Special Rules for Drivers

Driving culture–of which Ottawa is fully immersed–has a weird hang-up about supposed “special rules” for bicyclists. There’s this cult-ish devotion to the idea that bicyclists have to Obey The Rules (even when drivers or cops don’t actually know what those rules are). Safety be damned, the rules are sacred, and no one road user should get special rules.

This is why eminently sensible things like the Idaho Stop are still illegal. Sure, they’re safer and more convenient for all road users, but then bicyclists would be getting their own special rules–tailored to their needs, reality and experiences–and the driving class just can’t have that. The concept of special rules are just so incredibly unfair.

Of course, we have special rules for drivers. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is a set of special rules for drivers. Our entire legal framework for how people use streets and get around the city is a set of special rules for drivers. They are all designed for the benefit of drivers.

Go to a pedestrian space, you won’t see stop signs or traffic lights. There’s no need for No Parking zones. There are no speed limits. There are no lanes, no correct side of the street.

Go to a MUP and you may see a stop sign or two, but generally, there’s no signage. There are still no traffic lights. People walk and ride on different sides, depending on need. There’s a certain etiquette, more important than in pedestrian-only places, but there’s nothing remotely like the HTA.

Drivers are the only class of road user that needs such a rigorous and imposing set of laws. Drivers are the only class of road user that desperately needs things like right-of-way, speed limits, traffic lights, No Parking zones and the like.

Further, driving created a bunch of new laws out of thin air. Jaywalking isn’t a real thing. It’s a classist epithet concocted by car companies to try to turn roads over exclusively to drivers. And, well, bravo.

Who would ever design a one-way street for pedestrians or bicyclists? That’s why we salmon. Ridiculous driving regulations actively make life more difficult and more dangerous for more vulnerable road users.

Even new rules “for pedestrians” or bicyclists, like pedestrian crossovers, are still special rules for drivers. You only need pedestrian crossovers because driving advocates criminalized crossing the street. And, of course, you still can’t cross wherever you want, only at specified locations, no matter how inconvenient.

Even the laws that are supposed to protect vulnerable road users–like, say, not killing them–are only mildly applied. Because even the informal rules of the road are designed to benefit drivers.

Driving is so inherently anti-social, that we have to have pages and pages of regulations to do our best to control what is a bit of a menace in our urban areas…and despite all this, they’re still in about 15,000 collisions each year, managing to kill around 30 people.

When bicyclists ask for “special rules”, really what they’re asking for is rules that are appropriate and fitting for riding a bike.

Idaho Stops make sense because you’re using your actual energy to get and keep a bike moving, as well, when an intersection is clear, you can get through it before any car traffic catches up to you. This has resulted in fewer injuries and deaths in the few areas that allow them.

Bicyclists need conterflow lanes so that they can get to their destination on a one-way street without be re-routed an insanely long distance or into dangerous heavy traffic.

Bicyclists should be allowed to go through an intersection on an advance pedestrian signal because they, too, need to be protected from cars as they go through intersections, avoiding right-hooks, left-hooks and rear-ends (or, well, minimizing them, cuz, y’know…).

But no, no special rules for anyone. The glorious HTA has been bestowed upon us and–ignoring that it is a giant set of rules designed especially for drivers–it must be thoroughly and exhaustively applied to each and every road user, even if it makes no sense or endangers them.

Drivers obey these god-given ordinances and so should everyone. There should be no special carve-outs for any road user.

Oh, except drivers need to make right turns on reds. That special rule is ok.


An improved plan for Fifth + Bank

I know I tend to crap on proposed developments and building designs, so it’s only fair to acknowledge when a plan isn’t bad…and may actually be good.

I’ve written before about the proposal for Fifth Avenue Court (now rebranded as “Fifth + Bank”), and how it wasn’t particularly good, how it was too big for the city regulations, and how the design team was being pretty dishonest. Well, they’ve made some changes, and, you know, I think I can live with the new plan.

Here’s a rendering of the original proposal:

And here’s the new proposal. It’s a bit lower (though still has a recessed extra storey); it has a bit less of a monolithic front to it; and, supposedly, it’s improved the entrances and exits for the parking garage.

For comparison, here’s their rendering with the outline of the original design added in. (Yes, they’re having some fun with angles and perspectives, but their plans have a number of diagrams, and it certainly seems like a noticeable change.)

Now, it’s still too tall for the current zoning, and their justification for going higher is that they’re maintaining the front part of the building which has heritage significance. Generally, we’d let someone bust zoning regs if they’re offering something to the city/community (brownfield remediation, affordable housing, park space, etc.). You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t consider “not destroying a heritage building” as the platonic ideal of corporate benevolence.

And so their proposal [PDF] goes on and on about “as of right”. I mean, they write it so damned many times, and I get what they’re trying to say, but it’s really just the urban development equivalent of the bleatings of a petulant toddler who feels entitled to having ice cream for dinner any day.

Regardless, I, personally, don’t feel like fighting half an extra storey, and that height isn’t egregious, so, yeah, whatever, take your “as of right” stuff, Little Timmy, us grown-ups will deal.

Now, the plan isn’t perfect. They’re putting in 100 parking spots (holy shit!) which is more than the minimum requirement of 72 (holy shit, that’s the minimum!?), and since we’re still ass-backwards on parking in central areas (we should have maximums and outright bans, but never, ever minimums), there’s no zoning-based objection to this…just a sanity objection, a holy-shit-why-do-we-want-all-these-cars-in-an-already-congested-area-for-a-building-that’s-on-two-bus-routes-in-an-eminently-walkable-neighbourhood-with-a-high-bicycing-modal-share-? objection.

(Oh, geez, sorry, it kind of got out-of-hand with all those hyphens.)

Now, I may change my mind, or there may be something in the plans that I’m missing–or maybe I’m being snowed because it’s actually a bad plan that only looks good in comparison to the original plan–but for now, I’ll say that this is the sort of development we should have in the Glebe and in the city, in general.

Except for the fucking parking. Get your act together, Ottawa.

Pedestrian space is really just extra car space

I’ve written before about flex space and other types of street space that is supposed to be shared by pedestrians and drivers. When we have this sort of arrangement, drivers tend to take over, bullying everyone else out. Hell, I’ve even talked about how the city allows cars to illegally take over pedestrian space–like how they’re unwilling to stop or ticket cars that routinely park on sidewalks.

But, you know, it’s not just the scofflaws taking away pedestrian space. It’s the city. The city, by plan, by design and by action treats pedestrian spaces as a reserve of space that can be used to facilitate driving. Right now, I’m thinking of sidewalks and parking meters.

Here’s a picture of Bank Street off of Google Maps:

The city is very proud about how they made the sidewalks wider when they re-did Bank Street a few years ago. Unfortunately, they’re still too narrow. Check ’em out this weekend. They’re way too full.

One big problem is that all that “extra width” is taken up–by street signs, by hydro polls, by bike racks (though those are disappearing) and by parking meters. (Oh yeah, and let’s not forget all the sandwich boards the shops have set up.)

I was looking at one of the parking meters. They’re fairly big. They’re back from the curb a bit. They take up a lot of space that should be used for walking. Basically, they shouldn’t be there. They’re driving infrastructure, and the sidewalk shouldn’t be used for driving infrastructure.

But you can’t put them on the street, that’d be too dangerous.

That’s my first reaction, and probably yours, too. That’s a four-lane road, and we don’t want people standing in the four lane road plugging change into a meter. And then there’s snow-clearing. And drivers would, no doubt, be hitting them when no one’s parked in that lane.

So, obviously, parking meters have to go on the sidewalk. They must take part of the dedicated pedestrian space.

That’s bullshit. It’s hard to break ourselves of this mentality, but make no mistake, this mentality is absolute bullshit.

This is one of the small, insidious ways that we have developed a car-centric city, even in our urban core. We allot a certain amount of space to driving and then a certain amount of space to walking (and then wave in a general direction about maybe have some space for bicycling somewhere nearby). We establish minimums for each or necessary dimensions for each, and we build them.

And then we clutter up the pedestrian space with more driving stuff. And it’s not just meters, it’s street signs, too. Pedestrians don’t no No Stopping or No Parking signs in their space. Those signs are for drivers. Pedestrians don’t need speed limits. Those are for drivers.

And even when we’re talking about infrastructure for everyone, it has to go in pedestrian space. We no longer have hydro poles in streets (though we used to). Further, we’re unwilling to bury hydro lines unless some mystical benefactor pays for it. So those massive poles go on sidewalks. Fuck walking, amirite?

Once again, this is all bullshit. We need to make space for infrastructure, not just force pedestrians to deal with it.

Traffic signs, traffic standards, parking meters–when the city is designing a street, the space for these needs to come out of the space devoted to driving. Yes, it will wind up doubling as a pedestrian space, likely, but it’s barely usable, so it’s not like some grand infrastructural windfall.

(Similarly, Hydro lines are a benefit to everyone. They should be buried. If they’re not, they need a place on the street that doesn’t exclusively hinder walking.)

When we’re talking about Bank Street, there’s not a whole lot of room. There’s no extra space, we’re told (that’s probably why we’re not allowed to safely ride our bikes on this Traditional Main Street). And, sure, there’s no extra space.

And if there’s no space for four driving lanes and associated driving infrastructure like traffic signs and parking meters, it means there’s no space for four lanes.

Bank Street is simply not wide enough to handle four lanes of driving, bicyclists, transit users and the amount of foot traffic it gets. Drivers have been given the vast majority of the space–those four lanes. It is absolutely ridiculous that they also get a foot or so of the paltry area given to pedestrians.

There’s only one sane solution in this type of situation: Two lanes, plus a bit of space for parking meters, two bike lanes, and wider sidewalks. Oh, and bury the damned hydro lines, cheapskates.

There’s another, similar, situation where we demonstrate the drivers are more important than pedestrians, and that’s when we have to put up temporary traffic signs relating to construction.

Occasionally, we’ll block traffic. Usually, we’ll prefer to block sidewalks. Here’s a current situation on Carling Avenue:

On each side of the Queensway overpass, there are staging areas for some (driving-related) construction work, so there are warning signs that trucks will be coming out. The sign in the picture is for the second makeshift entrance way that’s just beyond the overpass.

The sign takes up half the (narrow) sidewalk. For an idea of how high it is, the corner that is jutting out is at forehead level for me (I’m about 6′).

The city could just shut down that section of the lane…there’d still be two more driving lanes. Instead, they’ve chosen to make it dangerous and difficult for people trying to use the sidewalk. I don’t know if strollers can get by. I don’t know what it’d be like in a wheelchair.

But who cares. We can’t use precious driving space for a driving-related sign. Drivers are important. Driving is important. Everything else–everyone else–can just suffer.

No, I don’t respect private property

…or, I don’t respect private property qua private property.

I was walking home from the park today. As I was a couple of blocks away from home, I noticed a man doing some gardening work in front of some townhouses. He was talking to a couple of women. I didn’t hear what they were talking about (and wasn’t actually paying attention), but I did hear him remark, “…what, expect people to respect private property?”

So, clearly, there was some sort of discussion about what someone had done to the garden or the building. Or maybe someone had parked in their little lot. I don’t know, but there was some sort of transgression.

I’m going to admit, whenever people start talking about “private property” or, really, the sanctity of private property, I bristle. When it’s put like that, no, no I don’t care about private property.

Too often (though not exclusively), when I hear people talk about the importance of private property, they’re really talking about their desire to foist their desires on the rest of the community. Why can’t I pave over my front lawn? It’s private property. Why can’t I build a giant wall of a building? It’s private property. Why can’t I cut down all these trees? It’s private property.

As the cult of private property slowly pushes out public space, as it erodes our communities, no, I can’t really respect it.

This may seem like some kind of anarchist philosophy (and, hell, maybe there’s a tinge of that), but it’s really, truly, a deeply conservative and traditionalist perspective.

No, I don’t respect private property, but I do respect people’s homes. I respect people, and think they should be treated well.

But I also understand that home means more than the land you “own”. My street is part of my home. My neighbourhood is part of my home. I don’t ever see private property fetishists concerning themselves too much with respecting my home. They won’t (perhaps) litter on my front step, but will they speed past my home? Will they clog up the streets of my neighbourhood? Will they respect that this is a community and not just an attraction? Will they respect that my main street isn’t just an arterial?

Generally speaking, I don’t see it. This concept of respect is supposed to be extended to private property but not to communities.

The concept of private property can be useful, but it’s still pretty imaginary. As long as we’re using it for the betterment of our communities and our city, rather than the enrichment of certain demographics, then, yes, by all means, let’s respect.

But that’s not how it’s used. That’s not the mentality in this city, or this country, or this society. It’s used as a bludgeon. It’s weaponized to protect entrenched interests.

So, no, I’m not going to respect private property, and you shouldn’t either.

Respect homes. Respect communities. Respect people. That’s the better way to go.

A teachable moment on Carling Avenue

So I had a bit of an incident today.

I was walking along Carling towards Churchill. I was on the northwest corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross Churchill. Westbound Carling had the light, including an advance left turn, so I couldn’t cross. No biggie.

There were a few cars to my left, lined up at the red on Churchill, all wanting to turn right onto Carling. A few did, mostly at a reasonable speed. Again, no biggie.

Then a young guy in an SUV was at the stop line. He stopped and didn’t turn. There was an impatient old man behind him. It was a small car, and I don’t know if the old man could see what was going on at the intersection. The advance left had ended.

Just as my walk signal came on, the old man honked aggressively at the young guy to try to get him to turn. The young guy, clearly influenced by the d-bag behind him started to go, entering the crosswalk.

I exclaimed. (I just said, “whoa.” There was no swearing, or anything.)

The young guy, perhaps hearing me or perhaps seeing the walk signal…or maybe seeing the eastbound cars that now had a green, stopped abruptly and looked duly chastened. It was clear that he knew he shouldn’t have done it and was quite regretful.

He gave me a wave, and I gave him a re-assuring wave back. I know he didn’t want endanger me. I pointed accusatorily at the old man–the negligent, self-absorbed driver who started all this.

There are three lessons here:

  1. Don’t be that old man. Don’t be a jerk when you’re driving. You’re not entitled to go anywhere you want at the exact second you want to. You’re impatience and self-regard are not more important the than safety of others. You’re just not that special.
  2. I know it’s hard, but when you’re driving, you can’t let yourself be pressured into things by the bullies around you. You have to control what you’re doing with your vehicle. It doesn’t matter if someone’s honking at you, look, assess and drive only if it’s safe. Yes, it’s really tough when someone’s being a jerk, but you have to do it. Otherwise you could seriously hurt or kill someone.
  3. We need to get rid of right turns on reds. We’re teaching drivers that they’re allowed to do whatever they want, that red lights don’t always mean red lights. As a result, they just want to go, safety, right-of-way, the very existence of others be damned. Sometimes, drivers will just have to wait their turn.

That’s it. Three simple lessons. If we could just embrace them, our streets would be a lot safer and a lot more pleasant.

Taking your job as a city councillor seriously

I’ve been blogging for about ten years, now. I’ve always been opinionated (shocking, I know) and I’ve always followed politics to one degree or another, of a decade ago, I decided to dive in. At first, it was just a little personal site that no one ever really read, but, soon, I joined a group blog that received considerably more traffic.

I was well-versed in the political debating game. I knew the terms, the slang, the talking points, the arguments, the rhetoric, the preferred methods of attack, all of it. But when I started contributing to a relatively popular site, something changed.

It was on one of my very first post there. I was about to make some sort of factual declaration (“So-and-so said this”, “So-and-so believes that”, “The research says this”)…but just as I was about to write that–to write something I’d probably say off-hand in a conversation–I figured I should double-check.

And wouldn’t you know it, my memory or interpretation or understanding of the situation wasn’t accurate. Maybe it was close…maybe it was really close…but it wasn’t quite right, so I couldn’t quite make the argument I wanted to.

(This was on a fairly partisan website, so not every reader was happy with such nuance.)

Now, this is how I approach my writing and my blogging. I’ve been known to inundate my posts with hyperlinks (though, on this blog, sometimes I’m feeling lazy). When I write a column for the Sun, I do my research and I check quotes. I’ve made a couple mistakes here and there, but, generally, any declaration I’ve made, I’ve been able to back up.

Yes, the analysis, the opinion, the judgement applied to a situation will be subjective, but when it comes to facts and data, I want to be as accurate as possible. Their is a weight to participating in this sort of public forum. I take my role in it seriously.

And I believe our elected politicians should, too. Unfortunately, they do not. Too many think that city council is just their (and maybe their constituents’) personal grievance machine. They aren’t thoughtful. They aren’t prepared for council. They aren’t honest or straightforward. They aren’t taking their role seriously.

When you hear a city councillor questioning whether or not the Laurier Bike Lane has made the streets safer, he’s not taking his role seriously (there was a massive study done by the city to answer that question. The answer is yes.)

When you hear a city councillor suggesting that street lights will make other areas darker and more dangerous, she’s not taking her role seriously.

When you hear a city councillor suggesting road expansion will ease congestion, he’s not taking his job seriously. (It’s called “induced demand”, and you should be forced to look it up at least once before you vote on any road projects.)

When you hear the mayor suggest that drivers pay for roads because they pay for gas taxes, you know he’s not taking his role seriously.

When you hear a councillor claim he didn’t know about a city project, when he has been documented as a party to the discussions, he’s not taking his role seriously.

When our transit chair takes drives to a RedBlacks game, he’s not taking his role seriously.

When our public health chair hasn’t read any literature on safe injections sites, he’s not taking his role seriously.

These are just examples off the top of my head. Each one comes from a current member of city council. Each one helps demonstrate that many of our elected officials are not working in our best interest, but are cynically gaming the system for their own political gain.

They don’t deserve your respect. And they sure as hell don’t deserve your vote.

Commuter News Network

A few weeks ago, the National Capital Commission decided to fix the Portage Bridge. It needs to be re-surfaced, and they’re also going to try to make it safe for bicyclists. It’s a pretty big project, costing a few million dollars. It’ll make the whole area around the river and the Portage Bridge more accessible, and it’ll improve travel to Gatineau. It seems like a very worthwhile project. At the very least, it’s a pretty big decision that’s worthy of news coverage.

When the decision was made, CFRA made one lone tweet about it to the effect of, new project is going to cause traffic problems:

About six hours later, they offered a bit more info:

Of course, the lede for that article was, “You can expect closures on the Portage Bridge this summer.”

The CBC’s Joanne Chianello did better:

But the only story I can find begins, “Expect lane closures on the Portage Bridge this summer while crews work to repair its pavement and install a two-way segregated bike lane.

The other day, I was listening to CBC radio and they had a story about the latest consultation for the Elgin Street renewal, another significant project coming to Ottawa. Regardless what you think of the design (to be nice, it’s seriously flawed and dishonest), it’s a significant story, and the consultation component of the issue deserves a lot of attention (because the city has not been treating residents well during the process).

Nonetheless, the story opened mentioning that there will be traffic disruptions some time in the future.

It’s so maddening. There are no actual traffic disruptions (right now) to speak of. These are significant issues that deserve the public’s attention. There’s a lot to be discussed, and there aren’t easy solutions to all the problems for both projects. And yet, news orgs just want to talk about some future traffic problem.

In these situations, both CBC and CFRA did a massive disservice to their audiences. (And I don’t mean to pick on them, exclusively–I’m sure just about every news org does this–they’re just the examples that I’ve encountered recently.) They’re feeding into a narrative that too many adopt about city issues–that everything, always, is about driving. That anything that might inconvenience drivers is a big problem, whereas anything that makes life better for non-drivers is more of a footnote.

It’s a mentality that treats our city not as a place to be, a place to live, a place to enjoy; but as a place to drive through. Neighbourhoods, amenities, parks–any non-road space is just an inconvenience that makes driving and commuting that much longer. It’s such a toxic, car-centric view, not just of the city, but of life. As if the only thing that matters is commuting.

No, these are big projects that will have an impact on the lives and safety of residents for decades to come. Yeah, sure, there’ll be a few hiccups when it comes to driving, but those will be insignificant in the long run.

Unfortunately, it gets more and more difficult to have a proper discussion about what kind of city we want and how we can achieve it when media outlets feed into this driving-obsessed viewpoint.

Do better, guys.

Green bins, Presto cards and our over-reliance on corporations

A few months ago, I wrote about Presto cards. Now, I like my Presto card. It’s very handy. But it was really a pain to get it. There was nowhere nearby, so I had to pick one up when I was at the Rideau Centre.

In my column, I noted that this was a problem. Tickets could be purchased just about anywhere, but the city was phasing them out. There are only a handful of places to get a Presto card.

A comms person for Metrolinx objected, saying that they were working on a deal to get Presto cards sold in Shoppers Drug Mart locations.

Well, Metrolinx has some great news for us. Now you’re going to be able to buy and top up your Presto cards at Shoppers and at Loblaws! (The two stores are now owned by the same company, you see, so they both get the perks.)

This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t sufficiently address the problem.

Do a search for Loblaws and Shoppers locations. Check the maps. There are a bunch of them, but there are also a whole whack empty spaces. Not everyone will be able to get out to these locations.

The old way—having tickets and passes sold at a variety of stores—was far more useful and far more accessible.

Why are we farming out our public services to a private corporation, only one, no matter how limiting it is?


I live in an apartment building, meaning I don’t get to participate in the city’s green bin program. (For some reason, we don’t think people who live in multi-home buildings produce waste or something.) But, y’know, I figured if I could get a green bin, I’d just start using it. I’m not at the top floor of a high-rise, I’m on the ground floor of a walk-up, and there’s space around behind the garbage cans, anyway.

So I went to the city’s website to see about getting one. There are coupons! I could just download a coupon and go get my own green bin without even worrying about a landlord or anything. But wait…

The coupons are for Canadian Tire. I don’t live anywhere close to a Canadian Tire. I, generally, don’t drive, so getting to a Canadian Tire and getting a green bin home is prohibitively difficult.

I do, however, live a few blocks away from a Home Hardware. A few more blocks and there’s a Loblaws. But, no, I can’t get green bins at either of those retailers, only Canadian Tire.

Again, I ask, why do farm out our public services to private corporations, and why only one corporation per service? Surely, there’s a way to get other retailers on board. Maybe we could set something up where there are regular (if infrequent) times when there’ll be green bins at your local community centre, or library, or school. Is it really so difficult?

Relying on the corporate world to provide these sorts of services can be useful. Hell, sometimes, it’s the best way to do it. But when we offer certain corporations a monopoly on delivering public services, we set up significant, unfair and unnecessary barriers to many residents who need those services.

Really, just give me a damned green bin.

Councillor Fleury and the problem with the McArthur bike lanes

So I’ve been thinking about this Twitter exchange for the past day or so:

The city is making some changes to McArthur, and they’re adding in bike lanes…but it’s not a full re-design (like Elgin Street, for example); they’re looking to add the bike lanes to the existing roadway, and it’ll result in one fewer car lanes.

This great! The city’s obsession with addressing road safety primarily during full reconstruction is incredibly irritating. There are lots of things we can do with the existing infrastructure. As the local councillor, Mathieu Fleury, notes in the thread, he has paint, planters and bollards to work with.

The objection raised in this tweet is about the points where there’s a slip lane for right turners, putting the bike lane between two car lanes. This isn’t ideal. This isn’t particularly safe or inviting. This is the type of design that led to a truck driver running over and killing Mario Theoret on Hunt Club.

But, hey, as Fleury notes, we have planters and bollards to work with. There’s a lot you can do with them, even if it’s not ideal or not as pretty as we’d like. People in the thread starting making a lot of suggestions, but it seemed each one was unworkable, for some reason.

There is at least workable solution, though. Use those bollards and planters to close off those slip lanes. Make people who want to turn right drive all the way to the corner to make the turn. Yes, drivers will still have to cross the bike lane, but at least it’s in a much more controlled situation.

It’ll have the added bonus of eliminating those pedestrian islands, too. Those things are horrible and should never be seen in Ottawa’s semi-urban centre.

You may notice that there’s a parking lot exit there which could make things complicated…but no! We can use those planters and bollards to extend the exit all the way to the main part of the road. Yes, they’ll still cross the bike lane, but such crossings are always going to happen.

Currently, the plan is set up so that some drivers will be trying to cross the bike lane to get over to the slip lane, some other drivers will be trying to enter the slip lane from the parking lot, and some other drivers will be trying to leave to cross the slip lane and the bike lane in order to get on McArthur from the parking lot.

That’s a ton of conflict to expect bicyclists to deal with just to try to move around their neighbourhood.

Now, there are maybe a few other things we could do to make these intersections safer:

We could eliminate right turns on red lights. I mean, we should eliminate them anyway, but the very concept behind them no longer makes any sense once you have bike lanes. Just don’t let people do this inherently dangerous and selfish manoeuvre.

And, y’know, we could also give bicyclists their own lights (maybe along with the pedestrians), so that when they have the green, drivers can’t turn. Even just an advance for bikes and pedestrians would probably be good. (Oh, and make sure these lights change every cycle…none of this begging bullshit).

Now, making the best of this situation can take some discussions and some planning. I get that. It’s not too concerning if the initial plans are sub-optimal, if the city eventually gets to a safe plan.

No, what’s really concerning about this is that councillor Fleury (who, I believe, tends to bike) just didn’t get it.

The issue was presented many times, and he just seemed unable to comprehend what the danger was. People kept making suggestions, and he just consistently metaphorically threw up his hands and said he only had planters and paint. He went on and on about how moving from four lanes to three is good, but there’s only so much that can be done.

None of this was difficult.

None of this was hard to understand.

The current design creates massive conflict between drivers and vulnerable road users. It’s incredibly dangerous for bicyclists. There are other designs that could address safety…but he just seemed unable to comprehend that these slip lanes are a bad idea. It seems like the usual city blindness to anything that doesn’t prioritize drivers.

Eventually, he fell back to the claim that right turners are going to have to cross the bike lane eventually, so there’s nothing that can be done to increase safety. This is completely insane. It took residents multiple attempts to explain that we’ve already dealt with this on the Laurier Bike Lane–the one that goes right past City Hall, the flagship of our cycling infrastructure.

So, I don’t know what the deal was. I don’t know if he’s just in over his head when it comes to street safety. I don’t know if he was just trying to avoid conflict. I don’t know if he’s just dedicated to maintaining car supremacy in his urban ward.

Whatever was going on, it was an extremely bad look for Fleury. Hopefully, the efforts of residents can make up for the negligence of the councillor and actually force planners to make McArthur a safer street for all road users.

Do resident concerns matter downtown, or only in the suburbs?

Elgin Street has been on my mind lately. It’s really the Poster Child for all the stuff the city does badly, as well as showing how the city half-asses stuff, and, finally, how their claims (it’s a Complete Street! We designed it for everyone!) get parroted throughout the media even though they are laughably false.

One aspect that is particularly galling is the way they completely ignored public consultations and the desires of residents. The results of the consultations were pretty clear–residents wanted a real Complete Street. They wanted protected, safe bike lanes. They wanted wider sidewalks. They didn’t care about parking on Elgin Street.

The city came back with zero bike infrastructure, sharrows and wide sidewalks that would be “flex space” (meaning cars get to park on it). After a ridculous fight, they did reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h, which is nice…but let’s wait and see if they do anything to make sure drivers actually abide by it.

A few weeks ago, there was a story about a proposed sidewalk on Sunview Drive that was scrapped because residents opposed it. The story notes:

In the city’s report, Mitic said a resident petition opposing the sidewalk was signed by “nearly every resident on the east side of the street.”

That story mentions a similar issue that occurred last year in Kanata South:

In that case, Coun. Allan Hubley had a large portion of a sidewalk scheduled to be constructed on Chimo Drive in Kanata postponed until after 2020, following public outcry.

The people whose homes the sidewalk would connect with signed a petition and told the councillor they didn’t want it.

Hubley told CBC in May 2017 it made sense to comply with the majority of people who would have been most affected by the sidewalk.

And this story also reminds me of the proposed baseball diamond at Heritage Park in Orleans that was nixed because it was also a dog park, and local residents didn’t want to lose that use. Mr. Mitic is quoted as saying, “It’s something the community absolutely does not want.”

Now, I’m not against these residents voicing their opinions on their wards, and, in fact, I think their opinions should definitely be given weight. But since both Hubley and Mitic voted for the Elgin Street proposal–thus ignoring or discounting the wishes of local residents–I thought it seemed like a bit of a double standard.

Orleans residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one. They didn’t want a ball diamond, so they didn’t get it.

Kanata North residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one.

Somerset residents wanted a Complete Street, so…well, too bad, I guess.

And so, with this observation, I decided to contact the two councillors. (And to be fair, I wasn’t intentionally singling them out; those are just the stories that have jumped to mind.)

Allan Hubley

Here is what I asked Mr. Hubley, via email:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the Chimo Drive sidewalk, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

Mr. Hubley responded promptly via email:

I believe each councillor has been elected to represent the views of their residents. On most issues, I support the Ward councillor, and in this case also the representative chosen to speak for local businesses on Elgin for the plan they wanted for their street. Could it have been a better plan?  Possibly, however the priority for them was to get the work done quickly and that involves trade offs.

With respect to the sidewalk in my area we had several letters dropped at each house, met with groups of residents, responded to multiple emails and phone calls  as well as walked the street knocking on doors to ensure I had a picture of what residents wanted.  

Over 70% said the pathway behind the homes met their needs and they did not want to be walking near cars.  The extensive pathway network we enjoy is part of the vision that Kanata was built on but that was left out of the CBC story.  The local paper had a more factual balanced report if you are interested.

I asked a follow-up question, “If the local councillor had supported adding bike lanes and wider sidewalks to Elgin Street (at the expense of on-street parking), would you have supported such a proposal?” But I did not receive a response.

Jody Mitic

I would up having an extended chat with one of Jody Mitic’s staff about the matter.

My initial question was:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it comes to the Sunview Drive sidewalk and the proposed baseball diamond, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

During our chat, I also brought up the issue of 890-900 Bank Street, in which the proposal for an eight-storey building was pretty uniformly opposed by both residents and the local councillor, and city council approved it anyway.

The reply:

Regarding the baseball diamond, this was a situation of competing needs and finding a way to ensure that current users of the park for both baseball and dog walking would still be able to use it. Taking away greenspace from the park would infringe on the dog owners ability to walk their dogs in a comfortable distance away from ball games. Similarly, allowing dogs too close to the diamond is problematic while a game is in progress, which is why on lease setbacks are in place around the diamond while games are being played. There is other existing capacity for baseball in the area at other city-operated diamonds. 

Regarding the proposed Sunview Drive sidewalk, residents on the street came out strongly against the proposal, but this was more than just a question of the wishes of residents. It was also a question of the price, and whether it was a worthwhile use of the funds. Price was a significant factor in the decision.

Regarding Elgin Street, the re-development of a main street is different than adding a sidewalk to an existing residential street, and was a decision made by city staff and approved by council.

Regarding the proposed development at 890-900 Bank Street, development proposals are different than proposals pertaining to parks or sidewalks. It is a question of adhering to the city’s planning regulations. Council and councillors can’t just say “no” to these development proposals without proper reasoning, because any decision made by council could be taken to the OMB [editor’s note: this decision–and this conversation about the decision–was made before OMB reform went through].

When Councillor Mitic is dealing with development issues, he tries to get the community and the developer together so that they are on the same side to get the best possible development. In fact, Councillor Mitic has supported multi-story residential developments in Innes Ward which also have retail on the main level.”

I certainly appreciate the responses from both, however, I’m not really satisfied by either response. I think it’s been pretty clear for a while now that different areas get treated differently at city council, and more deference is given to certain residents, and not others.

This sort of hypocrisy needs to be called out. We shouldn’t accept it. We can’t expect that all wards will be treated exactly the same, but we should expect that city council treats all residents equitably.

And that’s not happening right now.