Speed enforcement is a quality of life issue

So it looks like we might get some photo radar in Ottawa. After much work by municipal politicians, the province has stepped up and decided that they’d allow municipalities to implement this eminently sensible technology.

Well, sort of. In school zones or community safety zones (whatever those are). I mean, let’s not get carried away here. People need to speed, right? Like, it’s really important.

I’m glad that we are going to get (limited) photo radar (or automated speed enforcement, or whatever we need to call it to make it more palatable to toxic driving culture). I think there are problems with the way they’ve legalized it, but baby steps, or something like that.

Naturally, those who want to speed are a little ticked off. They question why we need it. Thankfully, there are stats on this. Over the last five years, there have been something like 900 accidents in school zones during daytime hours. There have five kids hit by cars outside their schools (and more hit on their way to school…though whether that counts as “community safety zones”, I can’t tell you). So the stats bear it out.

But look, we shouldn’t need all these stats. Yes, there are accidents we need to prevent. Yes, you’re more likely to die when you’re hit by a car going 50 km/hr than one doing 40. This is all true, but safety isn’t just a safety issue.

It’s also a quality of life issue.

You shouldn’t be fearful walking out your door. You shouldn’t be fearful walking around your neighbourhood. You shouldn’t be worried that cars whipping around your community at 50 or 60 km/hr will take out your kids as you walk to the park.

It is stressful walking along so many of our streets. It is stressful trying to cross fast, dangerous streets. It is aggravating and exhausting trying to negotiate traffic and all the dangerous, aggressive driving out there. It’s insulting that your life is valued less than traffic.

Livable, walkable streets make our lives better. People with mobility issues need to be able to get around. People walking children have things to do. People should not be forced into a constant state of hyper vigilance because we as a society won’t get off our ass to try to actually make some safe streets…worse, because we as a society actively choose to design and build dangerous infrastructure.

This isn’t a call for pedestrians to be able to walk around without paying attention to what others are doing. This is a call for street safety that lessens this burden on pedestrians as much as possible.

No doubt, the one of the greatest things better speed enforcement can do is to keep some child from being rushed to hospital…or the grave, but we need to acknowledge and value the little ways livable, walkable cities make our lives just that much better.

Football, facemasks and making sense of safety

It’s Sunday, so I will spend a few hours today watching football. It’s been a part of my fall Sundays for decades. But as much as I enjoy watching football, I understand the moral complications of following the sport. There are injuries, horrendous injuries. It causes lifelong disability, mental illness, neurological damage. It ruins lives and families. It has led to, directly, to suicides. And the leagues have not always been honest about the risks, nor have they done all they can to mitigate them. They’re getting better, it would seem, but it’s still a dangerous, dangerous sport.

Football has always been dangerous. It’s a violent sport. Physical contact and collisions are in its DNA. When people first started playing, there were no shoulder pads, no helmets. Eventually, players started wearing protection. There were leather helmets, at first, then hard plastic helmets. Now, there are helmets specifically designed to lessen the risk of concussions.

And there are facemasks. The first facemasks were single bars, but they’ve grown more elaborate. Players now wear full cages, often with visors. It all makes sense, right? You don’t want to lose teeth. You don’t want to be poked in the eye.

Years ago, I watched a report on player safety. This was back in the 80s or 90s, so player safety wasn’t that much of a concern. A football analyst was being interviewed, and he noted that the facemask was the biggest amplifier of violence in football. The facemask has led to more and more injuries.

He noted that players, with the protection of facemasks, were now taught to lead with their faces while tackling. Whereas in the past, players were tackling with arms and shoulders, now they’re tackling leading with their heads.

I was taught this in minor football. I was told that as a defender, I had three weapons, three points with which to hit the ball carrier, my head and two shoulders. (Other coaches were a little more responsible; they taught to hit with your shoulder…though you’d still bring your head across the front of the ball carrier).

If you watch football today, you’ll see this. Tacklers leading with their heads and faces. Lineman crashing into each other face-first. Heads and necks take a lot of abuse. Concussions and spinal injuries result. Players are less concerned about collisions to both their own head and their opponents’ heads. It’s not necessarily malicious; it’s a natural human response. More risks can be taken when more safety measures are in place.

So the next time someone says that it makes no sense that bike helmets lead to more injuries, tell them to plop down and the couch one Sunday afternoon and watch a football game.

Street safety for me but not for thee

I saw an ad for the Kia Forte this morning. Apparently called Talent Show, it was hawking the Kia’s emergency breaking detection system. Basically, Kia was saying, look, we know everyone’s a shitty driver and none of us really pay attention to what we’re doing, so we developed this technology to keep you from killing people.

(Just kidding about that last part. From the ad, the technology is there so you don’t smash up your pretty new car.)

The ad reminded me of this story about Transport Canada mandating back-up cameras in new cars. This new regulation seems wise, but it also concerns me that we’re just going to use technology to replace driver competency (which might be fine in driverless cars, but we’re not talking about driverless cars here).

I’m going to put aside my fears that we’re breeding really dangerous drivers, for now. Let’s ignore any possible unintended consequences and assume that these developments in technology and regulations will help protect us from the inherent dangers of people driving cars.

If so, why the hell don’t we take the same care in making sure all street users are protected from the unavoidable threat that is the Canadian driver? Why don’t we mandate safer streets, rather than back-up cameras?

Of course, there are reasons we do this. None of them reflect well on our society.

Chief Charles Bordeleau acknowledges the existence of some racism

After the death Inuk artist and Ottawa resident Annie Pootoogook, an Ottawa police officer, Sgt. Chris Hrnchiar, left some racist comments about Pootoogook on Facebook. They were gross. They played into the typical stereotypes–the typical hate–routinely thrown at the Inuit and First Nations people. I’m not going to quote them here.

After they were made, there was, understandably, a public outcry. Ottawa has a significant Indigenous population, and we really don’t want a lot of hateful racists patrolling our streets.

Chief Bordeleau knew better, and wasn’t really willing to acknowledge the bigoted elephant in the room:

“I’m certainly hearing that they’re being seen as being racist comments,” Bordeleau said. “I certainly appreciate and understand how those comments are being received.”

That was September 29. This, however, was October 13:

“The comments are racist, they don’t reflect the value of the Ottawa police service,” said Bordeleau, during an interview with APTN’s Nation to Nation program which aired Thursday. “They have undone some of the tremendous work that our officers are doing each and every day to build strong relationships with our Indigenous communities.”

That’s a nice little turn. I mean, he doesn’t acknowledge a problem of racism in the OPS, but, this is something.

Of course, he’s unwilling to admit that there’s a problem with racism in the police force.

He’s unwilling to admit that the death of Abdirhaman Abdi had anything to do with racism.

He’s umwilling to condemn carding as having anything to do with racism.

But, minor victories, I guess.

 

Carleton’s Progressive Conservative nomination race is getting ugly…and a little racist

First it was Doug Thompson, the respected, long-time local politician who contemplating a return to politics in the newly-created riding of Carleton. Thompson withdrew, citing some ugly partisan manoeuvring. It probably wasn’t beyond the pale, but it was bad enough Thompson had no interest in involving himself.

Enter Jay Tysick, a former aide to councillor Rick Chiarelli. A couple of weeks ago, the Citizen‘s David Reevely wrote a fairly standard piece about Tysick and the nomination, alluding to the ugliness Thompson complained about.

Whatever Thompson may have faced, I doubt things were quite as ugly as this little bit from Reevely’s column:

“Neither of them were actually born in the country,” Tysick says. “I look at what’s left there and I don’t feel it’s that strong and I don’t feel it’s fair to the constituents … I just want to see really good representation there, someone who’s going to fight for the people of the riding.”

One of his candidates, Brandon Purcell, was born in Ohio and only moved to Ottawa when he went to university. I’ve no idea why this would be disqualifying, but it’s not really that horrible to say you don’t want a Buckeye…I guess.

His other candidate, Goldie Ghamari, has a slightly different story:

My parents immigrated to Canada in 1986–I was only one at the time. They left everything behind in Iran because they believed Canada would give their children a better life and more opportunities. My father tells me that when we landed in Montreal, we only had two suitcases and $50 to our names. My parents worked very hard to build a new life for us in Canada. As new immigrants and then Canadian citizens, they made sure to integrate themselves into Canadian society, and they instilled in my sister and I the importance of respecting and living by our Canadian values.

Ghamari refers to herself as a “proud Canadian and lifelong resident of Ontario”…but she was born there and spent the first year of her life there, so Tysick thinks you shouldn’t vote for her.

The O’Connor Bikeway: Parking over basketball over safety

The O’Connor bikeway is scheduled to officially open today. Downtown, they’ve been busy painting and putting in lights. In the Glebe, they’ve basically been done for a while…since they didn’t really do very much. They put in some bulbouts that you can ride over (though there’s one you can’t…have fun finding it!), and they’ve painted some bike lanes, or advisory bike lanes, it’s really not clear.

(“Advisory” bike lanes are supposed to be used for narrow streets. O’Connor isn’t narrow, so I’m not sure what’s with all the dashed lines.)

As you may recall, there was supposed to be real bike lanes along O’Connor in the Glebe, but, mysteriously, city planners, the local councillor and other “stakeholders” got most of it axed.

There was lots of talk about the reason, but one big point came from a local pediatrician’s office. They were used to having parking spots along the side of their business on O’Connor street, and it was just too too much to make their clients park anywhere else.

I mean, the city was just going to move those parking spots around the corner on Monkland Street, so they’d actually be right in front of office, but that would be too severe a hardship.

Think of the children!

I’ve been down by there a few times recently, and here’s what I saw in front of the doctor’s office:

img_2815

So I’m left wondering, did we lose the O’Connor bikeway because someone wanted to ensure that they could still play basketball right in front of their house? Did we decide that bicycling (and pedestrian) safety is less important than ensuring a business gets to use public streets for both parking and recreation?

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing kids playing in the streets. I think it should be encouraged! I certainly don’t think that we should get rid of street ball on Monkland for the sake of a bike lane. Of course, that’s not what we’d do. No one is proposing a bike lane on Monkland. No, we seem to be valuing parking over street life, in this case, basketball.

What’s going on here is that three parking spots are considered so important that they have to exist, full stop. Then, it seems to be a question of whether we get basketball on Monkland or safety on O’Connor.

I mean, maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s awfully convenient that after a long and thoughtful consultation process, one that would bring a safe bike route for adults and kids, alike, we had to kill the bike lane in order for parking that could have easily moved just around the corner. We could never have bikes and basketball. That’s too ridiculous.

Think of the children, indeed.

The Abomination on Bank Street

There’s a proposed development for 890-900 Bank Street. It’ll sit on the block between Thornton and Holmwood, replacing Mister Muffler and the Beer Store (and some patches of grass). It’ll be right beside the Kettleman’s. It will, mostly, stretch the depth of the block, from Bank Street to Monk Street.

And it will be a giant, towering scar on the neighbourhood.

Back in April, I wrote briefly about it, noting the somewhat inappropriate way the proposal was presented to the public, but I didn’t really get into what was so very, very bad about it. I’m going to do that now.

I had always intended to write up a thoughtful, properly-crafted piece with arguments and prose that flowed seamlessly… but there’s too much to cover and I don’t really have the time or energy, so I’m just going to go piece-by-piece through it.

It’s too tall

Literally, it is too tall for the neighbourhood. Bank Street is a Traditional Main Street (TMS) and has very clear zoning regulations. The maximum height (roughly speaking) is four storeys, but you’re allowed to go up to six storeys if you provide added setback for the added storeys. The developers are proposing eight storeys.

This is an eminently sensible plan for the neighbourhood. Most of Bank Street is one or two storeys, and that’s really under-utilizing the street. As Bank Street changes, we need to add some density.

But it has to be the right kind of density. I’ve written before about the concept of gentle density. Basically, most established neighbourhoods should be intensified subtly and marginally. This means that, for example, an area of purely single family homes could see townhouses or low-rises developed. It means growing up, bit by bit, and adding density bit by bit.

There are very few areas that warrant radical intensification. Landsowne did (more on that later). Lebreton Flats does. Adding significant density around transit hubs is logical. Adding towers on Carling Avenue near Dow’s Lake, where it is on the border of a neighbourhood, and on a major thoroughfare makes sense.

It doesn’t make sense on our TMSs. We saw this a year or two ago in Stittsville. The original plan for Stittsville Main Street called for significant increases in height. Residents pushed back, and the city came up with a much more reasonable and palatable proposal. There would be added density. There would be added height, especially at major intersections, but it would still fit within the general feel of the street.

This is what we usually ask of our planners. Yes, intensify. Yes, develop. Yes, allow our city to grow. But be sure to acknowledge the character of the neighbourhood while you do so. It’s a balance, and not everyone is always going to like every decision, but we need to try to strike that balance.

This is why we would allow an extra two storeys along Bank Street–to give developers a bit more leeway. It’s also we would then demand added setbacks–to ensure that the added height doesn’t overwhelm the street and block out the sun.

With this proposal, we’ve abandoned any sense of balance. There is no consideration given to the nature or character of the street.

It’s too tall for the street

We can all admit that zoning can be overly restrictive. Sometimes, zoning needs to be changed and adapted. Sometimes, additional height beyond what’s allowed is a good thing. That’s not the case here.

On Bank Street, this Abomination will overpower and dwarf a good three or four block area, at least. Let’s look at what’s around it.

Kettleman’s is one storey, though maybe a tall storey. Beside Kettleman’s at Holmwood and Monk is a two- to three-storey walkup. It’s down a bit of a slop from the Abomination and Bank Street, so it’s actually barely taller than Kettleman’s.

Across Thornton on Bank Street is a two-storey, rather ugly, building. It’s a typical development, ground floor retail and office space above (and a gym in the basement).

Across Bank Street between Holmwood and Clarey, there are a series of two-storey buildings, a retail and residential mix. Between Clarey and Regent, you will find a single-storey building (Rosie’s Southern Kitchen and Raw Bar), a two-story development (with McCrank’s, Irene’s and Silver Scissors, among others, on the ground floor) and another single-storey building, the Glebe Meat Market.

Kitty corner at Bank and Regent is a three-storey walkup. Beside it,  a one-storey commercial property is being re-built. On the west side of Bank and Fifth (beside the two-storey building), a four-storey building is supposed to be developed. (It’s currently a mostly-vacant lot with a bit of a two-storey building on it.)

As you go north on Bank Street, it’s mostly two-storey buildings, with the occasional one-storey building thrown in (like the Scotiabank).

On the other side of the property, along Monk Street, you see mostly two-storey or three-storey homes. Moving west from Monk Street, it’s all just houses. There are no towers. No mid-rises. No walkups.

Eight storeys is far, far out of the realm of reasonable for this property. There is nothing to the north, east or west that is even close to what is being proposed. It is out of scale; it is out of character. That’s why it is outside of zoning regulations. Not because planners of NIMBY activists are unfairly capping development, but because the CDP is a very appropriate fit. It is a real balance between building up and protecting the character of the neighbourhood.

But, you may notice, I only covered the north, east and west sides of this proposal. What of the south?

This is where things get a little different. Across Holmwood from the Kettleman’s is the Lord Lansdowne, a tower holding a retirement residence. (Oh, did I mention the Abomination would also be a retirement residence?)

Across from the Lord Lansdowne is the tower at Lansdowne Park.

So, if we can have towers there, why can’t we have one at Bank and Thornton? Glad you asked.  These do not fit with the CDP. They violate our vision for our TMS, but they also fall outside the character of the street. Past Holmwood, Bank Street widens. It no longer has a plethora of street-facing retail or restaurants.

Lansdowne Park (or the decaying remnants of Lansdowne Park) have been on that stretch for over a hundred years. A grandstand has been there most of the time. The Civic Centre is approaching 50. From Holmwood to the Bank Street Bridge, Bank Street has a different character, a different feel. It is an appropriate place to build up, as you’re not overwhelming any existing buildings along the street.

The Lord Lansdowne and Lansdowne Park are what we call exceptions. The circumstances on the stretch of Bank Street are different, so they need to be treated differently by zoning. This is what reasonable people do. They make exceptions, but they make sure that exceptions remain exceptions.

We can’t be reasonable with exceptions

At the public consultation last spring, the city planner who is on point for this project admitted that the exceptions made for the twin Lansdowne towers mean that the city might be “forced” to make an exception for 890-900 Bank Street.

You know all those irritating, minor little development fights that go on? Those ones where a minor variance should really be allowed because it’s not really hurting anyone? Yeah, this is why those fights are necessary.

Basically, because the city made exceptions down the road, they could be forced to make an exception for this development. The OMB (more on them in a later post) wants consistency and predicability. And that means if you make one exception to a CDP, to be consistent and predictable, you can’t be allowed to ever enforce the CDP again. A state of no rules is more predictable than a state of carefully considered exceptions to clearly established rules. Or so we’re told.

So, we’re kind of fucked.

Here’s the problem with this, and here’s why local councillors going to bat to reign in the OMB is a really good thing: we make an exception at Bank and Holmwood, so we have to make an exception at Bank and Thornton. Then we’ll have to make an exception at Bank and Fifth. Then we’ll have to make an exception at Bank and Fourth…and so on.

We’ve been handcuffed. We made a reasonable exception, and now developers get to throw out all the rules.

So we have to make a stand. We can’t let this exception-creep totally gut our CDPs. We can’t let our neighbourhoods, communities and Traditional Main Streets be completely compromised, completely overrun with un-checked development.

You might think eight storeys is appropriate, but no more. Thus, you might want the city to approve the Abomination, because that’s what you think the proper vision for Bank Street is.

Too bad. If you want to do that, you need to change the CDP, not completely subvert it. If we start making exceptions, we won’t stop. If you can go up to eight storeys, why not nine? If you can do nine, surely you can do 11. Eleven’ll get you 14, and 14 can be easily flipped to 20.

No, Bank Street isn’t going to see a 20-storey building any time soon, but the point is that we need to guard the integrity of our planning process. And if we’re going to make changes, we need those changes to be guided by planners, and vetted by residents and their representatives. They can’t been forced upon us by developers.

Where’s my setback/where’s the front door/a bit of deception

Remember how I said that zoning allows for added storeys if you have the appropriate setback? Yeah, well, looking at the diagrams, it doesn’t appear there’s any added setback above the fourth floor.

How can that be?, you might ask. Surely, a building that tall on Bank Street would have the necessary setback. The thing is, this building isn’t on Bank Street.

I know, I know, I’ve been saying it’s at 890-900 Bank Street. Settle down; I’ll explain. The current lots do, indeed, reside at 890-900 Bank Street. And those lots will, most assuredly, be swallowed up by the Abomination, but the Abomination will actually, technically be on Monk Street. That’s where the front door will be.

Zoning regulations have a lot weird little intricacies that us mortals can’t always figure out, but from what I can tell, but putting the building on Monk Street, that changes the setback requirements at the “back” of the building.

Now, maybe this is just a case of bad renderings. Maybe they will have the necessary setbacks. That’ll be good.

But there’s another problem here. A one-block stretch (well, really a two-block stretch, the way it is almost bisected by a cross street) of one of our TMSs will have the ass of a building. This isn’t proper development. This isn’t good planning. This isn’t what Bank Street is supposed to be.

This limits the engagement the building has with the street and with the people walking along the street. This changes the dynamic of the building. This is just kind of crass.

It’s kind of ugly

This will be a big tall wall along Bank Street. It’s a mundane, boring building. It won’t have any character, and it won’t blend into the street at all. Okay, blending might not be what we’re really looking for, but it won’t complement the street.

Bank is full of weird little edifices crammed together. There is, mostly, variation along blocks. Even if the entire stretch of the block is unending, uninterrupted buildings, there is variety among the storefronts. There are different windows, entryways and colour patterns. There are subtle variations in architecture. It’s kind of a hodgepodge, but it is a good hodgepodge and it is the nature of the street.

But this design is unimaginative. It looks like every other development that is quickly passed on thrown up on our city streets. There is no thought to aesthetics. There’s no thought to character. It’s kind of nice, but it’s mostly meh.

And it will be dated. It will be so so so dated. Ottawa will have this basic design scattered throughout the city, a reminder of our unimaginative, soul-destroying craptacular development.

And, like, it really is soul-destroying. It’s bad for our health. A study came out recently (I think in the last year) about how boring architecture has detrimental effects on our well-being.

This mundane monolith will be a testament to how we just really don’t care.

There’s too much parking

This neighbourhood is so weird. There are numerous (valid) complaints about traffic, but then our community groups tend to get really upset if the city tries to limit or reduce parking. So when a proposal like this comes along, they cry and cry about insufficient parking.

Hey, look, I get the (supposed) logic here. No parking equals too many cars parked on the street equals more and more cars circling for spots. But this isn’t actually how the world works. Putting in more and more parking just invites more and more people to drive here. This has been shown over and over again. Excessive parking breeds a driving culture and hurts transit, walkability and bicycling.

So if they want to build this Abomination, they need to cut it out with the parking. And if it is supposedly economically unviable without the parking, then their business model is untenable.

I’m not sure we need another retirement residence

I’m a little worried about having another retirement residence. As I noted, there’ll be another one half a block away. There are a couple of other ones nearby.

Further, the developers aren’t really clear on how well the residents will engage with the street and the neighbourhood. On the one hand, they say that this will mean more people on the street (hurray!), on the other, they say that they need lots of visitor parking and that residents can’t be expected to go out and walk and use the bus.

So I don’t really know what to think about this. Maybe it’ll be fine, or maybe it will significantly change the nature of the street and neighbourhood. I’m willing to be persuaded either way.

I think that’s about it

I had started to make notes about this project a while back, but I can’t find them. I think I’ve covered just about everything, but more than that, I think I’m done with thinking about this horrible, wretched, insulting project for a little while.

It’s not what the neighbourhood needs, and I don’t think it’s what the neighbourhood wants. It doesn’t fit. It’s unattractive. And it is just another body-blow to our eminently-sensible zoning regulations.

We need council to fight this. We need our councillor to fight this. And we need our MPP and the provincial government to start taking some power back from the unelected OMB.

P.S. We’re at about 2500 words on this thing, so I’m not going back to proofread (not that I do that much anyway). I’d like to apologize for any typos…in theory, I’d like to apologize for any typos, but I don’t. Whatever. Thanks for reading (seriously).

Maybe we could make Elgin Street walkable

The city is currently working on (or, at least, consulting about) the redevelopment of Elgin Street.

Elgin Street desperately needs the Complete Streets treatment (and the true Complete Streets treatment, not the compromised, driving-accommodating lie that the city calls its Complete Streets policy). I’ve written before about the need to both animate the street and give more room to pedestrians. (Bicyclists need more room, too.)

The local councillor, Catherine McKenney, has called this a test for the city. A while ago, the city adopted a policy of trying to implement the Complete Streets philosophy with every street re-construction.

So far, they’ve failed. Oh, there’s always an excuse. This street isn’t right for itNo one suggested itThis is just a re-surfacing, not a re-construction, so it doesn’t countWe’re probably someday going to build something on a different street, so we don’t have to do it on this one. But, regardless, they’ve failed.

They’ve failed on the Booth Street Bridge. They’ve failed on Kent Street. They’ve failed on Ogilvie Road. They’ve failed on Montreal Road. They’ve failed on Innes Road. They’ve failed on Bronson Avenue.

So yeah, this is another test.

The city wants to know what we want. Do we want a liveable, walkable, lively downtown street or do we want the status quo and car storage?

Residents, overwhelmingly, want a Complete Street. Businesses, overwhelmingly, want complete parking. As we’ve seen on O’Connor “bikeway”, a complaint from a business can override all other planning.

It’s horrid to think that we’d even consider maintaining the status quo. It’d be municipal malpractice. This council could screw up downtown for a generation, just as a previous council did with Bank Street.

We need to salvage Elgin Street.

***

On Sunday, I had to walk from the Rideau Centre to the YMCA. This meant I would, essentially, walk the entire length of Elgin Street–which meant I had to cross at every crosswalk and every light along Elgin. Here’s how it went:

I missed the light at Queen Street. Okay. This was the first light to which I came, and I was detoured because of construction, so this is just life.

I missed the light at Albert Street.

I missed the light at Slater Street.

I missed the light at Laurier Avenue.

There’s no light at Gloucester Street.

I missed the light at Nepean Street.

I missed the light at Lisgar Street.

I made the light at Cooper Street…but only because I crossed against the red at Lisgar.

I missed the light at Somerset Street.

I missed the light at McLaren Street.

I missed the light at Gilmour Street.

There’s no light at Lewis Street.

I missed the light at Waverley Street.

There’s no light at Frank Street.

I made the light at Gladstone Avenue…but only because I crossed against the red at Waverley.

There’s no light at McLeod Street (at which point, I cut through the museum parking lot to get over to the Y).

That’s right. The only time I didn’t miss a light was when I crossed illegally at the previous light. If I had followed the laws, I would have missed every light from Queen Street to McLeod Street.

Elgin Street–with its density, its attractions and its high level of pedestrians–is thoroughly hostile to walking. This is what we mean when we say Ottawa is a car-centric city. This is what needs to change.

Elgin Street, like so many other streets, punishes people for walking. This is why people jaywalk. This is why they cross against the light. It is unreasonable to expect people to obey these laws when every aspect of our infrastructure is designed to defeat them.

Elgin Street will be a test. The city has failed every other test that has come its way. We’ll see if they do anything this time.

A tale of two transit experiences

It was a couple of weeks ago, a grey and wet Sunday. It had rained the night before and was still, off and on, raining a bit that morning. I really didn’t want to bike the kids to church. I know, I know, are you made of sugar?, but the bike doesn’t have a proper rear fender and I didn’t want to subject one of the girls to back-spray of dirty water.

And really, sitting through church in wet clothes is no fun for anyone.

We we’re going to walk, but at the last minute, I decided to bus. Now, Sunday morning busing usually sucks. The 1 and the 7 (the two routes that’ll take me from the Glebe to the core) run every 20 minutes, and they come one minute apart. Seriously. Whenever I would bus, I knew that if I missed a bus, I’d probably have to wait 19 minutes to catch another one.

…Except that’s not the case anymore. I checked the stop times, and the two buses were now fairly evenly spaced out and running a bit more regularly. This was fantastic. I knew that I could head out at my leisure (more or less) and I wouldn’t be stuck waiting an extended period of time in the rain for the bus. And, most importantly, I wouldn’t be late.

That afternoon, my eldest had a play date with a friend in Centretown. I asked her if she wanted to bike or walk. She chose to walk, a 30- to 40-minute walk. All right, fine. We walked.

She’d be playing with her friend for a couple of hours. I didn’t really want to walk all the way home just to have to turn around 15 or 20 minutes later, so I decided to grab a bus.

Again, busing on Sundays has historically been really bad. I could walk from Sparks Street to Fifth Avenue with a toddler without a 1 or 7 passing me.

…But not anymore. The 1 and 7 were running every ten minutes and were about five minutes apart. I was able to quickly bus home, then when it was time to pick up the little one, I just hopped on another bus back downtown, using the same transfer.

This was fantastic. This is what transit should be like it. It was easy, convenient and reliable. Granted, I live right on a bus route, but even if you’re nearby or can drive to a park-n-ride, this is a great way to get around the city. It was fast and it was easy. I didn’t have to concern myself too much with the weather and I didn’t have to worry about parking.

We’ve seen before that, given the right incentives, people will take the bus. Whether it’s Canada Day, the very first RedBlacks game, Asianfest or Bluesfest, people will take the bus…but it needs to be a better option than driving. It needs to be fast, reliable and convenient. And the city can’t give it lower priority than driving.

Sure, not everyone will take the bus. And the bus won’t be right for every trip people need to make. But it can be a better and more popular option than it is now.

***

It was about a week later, and my wife was taking the girls to the butterfly exhibit at Carleton University. Getting from the Glebe to Carleton is far trickier and far more hostile than it should be. My wife wasn’t going to bike the kids there. The Billings Bridge is a wretched piece of infrastructure.

She also wasn’t going to walk them there. It’s a bit of a hike. It’s do-able, but to walk all the way there, walk around the exhibit, then walk all the way (assuming no other stops along the way) would be quite the trek for little legs (not to mention little attitudes). Anyway, it’s not a whole lot of fun walking over that bridge, either.

So she decided to take the bus. Not a big deal, the 7 stops a block away. It was mid-week and mid-morning, so no lonely weekend schedules to deal with.

She took the kids out to the bus stop, and she waited. And the girls waited. And she waited. And the girls kept waiting. Eventually, a 7 came along. It was packed. It was so packed that my 5-year old and my 8-year old couldn’t get seats. That’s less than ideal.

It was so packed that after my crew got on, the bus was too full to pick up any more people. My wife watched as many people (likely Carleton students looking to go to class) watched haplessly as the bus passed them by. Some kept waiting; some resigned themselves to walking.

Maybe there’s a reason ridership is stagnating, after all.

A whole lot of holiday shopping in the Glebe?

img_2846After a recent OMB ruling upheld City Council’s decision, stores in the Glebe will be allowed to open this Monday. For a number of reasons, I never liked this decision (short version: insufficient consultations, dishonest process, this should have been a bigger discussion), but it’s the law now, so go have a good time at Winner’s on Monday, if you like.

This whole issue seemed to start about a year and a half ago when Whole Foods decided to open illegally on Good Friday. (Remember when Landsowne was going to be good, respectful neighbours?). Yesterday, I was walking past Whole Foods and I happened to notice a sign (pictured) in their doorway. Whole Foods will be closed on Thanksgiving Monday.

Oh. Okay.