comments on proposed Elgin Street redesign

Ottawa Transportation Committee is meeting on May 3, 2017 to consider the staff report including proposed designs.  Here’s what I wrote to the committee:

COMMENT

Dear Councillors Egli and McKenney:

I am writing to you as chair and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee, about the Elgin Street redesign that will come before the committee on May 3, 2017 (ACS2017-TSD-PLN-0007 Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study).  I support the report recommendations, namely (1) that the functional designs in the report be approved as-is and (2) that the speed limit be posted as 30 km/h.

I want to emphasize particularly strong support for the speed limit reduction to 30 km/h, and the language of the report “Designed for lower operating speed” (page 14).  Using design to lower the speed of vehicles in the downtown core is the single most important intervention that council can make to provide a safer and more pleasant experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and to make an even more liveable Ottawa.  This is particularly important given the presence of Elgin Street Public School.

I also want to express my support for the particular design intervention of raised intersections.  I very much hope this means that the crosswalks themselves will be continued across the street at sidewalk level (“continuous sidewalks”) across the side streets (I am using the language from NACTO guide “Pedestrians at Multi-Modal Intersections” http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/pedestrians_multi-modal_intersections_perkins.pdf ).  To me raised intersections and continuous sidewalks are a very significant design improvement that helps ensure lower operating speed.

I hope as well that the committee will recommend careful monitoring of speed and multi-modal level of service after the redesign, to ensure high levels of service are being achieved for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ensure that the design is keeping speeds below the 30km/h target.  If the data indicate that speeds are higher than 30km/h, I expect the city to continue to modify the design until speeds are 30km/h or less.

In my submission to the Elgin Street consultation I had recommended either no parking, or parking on only one side https://manifestomultilinko2.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/rebuilding-elgin-street/

While I am pleased to see some reduction in parking, I will just echo Councillor Chernushenko (page 25):

I am concerned that the proposed 90 spaces, although less than the current parking supply, is a half-measure that will ultimate prove a disservice to the same businesses that are in favour of more parking, as the renewal of Elgin Street will not be as complete as it might have been had fewer such parking spaces on the street itself been included.

I would particularly emphasize the fact that the report states (on page 18) that there are currently 3749 parking spaces within 2 blocks of the area (including 850 underground parking spots at City Hall http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/parking ).  It seems to me the city could be more ambitious than cutting 32 parking spots out of 3749, particularly given the substantial downsides of on-street parking for traffic flow and safety, including circling cars and dooring of cyclists.

I look forward to the Elgin Street redesign.  I am pleased to see the city following Complete Streets design principles and emphasizing streets designed for safety, with improved levels of service for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

CC: Councillors Fleury, Chernushenko and Leiper
ENDCOMMENT

 

As a side note, on the topic of the 850 underground parking spaces at City Hall, here’s how many were free on Sunday April 2, 2017 around 10:30am.

IMG_9284-9284-20170402-6S - Version 2

Ottawa Like a Local

January 5, 2017 – partial blog post rescued from drafts – as a rescue post, I must warn it is very fragmentary with a lot of incomplete info

If you want to explore Ottawa more as a local, it helps to understand the structure of the city.  There are a few key neighbourhoods and streets.  Shopping and restaurants are almost all strung along just a few streets, which were key streetcar routes for Ottawa’s streetcar suburbs.

The main two streets are the long north-south Bank Street and the long east-west Somerset Street (which turns into Wellington and then Richmond as it continues west).  For those with a historical bent, these are the equivalent of the cardo maximus and the decumanus maximus.

Neighbourhoods strung along Bank Street, starting at the north and heading south, are:

  • the Central Business District (CBD), a typical business tower area from Wellington to Gloucester
  • Centretown, which runs from Gloucester to the highway (Queensway, 417)
  • the Glebe, which runs from the highway to the canal (Rideau Canal)
  • Old Ottawa South, which runs from the canal to the Rideau river

Bank continues south of that, but after that it’s into far suburbia basically.

Neighbourhoods strung along Somerset Street West, starting at the east and heading west are:

  • the Golden Triangle (a residential neighbourhood) from the canal to Elgin (more or less)
  • Centretown, from Elgin to Bronson (more or less)
  • Chinatown, from Bronson to the train overpass
  • Hintonburg, from Breezehill to (at Garland, Somerset Street West turns into Wellington Street West)
  • Wellington Village
  • Westboro

Because Westboro, Wellington Village and Hintonburg are all one continuous stretch, they tend to blur together (Westwelliburg) and even locals have trouble remembering exactly where the boundaries are.  Hintonburg used to be a lot rougher, but it is in full gentrification mode now.

Other streets and neighbourhoods of interest are:

  • the Little Italy neighbourhood on Preston Street from
  • Dalhousie Street from (sometimes called “North Dal”)
  • New Edinburg, particularly along Beechwood from
  • Elgin Street in Centretown, from Wellington south to the highway

To understand the structure of Ottawa, while the population is notionally 1 million, there’s a very suburban distribution, with roughly 20,000 in the core (Centretown), about 180,000 in the inner-ring suburbs (many of which listed above), and the remaining 800,000 in outer-ring suburbs and rural areas.  Many people also live “across the river” (the Ottawa River) in Quebec, but the river serves as a fairly substantial barrier – people tend to stick to their side.

NYT 36 Hours in Ottawa 2017 – comments

With Canada as the New York Times #1 destination for 2017, the NYT has followed with 36 Hours in Ottawa by Remy Scalza.  Overall the selections are good.  As a Centretowner I may regret the Market-centricity, but he did go to both North Dal (which is often overlooked) and Hintonburg. I’ve linked to some of my recommendations at the bottom.

  • Parliament Hill – yes
  • Major’s Hill Park – yes but it’s a bit of a mess in the winter
  • Château Laurier – yes
  • Métropolitain – ugh, no, I don’t like it
  • Riviera – yes
  • The Manx – yes
  • Art-is-in – yes
  • Maker House Co. – I have never been
  • Hintonburg Pottery – I have never been
  • Tooth and Nail – yes
  • Moulin de Provence – I would lean no, I never go there – Market touristy
  • House of Cheese – yes
  • Stubbe Chocolates – yes but I would have chosen Cylie in North Dal instead, although in fairness Cylie is closed for all of January
  • BeaverTails – I guess it’s a thing one has to do – Market touristy
  • Play Food & Wine – yes
  • Copper – I have never been
  • Château Lafayette – um, no, it’s a dive bar
  • Heart & Crown – I guess so?
  • National Gallery – yes
  • Workshop – I think so, but I don’t think I’ve been
  • Goods Shop – yes
  • Bridgehead – sure
  • Victoire – yes
  • Museum of Civilization (History) – yes

Overall as these things go, a good collection of Ottawa venues, with the constraints of some Market-centricity.  And there’s only so much one can fit in a 36 hours article.  I would have been inclined to Whalesbone Elgin over Métropolitain.

If you want to check out Centretown, I have a blog post on Centretown restaurants and shopping and a newer post Ottawa restaurants and shopping.

rebuilding Elgin Street

Thanks to Catherine McKenney for posting the Elgin Street consultation deck (PDF, 11MB) in advance of the public meeting that took place on June 28, 2016.  UPDATE 2016-07-07: Deck is now also available from the City of Ottawa.  ENDUPDATE

UPDATE 2017-04-30: The final proposed redesign goes to Transportation Committee on May 3, 2017.  I have provided my comments on the proposed redesign.  ENDUPDATE

Particular kudos for including multi-modal Level of Service (LOS) which shows that cars get top level of service (A) while every other mode has a terrible experience.

Elgin Multi-modal Level of Service LOS slide 79

From the many many options presented, here are my top three designs in order of preference, with my priority being on slowing cars, shortening crossing distances and other safety considerations:

1. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, No On-Street Parking (slide 81 in the deck)

Elgin street design slide 81

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Maximizes sidewalk space, with equally-sized sidewalks on both sides.  Good for a highly-pedestrian, mostly-restaurant-with-patio street.
  • Wide sidewalks mean ample room for street trees (which will struggle nevertheless) and street furniture (being mindful that unless full width is plowed it still may be narrow in winter).
  • Dramatically shorter crossing distance will mean safer, quicker crossings.

Cons:

2. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Flex Bay Parking One Side (slide 82 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 82

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Will make people who complain about needing on-street parking somewhat happy

Cons:

  • There is no such thing as “flex bay” parking (i.e. parking that is at sidewalk level so in theory available for pedestrian space).  The Lansdowne experience shows that anything in Ottawa that looks like car space will be used as car space.
  • Cyclists can be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Disrupted traffic flow (waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Doesn’t have separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) but I think these would interfere with the bus stops.
  • Much less sidewalk space (1.2 metres less per side) for pedestrians, trees and street furniture than first option

3. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Raised Cycle Track, No Parking (slide 89 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 89

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Using space for pedestrians and cyclists rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians and cycling rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces (except see cycle-track-as-parking issue below)

Cons:

  • Narrowest sidewalk option (0.6 metres less per side than option two; 1.8 metres less than option one)
  • Cycle track may interfere with bus stops
  • Even with an elevated cycle track, vehicles will still manage to park on the cycle track, which will both disrupt traffic flow and interfere with cycling

It may surprise people that I don’t automatically recommend cycle tracks.  I do strongly support them.  But I’m not convinced we can make them work well on a street with buses where people will also be tempted to use them for car parking.  I think cycle tracks with barriers or cycle tracks protected by buffered car parking work better.  It doesn’t appear that there is space to do either.  Nevertheless, any of these three options would be much better than the status quo.

It’s hard to get the visitor traffic that centres around the Convention Centre and Parliament Hill to circulate down Elgin Street; having a dramatically better pedestrian experience will be key to drawing this traffic so that visitors can experience more of Ottawa than just the Byward Market.

I would also like the street to be signed for 30km/h, being mindful that only design controls speed.

The city contact on this file is Vanessa Black.  If you have thoughts on the Elgin Street redesign, make sure that you share them with her.

Vanessa Black, P. Eng.
Transportation Engineer – Network Modification
Planning and Growth Management
City of Ottawa
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Email: vanessa.black@ottawa.ca
Email: planning@ottawa.ca

Here’s the city site for this particular consultation http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/elgin-street-and-hawthorne-avenue-functional-design-study where (hopefully) new information will be added as necessary.

UPDATE 2016-07-07: There is also a quick survey about Elgin Street that you can fill out, in order to indicate your priorities for the redesign.  ENDUPDATE

congestion and the misallocation of space

An Example of Congestion in the National Capital Region

Let’s look at the 4-lane stretch of Rue Laurier running from Alexandra to Sacre-Coeur in Gatineau.  Running beside Parc Jacques-Cartier.  Running between people’s houses on the east and the park along the river on the west.

In the morning during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper southbound only.  In the evening during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper northbound only.

The rest of the time it is basically empty, with the few cars speeding as fast as they can.

So how have we allocated this space?  Basically we’ve spent millions of dollars on construction and maintenance of 4 lanes, of which two are jammed for an hour in the morning and two are jammed for an hour in the evening.  10 hours of (half) capacity use per week.  Millions of dollars, for two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  And be mindful that this is not thousands of people.  Cars are ridiculously big.  There is usually only one person in the car.  This means a giant line of bumper-to-bumper traffic has only dozens, maybe on the order of a hundred actual people being moved.  A kilometre of traffic jam has fewer people than in a first year undergrad seminar room.

(As a side note, people say “the road is jammed but the bike lane is empty” because the road fillled with single passenger cars is incredibly space inefficient.  The bike lane isn’t underused, it’s just massively more efficient than the car lanes.)

Allocating space to cars in this way would be great if it had huge benefits for all.

But actually you’ve spent millions of dollars for ten hours a week, and

  • the few hundred people who get to sit in the traffic jam are mostly non-local
  • you’ve put four lanes between people’s houses and a park, with zero crossings directly between people’s houses and the park
  • you’ve reduced the value of those houses because they front on four lanes of road
  • you’ve made a dangerous road with no separated bike lanes
  • during the non-rush hours, the cars speed as fast as they can
  • you’ve made an unpleasant pedestrian experience with cars, splashing, slush, snow and ice (as a bonus, the sidewalks are particularly poorly maintained in winter because hey, who would walk there)

So for ten hours a week for a few hundred non-residents (who are in a traffic jam), you’ve got four lanes of empty space that make things worse, in terms of experience and in terms of money for residents and the city, in terms of reduced cycling and walking, and in reducing the use of a park, for the other 8240 hours a year.  10 hours of mediocre travel for a few, resulting in 8240 hours of mediocre experience for everyone else.

It’s lose lose lose.

When you look at that rush hour congestion, you should see an opportunity to save money and make money.  For a triumph of capitalism.  Narrow the road to two lanes, put in wider sidewalks and two protected bike lanes, and put in a mid-way crossing.  Way more efficient use of road space.  Way lower maintenance costs.  Way lower risk of injuries.  Way higher values for the houses.  Increased use of the park.

But no.  We’d rather make ourselves poorer for 10 hours a week of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It’s insane.

My Conclusion About Congestion

UPDATE: I would distinguish between the kind of rush hour congestion I describe above, and congestion that represents a busy city with complete streets functioning normally.  Congestion that’s a result of popular spaces is very different from congestion resulting from bad system design.  ENDUPDATE

What congestion pricing is actually about is

  • spacing the cars out in time so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • encouraging people to share a car so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • shifting people to other modes so that the road space can be more efficiently used

Congestion solutions are about saving everyone money and time, while increasing the value of the urban landscape, benefiting both the city through taxes and the residents through housing value and quality of life.

Opposing addressing this kind of congestion is basically declaring yourself in favour of a mediocre experience for a tiny number of people for a tiny number of hours a year, rather than benefiting everyone all year.  But that’s what passes for “common sense” after decades of car-centric planning.  Roads must be free and wide and all must suffer because that’s the way it’s always been.

Ottawa Council’s Conclusion About Congestion

Council vote on a congestion study, April 13, 2016

congestion vote

Minecraft City of Ottawa

Ottawa has released a Minecraft map as open data

http://data.ottawa.ca/dataset/geo-ottawa-minecraft

I knew the city had building heights, but I didn’t realise how much building shape information it has.

Use the teleport command to move around.
/tp

Thanks to Roger Pilkey for posting the Parliament Hill coordinates on the Minecraft data file showcase page.  Otherwise I don’t think I would have ever found my way from the spawn point, which is out in the woods near the Rideau River, Old Ottawa South (Glengarry & Onslow).

Here are some landmark buildings in Centretown…

LAC
/tp -2912 130 -1501

LAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122704

Supreme Court
/tp -2707 132 -1722

Supreme Court - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 122851

Parliament (Centre Block)
/tp -2266 139 -2061

Minecraft Parliament crop

NAC
/tp -1892 133 -1931

NAC - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123253

City Hall
/tp -1585 131 -1710

City Hall - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123421

Convention Centre
/tp -1690 130 -1995

Convention Centre - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123624

Union Station
/tp -1872 133 -2107

Union Station - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 123712

And here is The End of the World (East End) – Montreal Road, past Lafontaine
/tp 1204 127 -3653

East End - Minecraft 1.8.9 2016-02-06 125120

A few more coordinates as you head east from Centretown:

  • Rideau Street and Rideau River /tp -134 125 -3075
  • Montreal Road and Vanier Parkway /tp 329 125 -3183
  • Montreal Road and Olmstead /tp 609 128 -3337
  • Montreal Road and Lafontaine /tp 1104 126 -3594

There are lots of cool projects possible:

  • make the train run to Union Station again (using powered rails and minecarts)
  • restore the streetcar network
  • build the new Stage 1 and Stage 2 LRT network
  • put in details of building exteriors and interiors
  • put in street signs
  • change all the arterials to rivers to represent how they feel to pedestrians
  • build houses on the residential lots
  • put street numbers on the residential lots

For the last one, most small buildings like detached single-family houses don’t have detail in the map, you’ll just see grass for the lot with a line on either side wherever there are driveways.

Unfortunately if you live far in the east end you won’t find your lot, and it’s not possible to do the LRT out to Blair (unless you want to do a lot of additional building), as the world ends just past Montreal Road and Lafontaine.  I haven’t done the north, south, or west boundaries.

Have fun exploring!

Be aware this map is quite resource intensive and will be slow (and may even crash) on a computer without a lot of CPU and RAM.

Big Ideas for Ottawa 2067

The NCC wants 17 “big ideas” for 2067, so here are mine:

  1. convert parkway lanes, or the entire parkway system, to separated cycling highways e.g. https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/routes-and-maps/cycle-superhighways
  2. restore Union Station’s use as a (VIA) train station, with connections to Ottawa LRT
  3. replace the parking lots with the original symmetrical park (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/rakerman/5898482946/ )
  4. demolish L’Esplanade Laurier (block between Bank and O’Connor) and build a park to serve new towers along LRT line
  5. replace the high-speed arterials through downtown Ottawa with safer complete streets e.g. http://ecologyottawa.ca/complete-streets/ (also see map with arterials as red lines at https://www.flickr.com/photos/rakerman/6722994119/ )
  6. Make Gatineau Park a National Park (protected by the National Parks Act)
  7. Permanently close Gatineau Park to vehicle traffic; only active transportation in the park
  8. have a regular shuttle bus from Ottawa and Hull into Gatineau Park ; ideally with space for skis etc.
  9. replace current busy mix of OC Transpo & STO buses on Wellington/Rideau with a tram loop e.g. http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/sites/default/files/pubs/2013-p07e-inteprovincial-transit-integration.pdf
  10. extend train service over Prince of Wales bridge to Gatineau again; but also have a cycling bridge at same location
  11. free Chaudière Falls (remove ring dam), connect to Rideau Falls with clearly signed, safe, separated cycling path
  12. separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) on Sparks Street, with good and safe connections to rest of cycling network
  13. well-signed, free public washrooms and water fountains throughout the downtown, along paths, and in parks
  14. Make Ottawa a Dark Sky Community, restoring beautiful night sky for residents and visitors – for more info see http://darksky.org/idsp/communities/
  15. Make Ottawa a Blue Community, with bottled water banned – for more info see http://canadians.org/bluecommunities
  16. Make Ottawa a carbon-neutral community – for more info see http://www.projectneutral.org/
  17. Implement “Most surface parking should be removed from the plateau” from 2007 Parliamentary Precinct LTVP (p. 27) – also see image from plan at https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CWWK78bU4AAUHHQ.jpg

Bonus idea: Clear (shovel, plow etc.) all steps, walkways and pathways, including in parks, throughout the winter.

The entire exercise is a bit puzzling as the NCC already did a big Horizon 2067 consultation.  Of note, in the 28 pages of the local consultation (PDF) there are zero mentions of the parkways, commuter highways beloved by the NCC and which many of the urbanist residents of Ottawa would like to see replaced with narrower, slower streets or replaced with bikeways (as I suggest above) or just removed altogether.