On Monday, Eric Darwin posted a rhetorical question on his blog—What were they thinking?—in reference to some sidewalk work at the Delta Ottawa City Centre on Lyon Street. As it happens, the question does have an answer, and it involves a deeper look (literally) than how the sidewalk looks now.
Here's a photo of the hotel in March 2012, seen from under the walkway which connects the East and West Memorial buildings. The building with the orange tarp in front, also reflected in the glass façade of Constitution Square, is the Delta Ottawa City Centre hotel, originally opened as the Skyline Hotel in 1967 and most recently known as the Crowne Plaza.
In September 2011, I had a post with my photos of the Crowne Plaza taken in recent years. This was in immediate response to posts on West Side Action (since removed?) and on Urbsite about the demolition that had just started on the entranceway. The Urbsite post has a rich history of the building, including construction photos.
The important bit for the purposes of this post, however, is that the entrance used to have a ramp to a second-storey doorway with a heavy canopy above it. The ramp went up from Albert Street and came down on Queen Street. If you zoom in, you can see the slope of the sidewalk along Queen Street:
The Urbsite post, and indeed my own, ended here, at the removal of the ramp. So I'll pick up where I left off. You can see the lower doorway, for pedestrians who braved the dark underbelly of the ramp, and the upper doorway, for motorists and hotel guests arriving by taxi or limo. The surrounding glass was boarded up for the demolition of the concrete ramp, only the butt of which remains, embedded into the façade structure:
Then the rest of the three-storey-tall entranceway was stripped do the gridiron, exposing the former entrance fixtures, including the chandelier. Work continued on demolishing the exterior, which required digging down to the roof of the parking garage underneath. A bed of tires was placed over the sidewalks to protect them from the tracks of the excavator, as the sidewalks had just been built the previous year when Lyon Street was resurfaced.
The interior of the hotel (that is, the parts that were still in use) was walled off from this alcove with drywall on steel studs. As a result, the two stylish single-stringer staircases which flanked the entrance were exposed for all to see. Here's the one on the right:
With all that work on the main entrance, the side doors on Queen Street were used for access during the construction.
Here's a more oblique angle. The black semicircular canopy on the left is the temporary Queen Street entrance. The red canopy beyond is a Tim Horton's tucked into the building's podium. Again, the sunstruck hotel is reflected in the glass of its neighbour, and this time its shaded side is also reflected in the 22-storey Place de Ville Tower A, of the same vintage. This photo was taken in December 2011, while the entryway was enclosed by an orange tarp covering to allow construction to continue over the winter:
By July 2012, a new, grander entryway had been built on the Queen Street side (as was a counterpart on Albert Street). These permanent entrances would be secondary when the main entry work is finished. I'm glossing over many of the details because I want to get to the part about the sidewalks!
On that note, the man in the red shirt below is standing on the ramp that Eric was talking about, but this is the old ramp left over from the Skyline/Crowne Plaza entranceway, a rather steep one (click to zoom in). I was mulling which of a number of photos I could use to illustrate this, when I noticed the filename of this photo had serial number 50000. Easy choice!
At night, the glass front exposed the progress being made inside (sadly, no more chandelier), and the new glass ground floor walls expose the remainder of the lobby. Two triangular steel structures in the front 'yard' of the building, which look like upended tower crane bits, form part of the new canopy under construction:
If you zoomed in on the photo with the man in the red shirt, you'd see that the roof of the underground parking garage was still exposed. Chuck Clark, a.k.a. "Southfacing", posted a photo on Flickr that he took during a flight over Ottawa in October 2011, which reveals even more of the underground structure.
By November 2012, the new entranceway was ready for use. The new canopy was complete, grass was planted, and the concrete apron had been poured for the driveway.
All that was left was the sidewalks on public property (and, actually, some upgrades to the landscaping were also done this most recent summer). Remember those tires put down to insulate the sidewalk from the tracks of the construction machinery? Well Ottawa sidewalks aren't designed to withstand that much weight, so this is how they ended up (photo from September 2012):
Despite Eric's wisecrack about the City's sidewalk inspector marching over, that is exactly what happened: one of the City's building inspectors required the contractor to pull out this cracked-up sidewalk and pave it in asphalt so it could be plowed during the winter. The sidewalk between the driveway and Queen Street was already paved in asphalt, and at a ridiculously steep angle. Paving it in asphalt at least gave them the winter to figure out how they were going to mitigate the slope when the permanent sidewalk is installed, however this did leave a very slippery slope:
In the spring of this year (2013), towards the end of April, the temporary sidewalks were removed on all three sides to allow the permanent installation. Here on the corner of Albert and Lyon, looking east down Albert, you can see the exposed limits of the parking garage below. If you zoom in, you can also see the cross-section of the concrete slab for the entranceway on top of it.
Back over on the Queen side, it's harder to make out the same elements, but you can definitely make out the big difference in grade between the curb and the driveway. (As an aside, you can also see the super-sized black-and-white photo behind the hotel counter inside)
The concrete sidewalk along Lyon was put in, but the ramps were temporarily put in gravel while a solution was found that would satisfy the City building inspector. Zoom in to see how incredibly steep the ramp would have been if it had been installed like this!
The finished ramp, seen here in August 2013, has a much shallower slope, and also, I'm told, heating elements underneath to avoid the problem of ice build-up in the winter (though I didn't catch it being installed). There is, as Eric observes, a change in slope at the property line, but these two pedestrians don't seem bothered by it.
There is no easy fix to this slope; it would involve major modifications to the underground structure itself, essentially cutting away at the box and reconstructing its wall and ceiling.
You also can't extend the slope that's on the hotel side over to the public sidewalk and then have a steeper ramp for motorists at the end, a.k.a. "Toronto-style" sidewalks (a topic about which I'm overdue to write). This is because the entrance is very close to the intersection, and keeping the sidewalk flat across the driveway would mean a steep drop not only for motorists driving onto Queen, but also at the intersection where the sidewalk needs to be lower for pedestrians and wheelchair users.
So in a nutshell, for the question "what were they thinking when they made the sidewalk so steep," the answer is: they were thinking it would be worse if the sidewalk were even steeper. It's not an ideal sidewalk, but compared to what was there before, it's still an improvement.
[Tune in on Wednesdays at noon for a new pedestrian-themed blog post. View the Pedestrians label for previous Peds on Weds posts]