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.

The Truth About Ottawa Transit (People Will Actually Use It)

On Canada Day, CTV correspondent Glen McGregor made this observation (not in his professional capacity):

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I can’t speak to the competence of OC Transpo in this regard, or if it was really possible for them to meet demand on Canada Day.

Aside from reinforcing OC Transpo’s reputation for service levels, something else struck me, people–lots of people–will take the bus.

Okay, okay, I know what you’re going to say. Of course they do, on Canada Day. Of course they do, when it’s free. Of course they do, when they can’t park downtown. These objections are all true, to an extent, but they don’t really get down to the foundation of the issue.

People, Ottawans, will take OC Transpo when they are presented with the proper incentives (and correlating disincentives).

People will take the bus when they want to get downtown…when the transit is priced competitively with every facet of driving (including parking and road use)…when we don’t cater to parking (I’m looking at you, Ottawa city social media staffer)…when there is sufficient service…when they can count on that service.

So what’s our lesson here? If we really want transit to succeed, and we really want a vibrant downtown (and city), we need:

  • Reasonably priced transit: it shouldn’t cost $29 for a family of four to go on an outing.
  • Road tolls: at least during peak hours, this is how we get people out of their cars.
  • Less parking: this is just a waste of precious space, and an inducement to not use transit.
  • Properly priced parking: this is just subsidizing people who don’t use transit.

But…and this is important: the city needs to invest in transit. We need better service. We need more buses on the roads. We need to stop tailoring our transit system to commuters. The bus needs to serve all needs.

So, yeah, we can do this, if we ever have the political will.

Just. Like. Cars.

A comms person at the city stirred things up a bit with this ill-advised tweet over the weekend:

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The condescending and accusatory tone was unwelcome and potentially damage to a city that wants to build a healthy, thriving city. There are layers to the inappropriateness of this tweet. As a friend noted, “Can we also discuss how they identify people with bikes as “cyclists” but cars have no agency?

But, today, the city admitted its mistake (well, sorta-not-really). It deleted the tweet and acknowledged the ill-will they’d generated, so I don’t want to pick on this one tweet or this one ignorant comms person. I do, however, want to use it as a jumping off point.

And to do that, I’m going to have to make a bit of a pedantic point. Okay, a really pedantic point, one at which you could rightfully roll your eyes. But bear with me, you’ll see where I’m going. Here it is:

Aside from being inappropriate, this tweet was factually incorrect. “Cyclists” do not stop “Just. Like. Cars.”. Bicyclists or people on bikes stop in a much different manner.

In a car, the driver takes his foot off the gas, disengages (but doesn’t stop) the engine and presses down on the brake pedal.

A bicyclists, stops pedalling (stopping the “engine”) then uses her own strength to apply the brakes*, stopping the momentum that was created by her own physical exertion. When she starts up, again, she’s not just re-engaging a running motor. Hell, it’s not even akin to merely starting your car again. She’s starting from absolutely nothing, with no assistance. It’s like a driver having to get out and turn the crank to get the motor running before driving away.

So, you might say these are minor differences. The braking systems work in a similar way regardless how they’re engaged or how the vehicle is powered.

Now, you’re being too pedantic!

Bicycles are not cars. And more importantly, bicyclistspeople on bikes aren’t cars. Sure, there are people who want to turn us into cars. They want us to always have helmets, always have lights, have mirrors, have reflective tape all over our bikes, wear reflective clothing, have reflective spray paint…there are even people who think we should have turn signals.

(Sadly, there are a bunch of, shall we say, Stockhom Cyclists who have been snowed into believing all this crap.)

But regardless, bicycles don’t operate like cars. They are nimble. They stop quickly. They are social vehicles.

Riding a bike isn’t like driving a car. Bicyclists are engaged with their surroundings. Bicyclists can easily interact with other bicyclists and pedestrians. Bicyclists can integrate with pedestrians and other bicyclists.

And bicyclists aren’t cars. We don’t have motor oil; we have blood. We don’t have steel or plastic; we have flesh. We don’t get dinged; we break bones. We don’t have fender benders; drivers kill us.

So, no, the rules of the road are not appropriate for bicyclists. No, equating a living human being to your stupid car; your stupid consumerist, pollution-spewing, anti-social two-tonne death machine is beyond inappropriate. It is insulting. It is contemptuous (and contemptible). It is inhuman.

The bulk of our laws and our infrastructure are geared towards cars, and towards treating bicyclists as cars. They ignore they was bicycles function and the way bicyclists function. They ignore the needs of bicyclists. They ignore the safety of bicyclists. They create conflicts between bicyclists and cars. They create conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians.

Our laws and our infrastructure do not meet the needs of people–residents–on bicycles. And, to protect themselves and their children, bicyclists break rules. We break rules that actively endanger us. We break rules that are intended to endanger us.

It’s self-preservation. And it’s totally unnecessary…if only city planners, politicians and residents would learn a very simple concept: a person on a bike is not a car, and no one who has respect for the lives of people on bikes would treat them as such.

Go somewhere where it’s just bicyclists and pedestrians. Anytime there’s enough room, the two can co-exist (of course, Ottawa gives neither enough room, let alone both). There’s no need for stop lights or stop signs. There’s no need for intricate rules about right-of-way or proper lanes. People–people not vehicles–can co-exist. We can get along. We can make room for each other.

Yes, there have to be certain responsibilities because there are assholes out there. Bicyclists have to show concern for pedestrians, and they have to take care of them. Similarly, those without mobility issues must accommodate those with mobility issues. Adults must accommodate children. Everyone needs to look out for more vulnerable users.

And, by and large, it works. It works because bicyclists are much more like pedestrians than they are cars. Cars (and drivers, via automotive osmosis) are the disruptor. Cars are the entity that can’t co-exist peacefully. Cars are the entity that push others off the road.

Cars and drivers are the ones who threaten everyone else’s life…well, cars and drivers, and city planners and politicians.

So, yes, of course bicyclists should stop for pedestrians when they cross (though, why it’s not a stop sign, I don’t know) (and maybe the bike shouldn’t always be on the road with cars…). And, sure, remind bicyclists of this new (possibly ill-advised) type of pedestrian intersection.

But they are not Just. Like. Cars.

*Yeah, yeah fixies are different. Whatever.

Wouldn’t you know it…

So within an hour of publishing Uplift, public art and skateboarding, an acquaintance sent me this story from Philadelphia:

Philadelphia kicked off its new public outdoor-arts exhibition Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space on Friday with two sculptures made for skateboarding on. The artist Jonathan Monk installed the “Skateable Sculptures” in Paine’s Park, a publicly funded skate park built in 2013, not far from the downtown Philadelphia Museum of Art. Monk’s sculptures appropriate, in some ways, some of Sol LeWitt’s public artworks found in the museum’s sculpture garden.

It’s great that Philly did this, especially considering the controversy that ensued when they banned skateboarding in Love Park…a controversy that led to the 92-year-old urban planner who designed the park getting on a skateboard in protest.

So my idea wasn’t totally original. Oh well, it’s cool that there are places that integrating public art and skateboarding. I’d love to see some of this (officially) come to Ottawa.

This one’s for Trevor

Some great new developments have been coming to Ottawa over the past few weeks. The city has embarked on installing parklets throughout the city. And despite concerns that taking up a parking spot or two here and there would cause some sort of driving armageddon, things seem to be going well.

Today in the Glebe, two parklets were opened. There’s a smaller one located on Third Avenue and a bit more elaborate on Second Avenue (although it’s not quite finished yet).

This really is a fantastic development. People have been musing on this idea for a few years (I wrote a bit about it once). It’s a great way to help animate our streets and neighbourhoods. It gives people a place to sit, chat, read a book, eat, rest or have a coffee.

Hell, I’m writing this from the parklet on Second Avenue (a lot of in-the-field reporting today, I guess). It’s an added dynamic–more than a bench or public seats. It can fit more people. There are little tables and ledges. It’s more comfortable and it gives a bit more separation from the road and the sidewalk.

It has the added benefit that it’s absolutely free to use. It’s not like a private patio (which I also I love!), where you have to buy a drink or some food.CBC’s Giacomo Panico noted recently that he asked city planners about this ten years ago (having seen it elsewhere), and the response was something to the effect of, we can’t do that sort of thing in Ottawa.

It’s a mentality that we hear a lot. Ottawa’s different. Ottawa can’t support things. Ottawa isn’t dynamic enough.

Well, guess what, Ottawa can do these things. Ottawa can take bold steps. We can undertake big and small innovations to improve the city. Fun hasn’t been forgotten. There are a lot of people who are willing to improve the livability of this city.

And this is great news. There’s so much to be cynical and pessimistic about (I can see the “mobility hub” from my seat in the parklet), but then we get things like this, it’s a reminder that there are people who work at the city, there are politicians, and there are private residents looking to make a difference.

This is being done in a partnership with Carleton University. Architecture students designed and built these parklets. Comments about unpaid labour aside, this is another great aspect of the project. We’re giving these students some hands-on experience. We’re getting people who aren’t stuck in a specific way of thinking working on this. And these students are also residents of Ottawa (even if only part of the year), and it’s great that residents get to put a bit of a mark on their city. It should also give them a bit more of a sense of ownership of their home.

I had the chance to chat with one of the students (he noted that he didn’t even think of people coming to the parklet to do work). He was pretty jazzed about the whole thing. And as I got up to leave, a father and son dropped in to enjoy ice cream cones. There’s little doubt these will be popular additions to our streets.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s for Trevor Greenway, who works for the Glebe BIA who has also been supportive of this endeavour. You can check Trevor’s Twitter feed for photos of the grand opening.

P.S. I’ve got some photos to add, but for some reason, they’re not uploading right now.

Uplift, public art and skateboarding

It’s 12:26 pm on Friday. I’m sitting by the water feature at Lansdowne Park, Jill Anholt’s Uplift looming above. Part of the great thing about living close to work is being able to run your kids to a park or a water feature over lunch time.

My girls love the water feature at Lansdowne. They love getting sprayed, running through the jets, sloshing through the troughs and walking through the waterfall within the statue. Of course, they’re doing things they’re not, allegedly, supposed to be doing. There was quite a row last year about how the city screwed up the installation, making a water feature and work of art that you’re supposed to walk on not quite as safe as it should be. (Of course, the city didn’t frame it this way.)

(Also, they kind of cheaped out on the design, but kids, being wonderful, are able to find the fun even when adults try engineer it right out.)

We often come here in the evening…but not too late. The water function of the water feature automatically turns off at about 8:07 pm. You know, in the summer, while it’s still light and hot out. No biggie.

There are always–always–kids (and others) around here at 8:07, mildly disappointed that fun has a curfew. I mean it doesn’t really, fun will often find a way to thrive.

There are still signs up, telling people to stay off the artwork part of the water feature (though the whole thing is nicely integrated). Some people adhere to that. Some parents (not me) keep their kids from going on that part. (I’ve got no quarrel with parents who do that. Live how you want to live…though this is some of the most adorable civil disobedience you’ll ever see.)

These two attempted restrictions on fun have a counterproductive effect though. (I know, really surprising.)

Many cities are openly hostile to skateboarding. Ottawa is mostly welcoming…mostly. You’ll see skatestoppers all over the place, but we’re also building a lot of skate parks and the city runs skateboarding classes (or, at least, they did a year or two ago). I’m supportive of all this. I’ve written a few times about the benefits to the city of skateboarding, the skateboarding community and a healthy skateboarding culture.

Skateboarders and, to a lesser extent, people riding scooters and BMX bikes are some of the most consistent patrons at Lansdowne. The skatepark is often busy (it’s about the only thing that is busy right now, except for the people prepping Asian Fest and the UFC fan zone), and you will often see skateboarders and BMX-ers spilling out to other parts of the park.

And they like Uplift.

Who can blame them? It’s hard and angular and has opportunities for jumps. It’s pretty cool watching the tricks they pull. There are no skatestoppers, and the city better not install any. It’ll be a massive danger to skateboarders and children.

So, the city essentially shoos children and others away from Uplift at all times, and away from the water feature at 8:07. It shouldn’t take much imagination to figure out what happens. When the target audience is cleared out, skateboarders and BMX-ers assemble.

And there’s really nothing much wrong with that. There might eventually be some damage to the water feature, but I haven’t seen any. And it is public art that’s supposed to be used.

But, y’know, I can understand why we might not want skateboarders on every surface in our city. And I can see how they can damage a lot of public space. (I recently watched the documentary Peace Park and the skateboarders do, in fact, damage that park in Montreal…but they also then repair it, which is cool.)

So there’s an inherent conflict in the use of this sort of art. It’s for public use, but we don’t want the public to damage it in such a way that no one else will be able to use it.

This got me to thinking. I would love to see public art–tactile public art–that was intended to take the punishment that skateboarders, BMX-ers and the rest of the public might unleash on it. Art that is supposed to be worn down, grinded upon, scratched up, scarred, whatever.

Art that is a true reflection of the life that has lived upon it. Art that is indelibly etched with that life.

I’m no artist, so I don’t know the best way to do that, but it would be quite the addition to an urban park.

The perils of naming stuff after living people

The city definitely gets a kick out of naming things (parks, bridges, etc.) after prominent local people. For example, we just named the pedestrian bridge between the train station and the ball park after Max Keeping. Certainly a lovely gesture.

But things can sometimes go awry when you commemorate people in this manner, especially the living. The best of intentions can turn out rather unfortunate. Something like that just happened in Ottawa.

Though not nearly significant enough to be a true scandal, the city just officially named a multi-use path out in the Osgoode area after Doug Thompson, former mayor and city councillor. It would seem like a commendable gesture, and, for the most part, it is. Thompson was a long-serving politician who worked hard to get the pathway built. I’ve heard very few bad things said about him.

If you’re thinking you’ve heard some other news about Thompson recently, you’re right. Last week, Thompson became the first candidate to announce running for the Ontario PC nomination for the newly-created riding of Carleton.

So nine days after he announced his candidacy, he got a nice naming ceremony thrown in his honour. That’s not really appropriate.

I’m not saying there’s much that could have been done. It would have been rather gauche to rescind the honour once he announced, and I get why you want honour a person while he’s still alive. But maybe, at least for politicians, we shouldn’t be so quick to hand out these honours, lest news breaks to complicate things.