Widened sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes, lower speed limit among changes to street: hydro poles will stay

ElginStby Kathryn Hunt

On May 3, the Transportation Committee heard a report on the results of the Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study.

The report recommended that council approve the functional design and direct transportation services to post the speed limit on Elgin (between Lisgar and McLeod) at 30 km/h.

The street needs a full reconstruction to address aging underground water mains and sewers, some of which are over 100 years old—among the oldest remaining in Ottawa. Over the last 30 years, there have been 13 water main breaks, seven of them since 2010. If construction were to be delayed until the next term of Council, it’s likely that more would occur.

Construction is planned to begin in 2019 and expected to last at least two full construction seasons, at a cost of about $34.5 million for Elgin, $3 million for Waverley Street and $4.5 million for Hawthorne Avenue.

In the course of the study, a working group of community and business stakeholders was formed and met several times. There were also two public meetings and an online survey that generated over 1,000 written comments. The design was also presented to the Ottawa Urban Design Review Panel for review, resulting in the panel recommending that the City move on to the detailed design phase of the project.

Residents near Elgin are well aware of the difficulties posed by its narrow sidewalks. Widening the sidewalks and improving the pedestrian experience of Elgin were major concerns in the study, as was the supply of parking and whether to remove some parking in order to better accommodate transit, pedestrians and cyclists.

And no, we’re not going to see the hydro lines buried. Studies by the City suggest that the cost of doing so would be in the range of $10 million, not including additional costs for upgrading electrical panels and work on private property.

In fact, the City has an official policy that an external funding source needs to be found before burying power lines can be considered. Those partners are usually developers or a business improvement area (BIA) association. At the moment, Elgin has no BIA.

“It’s a huge shame that power lines aren’t being buried,” said Michael Powell, who had responded to the questionnaire and attended the consultations. “The city can’t do it everywhere but, if on a dense urban main street with limited right of way, you should probably figure out how. For a half century, people will have to dodge hydro poles when moving about. And it’s only the local users (pedestrians, those shopping there) that have to accommodate that.”

He was happier about the 30 km/h speed limit, although he noted, “I’m not sure that traffic is ever much faster than that on average anyway.”

The lower speed limit was one means of making the street more amenable to cycling. “Cyclists that could choose to use the Elgin Street corridor would be required to share the lane with vehicles,” the report stated. “On this basis, design measures include . . . posting a 30 km/h speed limit for Elgin Street.”

There will also be four raised intersections, narrowed travel lanes, and trees, post and ring bike racks, etc., on the edge of the travel lanes to create “friction,” or visual narrowing of the travel space to slow drivers down.

Cyclists had hoped and argued for bike lanes, and many were disappointed in the final recommended design, which reduces travel lanes along much of the street to two, presumably forcing single-file travel for bikes and cars. Some expressed frustration at having their comments, as they saw it, ignored by the committee after many had participated in the survey and written in to express their concerns about the street.

Parking, unsurprisingly, was another hot button during the process. Some business owners were against the loss of any parking, but the mandate to widen the sidewalks and reduce the number of travel lanes meant that some had to be removed.

The proposed design replaces much of the parking in the travel lane with “flexible spaces.” These are sections of on-street parking raised to sidewalk level, which could be used for pedestrian space or for parking, depending on demand.

The plan proposes dropping the number of parking spaces from 122 to 90, roughly a 25 percent drop (although the parking supply within a block of the street only drops by six percent).

Powell commented, “I like wider sidewalks, and the ‘flex’ spaces are a neat idea, but I worry that they won’t mean much more than ‘parking.’ Hopefully there’s a system to moving bollards so that we can reclaim them more regularly and semi-permanently.”

There are natually some concerns that have not yet been addressed. For example, the only street access to the Jack Purcell Community Centre is off Elgin Street, which would make it impossible for users of its therapeutic pool to get to the building during construction.

Solutions to this problem have not been laid out yet, but could involve temporarily converting one-way streets such as Frank Street and Jack Purcell Lane to two-way streets. But so far this is just the functional design. This and similar details will be considered during the detailed design phase.