Sunday, December 21, 2008

Centretown, darkly, under snow

Winter has come to Centretown, and with that come earlier nights. I've acquired a nice compact tripod, which has allowed me to make some quite stunning night shots.

Here's a shot of "CENTRETOWN" written in the snow in early December in the garden at Bridgehead on Elgin. I had inscribed this the day before, and was surprised and interested at the way it had survived:

This shot of Bank Street, looking Northward from Nepean toward the unfinished Mondrian building, was taken before it opened back up to traffic. Just some finishing touches were left to be done on November 27, three days before it officially re-opened:

On December 9, we got quite a whammy downtown with the Chaudière bridge closed, a major snowfall, and a bus strike coming at midnight. While the streets were mostly bare of traffic by 9:30 pm, I plopped my tripod in the snowbank outside of Hartman's and took a few shots of the snowy Bank Street, first looking North to the intersection:

And then South down the street:

Two nights later (by coincidence, also at 9:30 pm), I was at the Bank/MacLaren bridgehead when the big machines came to take the snow away. I stepped out and took some photos from the opposite corner (sans tripod). Incidentally, I'm currently posting this entry from that Bridgehead. They've brought back the one-hour limit on the wireless, which is annoying, as it takes me well over an hour to compose each post.

I'm not sure if the snow clearing department understands that people still ride bikes in the Winter. Indeed, the City is recommending it as one of various alternatives during the bus strike. It's a pity, then, that the relatively new cutout for bicycles on MacLaren at O'Connor wasn't cleared of snow when I last saw it:

While the Chaudière bridge has partially re-opened, the bus strike and the various snow events continue to impact people's (terrible) driving habits. A police cruiser was stationed on the sidewalk on Elgin and Laurier with its lights flashing, presumably as a reminder to pay attention and drive responsibly.

Snow and traffic aren't the only troubles that the cold spell has brought. On the evening of the 16th, on my way home from a CCCA meeting at City Hall, I noticed a crew fixing a broken water main under Bank Street at Gladstone. Luckily, it happened at night, and didn't require the whole street to be closed to repair, both of which were the case with when the water main broke under Elgin Street in May.

I broke out the tripod and took some nice shots:

The water was pumped out of the hole and was running around the corner. In the very cold weather, it was hardening into a slush, which was then molded by the tires of passing cars before freezing into ice:

A friend of mine recently decided to move to Vancouver. He invited a few of us over to his place after the weekly dinner to take some things off his hands. This was my first time in his apartment, and I was quite enamored by the view of Centretown from his balcony. I took a number of photos that night, plus a few shots a couple of days later in daytime. Let me tease you with a couple of them...

Here's Elgin Street between Cooper and Lisgar, including Dunn's and Pizza Pizza store (the recent expansion of which I documented in my last post). Ironically, my tripod was too short to see over the banister, so I rested my camera against the rail.

The snow crews were removing the snow from Somerset Street West, immediately below us, and I got some shots of them doing their work. This shot is my new desktop at work (as always, click the photo to enlarge), which also makes a good deterrent for potential computer thieves who suffer from vertigo!

If you have an apartment with a good view of Centretown, I'd LOVE to come over to take photos, day or night!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pizza Pizza occupies former Shawarma STOP

(Note: a couple posts recently got mysteriously bumped to the top of the feed. Not sure why; I didn't do anything.)

My recent post with photos of the Aimee's Convenience Store Fire drew a lot of attention, which has inspired me to post again fairly quickly. Here's something that's ready to post:

I'm not a fan of Pizza Pizza (or any major chain pizzeria, especially when there are local, organic alternatives), nor do I like the idea of two small mainstreet stores being merged into one. But I am a sucker for construction.

This past fall, the Pizza Pizza on Elgin at Cooper engulfed the former Shawarma STOP next door. I remember when the Shawarma STOP opened; it was my first time seeing the words "falafel" or "shawarma". I also remember that my friend's description of both terms did not pique my interest.

Here's what the Shawarma Stop used to look like in early October, after closing but before much of the major construction. I found the Conservative political posters in the window (it was during the election campaign, after all) to be interesting for their '80s styling. Below is a shot from a bit further back, also showing the Pizza Pizza in its former dressing.

A week later, the Shawarma STOP's door had been converted to a window, indicating it would become part of the Pizza Pizza store next door. (The former Great Canadian Bagel at Lisgar recently had been similarly annexed by Johnny Farina's)

On the same day as the photo above, it was evident that work was underway inside:

The dressings for both stores (including the signs) were removed, and sheet rock was installed around the bottom of the storefront.

Incidentally, there's a neat sidewalk "feature" here at Cooper--a big hole in the concrete pavers, patched with black asphalt, with a spray-painted note saying "NO WALK". How inviting.

Tiles were added to the sheetrock that had been recently installed. These are slightly less garish than the bright orange-and-white tiles on the Pizza Pizza on Somerset and Bronson (not pictured).

Next was added some white styrofoam to give some form to the upper part of the storefront.

I was (masochistically) spending much of the day at City Hall on November 19 to watch the Transportation Committee discuss the Transportaion Master Plan and the Light Rail plan, catching a few hours at work as well. On my many trips between work and City Hall that day, I happened to catch the new Pizza Pizza sign being installed, and took a photo:

And by later that day, two of the three lit signs were installed:

After my last meeting at City Hall that night, I headed to Bridgehead for a reprieve. The darkness outside and the indoor lights gave an insight into the progress on the interior:

By December first, the last sign had not yet been installed, but they had painted the styrofoam and added some decorative lights (pretty tasteful, actually, for a Pizza Pizza), and new equipment was inside waiting to be installed.

Add some decorative awnings, and you're done!

(pardon the blurriness on this last shot, the weather hasn't quite cooperated enough for me to take a good shot of the finished product).

Let's hope the renovations included public washrooms. When attending Lisgar, my colleagues would be frustrated that they wouldn't let you use their washrooms, despite providing seating for patrons. (And this was apparently against a by-law, though I'm not sure which.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ainee's Convenience Store fire

The Citizen reported on a fire this morning at a convenience store on Bronson, just South of the Queensway. Luckily, nobody was injured. While technically outside Centretown, I decided to check out the site this afternoon, just South of Drummond's Gas.

I approached via Renfrew, but there were emergency vehicles at the end of that street, so I went around by Imperial, to approach via the gas station. Interestingly some bits of burth stuff had accumulated along the curb as far away as the fork of Imperial and Chamberlain.

Coming down Bronson, one lane was blocked off with a tightly-packed perimeter of barricades. Traffic was flowing, but the bottleneck kept a steady northbound stream of traffic.

The Citizen photo doesn't do justice to the amount of damage in the fire (of course, they can only show so much with a single photo). While their photo helps you see what the building used to be, it doesn't quite convey that the roof of the building toppled down and you can now see through the building:

A front angle:

Another thing you don't see in the Citizen's photo is the second building at the back which also had its roof come down:

Here's a shot of all the debris on the sidewalk in front of the place:

And a wider shot for more Northbound context. It was difficult to get a clear shot, with the constant traffic squeezing through the single northbound lane:

The Citizen story says that an explosion triggered the fire. I'm not sure if that's related to why there were DVD cases across the street:

One other thing I remarked is the "Tim Horton's Opening Soon" sign in the window of the gas station next door. That'll give some relief to the people waiting at the bus stop:

It's always terrible to see buildings burn down. Let's hope something useful gets built there at the scale of the neighbourhood, and not another parking lot.

Incidentally, for those of you who can't believe the retro-style price of gas displayed above, maybe this will make it seem more believable:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My Centretown includes culture

I'm pulling an all-nighter, so I'm a bit too tired to comment. Nevertheless, I hope you'll enjoy this brief pair of video clips from today's--er, yesterday's--rally at City Hall:

I'll be making my budget delegation tomorrow--er, in about five hours (hence the all-nighter).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Budget time at City Hall

It's that time of year again, when our fair City looks at its financial position for the following year, sees a mess, then proposes to cut vital community services to make up the difference.

As part of the requisite song-and-dance, town hall meetings are held for each ward for the public to come out and ask questions. Five central-area wards (Somerset, Capital, Kitchissippi, Alta Vista, and Rideau-Vanier) combined their meetings to this past Monday, November 24, from 7-9pm at the Assembly Hall at Lansdowne Park (which, by the way, is located in the Civic Centre, by going to the rear of the building and going down the stairs next to the upramp. Pity that the Lansdowne Park website and on-site directional signage doesn't tell you this.)

The meeting was fairly well attended, though there were plenty of spare seats.

They had a good system for speakers: instead of having everybody line up and wait, they gave out numbers early in the meeting so that people could remain seated. In all, 37 people were scheduled to speak, though some people left before their turn came up.

By luck, I was in the right place at the right time and got a low number.

I pointed out that all of the attention in communities and the media and by the many individuals and groups who came out to meetings such as this one was centred around a mere $10M in social spending, and that this was a red herring compared to the tens of millions of dollars of road-building projects in the budget, each of which add annual operating costs in future budgets. Later in the night, Old Ottawa South Community Association (OSCA) President Mike Jenkins echoed this when he lamented that one of the wealthiest cities in the country is talking about cutting daycare, volunteer-run rinks, and community centres.

Ted Horton of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa asked for support for the U-Pass pilot project, which would see $125 added to each U of O student's tuition fees in return for a transit pass. There is a real possibility that this pilot will finally come to fruition after years of hard work and negotiations by University groups and Councillors alike.

I happened to step out of the room again and caught the CTV cameras interviewing Ted before leaving at 8:30 to file their report:

Delegation #10 made a splash. I didn't catch the name of their garderie, but they did say that they were the only francophone daycare, I believe in all of Ottawa. A dozen or so of them on both sides of the aisle stood up, all wearing little blue scarves to represent the childcare services slated to be cut:

She then presented each of the Councillors at the table, plus City Treasurer Marian Similuk, with a scarf. Similuk, Holmes, and Doucet all donned their scarves.

Other interesting points that I caught included:
  • Christina Tessier, Director of the Bytown Museum, described the perennial stress that community service groups like hers face: Every year, the draft budget threatens to cut funding to programs like the Bytown Museum. While there is a decent chance Council will reinstate the funding, staff still must face the possibility that their job will not be there January 1st. Ms. Tessier said that after many years of this, she has made the difficult decision to leave her position for a more stable job in the private sector. I encountered this problem with my staff each year while on the board of a community group which used to run City programs.

  • Someone from the McNabb Skatepark, which the budget threatens to cut entirely, pointed out that a skatepark caters to all income levels, that it promotes health and wellbeing through physical activity, and that kids will skateboard anyway, so we'd be better to provide a positive alternative to, say, the human rights memorial!

  • City Hall denizen Catherine Gardner, of Bells Corners, pointed out that the rinks in Bells Corners are proposed to close yet kids won't be able to get to rinks in other parts of the city because of transit cuts!

  • As the official meeting closing time passed, Helen from People for a Better Ottawa compared the Consumer Price Index, which has an inflation this year of 2%, with the informal "Municipal Price Index", which is going up by 4.1%. This is because municipalities don't buy much bread or milk--things in the CPI--but lots of asphalt, concrete, and other materials whose prices are inflating quickly. Councillor Holmes said that Statistics Canada had been working on a MPI, but they took the person off of that project. Councillor Doucet pointed out that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is developing a MPI, on his recommendation.

  • Loretto Beninger, who is the vice-chair of the City's volunteer Arts, Heritage and Culture Advisory Committee, described the philosophy of the City's budget process, which dates back to the 1950's "grooved thinking" or "male breadwinner" model. In this outdated model, everything that was important to men (such as roads for a man to get to work, sports recreation for him when he gets home, plus sewers and garbage collection) was deemed "core" services, and womanly activities (such as arts and culture) were deemed "special interests". Despite the tremendous leverage in terms of return on investment that cultural spending brings to Ottawa (e.g. in tourism dollars), this model based on gender relationships continues to this day.

  • For the first time in 8 years, average tax assessments in Capital Ward are roughly at the municipal average. This is not the case in Somerset Ward, particularly in Dalhousie, where assessments are skyrocketing. This will magnify the effects of the inevitable tax increase.
The delegations finished at 10:30pm--an hour and a half past the scheduled closing time. By this point, two councillors had left, as had much of the audience who had already spoken.

Next week, Council will be hearing delegations from the public from Monday, December 1 until however long the delegations go. Originally, they were planning to have delegations on Monday and Tuesday, with Council to debate and decide on Wednesday to Friday, but last I heard, they were booking delegations into Thursday afternoon! It's going to be one hell of a week (or two) at City Circus!

People for a Better Ottawa are holding a rally at City Hall on Monday, December 1. At 10am residents are called upon to fill Council chambers to the rafters, then at noon there will be a rally at the newly-named Marion Dewar Plaza (formerly Festival Plaza--it's the Laurier entrance of City Hall), to "ask City Council if people matter as much as sewers and roads".

May we live in interesting times...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Light Rail Now @ the Gladstone

This morning, Councillors Clive Doucet and Christine Leadman held a press conference at the Gladstone Theatre on their proposal called Light Rail Now: Our Path Forward / Vision for Ottawa's Transportation Master Plan.

I went there to not only take in the subject matter (discussed below), but also to get an opportunity to photograph the inside of the redeveloped theatre, as a follow-up to my previous post on the reconstruction of the facade.

The inside foyer is simple in format and elegant in decoration, with two chandeliers, tile floors, a nice bar and coat-check.

Red carpets on either side take you in to the main theater, which for this press conference was crowded with people. (Pardon the blurry photo)

The main thrust of this plan is to build Electric Light Rail with eight stations along Carling instead of the Ottawa River Parkway, and to do it in the next five years. Both Councillors Doucet and Leadman presented their take, followed by transportation expert Morrison Renfrew, who reviewed the technical details and how they got to the estimates.

Councillor Doucet started off introducing the reasoning behind this proposal, including the increasing the usual (though still valid) arguments about how peak oil will cause operating costs of urban transportation systems to skyrocket. His presentation was punctuated with bouts of applause from the audience.

Councillor Clive Doucet presenting his vision for transit.Doucet pointed out that their system will build everything inside the greenbelt in five years, and everything outside the greenbelt in ten years. By comparison, in 2018, City Staff's plan will have built only the downtown tunnel, with spur lines to Tunney's Pasture and Blair. He also added that most Councillors will be dead by the time the "full" system, which still doesn't send rail to the suburbs, will be built. (To which City Transpotation Committee Chair Alex Cullen, who was in the back of the audience, drew a raucus laugh from the audience by asking if that was a death threat!) In addition to Cullen, Councillors Diane Deans and Diane Holmes were also in the audience.

Councillor Leadman followed, discussing the price tag and where the money for this will come from. Because their plan makes earlier and more extensive investments in rail transit, there is no need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on buses and busways, and the operating cost of the system is also lower (namely because a bus costs $80/hour to operate and can hold 100 passengers, requiring another bus and driver when ridership increases; whereas a double-articulated train can carry 250 passengers at a cost of $125/hr, and is a smoother ride whether you're sitting or standing). They specifically designed their system to fit within the budget envelope of the current plan, in order to show that you can get much more for the same price.

Following the presentations by the two Councillors, transportation expert Morrison Renfrew outlined the project.

He started by referring to Jane Jacobs' mantra that transit drives development, and illustrated it with the following two photos of Toronto's Yonge Street in 1950 and 1985. 30 years after the construction of the subway line, the street had plenty of development.

This is a key aspect to the Carling Avenue corridor: not only is there plenty of activity already there throughout the day (driven by the many hospitals, clinics, hotels, etc. along this corridor), but there is plenty of room for new develompents to be built. This will bring in funds to the City in terms of Development Charges, which are a considerable source of revenue for the City, and which will help pay for the rail. Compare this with the Ottawa River Parkway, which is in effect a protected space that will never see any development: it will be a "drive-thru" transit corridor, completely useless to the people who travel through it.

He also went through a section-by-section review of where the train would go and how it would be built. For example, in this photo below, he explained that you could cross the Queensway (Hwy 417) by merely tunneling through it. You'd need only to make some adjustments to the Westbound onramp.

As shown in the map below (as always, click to enlarge), the train would go between Lincoln Fields and the O-Train, and would go up the O-Train line to Bayview (which would be converted to Electric Light Rail for that section) and continue through downtown. The O-Train would remain in service and would be extended North to central Hull, removing the need for many buses to cross the Ottawa river carrying Gatineau-bound Ottawans. Mr. Renfrew said there are a dozen or so different ways to accommodate both the O-Train and ELRT on the same stretch.

The trains would be kept at the Bowesville rail yard site, which has already been approved, but would get there via the Southeast Transitway, saving the cost of converting the O-Train. Keeping the O-Train as it is (though extending it) and having the rail from the south come in along the Southeast Transitway (which was designed to be converted to rail) and into downtown from the East will help provide alternatives to people who want to travel between the East and South ends without necessarily going downtown, and will balance the passenger load coming into downtown from the East and West.

It will also provide rail sevice to the developing South-end communities, which is something demanded by the area's residents and Councillors alike.

It is refreshing to hear Councillors think for themselves and not be spoon-fed by Staff. This is the type of plan that Ottawa needs. There are a few details that need refinement, but it has a much more aggressive (and beneficial) timetable than the bus plan proposed by City Staff. I hope that Council will take this and run with it.

Councillors Leadman and Doucet will be presenting this plan as part of the Transportation Master Plan discussion at this Wednesday's Joint Transporatation & Transit Commitee meeting on Wednesday morning at City Hall. They'll want your support there!

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Multi-unit Newspaper Box on Bank

On Friday, I got a tip about a new arrival on Bank Street.

After four or five years of negotiations, a multi-unit newspaper box was recently installed on Bank Street near Albert. Naturally, I spent some time on Saturday taking photos of it.

You'll note that there are two units, carrying a total of ten newspapers. They're also lifted off the ground, partly for easier access, but also to keep the ground clean near newspaper stands. If the BIA, the newspaper companies, and the City agree, this type of unit can replace the hodgepodge of miscellaneous newspaper boxes that clutter downtown streets, such as this collection at Bank and Cooper:

This unit has three vacant spaces for free newspapers. The Citizen and the Post are in there as paid newspapers, and some free magazines, including Auto Mart.

Auto Mart is one of a collection of magazines that we frequently find in the tall box called the "Big Yellow Box", whose headquarters are (or at least, used to be) on Gladstone just West of the tracks.

Aside from the fact that Auto Mart is distributed mainly in transit- and pedestrian-oriented areas (thus encouraging people to move from those modes to driving), the "Big Yellow Box" identifies a problem that these multiplex boxes pose: while the BIA likes how the new boxes reduce clutter, newspapers rely on their coloured boxes to identify them and promote their brand. Each of the thousands of boxes a newspaper has out on the streets is a promotion of the newspaper--heck, they probably lose money on the darn things. That might be why the Sun isn't in this multi-box.

Perhaps in the next version of this multi-box, each paper will get a coloured panel instead of the plain black. There's also room on the back side of the unit:

For those worried about such a large thing cluttering up the sidewalk, it doesn't really stand out from the other street furniture on Bank Street, as seen in this shot from up the sidewalk:

Or this one from down the street on the other side:

There are actually a large number of unresolved problems, though. For example, the City can't ban standard newspaper boxes from area where this type of box is installed (although I understand that there is agreement by the newspaper companies not to put any standalone boxes on the same block as this multi-unit, at least for the one-year trial).

Similarly, it would take lots of effort for the City to be in charge of these boxes, at a time when the City is trying to reduce its workload. So the boxes will either be owned and/or operated by the BIA, or it will fall under the Mayor's "street furniture" plan, and will be outsourced with benches, garbage bins and bike racks to ClearChannel, Pattison, or some other gigantic media company.

If they are thusly outsourced, then what are the implications to the right of freedom of speech? Will the company be able to deny access to papers it doesn't like? Will new papers (including community papers) have access to the boxes?

There are definitely many factors at play here, but at the moment I'm going to enjoy that they tidy up the place the bit.

I'll leave you with a gratuitous shot of Bank Street between Albert and Laurier, with the Mondrian under construction in the background: