Friday, March 16, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 5: Under Chinatown (Booth to Preston)

Last time, in part 4 of the series will take a short walk down the sidewalks of Rochester and Spruce. Previously, in part 3 of the 15-part series on the reconstruction of Somerset Street West, I showed the reconstruction of the sidewalks between Booth and Preston. This time, we stay on the east side of Preston Street for the reconstruction of the roadway itself.

The intersection of Somerset Street West and Booth Street is a heavy pedestrian area, and for historical reasons is very skewed. For both of these reasons, the crosswalks are painted with well-defined zebra stripes. As of June 2011, the work was just getting started on this phase of the work, which continues down the hill past Rochester to Preston Street.

Believe it or not, this is what the Rochester and Somerset intersection looked like in May 2011, before workers started to dig it up. A prior street revitalization put in concrete-and-paver crosswalks, with many cuts in the concrete. Time and subsequent roadwork left the street in a patchwork, while the Wah Shing store (a china shop, not a laundromat) watches over it.

The new design will use all-concrete crosswalks, with a zebra-stripe-like pattern using red and white concrete, as seen here on a rendering during one of the seventeen meetings of the project's street design working group.

The road was kept open downhill (toward Preston) during the construction, while the other three quarters of the roadway was dug up.

The stuff we see on the surface is the easy part; the real challenge is managing and replacing the many utilities that travel under the street. Despite all these cables, wires, and conduits, the power lines aren't among them; they remain up on the wooden streetposts.

I'd never seen a backhoe with a telescoping arm before. This part of the machine isn't supposed to be lubricated.

Most of those cables are for telecommunications, and they will be bundled in concrete boxes. The yellow tubes are, if I'm not mistaken, natural gas lines. You can also make out at the left some big chunks of wood in the dirt...

These are the rail ties used for the streetcar tracks that used to run down Somerset Street (like the Bank Street ones shown here). Since the tops of the rails were more or less flush with the asphalt, the roads could simply be paved over the ties when the rails were taken out following the last streetcar ride in 1959. They would have been put down decades before that. As with Bank, it's all coming out as part of the reconstruction.

Also unearthed was a soft drink bottle, possibly tossed into the pit by a road crew of yesteryear.

The intersection at Booth and Somerset was closed for a number of weeks, affecting the traffic patterns (for motorists, at least). In the background on the left is the site of the former Chinese grocery that burned down in 2007, which is now being advertised for a seven-storey condo building with ground floor reatil.

The width of one lane was left open, just wide enough for the westbound bus to squeeze through to its detour.

The sidewalk on down to Rochester was in pretty scrappy shape. midway through the block, pedestrians are directed to cross the gravel pit to get to the opposite sidewalk. (Note: as part of the Bronson Avenue reconstruction, the contractor has been directed to ensure paved pedestrian access be in place at all times, to ensure the many seiors and wheelchair users who live and travel along that street can still get out of the house.)

At a certain point (This pohto was taken in mid November 2011), the entire street was closed off except for the sidewalks. The full width of the road, and the North side sidewalk, was all torn up, not resembling in the least the road it will become.

Still, a month later all the chaos of that dig was over and the street was repaved. Much work is still left—including the top layer of asphalt, the sidewalks, and the street furniture—but that's for later this year, in a much less invasive construction period.

Despite the infrastructure renewal, many storefronts remain papered up. It will take more than new sidewalks and asphalt to reviatlize Chinatown.

Somerset Street West didn't get the attention the Glebe did this year during its reconstruction. There were no coordinated campaigns to bring people to Chinatown and frequent the local businesses, which are already facing competition from suburban superstores featuring specialty Asian groceries. Projects like Chinatown Remixed help to revitalize the area, and there is also a @ChinatownOttawa twitter account promoting the stores and restaurants in the district.

Let's hope it can pick itself back up and go into the Year of the Dragon with new breath.

Next time, we launch into the final post dedicated to this side of Preston, looking at the traffic signals in part 6*. While you're waiting, why not check out the other posts in the 15-part series?

*Note: Links won't work until those entries are posted

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