Fucking Stop It

I’m a bit of a night person. I’m generally up past 11:00, most nights. I’m regularly up past midnight on weekends. A couple of weeks ago, I conked out early. In the middle of the night, I woke up. It was 2:00 am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning of Cityfolk. I couldn’t get really get back to sleep.

For about 45 minutes, I drifted in and out of sleep. Eventually, I could hear voices. It sounded like the TV or radio…but I knew that I had turned everything off. Nonetheless, I was thirsty, so I figured I’d check out the sound while I went to get some water.

As came towards the kitchen, the voice grew louder. It was definitely a radio. Then I saw the flashing lights illuminating the apartment. The voice was coming from a police radio. There was a cop parked outside my kitchen window, door open, radio on, lights going.

I tried to see as much as I could. Bank Street at Thornton was cordoned off with police tape. I could see more squad cars further south on Bank. This was right around Irene’s…but Irene’s never seems to have any trouble. I worried about a fight. I worried about something else.

I started scrolling through Twitter, looking for an explanation. CFRA had one. A 26-year-old woman had been run down.

***

There are a lot of things I’ve been meaning to write about. I have a half-finished piece on the cynical vote-buying of city council. I want to write about the importance of libraries as community institutions. There’s a massive development proposed for Bank Street that shatters the CDP. There was a really cool event a couple of weeks ago centring a public wood oven in Britannia.

I want to write about this stuff. I want to write about the cool things going on in our city. I want to write about the way our city can get even better.

But people keep getting run over, and I just can’t focus on those other things when there’s so much blood in the streets…and on our hands. I hate it. I hate it so much. There’s such a powerlessness. It’s all just screaming into a void–a void that steals lives and loved ones.

The people who could do something about it won’t; at least, they haven’t yet. Councillors Brockington, McKenney and Leiper held a rally after a bicyclists was killed. Six or seven councillors showed up at the recent Citizens for Safe Cycling Annual General Meeting. Councillors like Allan Hubley claim to care about safety.

It’s time to fucking do something.

No, no that’s absolutely incorrect. It’s past time. We have six rookie councillors. That means 75% of council has been there for more than one term. They’ve had time. They’ve just done nothing.

You’ll look at the stats, and, really, Ottawa will seem relatively safe. Collisions involving bicyclists have remained steady over the years even as the popular of biking has exploded. Pedestrians seem to be getting run down with similar frequency to previous years.

We have decided that a certain amount of death is ok. I don’t care what any councillor tells you. I don’t care what platitudes the mayor spews in between his bouts of condescension and sophistry.

***

September was a bad month. It started really bad, with the killing of Nusrat Jahan. A killing in our vaunted Laurier Bike Lane. It didn’t mean the bike lane was any less safe, it just demonstrated that just about none of our infrastructure is safe enough.

It was a high profile killing. It brought out councillors, spawned a rally, led to a lot of jibber jabber about safety, and it may even get a few results. Politicians at all three levels have taken notice, we’ve moved some stop lines and, who knows, we might finally implement other measures to improve safety.

In the days after Nusrat’s killing, the news was reporting more and more collisions. There was a bike hit on Bank Street, for instance. It was noted that these things happen all the time, but rarely get any press.

As the month went on, there were more and more collisions. A 13-year-old girl was run over biking to school. A 14-year-old boy was run over walking to school. A bicyclist was right-hooked at Lansdowne. A pedestrian on Riverside Drive was hit. A bicyclist near Walkley and Conroy was hit…a day or two after a bicyclist had been hit a few blocks away. A woman walking at Bank and Riverside (where Meg Dussault was killed and the only safety measure that has since been implemented has been removing her ghost bike) was hit. An acquaintance mentioned that one of her friends was hit, too.

And when the Citizen decided to chronicle all the danger on our streets, photographer Darren Brown was sideswiped on his bike. I was so a propos, we should probably laugh or something. (He was ok, thankfully.)

Oh yeah, and I was almost run over on Bronson today. When the woman decided not to kill me, she figured she should honk at me for good measure.

These are the incidents off the top of my head. There are more.

***

When Brian Thompson was killed by a pick-up truck because he wanted to do his laundry, I wrote a plea in the Ottawa Sun that he be the last, that his death bring about some necessary changes.

There was no rally at City Hall for Brian. The mayor didn’t convene a task force for him.

At the rally for Nusrat, a friend asked if I was going to write something about her killing. I had, naturally, already thought about it, but I couldn’t for the life of me try to write the same goddamned post that I’d written so many times before. I couldn’t possible call for an end to the killing in Nusrat’s name. I couldn’t keep arguing for lower speed limits, narrower streets, safer infrastructure, fewer trucks, and the political will and law enforcement that would be necessary to make improvements.

So I went dark. I wrote a modest proposal sort of thing. If you visit this blog, I’m sure you saw it. Death is a natural part of bicycling. Let the streets run red.

That was, to an extent, my white flag. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep going on with the same pleas in a city that doesn’t care. Government is the word for the things we do together. Government is the word for the people will kill together.

And this wasn’t even my first white flag. I wrote that a couple of years ago when councillor Bike City, Great City decided that keeping parking for a private business–rather than moving it around the corner in front of the business–was more important than keeping bicyclists (and, by extension, pedestrians) safe.

Obviously, I didn’t stop then, but it’s taken me two weeks to write anything about the person who was run over a block away from my home.

I’m really not surprised it happened. I don’t know the details, but Bank Street is wide and its four lanes and drivers go upwards of 80 and 100 km/hr late at night. I know. They literally shake my home with their speed.

This is in a densely-populated neighbourhood. This is a 40 km/hr street that gets no actual enforcement. This is a neighbourhood with tons of pedestrians (including people leaving events at Lansdowne) and a number of bars–so it’s a neighbourhood with a lot of intoxicated pedestrians.

But the city just lets people keep speeding down the street. They know people speed. They’ve put up a speed sign that displays your speed and flashes a tiny white light if you are going more than 125% of the speed limit. These signs are only posted at the Bank Street Bridge, and one of them isn’t even working.

I have no idea who the woman is who got run over in my neighbourhood…my community…my home. There was a tweet that said she was “VSA” when paramedics arrived. She was transported to hospital.

VSA, vital signs absent.

I kept checking the news, trying to find out what happened, but I never found any follow-up stories, and, eventually, I gave up.

There have been no further reports about the killing of Brian Thompson. Cops were looking into it, but, ya know…

I’ve never been able to find out what happened after the woman was killed in the Metro parking lot in New Edinborough. She was run over in a parking lot. She was putting her groceries away and someone was so careless with their car–so, dare I say it, negligent–that the collision killed her, and there was never any sign of charges.

A year or so ago, a friend was hit. The driver seemed drunk. The driver fled the scene. Witnesses had to chase him down. The cops did nothing.

A year or so ago, my wife was threatened and bullied on the street–a block or two away from where that 26-year-old was run down–by a cabbie. She got the number. She called the cops. She had a long, detailed conversation about the whole thing. The cop contacted the cabbie and spoke to him. The cabbie all but admitted that he had no fucking clue how to behave on the road. The cop gave him a talking to.

My wife explained to the cop about all the rampant speeding on Bank Street through the Glebe. The cops were glad to know, so they could do something about it.

Nothing has been done, not really. But a woman did get run over.

What’s the whole damned point of this. Why do we even pretend to care about street safety. Why do we worry about having these laws when we don’t care about enforcing them. The deputy chief got doored and the all the perpetrator got was a lecture.

There are people who no more about the inner workings of the city who are more optimistic than me. Than are people with far more power who are more optimistic than me. I’m out of all optimism. Hell, I’m even past cynicism. This is a deep, grieving resignation.

I still love this city, and I really do want it better. I can’t say I hold out much hope that there will be real change in my life time, but I’ll espouse some sort of empty hope that there will be. I just would have liked people like Nusrat Jahan, Brian Thompson, Meg Dussaut, Lise Leblanc, Mario Theoret, Danielle Nacu and all those nameless victims whose deaths get a passing mention in the media could be around to see it.

But we’ve embraced a sort of municipal nihilism, and without some actual courage by our political leaders, and a little less callous, destructive selfishness by residents, there’s no way we’re going to change.

***

I’m going to try to get back to writing about other things. And, yeah, I’ll probably write about this stuff again. I like writing, and I want life in the city to keep improving. So I won’t stop. I won’t stop writing, and I won’t stop living my life.

But I do it knowing that I could be easily and swiftly killed in our streets, and the city just wouldn’t care.

Ottawa truckers and the contempt for the life of others

She wasn’t a girl. She was a woman.

And a crash didn’t claim her life. She was killed by a person…a driver driving a dangerous vehicle…a driver driving dangerously and illegally.

Ron Barr, the president of the Greater Ottawa Truckers Association, went on CBC radio today express is utter disregard for Nusrat Jahan, who was recently run over by a truck driver, as well as bicyclists, in general.

Amid his apologetics for a killer (who has, rightly though perhaps leniently, been criminally charged for killing a person), was his concern for the other victims here, truck drivers:

Any time we hear charges like that, it’s pretty drastic for our industry. … So just to make a mistake and do a right-hand turn, and to have those kind of charges levied, it’s pretty heavy damage.

That is pretty damaging. It’s hard to think of things that could be more damaging to people.

But I guess I can understand where he’s coming from. Truck drivers have been killing people with impunity for years. It must be nice to know that if you’re going to kill someone, you won’t be held accountable for it. In most every day situations, you would be, but we’ve been giving truck drivers (and a lot of motorists) a pass. The can kill and come out of it relatively or completely unscathed.

It must really suck to face responsibility for ending a human life. For stealing a woman’s life and future, and stealing her from her friends and family.

My heart bleeds.

Barr wasn’t really there to talk about–or care about–Nusrat Jahan. He was there to push for his industry to be favoured over everything else. There was no concern for safety or a person’s death. There was no sympathy and no humanity in his words.

He couldn’t find the decency to demonstrate the tiniest bit of respect for others.

Bringing us back to where we started. Barr said:

I believe it’s devastating for our industry because one of our members made a mistake that day. I think it’s devastating for the family of the dead girl, paramedics, just everybody.

(I’m so sorry it was devastating for your industry. I hope your industry survives. Can we send flowers to your industry during this tough time?)

Nusrat Jahan was a women. She was an adult. She was 23 and building a life…but not in Barr’s perspective. She was a girl. She was a child… a female child. She was doing frivolous, childish things. She was riding a toy, being immature. Not like the man driving the truck. Driving a manly vehicle. Doing important manly work. How can we let girls like 23-year-old Nusrat get in the way of men? Why let a girl turn a decent, truck-driving man into a killer?

You can bet if it was my viscera painting the underside of a dump truck, he wouldn’t have called me a boy.

But this isn’t just a disgusting chauvinistic comment from a callous, entitled man–though it certainly is that. He’s contemptuous of people, others, who make choices different than his. Specifically, he’s contemptuous of anyone riding a bike.

What amazes me is that the bikes have precedence over trucks or vehicles. They have those green boxes right at the front of the light. So what I would like to see is that whatever corners that are used to turn right are dealt with a little bit better…Because let’s face it: I never believed that a bike should be equal to a truck.

There’s just so damned much to unpack from this and the rest of his statements. But one thing is clear, he has no regard for bicyclists…for people who ride bikes. He won’t even acknowledge their existence. He refers to these people by the thing they ride, bikes.

Who fucking cares about the respective value of bikes and trucks? Focus on the value of human life. Laws should exist–and theoretically they do–to protect human life, first and foremost. Infrastructure should be built, first and foremost, to protect human life. Our city should be built, first and foremost, to protect and enhance human life.

Business, construction, development, driving…those are a secondary concerns. Those should serve human life, not supercede it.

Barr says he wants to be a part of safety discussions. Well, if he wants to make the city safer, he can write his councillor, write the mayor, join Bike Ottawa.

During this devastating time, he can push to get large trucks off our downtown streets. He can push for his industry, during this devastating time, to make sideguards mandatory. He can push his industry, during this devastating time, to campaign for lower speed limits, a proper bicycle network, wider sidewalks, narrower streets…

But he doesn’t want any of that. He wants to be a part of the process to subvert safety. He wants to institute rules that punish people for riding bikes. He wants laws that endanger bicyclists. He wants streets that are more prone to trucks running over innocent people.

This is a cynical ploy by a callous little man who wants everything tailored to him, even if it means more killing.

#autowa, again

This tweet was making it rounds through Ottawa Twitter on Tuesday:

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-11-23-24-pm

Anyone with a remote familiarity with using a street knows that the bicyclist pictured was exactly where he’s supposed to be, where the law tells him to be and where LEARN THE RULES! types would demand he be.

An Ottawa cop decided to set this driving enthusiast straight:

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-11-41-33-pmOf course, Constable Benoit wasn’t the only one to set Tommy straight. Many Twitter users weighed in to explain how obviously and clearly wrong he was. What was interesting was how Tommy dug in, and just wouldn’t admit his error.

Even when a cop told him he didn’t understand the rules of the road, he couldn’t accept it.

He attempted to save some dignity by blaming the bicyclist for not triggering the light, but that’s not a dick of a bike rider. That’s a dick of a city planner or politician. That bicyclist didn’t implement bad street design.

Don’t use little dots to let bicyclists trigger traffic lights. Don’t use beg buttons. These things regularly fail, and they’re just stupid street design, anyway. Make the damned lights change regularly. Give bikes enough time to get through. Always have a walk light with a green light. Never ever do a revert-red.

Twitter users were quick to note the other problem with this tweet and the all-to-prevalent sentiment behind it.

Bicyclists are regularly bitched out for not following the rules (or for other bicyclists not following the rules). They don’t stop at stop signs. They ride on the sidewalk. They filter (which may or may not be against the rules).

(Look through Tommy’s timeline. He starts complaining about bicyclists on sidewalks. What the hell does he want? Right. He wants everything to be about him.)

The rules, of course, aren’t suited for bicyclists. Bicyclists don’t need an endless string of stop signs or traffic lights. They don’t need intricate right-of-way laws. They don’t need massively segregated infrastructure. They can just ride their bikes. (Don’t believe me? Look at MUPs.)

So we’ve got horrible rules that don’t keep bicyclists safe, and, often, endanger them. Regardless, bicyclists tend to obey the rules. They round off a few corners here and there, but they still follow the rules 90% of the time.

However, when they go full-hog and totally, completely follow the rules, take the lane, act like a “vehicle” and do exactly what all these schoolmarm motorists nag about, they still get bitched out.

Why would you follow massively inconvenient rules when it endangers your life and opens you to further abuse from drivers?

Jim Watson’s Trump Moment

A curious thing happens with the twitter account of the bigoted, racist hate-filled Republican Presidential nominee, Donal Trump. He’ll tweet something outlandish, something hateful and self-serving, then a few hours later, he’ll change his tune and act like a human being being.

You can see this phenomena in action with the murder of Dwyane Wade’s cousin. First, he used the tragedy to tout himself and his agenda, then a few hours later, expressed condolences.

There’s a theory that you can tell when The Donald is actually tweeting and when it’s his staff. (The theory suggests that whenever a tweet comes from an Android device, it’s Trump; when it’s from an iPhone, it’s his staff.) Whether that’s true or not, it seems like someone shakes some sense into him after he pulls his usual crap.

Enter Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

On Thursday, Nusrat Jahan was killed by a truck driver. He right-hooked her as she was trying riding in the Laurier bike lane. As reported by CBC, and as noticed by many, many people on Twitter, the mayor’s initial response was to tout his own accomplishments and his agenda:

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That’s right. A woman was dead, and he was touting his record spending on bicycling infrastructure.

He was also bragging about a bike route that was hacked up in order to preserve parking.

And he was bragging about how the city wasn’t going to do any more, but he’d get the federal government to do his fucking job for him.

Well, I guess someone suggested to the mayor that this wasn’t the best way to respond to a body in the street. Three hours later, he had more to say:

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And then two minutes after that, he finally decided to say something about the dead woman:

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If that was it, it would have been bad. He did what others ridicule Trump for doing, and deserves ridicule for his callous, self-aggrandizing response to death. But he couldn’t help himself. He had to keep going…

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This is a lie. Booth Street. Kent Street. Bank Street. Innes Road. O’Connor Street. Huntmar Drive. Our streets have been intentionally designed to be dangerous under his watch. He is not trying to make our streets the safest in Canada.

Further, he’s not trying to start a dialogue. He has willfully eschewed the dialogue. People have been trying to make bicycling and walking in this city safer for years, and he just likes to respond by touting his “record spending” and ignoring everything else.

You know who’s having this dialogue? The people behind Bike Ottawa, the people behind Pedal Power, Eric Darwin, David Reevely, Metro Ottawa, Joanne Chiannello, Charles Akben-Marchand, Alex deVries, Kathryn Hunt, Lana Stewart and whole ton of other Ottawa residents.

They do it on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, at community events and public consultations. They talk to the media. They write their councillors. They write the mayor. They’re banging the hell out of this drum, and the mayor has refused to listen.

So don’t be fooled. The mayor’s initial response was the honest one. By his actions, he doesn’t believe in promoting safety. By his words, he doesn’t believe in dialogue.

Nusrat is dead, but he has made a record investment in bicycling infrastructure.

Death is a normal part of cycling

With another death in our streets, comes a renewed focus on street safety. Last month, a pedestrian died after a collision with a truck at Somerset and Rochester. On Thursday, a woman died after her bike collided with a dump truck. This came after a bad week for bicyclists, with incidents on Ogilvie, Donald St. and Holly Acres.

The following day, Ottawa Paramedics would report at least two more bicyclists hit by cars.

In response to Thursday’s incident, councillors Catherine McKenney and Jeff Leiper called a noon-hour rally at City Hall to raise awareness about street safety, or more accurately, street danger. The councillors were joined by River Ward councillor Riley Brockington, members of the media and over a hundred concerned citizens.

At the rally, McKenney, whose ward hosted the most recent killing, noted that we average seven pedestrian and bicycling deaths per year. She was clearly fed up, and pledged her devotion to the implementation of the Vision Zero philosophy. She wants zero deaths in our streets, zero pedestrians flung from the grill of a pick-up truck, zero bicyclists crushed under a dump truck.

It’s a laudable goal, but pure, undiluted folly.

Stripping away the rhetoric, sorrow and tears, we are left with an unavoidable fact. Our streets are dangerous. It is not safe to be a pedestrian or bicyclist in Ottawa. Vulnerable road users need to be aware of the potential danger of every car and every intersection.

And there is only way to inform people of this reality: death. We need road deaths to remind us to tread and pedal carefully.

It’s the hard reality of life in Ottawa. Collisions and deaths are going to happen. We need city planners and politicians who acknowledge this and force us to trust no one. We can never believe that the streets are safe or that drivers won’t hit us. We can only rely on ourselves and ensure we follow the rules. Even then, it’s a bloody lottery out there. Sometimes, you’re going to lose.

Of course, the city makes modest safety improvements to appease activists, agitators and busybodies. We’ll put in a few pedestrian crossovers, but we won’t put in proper traffic lights to allow safe crossing. We’ll check to make sure that the pavement on our multi-use paths is smooth, but we won’t build a network to make sure bicyclists can safely get around the city. We’ll build a bike lane on Laurier, but we’ll erode it, bit by bit, so that it can double as a loading zone or taxi stand. When people complain about too much parking, we’ll ticket offenders, for about a week.

When you’re walking or bicycling, you are in mortal danger, and you need to know that. Unfortunately, thanks to countries like Sweden and the Netherlands that have successfully reduced street fatalities, people in Ottawa can erroneously believe that such safety can be achieved here, too.

The mayor is wiser than this. When confronted with another death in our streets, he noted that the city has had record spending on bicycling infrastructure while he’s been in office. Yes, yes, the spending is still disproportionately low compared to bicyling’s modal share, but the city has thrown a little money at half-measures without bringing our deaths down to zero. Why, then, would we think spending more money on proven safety initiatives would do anything to save lives?

Sure, we could mandate truck sideguards. We could eliminate right turns on reds. We could lower speed limits, narrow streets, enforce traffic laws and hold drivers accountable…but who really wants that sort of safety dystopia?

No, our streets will be eternally dangerous. Call it the Ottawa prophecy or the Watsonian Law of Street Design, but it’s undeniable.

I know, I know. It seems far-fetched, morbid and maybe a little slanderous to say that the city needs a few street deaths here and there, and that it serves the city, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians well to endure intermittent carnage. But look at our city, really look at it. This is what we want and clearly what we need.

The city has devoted itself to the Complete Streets model…but not really. It’s a great soundbite and may appease some of the safety-obsessed out there, but council and planners aren’t really going to support Complete Streets. That’s not feasible in a city like Ottawa.

The Complete Streets philosophy seems laudable. Design roads to prioritize the safety of the most vulnerable. This means that worrying about pedestrian safety should come before worrying about traffic flow. Our betters at City Hall saw through this malarkey. Ottawa’s Complete Streets philosophy eschews safety in favour of “balancing” the needs of all road users.

Because the need to drive 60+km/hr through a dense, pedestrian rich area should be given equal consideration to a pedestrian’s desire not to be dead.

This is really the best of both worlds. City Hall has put on a good face for the nannies and ninnies while ensuring that driving remains king, traffic is never clogged and BIAs support councillors’ re-election campaign.

Better still, while the city talks a good (if dishonest) game, they know better than to walk a good game. A while back, council passed a motion that every new street would get the Complete Street treatment…well, no, a Complete Street design would considered. No promises.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be every new street. It would be every time we re-built a street. Except it wouldn’t be every time we re-built a street. It would be every street re-construction, a re-surfacing wouldn’t count. So, for some new streets City Hall promised to consider, maybe, not prioritizing speed over safety. No promises on implementation, though.

Because the need to drive 60+km/hr through a dense, pedestrian rich area should be given extra consideration over a pedestrian’s desire not to be dead.

Don’t believe me? Look at Kent Street. It is getting a ton of work done on it…but it’s not a re-construction, just a re-surfacing, so the city doesn’t even have to pretend that we’ll implement a watered-down Complete Street design that would do little other than providing safety, rejuvenating the street, reducing congestion and slowing cars down a bit.

No! We know that such measures aren’t good for our downtown core. Instead, the city has intentionally made the street more dangerous. We’ve added pinch points to deter or kill bicyclists. We’ve eliminated curb cuts to make crossing the street extra-dangerous for those with mobility issues. We’re looking out for the most vulnerable. We’re optimizing their vulnerabilities to make sure the street is as safe as we want it.

Oh yes, sure, other streets have received the Complete Street makeover. Churchill has a cycle track, as does Main Street. We’ve plopped these down without sufficient connections, without a grid, so that we can be leaders in providing bicycling infrastructure without changing the car-centric nature of Ottawa.

We’re currently building the O’Connor Bikeway from Wellington to Fifth…except we’ve eliminated it south of the Queensway. There will be some sharrows and bulbout ride-overs. There will also be pinch points, a wide road and speeding cars. One of the bulbouts won’t even be a ride-over. It’ll be a little surprise for the bicyclist who goes crashing over the curb on the other side of it.

And we’ve done this For The Children. There’s a school there, so why would we want bike lanes? There’s a pediatrician’s office, and he wants parking on the side of his business instead of in front of it. Who are we to argue with that?

We’ve added bike lanes to streets like Coventry, only to install guy-wires, traffic signs and light standards into the middle of them to give bicyclists that touch of danger that will help keep them on their toes.

Hell, let’s go back to the Laurier Bike Lane. We built it, then we took parts of it away. We received safety recommendations and we ignored them. We built what has turned out to be a very safe bit of infrastructure, but we still did all we could to make it dangerous.

The city knows what it is doing. It is building danger into everything so that we will never feel too secure, that we’ll never be too trusting, that we will always—always—understand that we are accepting to forfeit our lives in service of traffic every time we choose not to drive a car.

We were told to put the yield-to-bike sign at Laurier and Lyon in a place where vehicles would actually see it and then maybe remember not to kill people. We didn’t do that. We chose not to do that. It was intentional. The city did not want that level of safety and security.

And it’s taken a while, but we finally have our death on the Laurier bike lane, possibly thanks to poor signage, possibly thanks to the lack of sideguards on trucks, possible thanks to doubling bike routes and trucks, but definitely thanks to our indifference and our valuing of automobiles over people.

The city has added just enough danger to remind us of our mortality, but not quite enough to make us demand actual safety. It’s a delicate balance, but we have achieved it wonderfully.

Everyone now knows, you aren’t safe anywhere. This is the only way people will be sure to be a little more cautious, a little more scared when they’re out enjoying the city. And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

Recently, I was crossing the street, legally, with my 8-year-old daughter when we were buzzed by a police car speeding through a left turn. You might think such an action irresponsible, dangerous or borderline criminal, but I thank the officer for ensuring that my daughter and I remember that even crossing a residential street is a crapshoot…Ottawa roulette, if you will.

The city does us a service by tolerating a certain amount of bloodshed in our streets. We need a death now and then to remind us that life is fragile. If we eliminated street deaths, how would people ever be able to keep themselves safe?

Beware of Dog, or, Allan Hubley and the Bart Simpson Approach to Street Safety

Beware of Dog signs have always seemed completely messed up, at least in the city. They’re a warning and an attempt to shift liability: enter at your own risk. What you’re really saying when you put up that sign is, “I’m keeping an inappropriately dangerous animal that could easily harm other people.” It’s an admission of guilt.

On that note, Kanata South Councillor Allan Hubley tweeted:

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I saw this this afternoon, and wasn’t sure what to think about it (other than to note Hubley’s pointed shot at “cyclists”). My gut feeling was that it was a pretty crappy thing to do, to build what really looked like a crossing and then tell people to go away.

Luckily, Hubley decided to save me some time investigating. When called out on this, Hubley responded:

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Here’s what his tweet is saying: the city, and Hubley, are knowingly building and maintaining unsafe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and instead of fixing it, they’re trying shift blame on to the people who will be victims of this malicious street design.

This is a cold, callous and irresponsible way to run a city.

This isn’t about safety, and this isn’t about providing wayfinding as Hubley might want to claim. This is about saving money and evading responsibility. A good representative, one who cares about safety more than dollars, might say, “this is a good temporary measure until we get lights at this crossing,” but no, this is about city liability, not providing safe infrastructure.

I mean, I get it, when you’re shirking your responsibility, you don’t then want to be held responsible.

This is what they call a Kinsley Gaffe (thanks to my friend Will for reminding me of the term):

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a political gaffe reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit. The term comes from journalist Michael Kinsley, who said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

Judging by his evasive responses, he let slip a truth he wanted to keep hidden.

But, you know, even if the installation of this sign isn’t a cynical ploy by liability-evading misanthropes, it’ still a pretty shitty thing to do. It is completely contemptuous of residents. It’d still be a situation where the city built half the necessary infrastructure and then basically told people to eat it.

This whole thing reminds me of an old episode of The Simpsons:

We’re going to build this dangerous path, and if you get hurt or killed, it’s your own fault.

Two Terms Bad Four Terms Good

Here’s an interesting little story from CBC’s Joanne Chianello. Four local councillors are facing a tough choice: break their promise or be unemployed.

Chianello writes about four councillors who, running for the first time in 2010, promised to only serve two terms. Each councillor won re-election in 2014, so if they’re keep their trousers from immolating, they’d best be polishing their resumes. The four councillors are Bay Ward’s Mark Taylor, Kanata South’s Allan Hubley, Beacon Hill-Cyrville’s Tim Tierney and Cumberland’s Stephen Blais.

(This follows similar pledges made by Steve Desroches and Bob Monette in 2006. Desroches kept his word, Monette is serving his third term as I type.)

Taylor has said he’s sticking to his word. Hubley was mum. Tierney expressed regret about the pledge (but hasn’t decided on his 2018 plans). Blais, too, is equivocating.

Personally, I never put too much stock in these promises, nor their shattered remnants when the third election rolls around. I mean, I get it. Things change. It’s easy to make that promise eight years in advance, but things change. A councillor can still feel driven to help his community. He might feel there’s unfinished business. He might think that his constituents want him to stick around (and he might actually be right).

(Note, I’m saying “he” because every councillor mentioned in the story is a man.)

So, no, it’s not a horrible transgression to go back on a two-term pledge. In the end, it is for the voters to decide.

But…

It’s still a broken promise, and that’s not nothing. A voter really should take this into account. There has to be a reason the politician made that promise in the first place, and there has to a reason he’s breaking it now. Odds are, the reasons are pretty self-serving.

Was he a dreamy-eyed populist railing against career politicians? Did he think he had to make that pledge to be elected in the first place? Was he just really naive about politics? Or was it a thoughtful and earnest promise that he is compelled to renege upon due to changing circumstances?

I really can’t tell you what the situation is for these three candidates, and I wouldn’t suggest that this broken promise alone would be reason enough to vote against any them in 2018 (though there may be other valid reasons). But I do have sympathy for the kick-the-bums-out mentality of voting, and I can see how this would reinforce such an inclination.

And let’s be clear, none of these men are irreplaceable. If you followed the 2014 election, you might remember how many good candidates were out there. Kitchississippi, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier, Somerset and Osgoode all had multiple quality candidates. River and Capital each had a green candidate who looked like they might have potential. There are people out there capable of serving. We can lose some of our current councillors without weakening council too much.

If these councillors decide to run again, they should be held to account. They’ll owe their constituents an explanation and an apology, and residents will be right to press them on it. Residents would also be wise to balance this against whatever merits they might possess.

False Dilemmas on Rideau Street

The city wants to rehabilitate Rideau Street. Who can blame them? It’s a prominent Main Street. It’s a block away from Parliament Hill (it’s basically on the same street, just with a different name). It connects multiple neighbourhoods, and it should be a prime shopping and commercial strip.

And, of course, Steve’s. You’ve gotta love Steve’s.

The street needed a reconstruction, so it’s been the perfect time to make the place a little more spiffy, and, if it works out, a little more safe. We’re widening some sidewalks and putting down some sharrows.

Oh, what’s that you say? Why sharrows instead of bike lanes? Glad you asked.

The city, for all its talk of Complete Streets, safety, environmental concern and bicycle safety, bike lanes didn’t make the cut. It was wider sidewalks or bike lanes, and the sidewalks won out.

This is what the city likes to do. They like to pit pedestrians against bicyclists. They like to make bicyclists the threat to pedestrians. They like to make them compete for space. (And if anyone complains, the mayor likes to go full condescension and whine that people are never happy.)

It’s all complete bullshit.

Bicyclists and pedestrians are not at war. They are not threats to each other. Safe, proper infrastructure for either one tends to provide benefits to the other. When the city, politicians or local councillors are claiming that we can have safety for pedestrians or for bicyclists, but not both, they are lying. They are playing residents off each other in order to take the heat off themselves.

The reason why we couldn’t have bike lanes is not because of pedestrians, it’s because of cars and trucks. The city was unwilling to reduce the proportion of space given to motor vehicles to a fair and safe degree.

You know, motor vehicles, the things that kill pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s amazing that our politicians and planners have been able to convince residents that cars aren’t the existential threat that they, in fact, are.

The false dilemmas continue today.

We learn, from Metro’s Emma Jackson, that there’s a bit of a to-do about an illegal patio at a Starbuck’s on Rideau Street. Starbucks didn’t ask for permission first. They’re getting it now, and they have to pay some retroactive fees or something, but that’s not really the concern.

The issue is that the new patio takes up 3m of the new 6m-wide sidewalk (still much wider than the pitiful 1.8m sidewalks they stick other neighbourhoods with).

Local councillor Mathieu Fluery had a few things to say (as excerpted from the Metro story). Lets go through them, shall we?

“We’re trying to pedestrianize the streets, create wider sidewalks,” he said.

Great…sort of. Yes, we should definitely “pedestrianize” our streets. We want walkable streets, but walkability isn’t an end in and of itself. The point is to create lively streets where people want to be. People want to be where other people are. Patios are a big part of that. It’s easy to say you want to “pedestrianize” by making wider sidewalks, but things like patios should be a part of that extra width.

(Oh yeah, they’re not doing that widening all the way. In some areas, to “pedestrianize” apparently means to leave ample space for cars and trucks.)

…“As soon as there’s an opportunity, the businesses will try to gain the sidewalk,” Fleury said.

This is the false dilemma. The city chose to manufacture the conflict between patios and sidewalks. One fewer lane in each direction and you could get your wide sidewalks, a bike lane and some extra space for a patio.

I don’t see this issue as a business trying to “gain the sidewalk”. I see it as a business providing a service that helps animate the street.

“There’s a sweet spot where you have a patio and you have enough sidewalk space to enjoy the benefits of wider sidewalks,”

There’s also a sweet spot where cars don’t completely dominate our central neighbourhoods, but we haven’t been able to find that yet.

“The patio is a luxury.”

If you really want to “pedestrianize” this “Traditional Main Street”, patios are not a luxury; they are an essential component. We don’t want people merely walking through the Rideau Street corridor; we want them enjoying it.

Patios are not some added bonus to squeeze in if it doesn’t detract from interprovincial trucking lanes.

Of course, neither were bike lanes, but here we are.

Look, I’ve grown to quite appreciate Mathieu Fleury as a councillor. He’s done some really great work in his ward and for the city, in general. But there’s some sort of blind spot with Rideau Street. The city, our planners and our politicians aren’t willing to do what is necessary…to do what residents deserve.

Instead, we get limited choices. We get bad tradeoffs that always favour vehicle traffic. We get cynical games of residents against residents.

We get dishonest, false dilemmas.