Crosswalk Rant [Updated]

Update here.

Via Kevin O’Donnell, here’s the official policy on on crosswalks and the threshold for deciding whether or not to put up a light. It’s a pretty clear statement that cars are prioritized over pedestrations and really puts the lie to the notion that widening sidewalks, putting in lights or developing any sort of Complete Streets model is unduly fair to motorists. We’re really just trying to make things a little less unfair to everyone else. But that’s not really the point of this rant.

Living in the Glebe and walking along Bank St. multiple times a day, there is one aspect of crosswalks that really annoys me. It’s not the fact that there are street lights at First, Third and Fifth, but not at Second or Fourth, and it’s not the way some of these lights take forever to change, even at night when traffic is minimal (but just present enough to prevent jaywalking). No, the issue is that to cross Bank St. at these lights, one must press the walk button.

And, again, it’s not that you have to press the button to trigger a change in the lights, it’s that if the light is changing anyway, if you fail to press the button, the light won’t change for pedestrians–you’ll get that red hand staring at you while all the cars get a green.

Bank St. is a heavy pedestrian area; especially during the day, you will see a constant flow of pedestrians (often jaywalking). Regardless, pedestrians looking to cross Bank St. still must press the little irritating button. Moreover, they must press it sufficiently prior to the change in the lights to trigger a walk signal.

When a pedestrian fails to press the button, fails to press it on time, or gets to the intersection just as the light is changing, they won’t get the light. City planners, it would seem, expect them to stand there and wait for the next cycle to complete. This is strong evidence that city planners are morons.

Pedestrians do not and will not wait. The green lights give sufficient time for people to cross, and it is rather unreasonable to expect pedestrians to wait, especially when the reverse is not true (if a pedestrian triggers the light, cars will still get a green light, whether they were waiting patiently at the intersection or not).

Maybe you think pedestrians should take their second-class status lying down and should just wait longer (often in the cold or rain) to cross. That’s fine (well, it’s not, it makes you a jerk, but that’s beside the point), but the clear fact is that pedestrians won’t wait. They will cross the street safely, and cars will understand that they are crossing. Changing the system at these intersections so that a walk signal automatically occurs with every green light would just be a reflection of reality (as well as a nod to the idea that pedestrians are people, too).

But designing your traffic system in a way that completely ignores the way residents actually use the street is just madness. City planners are not going to change the behaviour of pedestrians in the Glebe, nor should they even attempt to do so. The street and traffic lights should be designed for the benefit of those using the street, not to imperil or inconvenience certain residents at the (very minor) benefit of others.

More on Narrowing Major Roads

There is a Field of Dreams quality to road expansion. Building more lanes on congested roads doesn’t mean that there will be any long-term reduction in traffic. As streets can handle more cars, more people will drive on them. This is a pretty basic fact, assuming no Detroit-style economic ruin.

So it looks like we’re narrowing Woodroffe Avenue in Hearts Desire. City planners don’t see any significant issue, as there are other routes that motorists can take to get through this slice of suburbia. So, is this just that same phenomenon in reverse? Will traffic levels adjust to match road capacity?

If increasing a road from two lanes to four lanes will increase the amount of traffic from X to Y (while maintaining traffic density), would reducing that road from four lanes to two lanes decrease the amount of traffic from Y to X? If not, why not?

And if it won’t, shouldn’t that make us even more cautious about road expansion?

Narrowing Woodroffe, or, Urban Wisdom Comes to the Suburbs

An interesting thing is happening in Ottawa South/Outer Barrhaven. Development and expansion continues, but Woodroffe Avenue, a major road for the developed and developing areas, is being reduced. The Citizen‘s David Reevely has the details:

I treated this in a brief story on a busy day but Greater Ottawa reader won’t want to miss the impending closure of the south end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales, in Barrhaven. Not only that, but a couple of hundred metres of Woodroffe are to be narrowed. A lane, pretty much, just closed. Grassed over or something. Sold to Minto.

It’s the second time this has happened in Hearts Desire, which has apparently had a sort of provisional road network, reworked and adjusted as bigger roads have been built.

Now, it’s not like people are driving less. If you’re a critic of roads, the reason Woodroffe is being trimmed is that we’ve built a beast of a road in Strandherd Drive and now it’s a bigger traffic sewer and so on. But at a minimum, the city is acknowledging that drivers accustomed to using that stretch of Woodroffe are just going to have to drive farther. It’ll eliminate a sometimes tricky intersection with Prince of Wales, make the remaining part of Woodroffe less busy, and make Hearts Desire more pleasant, so it’s worth it.

The city’s obligated to effect this closure thanks to an old Nepean plan and an agreement with Minto dating back a decade. I wonder what it would take to make something similar happen on, say, Bronson Avenue or Montreal Road.

(I stole his entire blog post to quote here, so be a dear and click on his links so that he doesn’t get mad at me.)

This reminds me of the Complete Streets debate in regards to the re-development of Main St. (which I have written about). The argument against the initiative for Main St. was that such a reduction in car-privileged road design would hurt the commuters from farther out (by prolonging their commute by three minutes). The argument in defence of commuters boiled down to treating the neighbourhood around Main St. as a mere corridor for suburban residents trekking into work. But, now, we can see that such an argument doesn’t hold much water. The residents of Hearts Desire will benefit significantly from the narrowing of Woodroffe Ave., and it will not put much of a burden upon those travelling from parts afar. Continue reading