Trip hazards and visual clutter: boxed in by the grey intruders

The City is the prime controller of the pedestrian environment. It can make it better, a little bit at a time, and we will eventually end up with a steadily improving walk space.

Or, it can chip away at the pedestrian realm, bit at a time, and slowly make it less functional and uglier.

Or, it can do both: launch grand plans for major streetscaping projects, whilst simultaneously undermining the experience everywhere else.

If you are pedestrian, you are well aware of the proliferation of control boxes at intersections. These power boxes seem to get bigger every year, but all the new ones I have seen inside are 85% vacant. It is so … something … to see the City planning ahead for more traffic controls. As can be seen in the photo at the top of this post, sometimes these boxes intrude rudely into the sidewalk.

In other cases they are off the traveled portion of the sidewalk:

Notice that the box sits on a concrete base. And that the base is elevated above the surrounding lawn. This makes for a maintenance problem, since it needs to be trimmed separately from the lawn mowing. Naturally, this is not done; yielding a shaggy three dimensional texture to the landscape.

When the power boxes are on the sidewalks, the raised base becomes a problem. Consider the nuisance value of the concrete pedestal just installed outside the Ottawa Public Library:

Does that raised step do anything other than provide a trip hazard? And it sticks out like a sore thumb. Butt ugly.

I thought maybe the raised step was for the Municipal Employee to stand upon when servicing the box, but alas, the pedestal is too small for that. Maybe it serves to keep snowplows away from the post? Ah, but a number of the pedestals are smaller than the box above, and some, right on the edge of the plowable sidewalk, will be the curse of the snowplow crews and will damage equipment when the plows clip the concrete pedestal.

And besides, even when the power box is located off the sidewalk, well away from plows, they are now constructed on raised platforms. Notice in this picture how the traffic controller box has to be protected from spreading mulch and senior citizens:

In contrast, notice how they were constructed a few years ago, flush to the sidewalk or surrounding grounds:

These pedestals are stable but mowable. No whipper snippering required. The sidewalk plows won’t be jarring the operators as their blades slip right over the flush pad.

A finally, if you can find a much older power box, you will find it missing the concrete apron completely, and sitting demurely on the sidewalk or sprouting out of the lawn:

I would love to know who made the decision to build raised pedestals for proliferating power boxes, and why. And whether consideration was given to the aesthetics and functionality of these pedestals when plopped down on sidewalks or lawns. And whether the sidewalk plow staff love ‘em or hate ‘em.

Yes, I’ll concede that these power boxes, spawning at intersections all over the city, are individually minor. But collectively, they become one of the more common features of the pedestrian environment. Do they improve it, or hinder it?