City Reviewing Standards in our Community

With more than 100 neighbourhoods, each with its unique characteristics, the City of Ottawa is a fantastic place that strives to be one of the world’s best Capital cities. Ottawa is also one of the coldest capitals in the world. The City has three distinct zones: its core, the suburbs, and the rural areas. This article is a summary of these three main areas and how the City will review its approach and will engage with our community on: 

1) Winter Maintenance Standards
2) Specialty Area Maintenance Standards 
3) Infrastructure – sidewalk standards

Here is a summary of the reviews and the feedback that my team and I shared with the City based on feedback we have received from residents and businesses in Lowertown, Sandy Hill, and Vanier:

1) Winter Maintenance Standards:

When the City amalgamated, it placed a range of standards that apply for snow clearing and snow removal for sidewalks and roadways. Those standards have been in place for the last 20 years, and now more than ever, they require reevaluation. The City’s winter operations team is complex and involves several different public works, from OC Transpo to parks and facilities, to sewer and water departments. There are even components of maintenance in certain areas that are done through contracted services. All of these teams interact and often compete for space to execute their various works priorities.

For this, we will focus on the differences between snow clearing and removal and the roadway & sidewalk priority levels within our community. The City chose to identify snow clearing standards with roadway priority. Those priorities are broken down into a number from busiest and essential to the network to the residential street and cul de sac. The priority level depends on several factors, including bus routes, employment areas, and business improvement zones.

Today, these standards do not work for a variety of reasons. Access to schools, transit connection, the mix-use nature of some streets, the popularity of sidewalks, the winter cycling network, and accessibility concerns are all factors that contribute to rethinking the policy approach. 

A few elements we’ve heard from our community: 

  • The City should split the maintenance approach for roadway and sidewalks: Certain roads are essential to the network, and sidewalks that offer community connections to Main Streets, employers, community spaces, access to transit need to share equal attention.  

Let me give you a specific example of this. Suppose you are a resident of Sandy Hill and you work downtown. In that case, your walking or cycling commute might require you to use Somerset, Chapel, Nelson and Cumberland sidewalks, all of which are not on Mainstreet and therefore currently maintained too late in the maintenance cycle as they are treated as residential street plow beats which have much lower maintenance expectations. Further, if you are a resident who works in Gatineau or in the suburban communities, you might be walking to your bus/train. How do you get safely to your local transit stop? Those are additional factors. Finally, university campuses have a uniqueness for students, professors, employees, and the community, the importance of multiple walkable corridors to and from the community and from Rideau Street to and from the ByWard Market struggle with the current application of the standards.

We are asking staff to understand the unique volume of priority residential street sidewalks, which the roadway corridor might have lower priority for the network (one lane, no bus)

  • Higher Density: We also have more and more people living vertically – which means residential Corridors are also important – a few examples would be Cumberland (in Lowertown), Wurtemburg and Landry/Charlevoix. Currently, the City has not factored in the population density and the importance of having proper sidewalk connections for this population.
  • Cycling network: As we build cycling lanes and tracks and identified winter maintenance priority, we also need to make sure snow clearing and removal reflect the safety and advance those most challenging connections, including East-West bikeway (Beechwood, St Patrick, Cobourg, Wilbrod/Stewart, Laurier), McArthur lanes, neighbourhood hubs like the Adawe bridge (to and from) and the ever-popular Somerset street East link.

I could go on and on, but I think this gives you the range of challenges and the need to evolve the standards to reflect the current and future needs. Additional considerations worth thinking about are environmental, family equity access, ageing population, and accessibility standards evolution.

Ultimately the City needs to have objectives city-wide that ensure speedy maintenance of the roadway, transit priority, employment areas and Mainstreet. Still, it needs to dive into the neighbourhood connections and ensure those are included in the revised focus, specifically as it relates to sidewalk maintenance.

2) Specialty Districts Maintenance Standards:

The area I represent has three commercial districts: The ByWard BIA, Downtown Rideau BIA, and the Quartier Vanier BIA (Montreal road, Beechwood Ave and McArthur rd). Our commercial district in the City’s core plays an important role. The small ground-floor business community is the lifeblood of our local economy. 

When you walk down a Main Street, you may feel pride in your City.  

Many elements build that perception, quality concrete sidewalks, lighting, trees, bus stops, patios, flower boxes, street furniture coordination, line painting.

The importance of these main urban streets goes well beyond the immediate neighbours’ interest. It expands to the welcoming feeling they bring for Ottawa residents and even more broadly for Tourists who come and enjoy our Capital City.

It has been refreshing to see a renewal of the majority of Main Streets in the City’s core; those investments have raised the bar. 

Now that these are in place, with new streetscapes focusing on landscaping, pedestrian and cycling space, it is clear these areas support mixed-use environments. The City’s maintenance standards need to reflect this in the City’s renewed approach.  

The days of patching concrete sidewalks with asphalt must end. The preciseness of our maintenance must go well beyond emptying the garbage cans and removing graffiti. We must elevate our pride to encourage individual business owners to keep the area in front of their business clean and tidy. The City must respect its investment by keeping with the district’s theme when it comes to street furniture replacement. We must take pride and ensure sticky, gummy sidewalks, dirty alcoves, burned lights, weeds, filed tree guards are a thing of the past. One way to do that is to ensure a designated Public Works staff member exists for each Main Street, focusing on all the cleaning/maintenance needs together.

With the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on our City’s Main Streets in recent years, we must reset our lifecycle and maintenance approach and factor in the types of deep clean needed for each of our four seasons.

When tourists come to our City, they visit the museums and Parliament and come to the ByWard Market. 

We must think of these urban commercial districts and main streets as our best impression we have as City, think of when you welcome visitors to your home, you ensure things are clean, safe and tidy.

I am hopeful this review leads to a proper re-evaluation of these current issues we face for cleanliness, maintenance and lifecycle investments in those key areas.

3) Infrastructure – Sidewalk Standards

In recent years the City has redone a lot of streets in Sandy Hill and Vanier. These streets were updated due to various reasons, including ageing or failing underground infrastructure (the sewer and water pipes under the road). When a street is redone, the City also takes the opportunity to reset the corridor, lane width, sidewalks, green space, crosswalks, catch basin, lighting, etc.

Infrastructure staff are good at working with community groups and residents to advance the residential urban environment we all strive for.

In recent times, we had come to a head on a standard the City aimed to achieve relating to sidewalks. Here are a couple of crucial points, wider sidewalks are good, inlet catch basins are favoured, hydro poles shouldn’t be in walkable areas, ever.

The specific issue we were raising was on residential sidewalk standards. The City of Ottawa was striving to achieve ramp-style sidewalks, also known as Toronto-style sidewalks, and eliminate through renewal the traditional style sidewalks we are familiar with in Ottawa. The approach at face value is worth.

The City is a leader in developing accessible environments for all, embracing the principles of \”universal design,\” and is committed to identify, remove and prevent barriers as per the scope and application of the City of Ottawa’s Accessibility Design Standards.

Critical considerations to sidewalk standards are finding a balance between accessibility, pedestrian movements, safety, parking and cycling impacts, traffic, maintenance and vehicular access.

The reference to the conversion to the Toronto Style sidewalk was selected with extensive consultation with communities at the time.

Years later, as the standard started the become implemented, challenges became apparent. So did community feedback on the latest sidewalk; what was to be an improvement became tainted with concerns.

Let me clarify; I am by no means opposed to the Toronto-style (ramp) sidewalk. I have come to recognize the environments under which we have received complaints from residents, families, seniors, residents with disabilities etc.

Here are the key challenges with this ramp style standard considerations: frequency of driveways, hydro pole locations, retaining walls, the width of the sidewalk, winter maintenance etc.,

I am happy to see the City engage with residents and particularly with the accessibility community to evolve our standards to the challenges identified above also allow for the ideal sidewalk renewal approach to be selected and ultimately implemented in future residential street renewal projects.

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