupt the patterns of people who were just passing through, but when the intersection of Somerset and Bronson was closed, bus riders had quite a walk to get to the nearest bus stop. Customer traffic to the businesses along Bronson slowed to a trickle when Gladstone was closed. There were some attempts to maintain temporary sidewalks for pedestrians also, as seen here in the muddy mess of a street, looking north along the former east sidewalk:

This year's construction brought work between Somerset (above), and Laurier.

Here, looking north from Laurier, we can see the new black traffic control signal poles going up. On the right is one of the old railroad track poles, which continues its task of supporting a hydro pole across the street.

Initially, the Bronson Avenue reconstruction was going to go all the way north to Queen Street, but the part between Laurier and Queen has been postponed until after the LRT megaproject is complete. This is a good thing, since the PAC (Public Advisory Committee) for the reconstruction project wanted to look at alternatives to the pedestrian-hostile sector in the Bronson/Albert/Commissioner/Slater triangle.

As I've discussed previously, the main impetus for this project isn't to deal with the poor surface conditions, but what's underneath. In the photo below, you can see a pair of men working on the sewer connections about 15 feet below the surface. Above their heads is a set of utility lines in a concrete duct crossing the street, and just below that on the right is the old cast-iron feedermain. Residents had to ensure day after day of rock-hammering to get the trenches this deep.

One weekend last year they left it was a waterfall. Without the roar of traffic or the clanging of the construction machinery, you could actually hear it. Hmm... that hole looks almost swimming-pool sized...

And that's just the sewer trenches. The three pipes below near Cooper Street are segments of feedermain, to push vast quantities of water at high speeds out to the growing south end of the city (pumped by the nearby Fleet Street water pumping station, next to Pooley's Bridge).

Those feedermain pipes are even deeper, under the west side of the street. Here's one capped off near Gladstone (the piece connecting it and the segment opposite needed to be custom-made from very precise on-site measurements, so it was filled in for the couple of weeks required for the piece to be manufactured).

In addition to sewer and water, hydro, Bell, gas, traffic, and just about any other utility you can think of updates their underground systems. This made for a lot of digging and filling in. Confusion, frustration and speculation led the City to hold an on-site press event to explain to interested members of the media just what goes on in these projects.

To reduce the amount of hoe-ramming (the giant jack-hammers on the back of excavators), the contractor employed drills to bore holes into the ground, making it easier to break away larger pieces of rock. However, people tended not to notice much difference when the constant R-R-R-R-R-R-R of the drills which replaced the RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT of the hoe rams.

So for all that digging, noise, and disruption, what do the local residents get?

Well, for starters, some of the work extended as much as a block to the west, such as at Laurier, Primrose, Christie and Gladstone. At Christie in particular, traffic calming improvements at the intersection one block west of Bronson at Cambridge, which had been approved in the late '90s, finally got installed. (The photo above, of a question mark on milled asphalt, is on Cambridge, and you can just see the new precast concrete paver boulevard/sidewalk next to it)

And for the residents actually on Bronson?

Just about every building on Bronson had something done to its frontage. Most had some degree of landscaping installed, with planter curbs that keep the salty winter water from running into it from the sidewalk. Maxim Hair Design and Anna Hair Design, just south of Somerset, are two examples of this. A significant number of trees were installed, most of which with soil cells underneath (a topic that's on my to-explain list!):

We also got decorative paver crosswalks on the side streets, and, since those aren't durable enough for crossing main streets, cast-in-place concrete crosswalks at the main intersections. Below, at Somerset and Bronson, the crosswalks have rebar installed and are awaiting the bright red concrete crosswalks to signify Chinatown:

At all the signalized crossings (including the new one at Arlington), the traffic control signals are painted black to match the pedestrian level lights and other furnishings along Bronson. Here at Gladstone, the poles and arms are up, but the traffic signal heads aren't yet. The ones in operation are on spanwire between temporary wooden poles. In the background, some furnishings have been installed at the bus stop in front of (and, to some extent, on) the Imperial Oil property next to re-Cycles. Oh, also, a number of the skewed crosswalks have been straightened to some degree.

Where possible, the sidewalks were widened, and some of them are very nicely wide. This was done not by moving the curbs closer together, however; it was done by pushing the back of the curbs further toward the buildings (though they are all still in the road allowance, i.e. public right-of-way). A decorative paver strip was installed along the edge of the sidewalk.

Like the red crosswalks, the pedestrian-level lights at Bronson used the Chinatown-style adjacent to Somerset, since Chinatown's motif deserves to be kept connected more than Bronson's does. The zodiac pavers used in last year's Somerset reconstruction between Booth and Preston were repeated in the paver strip near Bronson.

As with all street reconstructions, the opportunity was taken to take back the front yards from illegal front-yard parking that had encroached over the years. The remaining entrances were defined with breaks in the paver strip and "Toronto-style" sidewalks (another topic on my to-blog-about list!), which leave the travelled part of the sidewalk flat and only ramping down close to the curb, to avoid roller-coaster style sidewalks. (There were some sections where the roller-coaster design was necessary, for various reasons)

One space that was particularly unfriendly was this corner on Bronson behind Yang Sheng. The bus stop was often crowded with people, and the locations of the bench and utility boxes really got in the way. They were able to move the traffic control signal box to another corner and otherwise reconfigure the space (all of which is City property) to make this come across almost as a parkette, even sporting one of the new benches. On the right, just off camera, some creative sidewalk design was necessary to preserve the tree.

Another win for the community was the closure of the stub of Florence street. This former roadway will be assimilated into McNabb Park when it is redeveloped next year. In the meantime, a pathway has been installed to maintain the connection from the sidewalk. (The dip is actually for drainage, not for vehicular access. The road closure came late in the process, and the stormwater management system was designed with Florence Street being at the same grade as Bronson.)

Some of the businesses along Bronson used the opportunity to freshen up (and the Petro Canada at Bronson and Somerset has closed for some major renovations which will improve the pedestrian situation)

Globe Awards and Trophy repainted their place at James Street. Since James is one way exiting on Bronson, the sidewalk at the corner was widened to create a wide boulevard with trees and planters and a bench. This modification, which reduces the crossing distance for pedestrians, has been repeated at all of the one-way streets coming off Bronson.

There still remain some finishing touches, like replacing the high-level streetlights, activating the pedestrian lights north of Somerset, some additional tree planting (including some that will be done in the Spring 2014 planting season), and of course the artwork.

In the text above, I've linked (without duplication) to just about all of my Bronson-related posts from the last year or two. If you'd like to see them all at once, you can click on the Bronson label.

1 comment:

  1. An impressive run-through, Charles.