Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Peds on Weds: Toronto-style sidewalks part 3 - the downsides

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the Toronto-style sidewalk design since it was made the standard in the City of Ottawa in 2006, just as there have been various challenges implementing it. As with any standard, you can't please all of the people all of the time, especially in a constrained physical environment like Delaware Avenue, below:

In the first part of this series, I described what "Toronto-style" sidewalks are and how they're supposed to work. In the second part, I detailed the rather technical history of how this sidewalk design, also known as "ramp-style vehicle access crossing", became standard, following through minutes from post-amalgamation City of Ottawa through to 2006.

Feedback about the design started as soon as the sidewalks on Delaware (pictured above) and Holland Avenue were installed for the pilot project. Since then, the design has also received its share of criticism from various sources. Today I'll be discussing these criticisms, and other issues the standard has encountered. I'll finish the series next week with a review of alternatives, starting with how Ottawa's sidewalks have been designed through the ages.

Monday, January 27, 2014

179 Waverley update (2012 fire)

Two years ago to the month, the house at 179 Waverley Street in the Golden Triangle suffered a two-alarm fire. The following week I posted a couple of photos I took when I arrived shortly after it was extinguished. Here's another from the same photoset, of a pumper truck being emptied of water after use:

The windows were quickly boarded up. It looks from the outside like most of the fire damage was restricted to the upper floors.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

3D Thursdays: Lotta Hitschmanova

After picking up my mail from the Sparks Street post office last week, I noticed a plaque on the entrance to 56 Sparks which I hadn't before, with a relief profile of the subject, Lotta Hitschmanova.

Source photos for the 3D image: Left (adjusted), Right (adjusted)

(I had to make some significant adjustments to the images with Photoshop's "lens distort" feature to get both of the images roughly square, and as a result the effect is much more crisp when you viewi the image full screen. I've included the adjusted versions of the source images above to save you some trouble if you wanted to have a go at it yourself.)

Not having noticed the plaque before, I also hadn't heard of her before either. Hitschmanova's Wikipedia Entry isn't too short, and longer than the entry for the Unitarian Service Committee of Canada, which she founded in 1945 and remains operating at 56 Sparks Street, suite 705 as USC Canada.

The USC Canada website has a trove of information about Dr. Lotta, including historic audio and video clips of USC public service announcements narrated by her.

[Tune in on Thursdays at noon for a new 3D image. View the 3D label for other posts with 3D images. 3D FAQ]
[Look for more one-photo posts under the label Singles]

Monday, January 20, 2014

Saving the day on Cooper Street

During warm/wet spells like the one we got a couple weekends ago, I bring a sidewalk scraper around with me to clear away some of the more persistent ice banks that were blocking drains around the neighbourhood. Oftentimes it only takes a minute or two to clear a small path and gravity does the rest, the water widening its channel as more of it passes through. It's important to have cleared away these puddles while it's warm so they don't turn into skating rinks on days like today, where it's minus 15 Celsius!

On Cooper Street at Metcalfe there was a big one, stretching across the sidewalk and most of the way across the roadway. This one would be a challenge!!

You can often find a catchbasin in the sidewalk which is blocked by some snow/ice, or at least the yellow "T" on the centreline of the road points to the nearest drain on the edge of the sidewalk. But this stretch of Cooper still has its rectangular grates in the road, and even if Cooper had the yellow Ts, the water was too deep to see them!

Normally at this point I'd just call it in to 3-1-1 and let the City crews figure it out. I did that for a couple of spots on Florence where the ice banks were required too much effort to hack a channel through, and on Christie Street where an even bigger puddle than the one on Cooper wouldn't drain at all despite reaching the drains.

In addition to heavy equipment, City crews have calcium chloride, a strong salt that they dump into the catchbasin, melting whatever snow is clogging the drain. This is the same stuff they spread on the roads, too.

But this puddle was too odd. I whipped out my phone and pulled up the location in Google Street View (a stripped-down version accessible quickly via the City's GeoOttawa map):

I had already moved down the street on my phone in search for another catchbasin when I took this photo, but alas the only one was between two driveways. You can see it below, where it came up incidentally in this November 2011 shot which I tagged in my photo collection with "vanscaping":

Being between two adjacent driveways, the sidewalk was dipped horribly down and therefore engulfed in water. It was in line with the fence that runs between the two laneways, which was a helpful landmark, but my feet would be completely underwater if I went in (I'd left my rainboots at home!).

Luckily, leaning against the fence was a bedframe that someone was throwing out. After removing the casters, I was able to use this—very carefully—as a bit of a raft to give me drier footing to just barely reach the catchbasin.

I chipped away at the submerged ice in the approximate location of the catchbasin until I heard and felt the distinct "plunk" that meant that I had reached the catchbasin! That is, I had cleared the ice off of one of the twelve little rectangles of the grate. I stepped back and tried to look for signs that the puddle was draining. Between the wind and passing cars, the floating surface ice seemed to be gyrating, but I wasn't sure if this was because it was draining, or just currents from the wind and passing cars (or, given the size of the puddle, tides!).

But sure enough, the next day on my way to work, the puddle was gone!

So the next mystery was, was it my intervention that did the trick? Well, looking at the scene, there wasn't any obvious signs of the City coming by to clear it with machinery. Presumably if a crew had come by, they would have waited until it was all drained, in which case they wouldn't have left it covered with snow and slush like it is. It's also possible that time and the warmish weather helped erode the ice blockage.

Needing to satisfy my curiosity, I sent an e-mail to 3-1-1 asking if they had received any calls from anyone else. They replied a few days later to say that, no, they hadn't received any requests for that location, so the credit for clearing the pond was all mine!

I'll share the credit with gravity, of course :)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

3D Thursday: Snowbikes

Over at the Kenniston Apartments, which is the name of the retail/apartment complex that contains the Lieutenant's Pump, there are three bike racks used primarily by the residents.

After a mid-December snowfall, they were frozen in time:

Source photos for the 3D image: Left, Right

I ride a bike in the winter—enthusiastically—but I understand that many people don't. If you're interested in trying, Citizens for Safe Cycling's annual winter family bike ride should be coming up sometime later this month. It's a great way to try with lots of company around, and hot chocolate with marshmallows at the end! Stay tuned to their website and Twitter for details. It's usually a Sunday late-morning in late January.

[Tune in on Thursdays at noon for a new 3D image. View the 3D label for other posts with 3D images. 3D FAQ]

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Peds on Weds: Toronto-style sidewalks part 2 - a little history

As promised, this week's Peds on Weds blog post continues the theme from last week's introduction to "Toronto-style" (or "ramp style") sidewalks, which, you will recall, are continuously flat with only the section nearest the curb ramping down to meet the curb at driveways, like so:

I'll be limiting this week's entry to how we got to this design, which unfortunately requires a lot of text from City meeting minutes (ahem, back when they had text minutes you could search and skim instead of audio recordings you need to pore over and transcribe). You'll have to wait for next week for the well-illustrated post about criticisms and issues with Toronto-style sidewalks, which you won't have to read in the same blog post as this largely technical post.

An interesting element of the story is that it starts in 2001, as the Transportation & Transit Committee for the first City Council for the newly-amalgamated City of Ottawa considered its very first budget (or in this case, reviewed the budget prepared by the Ottawa Transition Board).


The 2001 budget documents aren't online, but the minutes of the April 18, 2001 Transportation & Transit Committee budget meeting make reference to what is presumably a project to develop new sidewalk standards, and Councillor Clive Doucet moves a motion to delay sidewalk projects until the standards are written:

Monday, January 13, 2014

The lonely elm

When the LeBreton Flats saw the arrival of the "road header" tunneling machine, its disembodied chewing tool seen here, an old Elm Tree played host.

The tree also played host to a stop along Dennis Van Staalduinen's Jane's Walk in May 2013, providing the walkers some shade:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

3D Thursday: Rideau Canal Skateway

On Twitter yesterday I asked if I today's 3D photos should be of the Rideau Canal or of the World Exchange Centre theatres, the only vote was from the Rideau Canal Skateway account. This is notable because in previous years there were only accounts for Winterlude (which is now run by the Department of Canadian Heritage) and for the Rideau Canal waterway (which is run in the non-skateway season by Parks Canada). Now both the Rideau Canal skateway and the NCC itself both are on Twitter, and the Skateway account actively engages with the public.

Given the warm temperatures on the weekend, today might be your last chance to skate on the canal for a while. So to entice you, I bring you photos of the canal, which opened on the relatively early date of December 31, 2013. Here it is that day at dusk at the Concord rest area at the far east end of Centretown:

Source photos for the 3D image: Left, Right

The night before, I also took photos of the Canal. Here's a stunning 3D nighttime view of Bank Street bridge with Lansdowne Park's construction cranes in the background. Make sure to view it full screen and zoom in if you can:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Peds on Weds: Toronto-style sidewalks part 1

For quite some time now, I've wanted to do a thorough writeup on what in Ottawa traffic-geek circles is referred to a "Toronto-style" sidewalk design. People love them and hate them, for reasons that I'll discuss over the next three weekly pedestrian-themed "Peds on Weds" posts, starting here.

The sidewalk seen below is an outstanding example of what people I know call a "Toronto-style sidewalk". I've no idea what people in Toronto call them, and for all I know the title might be apocryphal. The term refers to is a wide, flat surface for pedestrians, and the crosspath is ramped only to the minimum extent required for motor vehicles to get up to the height. This example is on the east side of Bronson looking north from Somerset to Cooper Street in August 2013, not long after it was installed. Pardon the spray paint markings:

The benefit is for pedestrians, but this is anathema to the car-centric roadbuilders who install them, as Eric Darwin described in a West Side Action post about the installation of the sidewalks on Bronson:
"I talked to the project / concrete foreman on the site [Bronson west side, north of Gladstone]. I complimented him on keeping so much of the walkway level. He, however, was much more interested in pointing out how gentle the motorists’ slopes were, so there wouldn’t be much of  bump for them."
The ramp is what gives the design its official name in the City of Ottawa, which has been the official standard in the City of Ottawa since June 2006: the "Ramp Style Vehicle Access Crossing" (being a traffic department term, naturally the title refers to its relationship to vehicles rather than to pedestrians or sidewalks). There is a gradual 2% grade over the flat part of the sidewalk to drain water away from the road (2% is not as steep as depicted here) which must be at least 1.05 m wide, and the ramp is 75 cm wide, assuming a curb height of 12.5 cm:

Monday, January 6, 2014

The stones don't fall far from the Hill

The Confederation building (1927) and Justice building (1935) on Wellington Street just west of Parliament Hill nicely frame the original Bank of Canada building (1937) on the south side of the street when you look south from Vittoria Street.

In this space used to be a number of stone carvings from the parliament buildings, including these two top-pieces from the stonework along Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill. The photo above and the two below were taken on Victoria Day, 2009:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Peds on Weds: Context is a rookie mistake

On Monday, the Canadian Museum of History (i.e. the former Canadian Museum of Civilization) tweeted a photo of a wood carving, remarking at how large a carving it was, considering it was made from a single block of wood. I pointed out that there were no visual cues to give the viewer an idea of its scale, which is an important detail when you're discussing an object's size!

That night, as I was searching for a quick subject to post for today's Peds on Weds post, I found this photo from this past March, of a metal plate embedded into the sidewalk with bumps on it, a.k.a. tactile paving for the visually impaired.

It's outside the Centrepointe theatre at Ben Franlin Place (former Nepean city hall). I noticed two things about it: first, that the bumps were chopped off, presumably by snowplows, and second, that I didn't recall having seen them in Centretown. I presumed that the two observations were related. I took a photo, to file away in case it becomes relevant.

Fast forward to August, when I'm walking into Jack Purcell Recreation Centre off of Elgin Street at Lewis Street (technically on Jack Purcell Lane) and I saw one of these plates at the entrance. As is my habit, I took a photo of it.

Unfortunately, when I went to put this into a blog post, I realized I had made a rookie mistake: I photographed the plate, but I didn't take a second photo that illustrates where the object actually is. There's no point describing a piece of infrastructure if you can't also describe where it is situated in relation to the building entrance and, in this case, the curb depression.

Here's the best I could do. The yellow plate is just barely visible at the far right in the middle of the photo between the front bumper of the beige vehicle and the white stripe on the Pay & Display machine:

This phenomenon is actually pretty common among people who aren't in the habit of photographing things as a hobby. I've on many occasions had people tell me about a curious road or sidewalk situation (such as a pothole) and they'd send along a photo of the object (and only the object), sometimes from many different angles, but all too close to get an idea of where the heck it is.

And now I've done it to myself, too. Oops!

[Tune in on Wednesdays at noon for a new pedestrian-themed blog post. View the Pedestrians label for previous Peds on Weds posts]