09-02-21 | Feature

Transforming a Street into a Place

Unilock & Dillon Consulting

In downtown London, Ontario, Dundas Street had lost its reputation as the city's economic and cultural epicenter, so a plan was put in place to restore it as a focal point for both businesses and residents. Five blocks of the throughfare were designated to become Dundas Place, which would point out the area's history while providing a modern, welcoming environment shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. A team from Dillon Consulting Limited, which included landscape architect Leighann Braine, OALA, CSLA, was retained to undertake the Dundas Place Flexible Street Class Environmental Assessment (EA) study as the next step towards implementing the vision. Following completion of the EA, Dillon also provided their design, planning, and engineering expertise.
To create a roadway that can also serve as a closed-off pedestrian plaza as needed, the design called for curb-less sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes and reduced fixed elements.
The preexisting concrete sidewalk and asphalt street were replaced with an interlocking concrete paver surface comprised of Unilock Seriesa,,? & UnigraniteA(R) stones designed in a signature pattern. This surface produces a seamless transition from vehicular areas to pedestrian ones while still providing roadside safety, accessibility and the necessary infrastructure engineering requirements to support all anticipated uses. Approximately 700,000 interlocking concrete pavers cover an area of over 42,000 square feet. To ensure long-term integrity and durability of the surface, the units are placed on a concrete foundation, essentially building "a road on top of a road".
One unifying visual feature of Dundas Place is the "beautiful flat city floor" composed of paving stones detailed in a wave pattern through the street's center. The inspiration for this design stems from London's relation with the Thames River, which flows through the city.
Soma Stones pebble seats are one of the few fixed elements of Dundas Place and consistent with the waterway theme, they are intended to be reminiscent of riverbank boulders.

The City of London, Ontario, had a vision to transform five blocks of its once-prosperous Dundas Street into a public space and cultural hub, named Dundas Place to encourage residential intensification in the municipality's core, showcase the built heritage of the area, and shape it for decades to come.

In 2015 the city completed a new idea for the downtown, termed Our Move Forward - London's Downtown Plan. Renovating the first five blocks of Dundas Street, from the Thames River to Wellington Street, was identified as the number one project, both in the plan and in the focus and goals set by the city council. Dillon Consulting Limited was retained to undertake the Dundas Place Flexible Street Class Environmental Assessment (EA) study as the next step towards implementing the vision. Following completion of the EA, Dillon also provided the overall design, planning, and engineering expertise to turn Dundas Street into an accommodating setting that is shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.
A 'Flex Street' Approach

A flexible street requires a unique approach to design that balances the needs of the various types of road users.

Dundas Place is intended for vehicular use with two-way traffic and a streetscape that also facilitates community events, converting into an outdoor venue for entertainment, music and festivals. Design elements such as curb-less sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes and reduced fixed elements support the flexible transformation of the street into a closed-off pedestrian plaza that can serve different functions for the community depending on the time of day, week or year. The widened sidewalks are also conducive to businesses expanding into the street - whether having a sidewalk sale or setting up an outdoor patio which has been so essential in the last year.
Other flex design elements lend themselves to streetscape placemaking, including the removable bollards, so that priority of use can easily switch between pedestrian amenity and vehicular support. There are no parking meters or pay stations, instead, parking is free for one hour, eliminating permanent structures. Minimizing and strategically siting required fixed vertical elements such as streetlamp standards, creates fewer obstacles impeding special event use when the road is closed to vehicles, while improving accessibility for the mobility impaired, helping define the separation of vehicle and non-vehicle uses. Furniture and planters used in the design can be moved or switched out on an ongoing basis as the seasons change and event programs require. All of the elements thoughtfully create an engaging space with the ability to transform itself.


One Unifying Feature

The "beautiful flat city floor" extends the length of the entire roadway and further defines the Dundas Place area. This is the tableau for a multi-modal, multi-use infrastructure investment that shows how a vital piece of a transportation network can double as a centerpiece that advances city-building.

The design emerged from the vision to replace the preexisting traditional concrete sidewalk and asphalt roadway treatment with a uniquely designed interlocking concrete paver surface. The pavers allow for a seamless transition across both the vehicular and pedestrian realms while providing roadside safety, accessibility and infrastructure engineering requirements to support all anticipated uses. Unilock was the brand of choice because of their expertise, customer service and ability to meet the design criteria, offering texture and color options that allowed the designers to achieve a signature paving pattern.

A River's Influence

Like its more famous namesake, Canada's London has a rich history with a river named Thames. The waterway that flows through the city was a major hub of activity and played an important role in the development of this London. With a desire to use Dundas Place as a gateway linking the downtown core to the riverfront, the river itself became the inspiration for the wave paving pattern meandering down the center of the street, showcasing the historical town center.
With a paving pattern as intricate as the one for Dundas Place, it was important for Dillon to team up with their local paver-of-choice representative to further develop the wave-like pattern and to assist with the details that will ensure the long-term success of the project.
Leighann Braine, OALA, CSLA, a landscape architect from Dillon Consulting notes that, "When presented with this unique design challenge, the product supplier rose to the occasion and was able to share their expertise through various collaborative efforts, including tours of their manufacturing facilities, fabrication processes, and completed projects of a similar nature. With durability and accessibility key design factors to consider, we worked with them to develop a custom color palette and detail pattern that could be easily constructed with minimal direction once on site. With an attitude that anything is possible, we were able to achieve a finished product that met all of our design goals."
The various paver sizes, styles, surface textures, and color palettes help to define the pedestrian areas from the vehicular in a safe and navigable manner. To ensure the long-term integrity and durability, the pavers were installed over a concrete base. Over 700,000 interlocking bricks were laid in a herringbone pattern at Dundas Place. This laying pattern, combined with the base detail and aspect ratio of the paving stones, are key design considerations when designing for vehicular movement - allowing the paving surface to support both pedestrian and heavy-duty vehicular traffic. The chosen paver finish also factored into the design choices to ensure long term performance. The Unilock Seriesa,,? finish was the ideal option. It is an extremely durable paver finish with natural granite and quartz aggregates throughout its micro-pebbled surface creating speckles of color and sparkle, which are only enhanced as the product is exposed to the elements over time.

A Contribution to Economic & Social Well-Being

Besides the major factors influencing the project design, including the physical transformation derived from the need to improve the public space throughout the corridor while having regard for the need to update servicing and underground infrastructure, a robust event programming and management strategy was equally important to the project's success.
The renovation of Dundas Place from a commercial corridor to a flexible and programmable streetscape offers a multitude of experiences along its length exuding innovation, vibrancy, creativity and entrepreneurialism. It is both a physical space and a temporal concept that makes this section of Dundas Street the civic heart and a favorite place of Londoners.
Dundas Place has already proven the extent to which the project fulfills the vision set in the city's Downtown Plan, to make Dundas Street into the most exciting street in London. After Phase 1 construction was completed, it became the go-to gathering place as London's "Jurassic Park" when the Toronto Raptors competed in the 2019 NBA Championships. Dundas Place was not just a street reconstruction project, but is part of a long-term strategy to re-envision downtown London as a place of business, and a place to live, work and play. Dundas Place is a dynamic and inviting destination in the city and has become the benchmark for future 'flex' streets in Canada.


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