DARWIN: City takes tact lesson from the NCC

Billygoat hill?

Recall the kerfuffle about the NCC closing and then reopening the Preston “Extension”, and then closing it again, then tossing he blame to the City, then reopening it with a promise to consult better in the future? Well, the City seems to have been watching closely for lessons in how not to treat pedestrians, because suddenly last week they posted signs closing the popular pedestrian path beside Tom Brown Arena, just a few hundred metres from where the NCC ran aground on the shoals of public indignation.

The paths in question are truly goat trails. They cover the slope behind the Arena and connect pedestrians between Hintonburg and Albert Street. It is a safe bet that most users are headed for the O-Train or transitway stations at Bayview.

As the image above this post shows,there is no mistaking that the trails are steep, and slippery, and dangerous to pedestrians. At the top of the slope, pedestrians have to climb over a guard railing. The impact of thousands of walking feet has pounded the embankment down to the point where the sidewalk is elevated over a foot out of the ground:

Why do pedestrians climb this mini-Everest? It is only necessary to stand there a few minutes to see it all laid out before you, in form of a series of “desire lines” worn into the grass. Climbing the slope saves a longish walk around the Arena on the Albert and Bayview sidewalks. Those walks were laid out glued to the curb on the strange assumption that pedestrians must want to go where cars go. But anyone who walks in the west end knows that Albert Street in this vicinity is a pedestrian and cyclist nightmare. Everyone wants to go directly to their destination, and to get off Albert Street.

Residents have been vocal about this slope for years. The need for a staircase or proper path has been identified in the Neighborhood Improvement Plan, the transportation studies, the LRT studies … yet nothing gets done. Indeed, the upcoming Albert reconstruction plans specifically exclude any improvements to this section of Albert. The City knows any fixes will be expensive.

The only thing the City will do is install a sign trying to scare off pedestrians. Note how politely walkers use the signs as a means of communicating back to the City:

I suspect that some of the inaction comes from the City’s uncertainty about the overpass area. The long-term Bayview Station design has undergone several radical rethinks. Just a few months ago, stairs on the slope might not have been required because the only pedestrian entrance to the new Station was to be at the O-train level, so peds wouldn’t have to climb the slope, only to go down it again on the other side. Instead, there would be a flat path going from Tom Brown to the platforms. But recently the Albert Street entrance to the Station has reappeared on the drawings, so perhaps a stair would be useful.

In fairness to the City, installing a stair here would not be a walk in the park. The slope is long, so the stair would probably go down in several flights, with landings between. Once down at the Arena level, walkways would be required to get people where they want to go. And they would need to be maintained in winter. Metal stairs with  open-grid steps are self cleaning, but now we are looking at half a million bucks for the stairs. Expect someone to raise the issue of accessibility.

With diligent and persistent neighborhood input, the Albert reconstruction might be enlarged to address the serious pedestrian and cycling dysfunctions around this bridge. And maybe the O-Train corridor multi-user path, to be constructed by the City in 2012, might be able to address some of the issues. And in the longer term, the developer of the large parcel of land on the east side of the tracks beside City Centre is promising to fund a pedestrian overpass over the O-Train tracks in the former Wellington Street alignment.

But until then, do up your cleats and express your freedom to walk. And use your pen too – write to Katherine.Hobbs@Ottawa.ca to let your councilor know what you want.


  1. This is just one kind of pedestrian problem that Diane Holmes seeks to address at her Sidewalk Summit next week. Cyclists have shown that it is possible to get the city to invest in infrastructure, it’s time for pedestrians to do so too!

    (Note: I work for Diane Holmes)

  2. Lana – It’s in Hintonburg, which is Kitchissippi ward, but the Sidewalk Summit is about city-wide pedestrian issues. For example, we have confirmed attendees from Kanata.

  3. O-Train-bound pedestrians take a similar shortcut – often racing from a bus to make the connection – at Confederation.

    Always baffles me why the city or other public property owners try and fight this, instead of just giving into it, especially when official plans talk a great game about pedestrian priority.

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