Ottawa City Council Recommends the Elimination of Revert Reds

The issue of revert reds is back in the news again. This post won’t provide an opinion, commentary or analysis of the issue (I have done that in the past). No, this post will merely detail the recent history of the issue and the decisions staff and council have already made.

In July 2019, councillors Catherine McKenney and Shawn Menard* brought a motion to council to look into a number of street safety issues, including revert reds.

At the December 11, 2019, city council meeting, city staff reported back on this motion as part of the Strategic Road Safety Action Plan Update. On page 6 of Document 2 of the update (you can look it up or download the report [pdf]), in response to the motion’s call “[t]hat the City look at options to eliminate all “revert reds””, the report reads:


Consequently, red reverts cannot be eliminated at all intersections. Staff recommend assessing site specific operations to determine if there are special cases where the actuation can be held if a vehicle/bike moved off of the sensor. This will only be considered after other measures to improve signal adherence have been explored. A pilot study of new technology is currently being developed to provide cyclists with visual feedback once they have initiated a signal change by being on a sensor. Implementation of this new technology at test locations is anticipated in the spring of 2020.

At traffic signal locations where multi-use pathways cross roadways with bicycle signal displays, the multi-use pathway traffic signal operations will be adjusted to hold the call for a signal change even when a bike moves off the detector area. This adjustment will also be made at all signalized intersections that are actuated, which have a bike lane, and operate in a 2-phase operation. This change will be implemented in 2020 following upgrades to the traffic signal controller and central traffic system to ensure this new functionality does not negatively impact other elements of the traffic controller and central traffic system. Once the technology is available within the traffic signal controller and centralized traffic control systems, staff will review and implement at locations with on road cycling facilities on a case by case basis to determine if the revised “holding the call for a signal change” function is appropriate.

(Emphasis mine.)

The recommendations in this update were passed unanimously by council in a vote of 23-0 (Councillor Deans was absent). The council motion also approved “that the City of Ottawa adopts the goal of zero fatalities on our streets by 2035, with a focus on safety for the most vulnerable users of our transportation system—pedestrians, school children, older adults and cyclists”…among other things.

There will be another debate at committee and at council on the issue of revert reds, but as of the date of publishing this, the unanimous decision to eliminate revert reds in specific situations stands.

*Full disclosure, for those who don’t know: my boss

A torn photograph

My friend Tyler posted a picture of a photograph the other day. The original lives in a photo album somewhere. You can see the adhesive stripes holding the photo to the page, and the edges of other photos, each with their own story to tell.

The left edge of the photo is torn–whether this was an accident, a means of sharing a memory with someone else or a way to excise something that no longer belonged, I don’t know.

The photo shows two friends, men, barely, in the midst of boyish laughter. The one on the the right is facing the camera, mid-sentence, his mouth round, but slightly contorted. It’s a face I’ll always know. It’s my friend Tyler.

Friend is a bit of a loaded word to use here. I’ve known Tyler since kindergarten or before. We lived two blocks away from each other when we were kids. We played together. We were in Beavers and Cubs together.

Tyler was very much the Cool Kid in our grade. He was bright and friendly. He was good at sports and popular. Most importantly, perhaps, he was a tough kid–fearless, at least to my eight-year-old eyes. He was a natural leader, then, and I think everyone wanted to be his friend.

And he was a good friend. I guess we were different in a number of ways–him, the cool tough kid; me, the brainy, more cautious kid–but we were tight.

Sure, he punched me in the face once, but it was an accident. We were in line in the schoolyard, he was shadow-boxing and I got a little too close. Whatever. These things happen between friends.

We were in the same class through grade 4, when I switched classes. We went to the same school until grade 6…then I switched schools.

A year later, I moved–close enough that we could have still hung out, but far enough that we were no longer in each other’s orbit. I’d go to a different high school. He’d stay in the old neighbourhood.

It was a good neighbourhood growing up. It was a mid-century inner suburb, staunchly middle-class. It was still in its first generation as a neighbourhood, so there were a lot of ties that ran through the community. You would know lots of families–maybe you were in the same class, maybe you played hockey together, maybe your older sister was a year behind his younger brother. You may not have known everyone, but you knew their names, even just their last names. Yates, Rankin, Heyward, Henein…these names that will never leave me, no matter how far I’ve left the neighbourhood.

I haven’t seen Tyler much since elementary school. I ran into him at a Rough Riders game at some point during high school–me and my friends snuck down to the lower deck, and he and his friends snuck down, too, just a few rows closer. They got caught and got kicked out. The people sitting beside us remarked that Tyler and his crew obviously didn’t pay for those seats.

In first year, we wound up in the same 1000-person law class. He was motivated. I was disillusioned. I dropped out after first year. He kept going.

Growing up, I went to three different elementary schools. By the end of high school, we’d lived in four different homes. The changes weren’t always significant–I was never the lone “new kid” at school; it was always a few of us who switched…we generally stayed in the same area of town, until the last move, but at that point I could drive, so it didn’t matter so much.

It was the first time I switched schools that I met Dax–that we met Dax. The mid-century school in the mid-century neighbourhood we’d gone to until grade 3 was at the end of its life. One year, we were celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the school (we’d had the same secretary the whole time!). Two years later, there were forty kids left. Two years after that, it was a French Catholic school. They’ve expanded, developing over the fields and adding portables.

There were probably five or six of us who switched schools at the beginning of grade 4, including me and Tyler. Just as Tyler was the cool kid at our old class, it seemed that Dax was the cool kid in our new class.

He was a good kid. He was an athlete, playing football and baseball. He was nice and kind. He showed no hesitance in befriending the new kids, even though he probably had enough friends, already.

I always liked Dax. We played football together one season. We rooted for the same team. He was fun to be around. But we were only in the same class for one year–grade 4–and the same school for three years. It’s not really the usual basis for a life-long friendship.

In retrospect, it’s no surprise that Tyler and Dax, the two cool kids from grade 4, would form a lasting friendship.

I’m active on social media these days, but I don’t really look to expand my network that much–it’s not like the early days of Facebook where you’d search out anyone you’d every shared a pack of bubble gum with and connect with them.

“Oh, it’s been so long. We should definitely get together.”

A few months ago, I friended Tyler on Facebook. He just happened to pop up in one of those slideshows of suggestions that’s usually just the same semi-random names that are mostly your wife’s friends.

I knew the face. I guess I’ll always know the face. It’s a face intrinsically linked with so much of my long-ago past. Compelled, I sent the friend request. He accepted it.

That was that. No fake heartfelt re-connection. No vacant rhetoric about how much we should–no, how we would–get together. Just the superficial connection over social media.

There was something real and honest about treating it as all it was.

So Tyler posted a picture the other day. It was him, probably about 19, looking directly at the camera. A buddy is beside him, laughing, his face shaded by the brim of a ball cap, and a nascent goatee further defeating any chance I’d have of recognizing Dax. But it was him.

Dax died on Friday.

First thing Monday, I sat at my computer and decided to check Facebook. That’s when I saw Tyler’s picture.

It was like so many others you see on Facebook. Someone finds an old photo album, enjoys a little nostalgia and just has to share. The picture on its own didn’t mean much to me. But that caption…

“Rest in Peace Brother. RIP Dax

It didn’t quite fit together. I knew it fit together. There was so much. A death. Young-adult Tyler. A face I didn’t know. A name I did.

In a blink, I understood. But, still. I had to check. It’s possible there was another Dax. The same age. The same relationship.

The first comment I read had his last name. Yes, it was him. I did a quick search. I found his obituary. I still didn’t recognize the face. He kind of looks like my friend, Bill. But it was all in obituary. It was Dax.

It hit me. It shook me up. I certainly don’t have the sense of loss of Tyler or of Dax’s family or current friends, but a sadness came over me.

I actually think of Dax every now and then. He’s very much linked to my memories of grade 4 and of going to a new school. My youngest daughter just started grade 4. And she just started a new school.

But I only ever knew Dax as a pre-pubescent kid…until now; now, I know him as someone lost too soon.

I never knew the person Dax became. I don’t know his story or his journey. I don’t know how he thrived or how he suffered. I don’t know his struggles or his triumphs.

I only know a kid, from grade 4. There was a happy lilt to his voice. He was always ready to be friends. He was nice and fun and sensitive. From that kid, I’m going to trust a good person grew. I don’t know, for sure, but I’m choosing to believe.

I’m putting my stock in that photo, a candid moment between friends. I know enough about the two people to understand the bond between them at that moment.

I’m disconnected from that memory. It’s not mine–maybe it could have been…maybe I could have been just on the other side of that torn edge…maybe if I hadn’t moved…

…but no, it’s not mine. I’m just looking in–an outside observer peering through the window, absorbing refracted grief.

On to Cumberland

I have a fondness for Cumberland. A few years before her passing, my mother-in-law moved out there with her soon-to-be-husband. We had many good times visiting them for special occasions, hitting up the Santa Claus Breakfast at the Lion’s Club or heading out the Cumberland Museum. My wife and I even attended a wedding reception at the Cumberland Community Centre (I caught the bride’s garter). There was about ten years when Cumberland played a very important role in my life.

I haven’t been back much since my mother-in-law died. I wonder if the museum still has the little train you can ride.

Anyway, I’m writing about Cumberland because we’ve got a by-election coming up in about a month, and I figured it’d be good to check out the debate and weigh in on the race. (For the record, I’m still working at City Hall, so this is a bit of a busman’s holiday. I wonder if anyone will try, futilely, to get me fired for this sort of thing again.)

But, y’know, I figured before I really dug into the debate, I should acquaint myself with the candidates, so I knew what to look for when the debate. We’ve got a fairly crowded field (this is turning into a trend), and I’m not really familiar with all the candidates, so it was time to look through their websites to get an introduction.

Here’s a quick, first impressions preview of the candidates, in whatever order I feel like:

Catherine Kitts ran in the crowded Orleans race in 2018, doing fairly well. Who knows, if there were a few fewer candidates or ranked choice voting, maybe she could have edged out Matt Luloff. I don’t remember too many specifics about her campaign, but she did seem like one of the more promising candidates back then.

She should definitely be considered one of the front-runners, with her past campaign experience, her work as a community journalist and possibly the choice of Mayor Watson–she was seen at an event with Watson and former councillor Stephen Blais. It was, apparently, unplanned, but the optics certainly say something. (The lack of physical distancing said something else.)

She hits a lot of good notes in her platform (road safety, helping seniors, protecting farmland, etc.), but there are some worrying things, too (policing).

I wondered why she was running in Cumberland after running in Orleans two years ago. I’m not a huge fan candidates who appear to be campaign-hopping, but apparently she has moved into Cumberland since the last election.

Patrick Uguccioni–another former community journalist, having run the paper Your Community Voice for the past little while–would also be a strong candidate. A former staffer for Mayor Larry O’Brien, as well as other pols, he’s got the knowledge and experience to help when debating or when discussing issue with residents. From his social media persona, you’d think he’d be another potential Watson candidate, though his past work with O’Brien and his endorsement from Bob Chiarelli, might say otherwise. He also has endorsements from former local politicians Doug Thompson and Brian Coburn.

His main issue seems to be the ward boundary. He has a long explanation for his support of Watson’s plan to expand the urban boundary. It’s a little disjointed with some logical flaws, but it’s always good to know where candidates stand on these things. The weird thing about it is that this is an issue that’s already been settled. He’s never going to have to vote on this. I don’t know why his primary issue would be something so stale.

Oh yeah, he doesn’t seem to like defunding the police…though he doesn’t make it clear that he knows what that actually entails.

Nonetheless, he is poised to do well.

Yvette Ashiri would seem to another strong challenger. No, she’s not another journalist, and, no, she doesn’t have the tacit or explicit endorsement of local politicians, but she seems to be campaigning hard, and she’s garnered support of the grassroots political group Horizon Ottawa (full disclosure, I know some of the people at Horizon Ottawa, but I’m not involved with them). This support has, weirdly, raised the ire of a Random Twitter Man who seems to think it’s some sort of downtown Trojan Horse or something. (He also seems to ignore the suburban residents of the ward, so…).

She has an impressive resume, with a lot of public service and commendations. The platform on her website is fine, though website platforms only mean so much. She touches on a lot of good notes: working for people, not developers; social inclusion and fighting social isolation; protecting the environment; and bridging the rural-urban divide (by the way, the urban-rural divide is really just suburbia).

It’ll be interesting to see how she does in the debate. There’s a lot to potentially like here.

Jensen Boire ran last time, too. He had no website, no social media presence and didn’t show up for the televised debate. I wouldn’t even assume he exists, but my wife knew him when they were younger, so I guess he’s a real person. He’s got no website again (according to the city website). We’ll see where his campaign goes, this time.

A. Bruce Faulkner, also without a website, is one of those candidates that seems to show up in a variety of races, all across the city. He’s a self-described libertarian and, in the past, has demonstrated all the caricaturish poses often associated with libertarianism. He’s run federally (I think?) and provincially (maybe?) downtown, and municipally (IIRC) in…Kanata? I dunno. I guess he just runs. I doubt he’ll make a challenge in this race.

Lyse-Pascale Inamuco is another interesting candidate with an intriguing resume. Her platform hits on some good notes, though the desire to create a BIA is worrisome. Looking at her list of volunteer work shows some promise (Women’s March, Rotary Club, Healthy Transportation Coalition, Mouvement d’implication francophone d’Orléans, 613-819 Black Hub Noir), and some diversity (Ottawa Board of Trade).

It’s at this point I’ll note that a lot of the candidate’s websites look really similar (two, even, seem to have chosen the same template), with a lot of overlapping issues (high-speed internet to Cumberland!). There’s going to take a lot of reading-between-the-lines when it comes to platforms and platitudes, and a lot of discernment to try to figure out who will actually work to get the things you want done at City Hall.

Denis Labrèche is not a candidate I was familiar with. Picking up on a theme, his background is media and journalism. He’s from Carlsbad Springs, helped establish the Community Association out there and has been serving as its president. Community Association President is not a bad stepping stone to city councillor (eg Jeff Leiper), but it’s no guarantee, either (eg Kevin Kitt).

His community work is very impressive. I assume this should give him at least a bit of a base of support (and volunteers). He seems to be running on two basic ideas: constituent service and communication, and merging Hydro One customers with Ottawa Hydro (this is an issue many candidates have identified–I know it’s been a long-standing concern for residents in rural areas, but it’ll also be a really tough thing to accomplish).

I can’t really glean much else from his website. He seems like ok guy, but no idea how that translates to being a candidate.

Craig MacAulay. I like Craig MacAulay. He’s a nice guy. He cares about community. And he wants a city government that’s run fairly. These are all good things.

We’ve seen Craig before. He ran in College Ward in 2014 and then for mayor in 2018. He lives in Bells Corners and keeps a blog about Bells Corners and city politics. He also runs a wonderful bike-taxi.

All that said, the people of Cumberland Ward aren’t electing a guy from Bells Corners.

Mark Scharfe is back again. The last time we saw him was 2014 and he was running for the open Osgoode seat, losing to the current councillor, George Darouze. Scharfe doesn’t live in Cumberland, and there’s no clear reason why he’s running–other than to push his curmudgeonness. Personally, I’ve never thought living outside the ward should be disqualifying, but if you don’t live in the ward, I want a good reason for why you’re running there, and it can’t just be it’s-an-open-seat-and-I-really-want-to-be-a-councillor.

Scharfe seems to be running only for the sake of his personal pet issues: weekly garbage pick-up, scrapping the green bin program and…I’m not really sure, something about Section 6 of the Charter and businesses and people making a living and him suing city council or something. My guess is he’s a pandemic truther and doesn’t think any businesses should have been forced to close to try to save people’s lives?

I don’t think he’ll play a role in this election.

(If you’re wondering, why yes, I have written about him and his politics before.)

Henry Valois is a volunteer firefighter. That’s the main takeaway I got from his site. He’s also clearly involved in his community. He doesn’t tell us what he’d do as councillor, but being a community-minded dude is a good start…but that’s it.

So that’s it for now. Of the ten candidates, I think we can automatically cross off four, with a couple others barely hanging on to relevancy. There are three or four strong candidate, but being a strong candidate isn’t enough; you need to have a strong campaign. When you’ve got a crowded field, a shortened timeframe and voters distracted by other things, you’re ground game is going to make the difference.

Sure, I’d love to say that the ramblings of a local blogger or some really neat social media campaign or a groundbreaking policy proposal will make the difference, but, nah, it’s about knocking doors, calling voters and getting out your voters.

This, of course, won’t stop me from rambling.

So Many Cities

A few months ago, I wrote a post called about Ottawa becoming a Resilient City—the idea that cities must become better prepared for unforeseen issues. The concept of an <<Adjective>> City certainly isn’t new. Me, I’ve talked about Ottawa’s need to be a Transit City. I’ve written a Winter City manifesto for our town.

Others, more versed in this stuff than I have written about being a Walkable City or a Happy City or a Soft City. We talk about being a Livable City, a Sustainable City, a Bike City. (This is different than, for instance, calling Ottawa a government city—that’s an identity, but it’s a description, these identities are aspirational. No one, other than Greber, has made being a government town an actual goal.)

I was thinking about this the other day (or, more accurately, a couple of months back) when I thought of another type of Something City Ottawa should be. It seemed almost comical to write another one of those posts after writing about being a Resilient City. Continue reading

Lessons from a Mall

I love the mall. Yes, they’re horrible. They’re destructive. They’re a remnant of the car-centric, sprawl-centric, mid- to late-century city planning and I hate going to them, but whatever. In my hear, I love the mall. I’m a child of the ’80s. The opening scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is nirvana.

Anyway, I had to go to the Rideau Centre the other day. I used to go there a lot. Maybe I was shopping or hanging out…mostly I was cutting through between the Market or Rideau Street and the Transitway. In the past few years, it’s changed a lot…and I haven’t really been going very much during or since those changes. I still have a general idea of where a bunch of stores are, but I really couldn’t say I know my way around.

This is a potential drawback of malls, especially ones like the Rideau Centre. With so many levels, hallways, entrances and access ways, it can be easy to get turned around in there.

The thing is, though, I didn’t get lost, at all, nor have I in a few other recent trips. In part, it’s because I still know my basic way around, but it’s more than that. The Rideau Centre has built in really good wayfinding. The maps and digital kiosks are easy to use and pretty clear as to how to get somewhere. The sightlines within the mall are getting better, so it’s easy to peer down one little branch to figure out if that’s where you’re headed. Perhaps the most important aspect, though, is the signage they put up.

After I running my errand, I decided to grab some lunch. At this point, I had basically no idea where to go. I’d been to the new food court before, but I wasn’t totally sure how to get there from the wing I was in (which was also fairly new, or at least a new layout). Having long ago abandoned any sense of shame about looking for directions, I decided to head for one of those kiosks.

However, before I got there, I noticed a sign overhead pointing me toward the “dining hall” or whatever they’ve re-branded the food court as. Obviously, signs are a really good, basic form of wayfinding, but there were a couple of things that I noticed. First of all, the signs fell clearly in my line of sight. I did not have to look for them…I wasn’t looking for them. There’s a lot going on in a mall and it’s easy to miss things, but these caught my eye.

But they also didn’t…in a good way. While they were very visible, clear and eye-catching, they also blended in with the mall. They’re tucked up high, with simple colours. They’re not adding to the visual clutter or cacophony of lights and pictures and movement swirling around the corridor. Though they didn’t sacrifice function for form, their form was just right.

I was reminded of a little project a friend did a few years ago. She started putting up her own little wayfinding signs, mostly along walking and biking routes (“Buy fresh croissants–only 200m that way”). She didn’t have permission and the mayor publicly scolded her, but it was a good and useful project. (Cities often have these hidden little things–an alleyway with cool shops, a pathway that’s a safe and convenient shortcut between neighbourds–that are great once you know about them but can be insanely hard to find otherwise.)

Wayfinding is incredibly important to good city-building. Signage–good, clear, uncluttered signage–is a big help, but better is when you’re just guided through an area. When you can see down streets. When there are landmarks to help you get and remain oriented. When you can remember which direction you’re going and which you came from. It seems the new Rideau Centre is doing a good job on wayfinding.

(Granted, it was one trip, so maybe I just go lucky.)

This led me to think more about the layout of the mall and how it reflects city-building (because everything has to come back to your job at some point, right?). The realization is that people who build malls have an innate understanding of city-building…though they clearly don’t know it.

The storefronts tend to small and tightly packed together. There’s a cadence to it. There are multiple attractions, bringing different people with different needs into one small area. They lend themselves to doing multiple errands at once, and give people a chance to make impulse decisions about shopping or dining or entertainment.

This is what a thriving street needs. We don’t need blocks that are one long storefront. That’s not walkable. It’s not engaging. It doesn’t serve street diversity.

Now, of course, in a mall and in a city, you do need larger institutions. You need grocery stores and department stores and schools and apartment buildings…but you can incorporate these things in smartly.

You can take something like H&M that basically has multiple store fronts, as well as multiple levels, giving it the cadence (the women’s and men’s departments almost look like different storefronts) and reducing it’s horizontal footprint by going vertical. It’s also tucked in an area where the storefronts are rounded, so they can open up to a bigger area once you go in.

And these bigger stores, these anchors, can be a draw. These components (like, say an arena) can draw larger groups, but they’re still fit within the general fabric of their environment. Nordstrom’s is a large store, but it hasn’t overwhelmed or cannibalized the mall.

Malls are inherently walkable (well, maybe not something like Tanger, but the older malls). The owners understand this, and do what they can to make you want to walk through the mall. It’s more than just diversity (though having stores and coffee shops and restaurants and all that is important); it’s simple things like benches.

Being able to just sit is important. Being able to take a rest, or wait for someone, or check your phone, or establish a meeting place for friends is important. Malls want you to linger. It’s not loitering (a terrible, classist, bullshit offence); you’re just hanging out.

Good city spaces get this. Public parks, parkettes, street furniture, public amenities…these all give people places to just be. These are what become people places (and people places are the places that strive). These days, we’re running out these spaces. Most “public” space is now commercial–coffee shops, bars, etc. These are useful, but we need public spaces that don’t charge admission.

Ironically, malls–so steeped in commercialism and consumerism–offered that. Why the hell do you think so many kids would spend their days hanging out at the mall?

Transportation within the mall was also enlightening. The Rideau Centre has a direct link to LRT and it still has buses running along the bridge and Rideau Street on either side. Most malls that I would go to had bus service, and the bus stops generally took right up near a door.

It’s ironic, again, that an institution that was so wedded to car-centric development actually prioritizes transit access. I was reminded of Barcelona’s super blocks (okay, yeah, I know, this is a bit of a stretch). The super blocks are made up of 9 smaller blocks have varying degrees of access (IIRC). Cars drive around the super blocks, and are maybe allowed to go in, but not through (basically just to drop off or pick up). Buses go through the super blocks, and then in the centre it’s pedestrians.

This is kind of like malls. Yes, there are parking garages attached (sometimes), but transit tends to get you closer to your actual door, and pedestrians get to walk in and through. (Obviously, malls with big parking lots don’t let pedestrians get there easily and the Rideau Centre fails for bike access…I told you this was a bit of a stretch).

It’s interesting. An institution that tends to be so destructive to city-life and the urban experience has actually internalized so many of the lessons of good urbanism. This doesn’t mean they’re good actors. It doesn’t mean they aren’t parasitic. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they aren’t the heartless capital class exploiting people’s insecurity through consumerism while destroying the communities in which those very same people live…it’s just another data point showing us what good, intentional city-building looks like.

It also means that if you’re looking, there are lessons to be learned even in the most unexpected places.

The Resilient City

I’m currently reading The Happy City. So far, it’s very good. It examines very aspects of city life that either improve the happiness of residents or detract from it. It’s a moniker every city should aspire to, clearly, being a Happy City. Similarly, we often talk about what it means to be a Livable City or a Walkable City. I’ve written about how Ottawa needs to embrace being a Winter City and a Transit City.

Obviously, one needn’t choose just one of these identities…nor could you. A Happy City is going to be a Walkable City. A Winter City must be a Transit City. There’s another identity to which cities should aspire, one that I haven’t heard spoken of, at least not as its own discrete category.

The Resilient City.

Resilience is an important contributor to being a Happy City or a Livable City, and this importance will be ever-increasing as time goes by. Cities that ignore this concept will suffer. Cities that embrace resilience will have a better chance at thriving. It is a necessary, if insufficient, factor in creating a successful city.

These days, it seems we hear most about resilience when we speak of climate change and climate emergencies. Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and less predictable. Heat waves, temperature fluctuations, flooding, tornadoes…all must be factored into smart city planning.

No more can we keep building in flood planes, ignoring the risk of twice-in-a-century floods that occur two out of three years. We must make plans to provide proper air conditioning during heat waves that pose an acute threat to the elderly, or provide warmth during cold snaps that threaten those who are housing insecure or sleep rough. We must protect our trees, as they clean our air and fight the heat island effect in urban areas.

But The Resilient City is more than just an environmentally-conscience entity. It touches on every aspect of city-building.

Our built form must be varied and malleable, allowing a variety of uses, accommodating growth and supporting residents and businesses alike, regardless of economic climate.

Our housing stock needs to be flexible, supporting varied and changing households. Zoning and regulations must foster sufficient excess in housing supply to accommodate shocks and push back against scarcity-induced bubbles. We need low-rise and missing middle development to bring that development. We need to foster gentle density to quickly accommodate spikes in demand, as well as general intensification to help everyone get a home that is affordable to them and the city.

As more and more social services get downloaded onto cities throughout North America, we need prepare to support each other during hard times and economic downturns. We need the social infrastructure required to support all residents. We need public amenities to provide resources and services to residents of lesser means. Sometimes, we need community centres and city programming to help parents during a teacher’s strike.

We need resilience in our transportation system. We need to support active, sustainable transportation. We need to facilitate multi-modal transportation. We need to structure our city to minimize the number of residents who rely on inefficient, expensive and damaging transportation. We need reliability, excess capacity and affordability for the most efficient forms of transportation. When one aspect of our transportation system is down for a day or a week, we need a system that can provide reasonable alternatives, with minimal hardship.

If we want this–if you want this–it’s time to get to work.

To create a Resilient City, you need to identify, plan for and mitigate risks. You need to be able to quickly respond to unexpected occurrences. You need to expect that those situations will occur. You need a robust municipal infrastructure. You need to do your best to make sure no one is left standing on the platform as the city rolls away.

If you want a Happy City, a Livable City, a Sustainable City…you need to have a Resilient City.

I hope your city will become a Resilient City.

The language of raised and lowered crosswalks, and raised and lowered classes of street users

Every now and then, I think about the language that we use when discussing municipal issues and citybuilding. There are a few words or terms that I’ve abandoned, adopting new language that’s more appropriate. I don’t say “car accident”; it’s “crash” or “collision”. And a pedestrian doesn’t get hit by a car; they get hit by a driver (we’d never say someone was stabbed by a knife). More recently, I’ve dropped “multi-unit building”, choosing to say “multi-home building”, instead.

It can all seem like semantics, but the words we use carry deeper meaning. There are underlying assumptions, value judgements and general baggage.

Recently, I’ve been involved in various discussions about raised crosswalks. When this comes up, the framing is always “raised crosswalks” versus “at-grade crosswalks”. Whenever I hear someone speak of an at-grade crosswalk, it always takes a moment to register what they mean. “At-grade” is used to mean at roadway level, but I reject that, and I think I’m going to stop saying it.

A real “at-grade” crosswalk would be one where the sidewalk doesn’t drop to meet the road. Basically, we say “raised” when we mean “at-grade” and “at-grade” really means a lowered crosswalk.

Now, I’m sure people can point to city documents with specific definitions, and this is probably the standard lexicon of engineers, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Of course, when we look at the terms “crosswalk” or, worse, “crossing”, we can see the problem. The pedestrian’s path is deemed to be crossing the driver’s path, not the other way around. The underlying assumption is that the driver has the right to the road, and the pedestrian is the foreign species getting in its way.

And that’s why we say “at-grade” when we mean the crosswalk lowers. It is a car-centric term for car-centric design. This sort of language is hardly neutral or impartial. It has layers of status and prioritization baked in. Worse, it inherently prioritizes drivers, the one class of road user the regularly, and often with impunity, kills people.

The mindset behind the language that raises car drivers over all other street users contradicts everything the city says about Complete Streets or “Towards Zero” or street safety, in general (even though there are still significant flaws in this rhetoric, too).

What if we didn’t call them crosswalks? What if we didn’t have crosswalks? What if the sidewalks just continued, unencumbered, when they intersected roadways? What if we said the drivers are crossing pedestrian space when they go through an intersection, rather than the other way around? How would simple shifts in language and infrastructure shift our whole paradigm when it comes to street safety and street life?

And how would this effect our prosperity, health and environment, know how destructive driving-obsessed culture is to all of these? We have a default mindset that is inherently destructive. We need a shift in thinking along with a shift in culture.

And we need better language, so that we stop reinforcing our inherited biases.

(So, no, I will no longer speak of “at-grade” crossings.)

The Transit Rider Ballet

I’ve been following the woes of Barrhaven transit users for the past few days. Issues have been cropping up for a while (like they have for everywhere else *cough*Vanier*cough*), and it seems like the city has some solutions in store (advisable or not)…but it also seems like no matter what happens, nothing can ever be solved. Every new solution seems to bring new unforeseen (but predictable) issues.

If you want to get a handle on the complaints, you can check out Jan Harder’s Twitter feed; it seems to be a clearing house for such issues.

One tweet stuck out to me. I’m going to quote the text here, rather than linking to it, because I’m not trying to critique the person who tweeted it or put them on blast or anything. I just want to examine what they’ve said:

OMG thank you. The route I need to get home is full of asshats trying to get off at Baseline, H.C., and Nepean Sportsplex. I don’t mind Fallowfield but if I can’t board a bus BECAUSE IT IS FULL to get me to my neighbourhood because you were too lazy to wait for yours, I get mad.

(I’m assuming “H.C.” stands for Hunt Club.)

There is an overwhelming sense of entitlement here. The bus this user wants belongs to them and not to the other transit users because the other transit riders aren’t going to ride it all the way to the end. It’s the only bus that goes to this neighbourhood (it would seem), so they feel it should be reserved for them.

I cannot fathom feeling so very entitled to public transportation and to excluding others from public transportation.

I don’t take the bus all that much, but I do take it occasionally. Routes 6 and 7 go by my house. If I’m taking them I’m generally going no further than the Rideau Centre, going north, or Billings Bridge, going south. So, aside from taking the 7 to Carleton, I’m never taking a bus all the way to the end of the line, nor am I starting at the beginning of the route. Hell, in the mornings, sometimes I’ll grab the 6 or 7 at Fifth and take it to First (to then transfer to the 56 in order to transfer to the 85).

I don’t feel bad or guilty about this at all. I’m a transit user just like everyone else. I’ve paid my fare (and if I’m going a short distance, I’ve paid disproportionately more) and I have just as much right to the bus as you do (and, conversely, you have just as much right to it as I do).

The other day, my daughter and I were coming home from Billings Bridge. We were waiting for the 6, and we’d be taking it to Fifth Avenue. When we got on, there were already people on the bus (though there were others getting off at the mall). As the bus chugged along Bank, people got on and off. Some of the people who were on when we boarded surely got off before our stop.

It can be quite interesting, watching this sort of route if you travel far enough. You can get on and it’ll be almost empty. You’ll watch it fill up. You’ll watch it empty and fill up again. You’ll watch a handful of people get off at a stop, while a handful get on. It’ll ebb and flow, and it’ll (almost) completely turnover its ridership, sometimes multiple times.

No one in their right mind thinks they are more entitled to such a bus as anyone else. No one in their right mind thinks only people who are riding all the way to the end should allow themselves a spot on that bus.

So why can’t those routes to Barrhaven be the same?

If you’ve been reading my posts or my columns with any regularity, you’ve probably encountered me talking about Jane Jacobs’s idea of the street ballet. I lively street has a multitude of uses and sees a multitude of users. Workers heading to their jobs in the morning, school children off to school, workers coming into the area…later, stay-at-home parents run errands or take small kids to the park…business men empty into the streets at lunch hour…school kids come home, workers leave, residents return from work. Later, people are out to restaurants and bars or hitting the theatre. There’s always comings-and-goings.

That’s what life is like on routes like the 6 or the 7. People coming from St. Laurent need to get to the Rideau Centre. People from Lowertown are going to Centretown. Students from the Golden Triangle are busing to classes. People in the Glebe are going to Billings Bridge.

On these buses, there’s a rotation. Each seat may be occupied by five or six different people. The routes take you through places, not just destinations. There are things to do all along the route and people all along the route looking to something somewhere else. It is akin to the street ballet. It is the transit rider ballet.

But on those long commuter routes, you don’t have that. There are spots where a bunch of people will want to get on, and there will be people getting off along the way, at times, but it’s mainly just clumps of commuters hopping from hub to hub (or from hub, leapfroging hubs, to a final hub).

It is absolutely a failure of city design.

These buses may be packed, but that doesn’t mean they carry more people, more “fares”, if you will. A half empty bus that rotates through riders multiple times will end up carrying more people than the same type of bus that takes, primarily, one group of passengers from downtown to a suburban hub. Throw in the fact that these buses are “deadheads” (they don’t do a return trip because there isn’t sufficient ridership to warrant that amount of bus service going the other way), and it’s incredibly expensive to run these routes.

But the aforementioned tweet does highlight something that, I think, too few of our civic leaders think about. We basically need to types of transit service. No, not two separate transit systems, but we need to understand that the suburban commuter model functions inherently differently than an urban commuter system. We can’t try to cram the two together into the same service delivery model and think we’ll be able to serve everyone properly.

This is, in part, what LRT should help address. It is a suburban commuter system. It’s not really going to help people get around downtown that much. But what we can’t do (and what we have done) is assume that LRT solves all our problems, and can replace our urban transit service.

The city is on the verge of ghettoizing bus service, and if they do, they’ll be doing substantial harm to transit, including LRT (not to mention our economy, our environment, our health…). Hopefully, as more and more suburban and exurban communities get fed up with the substandard transit system we’ve been running, there will be serious political will at city hall to make the necessary changes. Hopefully, we won’t simply switch a couple of trips to express routes and consider the problem solved.

Everyone has a right to get on a bus. We need a city council that recognizes that.

Saturday Morning in Stittsville

A couple of weeks ago, my daughters were invited to a birthday party in Kanata. I was tempted to take them, come home, then go back and pick them up, but some issues with the car share made us a bit late and made such driving back and forth untenable (it wasn’t really an ideal solution, regardless). So, being on the west end of Kanata, I decided to pop over to Stittsville, hole up in Quitters and get some work done.

Now, I’ll tell you straight, as I was driving from Kanata to Stittsville (which was basically across the street), I may have vocalized a disapproving “ugh” or two. I was going a past unfinished and just-finished developments, and it was just streaks of blank, carbon-copy homes stretching on indeterminately. This wasn’t a value judgement. It was a reaction to both the aesthetic of bleakness painted across the landscape, as well as a recognition of the sheer unsustainability of so much of our suburban development.

I don’t say all this to rag on sprawl (I do have some other, more nuanced thoughts that I may or may not share in a later post), but to set the scene and give you an idea of where my mind was as I came into Stittsville.

The route I took into The ‘Ville, as they call it, took me past the Goulbourn Rec Centre. Man, that is an impressive looking rec centre. I’ve since learned a bit more about all the issues necessitating its recent rehabilitation, but it seems like it should be a worthwhile community amenity.

I approached Stittsville Main Street from the east along Abbott Street (it’s Abbott Street there, right?). I wasn’t in much of a rush, so I figured I’d just park wherever I could and then take a stroll towards my destination. As I approached, I could see there was much going on. There were cops in the distance at the intersection. I was going to pull over and park right there, but there were no stopping signs everywhere. Curiously, there were also a bunch of cars parked in these no stopping areas. Oh well, I’d keep going.

As I approached Stittsville Main Street (which I’ll just be calling Main Street from here on), I remembered hearing that it was 9runrun that day–a marathon/10k/5k/Something-k. Volunteers and spectators were all over the place. I wondered if I’d get stuck in a massive traffic jam or re-routed away from where I was going. Oh well, whatever, I’d deal.

I was struck with the role-reversal. Regularly, there are major events going on in the Glebe, sometimes (but not often enough) with street closures, leading to much gnashing of teeth and rending of Garmins. I certainly wasn’t inclined to be one of those interlopers, cursing out a community for doing community things.

As it turned out, I was able to easily turn left onto Main Street, and then quickly found a (free) public lot. Super easy. Teeth un-gnashed.

I started walking north up Main. I had a lot of time, so I figured I’d check the place out. It’d been decades since I’d been to this part of Stittsville. And, you know, it’s lovely. The people fighting to keep The ‘Ville in Stittsville are really trying to maintain something worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, Stittsvile will eventually get completely swallowed up in ex- and suburban sprawl, but hopefully the personality of the place won’t get completely chewed up in the process.

I had DMed a few people I knew in Stittsville…well, two people. As I was about a block down Main, I got a message from soon-to-be councillor-elect Glen Gower. I’ve known Glen on Twitter for a few years now, but we’d never actually met. He was heading towards the finish line, a little further west along Abbott.

I quickly turned around and quick-stepped it back to the intersection. I got there just in time to intercept Glen, and we chatted for a block or two, as we wandered down the street.

Abbott is a lovely street, and clearly still holding dearly to the small-town pedigree of Stittsville that is slowly being eroded away. Maybe that’s for the best. If a community isn’t evolving, it’s probably dying. But, still, I feel there has to be a way to maintain the small towns at the edges of greater Ottawa, while we build up within the old city and suburban enclaves. I’m confident we could build a city that preserves the small-town/rural areas while ramping up development just about everywhere else.

Clearly, Abbott Street isn’t about intensification. Large and small houses reside on large, wide lots. At least one sits on a double-lot. There’s tons of room for density here (if desired), and, in a sense, we should probably be seeking some intensification. We do want better transit going to Stittsville, and for that, we need people. But there are ways to do it and ways not to do it.

There’s been some infill, and some of it’s been rather clunky. This seems to be the first stage of infill development. You do it wrong until you figure out how to do it right.

But there’s definitely opportunities to get it right. Nothing (yet) completely sticks out. Some of the houses could have been done better, but nothing’s a monstrosity. Hell, there’s even a triplex (don’t tell some Kitchissippi residents). This sort of thing, and maybe splitting up double lots, is really the way to go. It’s about incremental changes in density, gentle density.

The very nature of The ‘Ville doesn’t have to be trampled on in the name of progress. “Neighbourhood character” is a term regularly deployed by NIMBYs attempting to halt all development and, maybe, keep certain types out of their community. But our neighbourhoods should have character. Our city should have personality…it should be a conglomeration of personalities.

There’s no reason to make sure every different area slowly morphes into the vacuity of sameness. Citybuilding isn’t the borg. There’s no need for assimilation of die. We can be different; we can have different communities with different characteristics, while still ensuring that the city is open for all residents. It’s a tough balancing act, sure, and no one’s going to be 100% satisfied, but that doesn’t mean we just give up.

As the city progresses, we should get better at this. We should be able to find balance no longer elevating neighbourhood character over every other concern, but not elevating every neighbourhood 65 storeys high.

Glen went on to meet with people finishing up the 9runrun race. I turned back and headed towards Main Street. I popped into Quitters, which has quickly  become an important community amenity. I grabbed a coffee and sat down. I pulled out my laptop and got to work on that week’s column for the Sun.

Maybe all our communities aren’t actually that different.


Looking ahead to the 2022 municipal election

With the 2018 election behind us, and a number of interesting developments (seven new councillors, four new women on council), it’s about time to start looking into what the next election has in store for us. Will Jim Watson run for a fourth term? Which councillors will be angling for their own mayoral runs? Which councillors might be in trouble? Which candidates might come back strong next time.

It’s time to take a look at these questions. Continue reading