Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Peds on Weds: Toronto-style sidewalks part 2 - a little history

As promised, this week's Peds on Weds blog post continues the theme from last week's introduction to "Toronto-style" (or "ramp style") sidewalks, which, you will recall, are continuously flat with only the section nearest the curb ramping down to meet the curb at driveways, like so:

I'll be limiting this week's entry to how we got to this design, which unfortunately requires a lot of text from City meeting minutes (ahem, back when they had text minutes you could search and skim instead of audio recordings you need to pore over and transcribe). You'll have to wait for next week for the well-illustrated post about criticisms and issues with Toronto-style sidewalks, which you won't have to read in the same blog post as this largely technical post.

An interesting element of the story is that it starts in 2001, as the Transportation & Transit Committee for the first City Council for the newly-amalgamated City of Ottawa considered its very first budget (or in this case, reviewed the budget prepared by the Ottawa Transition Board).


The 2001 budget documents aren't online, but the minutes of the April 18, 2001 Transportation & Transit Committee budget meeting make reference to what is presumably a project to develop new sidewalk standards, and Councillor Clive Doucet moves a motion to delay sidewalk projects until the standards are written:

Sidewalk Rehabilitation

Pg. 275

Councillor Doucet proposed that sidewalk rehabilitation be delayed until the new standards have been established. When questioned whether this could be accomplished, Mr. Hewitt advised that it would be a major problem for the rehabilitation work that would be done in conjunction with road reconstruction. Ms. Leclair added that since committee will not receive the report on the establishment of sidewalk standards until late summer/early fall the authority would be approved for the deferred projects, but the actual work would not be programmed until the following year.

Councillor Bloess indicated that last year there was funding for sidewalk rehabilitation for St. Joseph Boulevard, but noted it was not shown in Document 1. Mr. Martin clarified that some of those funds relate to works in progress and he confirmed the money was still there.

Moved by C. Doucet

That sidewalk rehabilitation be delayed where possible and with agreement of the ward Councillor until new standards have been created, which will deal with sidewalk cuts and width and that the money be forwarded into the 2002 budget.


YEAS: E. Arnold, R. Bloess, C. Doucet, J. Harder, J. Legendre....5
NAYS: A. Cullen, P. Hume, P. McNeely, M. Meilleur....4

Sure enough, in the Transportation & Transit Committee Capital budget for the following year, the first substantive page of the 208 page PDF makes reference to the (seemingly few) projects completed in the previous year (emphasis added):
The 2001 program included:
  • Part 1 of the winter route optimization
  • Scoping analysis of snow disposal facilities
  • Process initiated for the harmonization of maintenance standards for road, sidewalk, park and tree operations
  • Process initiated for harmonization of health and safety standards
So the budget item referenced in the 2001 minutes was the harmonization of road maintenance standards from the various different standards of the former municipalities.


By May 2002, the Transportation, Utilities, and Public Works department (or TUPW) had prepared draft harmonized guidelines for the City of Ottawa. It came to the May 15, 2002, meeting of the Transportation & Transit Committee. The draft guidelines focus on wide suburban rights of way with enough space to put a one-metre-wide boulevard between the sidewalk and the roadway, allowing the ramp to be on that part of the road instead of on the pedestrian-travelled part of the sidewalk.

Any street that wasn't wide enough for such facilities (essentially all downtown streets) become exceptions that can't handle the guidelines and are left with the slopey sidewalks (or worse) as described in last week's blog post.

The discussion at committee led to some amendments, shown in underline, before the recommendation was forwarded to and passed without further changes by Ottawa City Council on May 22, 2002 (emphases original):

2.         Harmonized Sidewalk Technical Design Guidelines

Committee Recommendation as amended

That Council approve the harmonized Sidewalk Technical Design Guidelines (STDG) attached to this report as Document 1, as amended by the following :
  1. That the “Sidewalk Technical Design Guidelines” document be amended by adding consideration of heritage district guidelines as an additional factor to be considered when determining the location and/or need of sidewalks.
  2. That the Sidewalk Technical Design Guidelines be adopted as an interim measure for existing city sidewalk/city construction.
  3. That public consultation be undertaken as part of the process for finalizing guidelines city-wide for both new and existing communities.
  4. That the following Motion be referred to the Mobility Issues Advisory Committee and to the Accessibility Advisory Committee:
    As part of the development of sidewalk design guidelines, a re-evaluation be made of depressed curbs at corners for universal access. The concern here is that they are dangerous as they provide no protection to pedestrians who are standing on the corner.
The Heritage clause was added by Councillor Jacques Legendre, the others were all added by Councillor Clive Doucet. Points 2 and 3, respectively making these guidelines temporary and requiring public consultation in the finalization of the guidelines, is the one to keep in mind.

It should be noted that the discussions back then were a lot more heated than they are today. They were still ironing out the practices of all the former municipalities, 'harmonizing' the bylaw and trying to find the right balance.


In August of 2003, Transportation and Transit Committee considered a report relating to the reconstruction of Holland Avenue between Tyndall and Carling. As mentioned above, Holland Avenue isn't wide enough for the ideals described by the guidelines, so considerable compromises were proposed in the staff report:
Holland Avenue has a width that makes it impossible to use current roadway design standards for all elements of the roadway. A design that incorporated the best balance of reduced widths was developed so that trees would not have to be removed. The following table highlights the desired width and the proposed width for each element:

Roadway ElementDesired WidthProposed Width
Parking Lane2.8m2.5m
Shared Bicycle/Motor Vehicle Lane4.3 to 4.8m4.25m

The constricted width of Holland Avenue will require that sidewalks be built without boulevards. They will be designed and built according to the City of Ottawa Harmonized Sidewalk Technical Design Guideline (as approved by City Council on 22 May 2002) for sidewalks built without boulevards. This will reduce the “roller-coaster” effect by providing 2.4m transition slopes at driveways (i.e. the sidewalk will slope gently down to the driveways), and providing cross-falls that remain fairly constant along the length of the sidewalk (i.e. varying between 2% and 2.8%).
The Committee minutes extract that accompanied the report when it rose to City Council suggests that Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen was the first to raise Toronto-style sidewalks in the initial questions of staff. This comment was echoed by a public delegation made by three area residents, Alayne McGregor, Brett Delmage, and Linda Hoad, although it's clear the residents came to the table with concerns about roller-coaster sidewalks.

Cullen moved a motion to implement the Toronto-style sidewalks on Holland, and this became a pilot project to evaluate the design.
9. Holland Avenue Reconstruction: Tyndall Street to Carling Avenue – PROPOSED ROADWAY MODIFICATIONS

That Council approve the proposed roadway modifications to Holland Avenue, between Tyndall Street and Carling Avenue as shown in Annexes 2A and 2B, amended by the following:

That the sidewalk portion of the Holland Avenue reconstruction project be designed to further minimize the “roller coaster” effect by implementing a ramp component for driveway access based on the Toronto model as a pilot project;

And that staff report to Committee on the design implications of this model on this project.


In 2004, the new-design sidewalks were installed on Holland as part of that street's reconstruction, and also on Delaware Avenue, a one-block street in the Golden Triangle (recall that Delaware Avenue played a role in the creation of the Centretown Citizens Community Association!):
Upon receiving Council direction to implement the Toronto Standard as a pilot on the Holland Avenue reconstruction project, discussion was initiated with the Accessibility Advisory Committee. While the Committee acknowledged some potential negative aspects of the steeper ramp component, it concluded that the benefits of having a consistent longitudinal flat travel surface could outweigh the impediment imposed by the steep ramp adjacent to the curb at driveway accesses, and supported proceeding with the pilot.
A 2005 memo inviting comments on the renamed "Ramp Style Sidewalks" was issued to solicit feedback as part of the promised public consultation.


In May of 2006, Transportation Committee (which by then had been split apart from Transit Committee) received the report detailing the results of the Holland and Delaware pilots and the related consultation exercises.

There was a fair bit of consultation activity that went into the report, including with the various Advisory Committees whose mandates overlapped the project:

Advisory Committee consultation included discussions, site meetings, presentations and requests for input from the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee (PTAC), Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) and the Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee (RCAC) over the course of the pilots and monitoring period.  The committees were advised of the pilot installations in January of 2005 following construction.  The Department encouraged committee members to use them as frequently as possible through the monitoring period and to report back to the Department.  The request for input was followed up with presentations to each of the committees in late March 2005, providing the provision of information related to the background leading to the pilot installations, pre-pilot investigations and issues identified, the standards used, proposed monitoring and assessment, the need for committee input (in particular those associated with accessibility issues), and a draft Departmental recommendation.

The meetings were well attended...

Because the committee was only tasked with receiving a report, it didn't have to rise to full Council. The motion to receive the report was amended with two motions—moved by Councillors Legendre and Doucet, respectively—that would make the ramp style be the City standard (emphases original):

That Transportation Committee receive this report for information;


and approve the following:

That the proposed standards for ramps on sidewalks 1.8 metres and wider not revert to the “traditional” standard in the cases of high volume commercial and institutional entrances.

That no “roller coaster” sidewalks be installed without consultation and agreement from the ward councillor.


But the new sidewalk designs haven't been universally well received, even during the pilot period. Next week in Part 3, with the nitty-gritty technical stuff out of the way, I'll get to the shortcomings of the Toronto-style sidewalk design, and I'll have plenty of photos to illustrate them in Part 4!

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


  1. Want I have yet to understand is why the city uses asphalt to rehabilitate our sidewalks. Such is the case on stretches of McLeod. It simply shouts 'we are cheap and we don't care'.

    1. You're at least half right. It's more like, "we can't afford to do it properly but we can't do nothing". When the City becomes aware of a road hazard (uneven sidewalk, pothole, etc.) it is obliged to make it safe within a reasonable timeframe.