Friday, October 29, 2010

The old tree switcheroo on Metcalfe

For fans of the Urban Tree Conservation by-law, including those on the Centretown Citizens Community Association's Trees & Greenspace Committee, there has been a lot of activity lately on a couple blocks of Metcalfe around Gilmour, Lewis, and Waverley.

Back in October 2009, 296 Metcalfe (at Lewis, South-West corner) changed occupants from Bridgetech Systems to Dr. Patrick Murphy's hearing institute.

In the front lawn was a large tree in full fall colours:

In early November, the tree was removed. While the by-law requires a sign to be posted one week before and one week after the tree removal, this doesn't apply to diseased trees that are a safety hazard (a permit is still required, just no sign).

Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to distinguish between an illegal tree removal and the legal removal of a diseased tree, as explained by David E. Barkley, Manager of Forestry Services at the City of Ottawa, that month in response to my inquiry:

The tree removed was a private tree, a permit was issued for the removal but due to the poor condition of the tree, it was deemed a safety hazard which means the posting of the permit was waived, the normal requirement for posting is 7 days prior and 7 days following the removal.

I have attached the web link to the report and by-law in case you would like to review the details
A couple days after the machine's first bite off the tree, all that was left was a pile of mulch.

Finally, in October 2010, the City installed new trees on the boulevard.

Down the block and across the street, the Executive apartments at 305 Metcalfe had some landscaping work done in July 2009, removing some brush:

In this shot from mid-August, there's a fair size tree on the boulevard, maybe eight inches in diameter at chest height.

But by March 2010, that tree was removed--I'm not sure by whom--leaving just a stump. As you can see in the photo from in front of 296 Metcalfe above, it looks like there weren't any new trees planted in front of the Executive.

Then not too far away, the Chancery of the Nigerian High Commission has done some exterior renovations as well. At the end of March 2010, we can see three trees along Metcalfe, each three and a half storeys tall, plus shrubs along Lewis:

By late June, they had removed the trees and shrubs and were preparing to re-sod the lawn.

They took this opportunity to apply a marble finish to the bare concrete bed at the ground level. This was complicated by the fence right in front of that surface.

In mid-October, a second fence was added to the building's perimeter, and two small saplings were planted to replace the three large trees. Hopefully they will survive in that narrow grassy boulevard like the three old trees did on the lawn.

North of this stretch, Metcalfe has lots of trees that make it a pleasant street, despite being a rush-hour traffic artery.

While the loss of five mature trees is troublesome, in a couple of decades the five new trees planted will be big enough to help restore Metcalfe to its former glory, like Kent Street before it was widened, or Bronson Avenue after it is narrowed.

If they don't get cut down again.

[The series What I learned in Montréal resumes next week.]

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rideau Canal chalets visit the Arch

This was one of many chalets and washrooms for the Rideau Canal Skateway that was brought through Centretown on Elgin and Bronson on Saturday to get to its Winter resting place. It was passing by the Chinatown Gateway Arch.

A pleasant reminder that we have something to look forward to as it gets colder. Check out posts with the Canal label for my many posts on the Rideau Canal skateway.

[Look for more one-photo posts under the label Singles]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Montreal Part 3: Métro station function

Welcome to Part 3 in the series "What I learned in Montréal," documenting the day trip I took with my friend Meg on a Saturday in May to check out Montréal's cycling and transit infrastructure for lessons that can be applied in Ottawa. Previously, in Part 2, I discussed the segregated bike lanes and other bike lane infrastructure.

In today's post, I'd like to talk about Montréal's subway--the métro. With Ottawa planning a light-rail transit tunnel through downtown with four underground stations, lots of transit aficionados are comparing the depth (up to 40 metres deep) to some of Montréal's deeper stations. This will be a big change for Ottawa transit riders, who are used to disembarking at one of the seven surface-level stations (Bay to Campus) that serve this same distance. Fewer stations will lead to a longer walk from station to destination, plus the added walk from platform to surface. Ottawa's transit planners are counting on making up for this time with the train's faster travel through downtown with fewer stops and no other traffic to contend with.

Still, I wanted to see what the user experience was like, how long it takes to get to the surface, and if this trip feels onerous from the user standpoint. And since I grew up in subway-less Ottawa, I wanted to see what other things worked and didn't work in Montréal.

The first thing we noticed was that access points were all over the place. Unfortunately, the markers don't indicate which station they are (though we had navigation problems with street signs while cycling, too).

The ground level entrance to the stations were pretty plain, except for those inside other buildings. I don't think any of Ottawa's will be this big. There was more going on once you went down to the mezzanine level, where you find the ticket booths and turnstiles.

While a daypass is $7, the fine print is that you also have to purchase an Opus smart card for $3. This touchless card allows you to get through the turnstiles, as well as on buses.

While we rode most of the métro system, we only checked out a few of the stations. Outremont, on the blue line is 13.8m deep, and it took us 2.5 minutes to get from the train to the street. Ottawa's will be 30-40m deep.

Charlevoix has the deepest platform of all Métro stations, at 29.6m deep on the Honoré-Beaugrand platform (still less deep than Ottawa's proposed stations). This station has two very long escalators, separated by the turnstiles on the mezzanine level, plus a short flight of stairs to the lower platform level.

Charlevoix is a stacked-platform station, with one direction on stop of the other, which is not a likely configuration for any of Ottawa's stations. We timed ourselves getting from the surface level (top of the upper escalators) to getting our feet on the lower platform, and it took us 2 minutes and 10 seconds at a reasonable walking pace on an uncrowded Saturday. This, of course, doesn't count the additional time it would take a commuter to exit the station once at ground level and get to his or her destination, or to wait for the train after getting to the platform.

One thing Meg and I noticed was that it felt like the horizontal travel (i.e. walking along corridors) felt more time-consuming than the vertical travel (going up and down escalators). Walking from one escalator to another also helped to break up the trip, so that you didn't feel you were standing on the same escalator--or walking along the same corridor--forever. But then we were also exploring these stations for the first time also. Having to go up three flights of escalators, as with Ottawa's proposed Downtown East station, might get annoying after the first few times. Additionally, while our goal was to consider the depth of the stations, a traveller trying to get to a certain location might find the reverse--that the vertical travel gets in the way of their horizontal trajectory. They might also appreciate, for example, that this walkway at Henri-Bourassa saves them from having to walk that far outside during the wintertime.

Some of the walks, like to the yellow line at Berri-UQÀM, are so long that these "Halte-Métro" resting stands are built into the corridor walls so you can take a rest during the long walk. There were also even uglier stainless-steel seats for the same purpose. Paradoxically, one of the reasons Ottawa's stations will be so deep was to avoid such walks: if the stations were shallower, you'd have to have the platform for one direction under one street and the other direction a block away. But who really has to transfer from one direction to the other at the same station?

Since Montréal's Métro stations were built before accessibility was a prime consideration, stations are slowly being retrofitted to include escalators, as is the case here with Côte-Vertu station (whose renovations should be complete by the end of 2010).

Once you actually get to the platform, you notice a few things. For example, here at the Berri-UQÀM terminus of the yellow line, the train lets passengers off on the far side, dedicated to exiting passengers, then moves to the near track to pick up the new passengers headed in the other direction.

On one of the other lines which only passes through Berri-UQÀM, courtesy lines are painted on a platform that must be very busy at rush hour. The lines direct boarding passengers to leave space for unboarding passengers to get off first.

There aren't any separators between the platform and the tracks/train, as is being recommended for Ottawa's tunnel stations (glass doors would be aligned with the train doors and would open at the same time, so that people could only pass through them to enter or exit a train car, eliminating the risk of people jumping onto the tracks)

Another trait of Montréal's metro unique in Canada is its rubber tires. While making for a smoother ride (which was actually still pretty loud and bumpy), it requires the entire system to be protected from the elements. Only a fraction of Ottawa's LRT system will be underground, less than 3 km of the 12.5 km proposed line.

Once you get on the train, there are illuminated signs that indicate the name of the next station, as well as what bus routes serve that station. Unfortunately, the display only shows this information once, then it shows two-colour advertisements until the train arrives at the next station.

The interior of the train car is unremarkable. Mainly standing room. There is a fast food takeout bag on the floor of this car, right under the sign urging people to throw out their garbage.

Montréal is one of very few transit systems in Canada that allows eating on the subway. Ottawa banned eating on the bus until permitting it in 1999 after complaints by people with diabetes, and we're far from deciding whether or not to allow it on our LRT system. I did not notice any public washrooms in the Métro stations in Montréal, and I fear we won't get any in Ottawa, either.

The train cars have emergency procedure signs posted near the exits. Under the seats nearest the exit is the manual door-opening switch. Other similar signs advertise fire extinguishers and other safety equipment stowed under the seat.

In the stations, recycling bins are apparently sponsored by (or at least bear the advertising of) the free local newspapers that are the primary source of litter on public transit.

Navigating the stations was a bit daunting for this first-timer, especially at Berri-UQÀM, which serves three lines. Here's a photo of the map on the mezzanine level.

At Lionel-Groulx station, when we get to the surface, the signs advertise the name of the street (Atwater) and which bus routes are available. What I would have appreciated was a simple indication of North/South/East/West, since ascending at many stations can involve many turns and can be quite disorienting.

Now that we're on the surface, we'll have a brief look at the bus system. Stay tuned for the next post, where we ride the bus!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Montreal Part 2: Bike Lanes (segregated vs. sharrows)

In the previous entry of the series on What I learned in Montréal, we looked at Montréal's Chinatown and gateway arches.

This time, I'd like to look at something Montréal is known for in Ottawa's cycling community: segregated bike lanes. There has been much talk in Ottawa about getting segregated bike lanes installed here (and while there was much controversy in the initial suggestion that Somerset was the best street, the latest suggestion is for Laurier Avenue - see here and here)

I wanted to see for myself how they worked, what they did well, and what they did poorly. Were the horror stories as bad as I'd heard? Can such lanes in Ottawa be compared apples-to-apples? Also, what else is different about Montréal's cycling infrastructure from Ottawas, and is that difference better or worse? I'll be looking at other cycling-related themes in parts 6 and 7 of the series, on Bikes on Métro and Bixi bikes/bike parking, respectively.

The intercity bus terminal is at Bérri and Maisonneuve, and underneath it is the massive Bérri/UQAM métro station, which serves three lines. Just across the street from the bus terminal was a large Bixi station and a segregated bike lane.

The first thing you notice is that this is a very wide street, with large institutional buildings along it that don't have frequent intersections or driveways cutting across it. The segregated bike lane is bidirectional and reasonably wide, with a concrete median with green posts. I'd say the closest to this type of street in downtown Ottawa would be King Edward Avenue North of Rideau or Sussex around NDHQ. Most, if not all, streets in Centretown are much narrower than this.

Looking at the other direction, we see how the bidirectional Bérri lane interacts at the intersection of Maisonneuve. The bike lane is flush with the intersection, and there are sharrows through the intersection (as was done for Ottawa's newest bike lane on Lyon Street as it crosses through Somerset, as shown in Wednesday's post). Motorists turning onto Maisonneuve (like the silver car in the photo below) have a green straight arrow, and must wait for a solid green to turn right. This gives pedestrians and cyclists a protected crossing, though there isn't a dedicated traffic signal for cyclists. It looks like there's a bus stop on the median, but we didn't wait to see how that worked with the bike lane in the way.

A bit further South along Bérri and Saint-Antoine, a new section of segregated bike lane has recently been completed, with sharrows solidly through the intersection. There are two traffic signals for all southbound traffic, each on the far edges of the road. It's been decades in Ottawa since we converted all our traffic signals to hang in the middle of the intersection, where they are much more visible. Also more visible in Ottawa are the large signs for major crossing streets that are mounted to these poles, making navigation much easier.

If it looks like the sharrows in the above intersection direct cyclists onto the sidewalk, that's because it does. Here's what things look like one block earlier: sharrows from the on-street bike lane direct cyclists to the sidewalk, which is wide enough for a curb separation from traffic, two-way bike lane, fences, pedestrian passage (albeit a narrow one), and landscaping with benches.

The closest we have to sidewalks that wide in Ottawa are along Wellington, which are well used by pedestrians, tourists, statues, and demonstrators. We do have a bike lane on a sidewalk, however--on the leadup to the Alexandra bridge around Major's Hill Park--and like this one it is annoying to go over the sidewalk ruts. A friend of mine crashed hen his wheel got stuck in the rut under the centreline on the Alexandra bridge sidewalk bike path.

Needless to say, a local cyclist we saw riding along this block had a much more comfortable time on the road than we did on the sidewalk!

Elsewhere downtown, there are on-street bike lanes like this one that seems to encourage cyclists to ride in the door zone (where a cyclist gets a "door prize" if a car door opens suddenly in front of them without enough time to stop or swerve). I'd be interested to see what happens when people are loading into or out of the car on the driver's side, or when motorists have to cross the bike lane to get into and out of the parallel parking.

This lane on Saint-Urbain must also be relatively new, because you can see where the old lane markings were scraped off the street. While the lane appears to have been laid far enough from the curb to avoid the door zone, motorists park more lazily away from the curb, treating the bike like a buffer protecting their car from being hit by motorists.

Also note that parking is prohibited between 5 and 6 pm on weekdays, according to the sign at left. Does this mean that the curb lane is used for through traffic in rush hour? This would put motor traffic on both sides of cyclists, which mustn't be fun. That's an important thing to remember about bike lanes: the lane is in only one place, but the best place to ride your bike might differ depending on traffic and time of day/week/year.

Montréal still has some room for improvement. These construction pylons are placed unceremoniously in the bike lane, and it doesn't look like provisions were made for cyclists (we were on foot at the time)

Further out from downtown, some residential streets also had bidirectional segregated bike lanes, which are installed from April to November, like the many Bixi stations peppering the city. As with the Bérri lane, these are separated from cars by green posts, but a lane of parking was used as a buffer from moving traffic instead of a curb. Unfortunately, these lanes are also in the door zone.

Riding down the street on a Saturday late afternoon, the street was deserted except for parked cars, and Meg and I instinctively rode down the centre of the street, as one would on MacLaren or Gilmour in Ottawa. It took us a block or two before we noticed that there was a bike lane on the other side of the parked cars. I wonder whether motorists are aware of the bike lanes when crossing them.

Here's how these lanes play out at intersections. A small, seasonal stop sign is required for the cyclists riding against the flow. Yellow sharrows are painted through the intersections, but these ones on Clark at Fairmount needed re-painting.

It wasn't until I looked back at these photos that I realized that these streets weren't at all comparable to MacLaren and Gilmour. Just look at how wide they are! Take out the bike lanes and a one of thetwo rows of parking, and then you've got something approaching the width of Centretown's residential streets. Even Kent, MacLaren and Lyon aren't that wide. Laurier might be this wide, but it's two-way. There are few laneways, which isn't the case for most of Centretown's East-West streets. So you can't take Montréal's segregated bike lanes and plop them down in Ottawa.

But that doesn't mean there's nothing to learn from Montréal's on-road cycling infrastructure. For example, this anonymous one-way street crossing av. Laurier has sharrows going in the direction of traffic, with a painted contra-flow bike lane going in the opposite direction. (The view of the lane line is blocked by the cargo triker in this photo).

I really like this facility, because it puts both directions of the cycling route on the same street, making directions much easier. In fact, I'd like to see this type of facility on Percy Street North of Flora (with parking moved to the West side), which would greatly help northbound cyclists coming from the Glebe who want to get to Chinatown without having to use Bronson, ride the wrong way on Percy, or jog a long block out of their way to Lyon. While the contra-flow lane is in the door zone in the above photo, you're facing traffic so passengers and oncoming cyclists can see each other--it wouldn't be an issue in Ottawa anyway, since we don't have enough room for parking on both sides.

As with the above intersection, sharrows connect the route through intersections. Interestingly, this street is one-way toward Saint-Joseph from both directions, so the contra-flow lane switches sides. A median prevents motorists from continuing through the intersection and going the wrong way, and the sharrows direct cyclists around it. Perhaps useful for Stewart at Waller?

Even where there aren't bike lanes, sharrows are still used to denote cycling routes. For example, the sharrows in the photo below tell cyclists that the route continues straight. Where the route turned a corner, the sharrows indicated it (this is needed at the South end of Lyon's bike lane, where cyclists are supposed to turn right on to Arlington to get to Percy to cross under the Queensway. Councillor Holmes and I have been asking for sharrows and bike route signage at Lyon and Arlington, which will eventually come).

Sharrows have the added benefit of reminding motorists that cyclists have a right to use the road, without constraining cyclists to a narrow lane that motorists expect cyclists to ride in--even if they're blocked by debris (glass/gravel), puddles, potholes, or parked cars.

Cycling advocates like bike lanes because they are a tangible reminder that says "you can cycle here", but as mentioned above, it's sometimes impossible to put down a bike lane because it has to be in the same place all day, but the best place to cycle isn't always the same during peak and off-peak hours. Sharrows prove a reasonable compromise that allows cyclists to ride on the part of the road/lane where they feel safest, but motorists still get that reminder.

Signs just aren't the same as they're often ignored or not recognized. Look at all the signs in this photo and tell me you'd notice, understand and follow them all while driving through this neighbourhood. The yellow sign at the right, for example, has a car and a bike on them, which I know means "[motorists] share the road [with cyclists]", because Ottawa has signs that show a motorist next to a cyclist and explicitly say "Share the Road / Partagez la route". If you zoom in, you'll notice that every other one replaces the car with an inline skate (definitely not a sign we use in Ottawa!)

Stay tuned for part 3 of "What I learned in Montreal," where we go underground to see how the Métro stations function, and what this means for the proposed Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel. We'll come back to other cycling issues later in the series.

Edit: further reading on cycling route connectivity is available in the recently-posted Vélo Québec peer review (PDF) of Ottawa's segregated bike lane project. While much of the 23-page report is about segregated bike lanes, route connectivity is addressed as well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cycling Updates

I made two cycling-related posts in September, and have some updates on both of them...

New Post-and-Ring racks: are there enough?
(Original post)

At the Copenhagen talk, the City's presentations aid 600 racks would be installed, up from the 550 racks I'd previously reported. After the talk, I spoke with Robin Bennett, the City's cycling coordinator. He said that the 600 figure is final, now that the study is finished, and he described the methodology of the study, which includes a buffer for growth in demand.

Robin gave two important take-home messages:

(1) The City will be holding onto the posts from the removed parking meters, and the rings are cheap--the main cost in installing more bike racks is labour; and

(2) The City will be installing them where their study said they'd be necessary. If there are places that need more racks, the City will add them, but need feedback from cyclists where these places are. Contact if there are places that need racks.

[Edit: I have since seen the complete list of where existing parking meters are located and how many post-and-ring racks are to replace them, and can confirm that the replacement numbers are grossly inadequate. In response to my complaints, Robin now says that there is no budget to add bike racks. Furthermore, the blue Velocity bike racks have been removed for the season.]

Lyon Street Repaved: Cyclists get their sharrows?...
(original post)

A bike lane has indeed been installed on Lyon Street through Centretown, and Sharrows have been installed at key locations, like here crossing Somerset Street West. (see image above)

Sharrows have a dual goal of directing cyclists along a route (e.g. around turns or through intersections), and of reminding motorists to expect cyclists there (particularly where a lane isn't practical, like through intersections).

Unfortunately, where the bike route turns right onto Arlington to take people over to Percy to continue South, the lane just ends. It needs some sharrows going around the corner and continuing to Bay.

I'm a big fan of sharrows, and I describe their use in Montreal in part 2 of the upcoming series.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Montreal Part 1: Chinatown

This is part 1 in What I learned in Montréal, an 8-part report from a day trip I took in May to study Montréal's urban environment.

With the official opening of Ottawa's Chinatown Gateway Arch still in recent memory, I'd like to start off the series with a look at Montréal's Chinatown (one of two, according to Wikipedia).

I wanted to see how a gateway arch fares in a Canadian climate, and I also wanted to make a contribution to Eric's series on gateway arches in other cities (see that post from May here).

In contrast to Ottawa's nine-roofed Royal gateway, Montreal has two of these three-roofed gateways ("paifang") at either end of Chinatown on boul. Saint-Laurent, which were built in partnership with Montreal's sister-city, Shanghai:

However Chinatown formally runs along rue de la Gauchetière. This smaller gateway spans it:

Unfortunately, it looks like pigeons are a bit of a problem with Montreal's gateways, with nooks and crannies for pigeons to roost--and defecate--in.

Pigeon netting has been added to the roof of the paifang, which only detracts from the appearance. Pigeon poop still collects under the netting:

Like Ottawa's Chinatown, Montreal's has some decorations on their lamp standards:

They're a bit more subdued than Ottawa's bright red lampposts (which used to be green, as shown at the future location of Ottawa's gateway in 2006 on Somerset Online)

The aesthetic of Montréal's Chinatown has a lot of private-sector buy-in, too, with businesses designed with a distinct Eastern look, like the restaurant Ming-Do:

And the pagoda-style designs on the roof of the Holiday Inn:

Even the residential buildings have some decorative tiles on the balcony rails. Compare this with Ottawa's Chinese community apartments at Kent and Florence, not even in "Chinatown"!

De la Gauchetière is a pedestrian zone through Chinatown, and decorative yin-yang and lotus flower pendants were designed into the paving. It's in about as good shape as the concrete crosswalks in Ottawa at Somerset and Rochester (which isn't very good).

Montréal's Chinatown has a public space with permanent marble tables and stools for meeting and enjoying the outdoors.

This public square has an elevated (1-2 feet high) platform area, which presumably can be used as a stage. The two walls each have a stone mural depicting a Chinese landscape:

Lastly, this little space, which is reminiscent of the rooms found in Chinese palaces, decked out in traditional Chinese style.

The brand-new gateway arch should be just the beginning of a reinvention of Ottawa's Chinatown. With many storefronts being vacated due to rough economic times, frequent construction, and competing megastores in the suburbs, hopefully some of these elements from Montréal's Chinatown can be use in reinventing our own.

Stay tuned for the next installment, on Friday, where I'll look at Montréal's on-road cycling facilities, including sharrows, bike lanes, and segregated bike lanes.