Finding room for all road users in the constrained area of an existing road allowance is tough. Especially on streets in the downtown core, north of Laurier. When Light Rail is built, the station entrances will dump thousands of passengers onto Queen Street's sidewalks, where presently these cohorts are distributed among Albert and Slater. So how do you fit all those people onto Queen Street's "meets the minimum width for City standards so they're fine" sidewalks?
One of the things that struck me as a bit odd in the City's Downtown Moves planning exercise was the prospect of reorganizing the downtown core streets (Queen Street in particular) such that the lanes which are used for parking outside of rush hour become sidewalk during rush hour. Imagine the parking lanes on the reconstructed portion of Somerset, except in the same brick as the sidewalk and with no curb, or at most a token separation of an inch or so.
Aside from skepticism that this will ever happen (no source of funding was identified for implementing DOMO's recommendations, meaning that post-LRT changes to the streetscape beyond road paint and signage are unlikely), I'm also skeptical to the practicality of this particular recommendation.
Exhibit A: O'Connor Street, east side, just south of Albert, next to the Sheraton:
I'd never noticed it before because I don't go that way often, and when I do there are usually cars parked over it. But in the space (which is signed as a "Hotel zone") you have a parking lane built in concrete like a sidewalk at the roadway surface level. Right where I was standing when I took the picture is a pinch point, and if you're walking southbound (toward the camera) there is a building that blocks your view of pedestrians coming in the other direction. I'd be interested to learn from people who walk this sidewalk regularly if this is indeed the case.
It's signed as a hotel zone, so parking is allowed there during rush hour too. This means that it isn't currently used as an 'overflow sidewalk', but the designs in DOMO for the part-time sidewalks looked pretty close to this. However, the curb made for a big difference: even though the space was empty, I instinctively hugged the sidewalk and avoided the step down the curb (though I might have been pushing my bike at the time...). I can imagine the psychological barriers to such a facility being practical, not to mention the fit the traffic engineers would have to put cars and pedestrians in the same place at different times!
If you eliminate the curb, would it be better? I'm not so sure. For walking on, perhaps, but have a look at Exhibit B: I was in Brockville to check out a park named for an ancestor of mine. Brockville's main street has a cobbled parking lane between the road and the sidewalk which swoops up to meet both of them at their respective grades:
This bears some similarity to 'naked streets', which is a philosophy I agree with in theory: you get cars, bikes, and peds all in the same space and everyone slows down and pays attention to what's going on. Eric happened to mention it in his latest.
In practice, however, I found this very unsettling—both as a motorist and as a pedestrian. I'm fine with parallel parking (though many aren't), but you're also doing it on an angle, which throws off some of your reference points, and there's no bump when you hit the curb to back you up if you went too far; you hit some piece of sidewalk furniture and potentially damage both it and your vehicle. (This is actually the point of naked streets, to some extent)
But as a pedestrian, I was surprised at how unsettling it felt to walk along a sidewalk with cars manoeuvering, essentially, in 'my' space. Because the sidewalk was flush with the slopey parking lane, it felt like people were parking their cars on the sidewalk. And it was equally discomforting to know that the motorist has no curb to bump into to let them know they went too far. Not only could the motorist hit a piece of sidewalk furniture (of which Brockville's main street sidewalks were voluminously supplied), but they could hit me!
Sometimes these things just take some getting used to, like how I've learned to relax when people walk in the Laurier segregated bicycle lane (making it a de facto overflow pedestrian lane when the sidewalk is crowded). But curbs are there to keep people from driving on the sidewalk, and if you take them out to let people walk in the 'car space', then it's hard to keep the cars from driving in the 'pedestrian space'.
[Tune in on Wednesdays at noon for a new pedestrian-themed blog post. View the Pedestrians label for previous Peds on Weds posts]