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

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