Friday, March 9, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 2: West of Preston

This is the second in a 15-part series on the 2011 reconstruction of Somerset Street West. The previous entry included an overview and part 1 of the series.

In this part, we'll look at the section of Somerset Street west of Preston Street, before the hill up to the bridge over the O-Train tracks.

In this early rendering, superimposed over an aerial view of the existing intersectionyou can see that the design has been modified to bring Somerset down to two lanes, with a short left turn lane at the intersection of Preston. By removing a lane, pedestrians have more space to wait at the corners, and are exposed to less traffic thanks to a shorter crossing distance between the curbs. Preston Street was also reduced from four lanes to three in its reconstruction in the last two years, though the aerial view predates it.

Here's the view on the ground, looking west in June 2010. The intersection is paved with nice smooth asphalt from the recent reconstruction of Preston Street that ran through it. May's Chinese restaurant is at the northwest corner, on the right. Despite that, this section isn't in Chinatown but instead is part of the Preston Street (Little Italy) Business Improvement Area (BIA), whose offices are above the Chinese restaurant. In the design process, a "Marco Polo"/"East meets West" feature was considered for this intersection of the two BIAs, but this idea never took hold.

Adjacent to May's restaurant is a sidewalk that has been widened considerably. The bus stop is at the far end of this intersection, so this leaves plenty of space for passengers to wait for the #2. Despite the asphalt paving, the work was still a long way from completion. As Eric Darwin posted on West Side Action at the time, the road would soon be closed for the tunnel installation.

Another theme in this road reconstruction, as in many others, is taking advantage of the work to reclaim the public realm. Many of the parking lots on the street came right up to the sidewalk, and really broke up the streetscape. As part of the reconstruction, the limits of the legal entrances to the lots were reaffirmed with curb depressions and concrete pads in bulbouts.

Then the parts of the lots that weren't legal entranceways were blocked off to keep cars off the sidewalk. Either with a short wall or with plantings, this screens off the parking lot and helps to maintain the rhythm of the street as you walk down it.

The dirt and asphalt pathways at the corner of Preston in front of the historic Plant Bath were replaced with the decorative paving pattern used on the Somerset Street sidewalks, and were raised a couple of inches to be level with the new sidewalk grade. These paths surround the Vietnamese refugee memorial garden that is right at the corner. I remember we had to fight to get this, and I even thought we'd lost that fight, but it was a pleasant surprise to see the path installed there; it really enhances the entrance to Plant.

That's it for this segment, one of the shorter ones. Tune in next week for Part 3: Sidewalks up the hill.

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