The second public open house for the Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Redesign Study was held at City Hall on January 11th. The design plans presented will likely have a few minor revisions, but what I saw looks to be a final design with City Council approval in 2018 with construction starting in 2019.
The new Elgin Street is going from 4 to 2 lanes. Will this save Elgin Street? As I heard it, the design is aimed to ‘naturally’ slow traffic on that segment to as low as 30 km/hr. How does the City intend to do it? It will attempt to do that with raised intersections (imagine a very big speed bump), much less parking, widened sidewalks in some parts and finally by using a bus! Yep, the City will use OC Transpo buses on Routes 5 and 14 that travel Elgin to slow down traffic while dropping of and picking up passengers.
Sidewalks may or may not be widened; it just depends where you might be standing on Elgin. Widening that does happen will occur in a ‘flex space’. These spots will not only be a wider sidewalk, but will also double as a space used for parking, deliveries, patios and other uses the City may wish to experiment with. How do you identify these spaces? Flex spaces will be raised from street level and will look like the sidewalks with the use of interlocking stones.
Perhaps the largest impediments to a wider sidewalk are the overhead wires. Replacing large hydro poles from the sidewalks with smaller street lamp poles removes some of the barriers. Elgin Street, under a 2011 policy can bury the wires, whether the city has the will and the cash to do it is another story. This is one item that should be done to improve the street as it will have the largest impact. The estimated cost of $6M – $8M can be found by cutting the raised intersections, interlocking brick and other cosmetic touches. Cutting these design aspects also eliminates the need for a local levy paid by Somerset Ward residents to have the wires places underground. Placing the idea of burying the overhead wires at the top of Elgin’s priorities allows the city to include trees (which made the public’s top five ‘good to have’ items) into the design without any fears of how the tree canopy would be affected with the wires still overhead.
The new look of Elgin is loosely based on ‘complete streets’, where all vehicles can travel safely. When redesigning Elgin was first talked about, I am sure that the cycling facilities as they were shown were not what were expected. In fact, the new design has no new cycling facilities. The facilities being by proposed by the city amount to cyclists continuing to share the road with cars, trucks and buses. No segregated lanes, no painted lanes. Based on comments from cyclists at the meeting, cyclists expected more. In their eyes, Elgin is not any safer for cyclists as they continue to compete with all vehicles. Cyclists indicated they would detour off Elgin to Cartier Ave.
Everyone knew that parking would be reduced; in the end parking on Elgin will be cut by 50% to 61 spots. There is concern that less parking will hurt business, but with the reduction at only 10% on the areas one block away from Elgin, the availability of cheap indoor parking at City Hall (after 6pm M-F and all day Sat/Sun) can make that up and during the winter months make parking easier. Peak period parking restrictions are also being removed on the street.
So after all that, here are my suggestions for a better Elgin Street, for the future and not the present. The City needs to make burying the overhead wires a top priority. Second, install free WiFi along Elgin Street, others cities have free hotspots, why not Ottawa and why not on Elgin? Next, to encourage use of Electric Vehicles utilize two of the new flex spaces as “green plated car” spaces for an EV charging station – one facing each direction of the street. Fourth, remove all buses Elgin Street. The Campus LRT station can accommodate some transit users and Metcalfe, O’Conner and Bank Streets can accommodate the north and south bound travel of bus routes. Finally, compromise on the width of sidewalks and create a bike lane in each direction.
In the end maybe the changes from the City will give it slower and less vehicular traffic, but will it save Elgin Street?
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