Let’s talk about flex space

What’s flex space, you may ask? Basically, it’s a type of shared street space. If the city feels that there’s not enough space to accommodate all uses of a street—or that demand is not consistent enough to devoting space to a specific use 24/7—they’ll deem some of the space “flex space”. It’s like multi-use space, though usually only one use can happen at a time.

We’re getting this on Elgin Street, apparently (and on Queen Street). With the new design, the city has widened the sidewalks, but declared about half of the new sidewalks to be flex space. Sometimes, it’ll be used for extra width for walking (yay); sometimes, it’ll be used for patios (yay); sometimes, it’ll be used for parking.

Flex space can be an invitation for conflict. With competing uses, it’s easy for one form to dominate. It’s pretty clear that when a patio is erected, the particular space will be for a patio, only (although, considering how many buildings drivers drive into, maybe that’s not a valid assumption).

The conflict will occur when people want to walk and drivers want to park. To figure out what may happen in this situation, let’s look at some existing shared spaces in Ottawa

Lansdowne Park

There was a real push to make Lansdowne car-free, but, alas, it failed. So they went with shared space, in this situation, a “Pedestrian Priority Zone”. Pedestrians are allowed to walk anywhere, and cars were to carefully navigate the few routes they were allowed on.

At first, there was some confusion—which was completely overblown in the media, by the city and by OSEG. Drivers were, gradually, getting accustomed to an area that was not tailored to them. This couldn’t stand.

The powers-that-be decided to add lines everywhere to demarcate the roadway (which was still a Pedestrian Priority Zone). The result is as expected. Drivers were emboldened to take over, often speeding through the Park and making much of the area hostile to pedestrians.

Further, they will drive everywhere and anywhere, winding up in parks, plazas and art installations. Bollards were installed to help protect pedestrians. Pretty much every bollard has been run into and damaged. Some have been completed knocked over, pulling up the stone they’re bolted into.

Flex space has turned into car space.

Sparks Street Mall

I know what you’re thinking, Sparks Street isn’t flex space; it’s a pedestrian-only area. You’d think, wouldn’t you? It’s called a pedestrian mall. There are signs saying there’s no driving…but they don’t really count. Sometimes, drivers will even move “no drivng” signs to ensure they can drive:

There are cars and trucks on the mall, all the damned time. This isn’t even flex space, and it’s been taken over by cars.

The sidewalk on my street

There’s a sidewalk across the street from my home. Probably about five days a week, you’ll find a vehicle parked on it. It doesn’t matter that there are free spots across the street (who wants to cross a quiet, narrow residential street, amirite?), nor does it matter that you can legally park on the street right beside the sidewalk, drivers will still pull up over the curb and block somewhere between half and the entire sidewalk.

I don’t even bother calling the city anymore. I used to, but I’d get one of three results: (1) I’d be told people can park there if it’s an emergency (it never is; firefighters, paramedics and cops stop on the street); (2) No one ever comes; or (3) By-law drives by and doesn’t even stop.

Hell, one time it was a by-law officer who was parked on the sidewalk.

This happens throughout the city. It is not exclusive to my street. We’re not even talking about flex space. Sidewalks get taken over by cars.

So the next time you see a rendering with flex space, or you hear a politician or planner talk about how cars and pedestrians will both get to use a street, remember: anywhere cars are offered even the slightest accommodation, they will take over. Our politicians and our city bureaucracy will do nothing to prevent it; in fact, they’ll enable it.

In our local culture, flex space is a scourge that will kill livability, bit by bit.

Ottawa City Hall flies…and it’s just part of a pattern

Yesterday, the city and the mayor got some blowback for the decision to fly a pro-life flag on what the mayor has proclaimed “Respect for Life” day. The response by citizens and councillors was so strong and swift, the city quickly lowered the offensive thing and blamed it all on an “individual”.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the mayor has declared May 11 “Respect for Life” day. Each year, the March for Life descends on Ottawa, as concerned citizens and roped-in students bus themselves to our fair city and take to the streets. Noxious, oppressive views aside (and the fact that it’s kind of a school assignment for many), the March for Life is an example of citizens (and maybe some non-citizens, who knows) demonstrating their constitutionally-protected freedom of expression. (And living through the traffic disruptions is just part of being an Ottawan.)

Our government should accommodate all such demonstrations and protests. That’s kind of the point of democracy.

Our government should not join in.

The mayor is always quick to say that he does not support the views of the demonstrates. He claims to be pro-choice, and he claims to unequivocally support a woman’s right to choose. His statements and the city’s actions do not reflect such a stance.

Being pro-choice (or pro-life, for that matter) is a political stance. Being pro-choice isn’t about taking a stance on abortion, pre se; it’s about taking a stance on how the power of government should be used to police women’s choices and women’s bodies. Saying you’re pro-choice–even believing in the cause–is meaningless if you actively support the pro-life movement, a movement that seeks to use the crushing power of government to rule over women’s reproductive activities.

Every year, Watson makes this proclamation. The words may change (the proclamations aren’t easy to actually find online), but the proclamations persist. Every year, there’s blowback. Every year, there’s a counter-protest. But despite his self-avowed devotion to the pro-choice movement, he never does anything else but make these proclamations on May 11.

The mayor will be quick to say that it’s a human rights issue. The city can’t pick and choose which proclamations to make. He says his hands are tied. This is, of course, a lie.

He needn’t make any proclamations. Other cities have done away with them; we could, too. If you never make any proclamations, you’re never discriminating against one group. Everyone’s treated the same. This would mean fewer photo-ops and feel-good press conferences, but it would keep the city out of the pro-life movement.

By his actions, the mayor has demonstrated that making proclamations are more important to him than his pro-choice views.

The proclamation is hard to find, but according to Life Site News and other pro-choice publications, it reads, in part:

…thousands of people from across Canada and the United States…come to Parliament Hill…bring awareness for the need for life-affirming solutions.

Now, this may not be the most trustworthy publication (but it did break the flag story, yesterday), so, grain of salt and all that, but…

These aren’t the dispassionate words of acknowledgement deployed only to meet bureaucratic obligations. This proclamation has allegedly adopted the language and viewpoint of the March, itself. If this is true, it is parroting the claims of the movement and, thus, lending more legitimacy to its political position.

But whatever the specific wording, the mayor has allowed the city to become a mouthpiece of the pro-life movement (if only for one day a year).

If this were the only time the city worked against the rights of women, maybe we could give it a pass (no, we couldn’t, really, but it’d be slightly less egregious). But in the past months, we have learned all about how the city is unwilling to provide adequate protections to women seeking information or services from the Morgentaler clinic.

The city won’t provide a safety zone. Police aren’t treating the aggression, violence and threats of pro-life protesters seriously. And the city is giving them the freedom to park their cars on Sparks Street, a pedestrian mall.

Yes, yes. The mayor has since said that he supports the work of the clinic, and the chief has said that our cops do take these matters seriously, but the evidence just isn’t there.

If you believe that the approval for raising the flag was just made by some random individual (I’m dubious), you can certainly believe why that person rubber-stamped the flag-raising (and sunrise ceremony!); the city has consistently displayed an allegiance with the pro-life movement.

This isn’t an anomaly. This is a continuation of the standard practice. The city and the mayor have institutionalized Ottawa’s pro-life position, even if unofficially.

The mayor has joined in with those protesting the raising of the flag, but this situation is a direct result of his decisions and his commitments. If he wants to claim any pro-choice bona fides, he needs to lead the reaction against the institutionalized pro-life stance of the city, rather than enabling it.

Of course, that might cost him some votes.

A car-centric re-design for Elgin Street

Today, city council approved the designs for the Elgin Street renewal project. The project will result in a lane reduction for Elgin Street, some flex space, wider sidewalks and sharrows. It’s a bad plan, and it’s unfortunate that city council betrayed residents–going against the results of the consultation and their previous pledge to implement Complete Streets on road renewals.

The motion for this project passed with all but two ‘yea’ votes. Only councillors Tim Tierney (Beacon Hill-Cyrville) and Allan Hubley (Kanata South) dissented. I don’t know the reasons for their dissent (at the time of writing, I have emailed both asking for comment), but on Twitter this morning, I made the assumption that it was because it inconvenienced drivers. Specifically, I tweeted that the “Car-centric design isn’t car-centric enough“.

Maybe this is unfair, and if I receive clarification from either council, I will update this post. However, Hubley, especially, has a significant anti-bike, anti-pedestrian, anti-livable city streak. Tierney has been more supportive of bike infrastructure in the past.

Further, a number of councillors have expressed concerns that cars on Elgin Street would no longer be sufficiently privileged. Scott Moffatt (Rideau-Goulbourn) had extended Twitter conversations about the need to get cars there.

Michael Qaquish (Gloucester South-Nepean) expressed concern last week that lowering the speed limit to 30 km/hr is “overkill”–a darkly ironic term to employ.

Regardless of each individual councillors opinion, the fact remains; this is a car-centric design with which we will be saddled with for decades.

This isn’t a Complete Street design

In case you’re unfamiliar with Complete Streets, the philosophy basically states that streets should be designed to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable street users. This means we should prioritize the needs of pedestrians, then bicyclists, then transit users and, finally, drivers.

This would–pretty much always–mean the street would get sidewalks. It would mean that a busy street like Elgin would get bike lanes of some sort. It would ample room is given to people waiting for the bus. It would drivers would just have to deal with it. The lives of others are more important than a driver’s desire to speed through a dense, mix-use area with lots of pedestrians and bicyclists.

On other streets, it might not call for bike lanes–a quiet residential street, perhaps. But on something we consider an arterial…on something that is a truck route…you’re going to need proper bike infrastructure.

A couple of years back, council passed a motion to consider implementing Complete Streets when streets needed to be re-done. They’ve consistently found excuses not to, the most galling being the justification for the neglect of Kent Street–it wasn’t being re-built, just re-surfaced, so the motion didn’t count.

Well, now we have a true re-build. We have a street in a dense, mix-use area, with lots of pedestrians and bicyclists. We’re going to need wider sidewalks, and we’re going to need bike lanes, if we want to have a Complete Street.

We get sharrows.

Sharrows are not infrastructure. In fact as more and more studies emerge, we’ve learned that sharrows increase danger for bicyclists.

There are people out there who want to call this a Complete Street project. It’s not. They’re either uninformed, or they’re lying. If they’re councillors, assume they’re lying, because it’s is their damned job to know better.

Now, the city has also pulled a fast one, more generally, on the public. We have adopted a Complete Street policy that is explicitly not adherent to the Complete Street philosophy. While Complete Streets must prioritize the needs of the vulnerable, the city policy merely seeks to “balance” the needs of different street users.

Of course, they’ve given an abundance of space over to cars, and they’ve given nothing to bicyclists, so even by their own watered-down, dishonest standard, they’ve failed.

Flex space

If you’re like many people out there, you’ll look at the designs for Elgin, you’ll see wider sidewalks, so it will just stand to reason that pedestrians are getting priority treatment…so, hey, maybe the city prioritized their needs, if nothing else.

Of course, much of the sidewalk space will be used up by patios. This is okay. This is good, in fact. It’s a fine use of some street space. However, giving space over to private businesses is not the same as giving that space to pedestrians.

Sadly, much of the extended sidewalks will not be used as sidewalks, nor will it be used as patios. This space has been deemed “flex space” meaning that it can be used for parking. When can it be used for parking? Well, if every other damned street in the city is any indication, it can be used for parking anytime a driver feels like it.

So, we have will flex space that is really just car storage space, plus a full lane for driving. This is equivalent of the current situation, where we have a curb lane on either side that is generally used for parking, and a centre lane on either side that is used for driving.

Oh, also, this means that bicyclists will once again be used as protection of parked cars.

(Yeah, yeah, there are sharrows, so bikes can be in the centre lane and drivers will have to be patient; I’m totally sure that’ll work. And yeah, yeah, the flex space is supposed to be for pedestrians much of the time; promises and realities have tended not to line up…see: Park, Lansdowne.)

But it’s better than the status quo

This is true.

This is also something we hear a lot. We hear it about Lansdowne…an underwhelming, underachieving urban village is better than a rotting parking lot and a crumbling stadium. And we hear it about Lebreton Flats…the Eugene Melnyk amusement park will be better that poisoned, barren land stolen from working class families to make political elites feel better about themselves.

Woo hoo.

The status quo is garbage. Giving residents better-than-garbage when they’ve been desperately wanting a livable city is municipal malfeasance. I’ve got no time for better-than-the-status-quo argument. We should do better than that.

But we’re reducing space for cars!

You’re going to hear this, too. And, yes, it’s true. There will be less room for cars (though how much less has yet to be seen), but between the car lane and the flex space parking spots, we’re still giving an awful lot of space to cars.

Here’s the thing about people who cry about the “War on Cars”. They’re entitled babies. There is no war on cars. Cars have been waging war on cities and residents for over half a century. All urbanists and livable city activists are trying to do is scale back some of the losses.

This is what is happening on Elgin Street. Cars are still being given top priority. I mean, come on, we’re going to park them on the damn sidewalk…legally!

They’re getting two full lanes when bicyclists get nothing. The street will have a 30 km/hr limit when relatively few bicyclists go anywhere near that fast.

This street is still being designed for the supremacy of cars…that supremacy is just being dialed back slightly. This street should have had wider sidewalks (and buried power lines), bike lanes, two driving lanes (maybe) and no parking. That’s the only way this could have been a Complete Street–either by the city’s definition or the real definition.

I’ve said it before; the city isn’t waging a war on cars, this is a negotiated retreat.

The city is putting cars before our safety. It is putting cars before our health. It is putting cars before our environment. It is putting cars before everything else.

This isn’t a Complete Street. This isn’t some grand breakthrough for livable city policies. This is a modest improvement while maintaining Ottawa’s unhealthy and dangerous obsession with driving.

And anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is lying to you…even your favourite city councillor.

Bikes and Hills

In case you hadn’t heard, the plan to add a bike lane on Spencer Street has died. It’s one-time champion, Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper, pulled the plug. This came after some teeth-gnashing in the pages of the Citizen, and a loss (or apparent loss) of public support. In a rather thoughtful post, Leiper explains his decision, and it’s hard to fault him for this. He’s generally one of the most reliable councillors (in a good way), so it’d be hard to paint this as some grand betrayal.

I haven’t spoken much about this project, and there are a few reasons for that. First, I don’t live in the area and I don’t bike to the area very much, so this project wouldn’t really affect me (and bike lanes on Spencer aren’t going to change my biking habits). Further, I have no real familiarity with the street, so I didn’t feel comfortable weighing in (though I know a lot of people who would benefit from such a bike lane, so I was heartened when it appeared it would be going ahead).

Finally, I don’t particularly care about Spencer. The bike lanes on Spencer were always just a bad compromise for leaving Wellington Street a bad, dangerous, car-centric affair. Ottawa’s bike network needs to be less about getting people around stuff, and more about getting them to stuff. It’s why Bank Street needs bike lanes, rather than diverting bicyclists to Percy or O’Connor.

It’s why Montreal Road needs proper infrastructure.

It’s why Carling Aven… you get the idea.

There’s a lot (a lot) to unpack in this decision, but this was always the biggest takeaway for me. We need the bike lanes on Wellington, not Spencer. They would probably be beneficial on Spencer, but the bike network needs to be on main streets. So, when Leiper pulled back on this plan, and a lot of bike safety advocates reacted strongly, my gut reaction was: this isn’t the hill to die on.

But here’s the thing: we’re running out of hills.

Bank got nothing when it was re-done, and, as things stand, it won’t be touched for another 20 or 30 years, at the very earliest. Kent Street got nothing. Hell, it might be more dangerous now. Innes, Montreal, Carling, O’Connor south of the Queensway, the Booth Street Bridge…the city is consistently ignoring the needs of bicyclists, save for a few exceptions here and there.

Even Elgin Street–the street that was primed for a Complete Streets makeover; the street that was being re-done right after council adopted a new Complete Streets motion; the street that received overwhelming support from residents and the community for bike lanes–it will get nothing.

This is why Spencer Street, a rather insignificant street home to mostly garages, mattered. It mattered because eventually, there’ll be no streets left where we can put bike lanes. Eventually, considering the current trend, car dominance and unsafe streets will be (even more) firmly entrenched as the standard by which all city planning will be executed.

So this is a sad loss. It’s a significant defeat. And in context, it’s hard seeing things getting a whole lot better in the near future.

Vacancy Taxes

So it appears like Toronto will be following Vancouver’s lead. This past year, Vancouver instituted a vacancy tax. Aimed at putting a damper on ever-rising real estate prices, Vancouver will be applying an added to tax to homes that aren’t used as a permanent residence. Toronto, also having stupid-high real estate prices, is hoping to achieve the same thing.

To me, this seems like a really good idea in concept that will actually just be dumb and ineffectual. I don’t like the idea of communities being hollowed out because homes are allowed to sit semi-vacant. I don’t like the sprawl that it helps cause, and I don’t like the idea of a downtown having some fraction of the population it should have. You want people on the street, in the shops, eating at restaurants, enjoying parks. That’s what a city is.

So, yes, I hope these things work (and I hope they don’t just turn into another tool for racists to stick it to immigrants), but I am very skeptical.

Ottawa, too, has a special tax policy for vacancies…but it’s a bit different. We pay people to keep their properties vacant. The Citizen just reported that in 2016, we paid a total $17M to owners of vacant properties.

Again, this was a little different. These weren’t homes; these were commercial properties. The idea behind this policy is to give owners a break when they can’t find a tenant, and, sure, it may accomplish this, but it also rewards them for failing to find a tenant. This is, likely, part of the reason why the old West Coast Video in Old Ottawa South has been vacant (and dilapidated) for decades.*

It’s an absolutely ridiculous policy. It’s completely backwards. Yes, giving someone a break for 3-6 months while they look for a new tenant might be helpful, but beyond that, we should be charging them more in taxes. Barring extenuating circumstances, we should be punishing people for letting our city go to waste.

Certainly, if you worship at the altar of private property ownership, you might argue that the owners have every right to do whatever they want with their property, or nothing at all. But that completely ignores the harm they are doing to our communities by allowing these plots to rot. Old Ottawa South isn’t some sort of dystopian, Detroit-esque wasteland. It’s a popular, relatively affluent area. There’s no reason that anyone should have been permitted to rot out a hole in the middle of it for decades.

I still don’t know how I feel about the new Vancouver and Toronto policies, but I would cheer heartily if we would adopt such a tax regime for commercial properties.

Of course, our politicians would have to be willing to stand up to business owners for that to happen.

*I went buy today, and there’s a different sign on the awning. I have no idea if this means anything is there. It looked closed, but it’s Sunday, so maybe there’s something operating there during the week.

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:


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