Ottawa

Slippery LRT tiles proof you get what you pay for: architect

Toon Dreessen says the tiles at Lyon and Parliament stations — which caused a number of slips and falls during a rainy Tuesday last week — shed light on a process that puts the profit of builders like Rideau Transit Group (RTG) ahead of the public interest.

Toon Dreessen not surprised RTG chose tiles that likely only met the 'bare minimum'

Ottawa architect Toon Dreessen in June 2019. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Slippery tiles at some Ottawa LRT stations aren't just a poor architectural choice: they're also symbolic of a flawed process, according to one Ottawa architect.

Toon Dreessen of local firm Architects DCA says the tiles at Lyon and Parliament stations — which caused a number of slips and falls during a rainy day last week — shed light on a process that puts the profit of builders like Rideau Transit Group (RTG) ahead of the public interest.

"We might have asked for a specific tile. And maybe we asked for the wrong tile or we didn't ask for anything in particular. So the builder puts in something that meets whatever design brief is given — but it's not specific enough and we're stuck with it," said Dreessen.

"[Rideau Transit Group has] this maintenance contract for the next 30 years. If we want to change something it's gonna be at our cost. So that's part of the problem."

Should be durable, resistant

Michael Morgan, director of the rail construction program, said in a statement that the city was "aware of concerns raised by customers" and would take "immediate action" with RTG.

But the bigger issue, according to Dreessen, is the overall design of the stations — which makes the right flooring even more crucial.

"I've put in similar tiles in buildings I've designed myself, but never in places where I anticipated there would be really high, wet foot traffic," Dreessen said.

Since there's no avoiding the rain, snow and slush that will blow through some stations, Dreessen said the floors have to be both durable and resistant to slips and falls.

Brushed concrete or some other more slip-resistant surface would have been a safer material for these stairs at Parliament station, according to architect Toon Dreessen. (Paul Jay/CBC)

Brushed concrete would have provided better slip resistance, Dreessen said. It can be cheaper than tiles, he added, but it takes more work and effort to get done right.

"That probably would have been my choice, just because it's a little more durable. I mean, something like a tile might not last for 30 or 40 years — whereas the concrete probably will."

'Bare minimum'

The problem of a public-private partnership like Ottawa's light rail line, Dreessen said, is that it's designed to maximize profit for the builder, not to maximize public interest and public value.

The tile in question probably meets the "bare minimum requirement," but not much more, he said.

"If I was the architect trying to build these LRT stations, I would be trying to do more than the minimum," Dreessen said.

"But in a public-private partnership, anything more than the minimum is at the cost to the builder. So why would they do anything else other than the minimum?"

Rain is currently in the forecast for most of this week.

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