Time as volume in street planning

I was thinking about street design, the other day (yes, yes, you’re shocked). And I was thinking about capacity and volume and that sort of stuff.

I was walking along Bank Street, a street that’s pretty busy with cars, pedestrians, bikes and buses…but I was mostly thinking about pedestrians and cars. I was thinking about how the sidewalks are pretty much always as busy as the road at any instant. Take a snapshot of a block, and you’ll likely see as many people on foot as in a car.

Through that lens, it really is ridiculous how much more space is devoted to cars than pedestrians. They can call those sidewalks extra wide if they want, but with all the parking meters, utility poles, street signs and standees, there’s very little room, really. (This isn’t really a unique observation. I get that.)

Of course, there’s a flaw in that analysis. It’s only a snapshot, so it doesn’t take into account that over a longer period, more cars will drive by that block. There may be five pedestrians and five cars along a block at one time (for example), but over the course of a couple of minutes, it’ll be those same five pedestrians, but five sets of five cars may have cycled through.

The snapshot perspective gives more weight to pedestrians than to cars because pedestrians are out on the block longer. So it’s not an accurate measure, since cars pass through that block at a rate five times higher than pedestrians.

City planners will study the volume of traffic–the number of people/vehicles–in total, and seek to move more cars/people faster.

But why do we consider the established perspective legitimate? Why do we just accept that a user tally (I refuse to say “traffic”, since it’s not clear that we should want traffic, per se) is the right metric rather than user time?

Why shouldn’t we focus on the time people spend actually on the street, engaging with street life? Why shouldn’t we favour someone walking along, looking in stores, maybe doing some shopping, maybe chatting with neighbours? These people are actually enjoying the street, rather than using it simply as a means to get somewhere else.

So, yes, we should prioritize time (and, no, I don’t mean gridlock). Pedestrians spend the most time on a street, then bus riders, then bicyclists and, finally, drivers. Our streets should be designed–and space allocated–with this share in mind.

We talk a lot about modal share, and providing resources based on that (and we fail to actually do that, always prioritizing cars no matter what). And, yes, we should keep that in mind, but that still misses the primary function of city streets.

It’s easy to point out some flaws in this. Stroads like Baseline or Woodroffe aren’t really built for lingering (but maybe they should be!). True arterials, that serve little other purpose, can be balanced in favour of transportation rather than living, I suppose, but the rest of our streets should focus on living.

And this doesn’t just apply to downtown, urban streets. Or streets in really walkable areas. Or streets with mix-use development. If we look at the suburbs (like the inner suburb where I grew up), the streets should be balanced in favour of people walking to a park or school, kids riding their bikes or playing street hockey, and neighbours standing at the curb chatting, rather than drivers speeding through the neighbourhood.

So, yes, time–not counting cars–should be the unit of volume in street planning.

Baseline Rapid Transit and contempt for communities

So Baseline is getting a Bus Rapid Transit makeover. I’m not going to get into the merits of the plan in the post (I generally like the project, but I don’t like all the details), but I want to highlight one issue surrounding the plan, and the greater problems in so many of our city plans.

College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli brought up the problem: the new bus plan will mean that people living in a number of residential buildings (condos, a retirement home) will suddenly have a much longer walk to a bus stop and this will greatly deter bus ridership.

He’s absolutely correct. Too often, we make it inconvenient to take the bus, promote car use and then wonder why we’re not reaching ridership goals. It’s a common problem, but it’s not what I’m thinking about right now.

No, the problem comes with the reason that the residents along Baseline would be so inconvenienced. Transportation Chair Keith Egli argued that putting in more stops would make the whole thing less rapid.

The implication of this is that Baseline Rapid Transit isn’t being designed to help people who live in the neighbourhood along the bus route. No, it is being designed to help people travel though the neighbourhood, as fast as possible.

This is the same reason we have a highway running through the centre of our city. It’s why we won’t put bike lanes on Bank Street. It’s like the city wants to pretend that no one lives on the street, just travels along it.

It’s why Metcalfe, O’Connor, Lyon and Kent are such wretched streets–they’re designed to get people through the neighbourhood and flee.

It’s why suburban councillors opposed the Main Street improvements…because it would add three minutes onto the trips of commuters racing through the neighbourhood.

It looks like the city will find some compromises to keep the buses rapid without totally neglecting the residents who need to catch a ride, but this should have been considered much earlier. With this project, Baseline is primed for some transit-oriented development (TOD). We shouldn’t be scuttling it before we can even start.

This is mentality–that inner neighbourhoods are mostly just nuisances for commuters–has to change. Neighbourhood development projects need to consider the concerns of those who are living in the neighbourhood. Long-distance transportation has to take a backseat to liveability.

Some time ago, I wrote about how confounding it was that suburban dwellers supported more sprawl (sorry, can’t find the post). I understood that they liked being on the edges of the city, but I didn’t get why they would want the city to keep expanding, leading to more and more people wanting to speed through their neighbourhoods into the core.

This is what might be happening to College Ward, and it is a direct result of sprawl and disdain for non-suburban living. It needs to change, and people in the inner suburbs need to realize they are the next victim of this attitude (if they aren’t already).

City Capacity – Updated

Our water treatment system isn’t designed to handle the largest rainfalls we get. That’s why after a big summer rainfall, the beaches close. The system can’t handle the volume and so the runoff–and all the waste in with it–goes directly into the river.

The system’s capacity is about 50% of the expected peak volume. When we get a typical downpour, we know half of it is just going right to our waterways, untreated. This seems gross, but it makes sense. It would be beyond impractical to build, maintain and pay for a system that could handle 100% of the expected peak volume, so we live with some pollution and the occasionally-closed beaches.

Snow clearing is in the news these days, because, well, it’s been snowing. A lot. Ottawa has established service levels for snow clearing, but the city is well aware that in larger-than-average snowfalls, we will never meet those service levels. Again, this makes sense. We can debate if we’ve got enough snow clearing capacity (I would argue we don’t), and we can debate if our priorities are straight (I would argue they aren’t quite), but few would suggest that on a day of really heavy snowfall, a bit of a service delay is unreasonable.

Now, I don’t know what the city’s capacity is for the expected peak volume of snowfall, but it’s clearly less than 100%.

Transit capacity is also less than 100% expected peak volume. You can tell because so many rush hour buses are packed well beyond capacity (if you get on a bus and don’t have a seat available, that’s over capacity by any reasonable measure). Of course, the justification for this is that these packed buses balance out those that are well under capacity. That’s understandable, but it’s a question of to what degree is it acceptable.

Ottawa likes to drive. She likes to drive a lot. She likes to drive a helluva lot. Yes, we have traffic issues, but no it’s not really that bad. We’re not Toronto or L.A. When the city plans road building, road widenings and road extensions, they target meeting 100% expected peak capacity. (They don’t meet it, because more road capacity means more driving, but that’s the goal.) Sure, when a Tanger Mall opens, that’s going to bust our road capacity (*weeps*), but that’s above expected peak capacity.

If you drive a lot, you’re probably going to want to park. City planners seek to provide parking capacity for 118% of expected peak volume. When on-street parking usage rises above 85% (meaning only 15% of spaces are free at a given time), it’s considered a problem.

Yes, that’s right. For every 85 on-street parking spots that are needed, the city seeks to provide more than 100 spots. (And, again, more spots will encourage more driving.)

So, to review, here are out targets:

Water treatment: capacity should be 50% of expected peak volume.

Snow clearing: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.

Buses: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.*

Roads and driving: capacity should be 100% of expected peak volume.

Parking: capacity should be 118% of expected peak volume.

What the hell.

*Yeah, I forgot to add that part about transit the first time around.

No, the city doesn’t prioritize bike lanes. Yes, CTV is trolling again.

I’ve long since abandoned watching CTV news. They’re victim-blaming, anti-street safety trolls, regularly touting the value of hi-viz clothing and helmets. They would regularly run polls designed stoke anti-bicycle riding animus.

And they’re at it again.

Last week, they decided to run a oh-my-god-the-city-is-plowing-a-bike-lane-how-dare-they story. The framing was that “bike lanes are cleared before sidewalks” (by the way, nice picture of a bike box covered in snow). And here’s what CTV came up with: the city considers the bike lanes part of the road so they do them first.

…but that’s not really what’s going on, and if CTV preferred to rely on journalism than “people” saying things on Twitter, they’d know that this isn’t actually correct.

The picture was of the O’Connor Bike Lane and, yes, it appeared cleared before the sidewalk along O’Connor. If that was the only bike lane downtown, then maybe (maybe) CTV would have a story, but it’s not, and most of downtown has been ignored all winter.

There is a bike lane on Lyon that has maybe been partially cleared once this year.

There are bike lanes on Percy that has been cleared sporadically and incompletely in some spots, and hasn’t been cleared at all in other spots.

I don’t even try to use the Bay Street lane, but I’ve heard it’s been neglected, too.

Every street downtown get plowed after every snowfall. Every sidewalk gets plowed (poorly and far from promptly). If you’re going to run a story on the plowing of bike lanes, it’d be good to check and see if most of the bike lanes even ever get plowed.

Or if you want to just rely on Twitter (which seemed to be the extent of their investigation), it is not at all hard to find example after example after example after example after example of the neglect or blocking of the few bike lanes that actually ever get plowed.

Look, there is never going to be even distribution of snow clearing, and when you plow two bike lanes but every sidewalk, some sidewalks will be done after bike lanes. Further, sometimes it’s going to continue snowing after a sidewalk is plowed, so it will look a bike lane is getting special treatment.

Of course, it’s undeniable that the city is failing its service level promises. Bike lanes and sidewalks come secondary (if at all) to roads. On Sunday night, I shoveled out the sidewalk from my building to Bank Street. There’s a 94-year-old woman who lives above me. She doesn’t get to leave her home if the sidewalk isn’t cleared.

Sometime Sunday night or Monday morning, a plow came by…a street plow, but it wasn’t there to clear the road (which had already been done), it was pushing the snow further to the side to make room, it would seem, for parking spaces (there was no other reason to clear that far). In doing so, all the hard, heavy chunky snow was pushed into the sidewalk, making it impassable for anyone with a mobility issues, and pretty much impossible to shovel out.

A day and a half later, the sidewalk plow came along, clearing a path, but not really plowing. I don’t know if my neighbour is able to leave her apartment. (My street is supposed to be cleared within six hours, according to city standards.)

There is a problem with clearing sidewalks and making the city manoeuvrable for pedestrians, but it is not caused by clearing two bike lanes every now and then. It is caused by our car-centric planning. People who are against safety improvements for bicyclists have a tendency to pit bikes against pedestrians (this is what happened for the Rideau Street re-development…we could have appropriate sidewalks or safe biking infrastructure, but not both because we had to maintain pre-existing car lanes).

We need to understand that pedestrian and bicycling safety often go together…that these two groups are not adversaries, no matter how much driving advocates and the media try to say otherwise.

(Note a month or so ago CBC ran a story about people being forced to walk in the O’Connor bike lane because the city was neglecting the sidewalk…again, it was framed in a pedestrian vs. bicyclist manner, while cars sped along unimpeded.)

When people noticed the horrible reporting by CTV, there was a Twitter convo pointing out that TV companies still seem to rely on car ads. Maybe this colours their vision, maybe not, but it’s really hard to ignore the extreme bias from a company like CTV.

Remember how I mentioned their inclination to run troll polls to gin up some resentment against bicyclists? Well, they’ll also use that poll to present a blatantly pro-car policy. Less than a week after running that vacuous story about plowing a bike lane, they ran a poll asking, Would you pay more in taxes to have the City clear the snow from the end of your driveway?

I’m not kidding:

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-2-13-22-pm

It was nice to see their respondents not fall for it…though I do wonder how many saw the irony.

Developer Dishonesty

I’ve written a few times about the entirely inappropriate proposal for a development on Bank Street at Thornton Avenue. (Just do a search for “the abomination”.) There are a few issues with it: it’s kind of boring; it’s kind of monolithic; but the biggest issue was the height of the proposal.

Bank Street is a “Traditional Main Street” and the city plans say buildings should max out at four storeys, but can go up to six storeys if they provide sufficient setback. (The wording is interesting. The city states that the limit is 4 with an exception; the developer frames it as being six…but with additional exceptions.)

Look, eight storeys is really high for that location. In fact, six storeys is really high. It’d be a big change. Certainly the current status–one storey buildings and parking lots–is completely untenable, and this location is ripe for some intensification, but we can have some pretty good intensification without shooting up to eight storeys. Gentle density is a good way to manage growth without completely bulldozing (metaphorically speaking) communities.

All that said, you can imagine I was quite heartened to see a new sign up with a rendering of a new proposed development that is only six storeys high. Sure, there are still the other issues, but this one’s a biggie, and it was good to see the developers (FoTenn) fall in line.

It was only a few days later I took a closer look at the rendering. Here’s the one that’s on the sign:

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-11-17-57-pmTake a look at that corner and count up. Six storeys. It’s great…or, at least, not horribly egregious. But wait. Take a closer look at the far end of the building, at the lest hand side of the picture. On that end, the building still goes up to eight storeys (and you can’t even tell that it’s eight, it could be seven; I only know it’s eight because that’s what the planning documents say).

FoTenn has used the really skewed perspective to camouflage the excess height. You may wonder why this is such an issue. Well, if I hadn’t taken a second look, I would have thought the height was in line with the CDP.

If I hadn’t taken a second look, I might have thought that this was an acceptable proposal.

If I hadn’t taken a second look, I might not raise objections to the proposal. I might not have bothered to go to tomorrow’s consultation about it.

If I hadn’t taken a second look, I might have emailed my councillor and the city to commend the developer on adjusting the height of their proposal.

Not everyone is as nerdy about this stuff as I am, but a lot of people care just as much, if not more, than I do. Other people may have been tricked by this new sign.

There’s no other way to say it, FoTenn is being dishonest with this rendering. And the city shouldn’t allow it on the public notice. Those signs go up to increase transparency, not so that a developer can trick the public.

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.