Monday, October 31, 2011

Ottawa City Hall: my new haunt

[Edit: I left City Hall in October, 2015, after four years working in the Somerset Ward office for Diane Holmes (2011-2014) and Catherine McKenney (2014-2015)]

Mayor Watson decorated City Hall's heritage building (which is the part of City Hall that houses his office) for Hallowe'en, and it looked great! It appears that I only have one previous Hallowe'en-themed post, which also included a photo of City Hall, back from the first year of this blog.

Sorry for the gap in posts; I've been busy at a conference, and getting settled in to my new job. In case you hadn't heard the news (or the Buzz), I stepped down last month as president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association to take a job in the office of Councillor Diane Holmes.

Two weeks ago I was busy at a conference and didn't have time to prepare any blog posts for last week, which was my first week at the new one. A complicating factor is that I'll be part-time at both, and the transition is a bit time-consuming.

Nevertheless, I already enjoy being back on Elgin Street, after my office moved away last year. Commuting to City Hall will give me a chance to cross the neighbourhood a few times a week to keep an eye on things, and keep my camera on them too. Similarly, commuting to my West office will have me crossing Bronson Avenue a couple of times a week and keeping an eye on Chinatown, Little Italy, and the rest of the former Dalhousie ward.

It's a lot to handle, but keeping all those balls in the air is a challenge I'll enjoy.

Happy Hallowe'en!

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Happy (Centre)Town

You've perhaps walked by the little fenced- and hedged-off lot at the corner of Florence and Lyon and never given it a second thought. It's next to the little Ottawa Hydro transformer station on Lyon just North of Bay.

Through the trees, though, is a great little piece of fun:

I'm out of town this week, so blogging may be spotty this week too.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sidewalk shadows and Pedestrian Degradations

While the bike racks on Bank Street see a lot of use for cyclists, there were mixed responses to the City's one-percent-for-art policy went to street furniture instead of standalone art.

Thanks to sunlight, these racks take on a second life casting shadow images on the sidewalk. And even though it's only fleeting art, it will never wear off the pavement like paint or inlaid pavers would.

It brings up an interesting issue. They tried widening the sidewalks on Bank Street in the '70s (they even closed off some cross streets, like Lewis), but the space reclaimed from the roads was filled in with trees and rock gardens. So when it was brought back to the state that preceded the 2006-2010 reconstruction, it was a no-man's-land that could be used to relieve traffic, not a space stolen from pedestrians to feed the traffic monster.

This is one of the problems faced by the percent-for-art programme in downtown road reconstruction projects. By adding art to the streetscape, you take away walking space that is often quite scarce. Many other items, like garbage bins and newspaper boxes, already compete for sidewalk space, and efforts to moderate their collective impact have not gone far. One reaction is to incorporate the artwork into these inevitable fixtures, like the bike racks on Bank, or the streetlamp art proposed for Somerset Street West.

Pedestrians aren't entirely forgotten; they are thrown the occasional bone. There are many good things said in the Ottawa Pedestrian Plan, and in addition to the Plan itself, some sidewalks get repaired or improved as part of multimillion-dollar road reconstruction projects (like those on Bank, Preston, and Somerset). But this won't address most pedestrian problems in a reasonable timeframe. Just like the trend in cycling (until very recently), the City doesn't put much money toward pedestrian-specific repairs to fill in the missing links that aren't part of these major reconstruction projects. With all the new condos residents moving in downtown—most not owning a car—the pedestrian network needs to be able to support and attract people who use their feet.


Then there are the things that don't even stay the same. Fences were recently installed along the sidewalks on Albert and Slater, redirecting pedestrians' natural flow (a problem faced by suburbs also). When the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane was installed this summer, pedestrians lost their dedicated advance signal at Bank Street (and pedestrians outnumber all other modes at that intersection) and the new left-turn arrow at Elgin for motorists coming off the Laurier bridge puts a convoy of vehicles in the path of pedestrians trying to cross. More recently, the NCC blocked off a pathway connecting Preston and Lebreton Flats residents to the Ottawa River.

Now that I'm working in Councillor Holmes' office, these pedestrian facility degradations are one of the things I'll be looking at. And while I know of some of them in Centretown, your help is needed to identify other degradations across the city.

So pedestrian advocates, please tell me: where has it gotten harder to walk recently in Ottawa?

Leave a comment in the box below, or e-mail me at centretown.ottawa at gmail dot com.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

O'Connor and Kent: Cross with care

It feels like I took this photo just a few weeks ago, but it was actually June 2010. The street we're looking down is Lewis (my favourite stretch along my now-famous shortcut), and the cross street is O'Connor.

Like Kent Street, the one-way traffic on O'Connor travels pretty darn fast when it gets the green light. Both O'Connor and Kent were widened decades ago to be very close to the buildings, leaving little room to see around the corner when you're at the stop sign on the cross street.

I didn't see the collision, but I suspect this is what happened to the unfortunate driver of this sedan: he looked as far as he could up O'Connor for a gap in traffic to cross at Lewis, and was slammed by the SUV coming down O'Connor far enough away but going fast enough (not necessarily speeding) to not be visible from the side street.

This was a common occurrence on Lyon Street before the speed humps were installed on it. The traffic engineers were up in arms at the thought of speed humps on an arterial road, but so many cars had crashed into the house at the south-west corner of Lyon and MacLaren that the community had had enough and political will overruled the engineers. Now Lyon still carries lots of traffic, but that traffic is calm enough for a bike lane to run alongside.

The Centretown Community Design Plan suggests looking at converting Metcalfe and O'Connor back to two-way traffic. The plan's consultants have suggested this (as well as the rest of the transportation aspects of the CDP) be investigated as part of the Downtown Ottawa Mobility Overlay, a.k.a. Downtown Moves. Now that the DOMO and its terms of reference are out, we see that Centretown isn't part of the core study area. We'll see how many resources, if any, go toward looking at the one-way streets.

In the meantime, when you're crossing Kent and O'Connor on a side street, either on a bike or in a car, be careful!

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Post-and-ring bike rack update

Before I start, you may have heard the news that I've stepped down as President of the CCCA to work in the office of Somerset Ward Councillor Diane Holmes. I sent a message to the CCCA's members and followers on Wednesday night. If you're wondering, yes I'll still be blogging, yes I'll still be involved in community activities (perhaps even moreso), and yes I'll still be tweeting. I still want you to join and get involved with the CCCA, and to attend the AGM on October 25, 2011, at 7pm at the Beaver Barracks (464 Metcalfe, at Catherine). I won't be working regularly at City Hall until the last week of October.

With that out of the way...

I've written many posts about the City's insufficient provision of secure bicycle parking, particularly in the removal of parking meters. About a year ago, I gave the example of Elgin Street, which went from having many parking meters per block, per side, to one or two post-and-ring racks for both sides.

Back before they even started, I'd reviewed the City's list of where to put the bike racks that were left after removing most of them. In addition to noting locations where it was recommended not to replace parking meters, I also pointed out that bicycle parking shouldn't be limited to commercial areas and big condo buildings. I've often arrived at someone's place in Centretown to find that there was nothing in sight to lock my bike to, not even a street sign.

That's for short-term parking. It's even worse for many apartment-dwellers, like the ones along Frank street whose bikes were parked in the video in this post, and who don't have space in or outside their building to keep their bikes.

There is often a bike locked to this signpost on James Street at Kent, just across from St. Barnabas church:

What I suspect happened here is that someone unbolted the sign and lifted the bike over the post. Another related trick thieves use is to find a post that can be lifted out of the ground, so make sure to immobilize your wheel (i.e. don't just lock the frame to the post), and check to make sure whatever you lock your bike to is securely attached to the ground.

The number of bikes in town has grown significantly, even since last year, and these people need places to park their bikes. I've been told that a second round of post-and-ring racks is being installed soon (perfect timing given the imminent removal of the blue Velocity bike racks for the winter), and that Elgin is one of the streets that will receive them, after its recent resurfacing.

Whether this will include residential areas, I'm doubtful, but if there are people or stores you normally visit that have no secure place to lock your bike, please leave a comment!

(PS: As part of the Rescue Bronson Avenue project, I'll be meeting with the consultants on the Bronosn Avenue reconstruction to tell them where they can stick their bike racks.)

(Subsequent edit: In October 2012, many more bike racks were installed in Centretown, including 60 or so along Gladstone, which didn't have parking meters to begin with! Apparently the comments I had submitted a year or so earlier were consulted.)

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