Mike Maguire Responds (but not to me)

Mayoral hopeful Mike Maguire has responded to a criticism by former Ottawa Citizen columnist Ken Gray. Gray critiqued the claim by Maguire that his vision of light rail would ease congestion in Ottawa, which is one of the critiques I had of Maguire’s plan.

To reiterate: mass transit does not ease congestion in the long run. It has the same effect as expanding roads. There may be a short term reduction in traffic, but soon the cars will be back. There is, essentially, a critical mass that transit always wants to meet.

Gray was actually receptive to Maguire’s plan, thinking it would be better than the current LRT plan.

Regardless, Gray understands that light rail isn’t going to solve congestion it just (hopefully) “gets transit users past those jams inexpensively.”

Maguire, though, just won’t let his erroneous claim go. He wrote to the Gray:

As to the assertion that a successful introduction of commuter rail will create an incentive for former drivers to get back on the road and try their luck with the traffic again … you could be right – do you propose that we ignore a simple, inexpensive solution to traffic congestion because some folks might want to drive again? Surely that’s a questionable trade-off?

And, again, here’s the problem. Light rail is not a solution for congestion. It is a solution for mass transit (perhaps). If Maguire is unwilling to accept this fairly straightforward concept, he is unfit to be mayor.

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Bank Street Parking and Lansdowne

A report from March was brought to my attention today. Metro reporter Steve Collins notes that because of the Lansdowne deal with OSEG, the city may be handcuffed in regards to parking on Bank Street:

Legal staff, however, warned that tinkering with the parking supply runs the risk of violating the agreement the city signed with Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group. This seemed to be news to councillors on the committee, and that’s also in keeping with an emergent Lansdowne tradition: discovering surprising conditions buried in the city’s sweeping and labyrinthine deal with OSEG.

While much of the discussion in recent weeks has been about parking around Lansdowne during RedBlacks games, the issue of everyday parking is an occasionally overlooked aspect. As I’ve argued (and as I’m sure you agree), all parking along Bank Street in the Glebe (and probably from Wellington Street to Billings Bridge, and beyond) should be removed. Bank Street should adopt a Complete Street model with two traffic lanes, two bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Apparently, the OSEG deal puts a cramp in such thinking.

This is clearly bad news, even aside from implementing a Complete Street. The city has effectively handed OSEG control over one of the major streets that runs through our city, possibly handcuffing future councils. (And that city negotiators seem to have done this without discussing the matter with council means there are people who need to lose their jobs right now.)

But parking matter is overblown. It really is. People will complain about trying to park in the Glebe, but such complaints are quite ignorant. Every Saturday and Sunday, I walk along Bank Street multiple times. Without fail, there is ample parking. On just about every block, on each side of the street, there is at least one empty space. There may not be a spot directly in front of the store you want to go to, but there’s generally a spot within a block or two (which is actually closer than you’d be if you were parking at a mall or big box store wasteland).

And, of course, if Bank Street just happens to be full at some point, there are still a plethora of side streets for cars. The city even has plans to build a multi-story parking garage in the next few years.

There’s no shortage of parking right now, and there’s no strong evidence of a shortage in the years to come. OSEG claims they want to build an urban village–which is, essentially, what the Glebe and Old Ottawa South already are–but if that’s true (which, really, we know it isn’t), they shouldn’t be trying to turn Bank Street into a parking lot for a glorified strip mall.

Don’t Vote For Mike Maguire For Mayor

Ottawa’s mayoral campaign is now officially a two-horse race. Mike Maguire, who finished fifth last time around, launched his campaign on Thursday. So far, he is the only challenger to incumbent Jim Watson.

Maguire has built his campaign on four pillars: debt and taxes, traffic, trash and hydro. These are probably wise topics to focus on (though politicians fetish for ever-cheaper hydro and an increasingly polluted environment irks me), but–despite being intrigued by his candidacy four years ago–his platform would be bad for the city. His impulses may be wise (control spending! ease congestion!), but his actual proposals would be harmful, and his overall platform is incoherent, lacking in vision and self-contradictory. There is also a clear demonstration that he doesn’t fully understand some of the issues upon which he is commenting (plus, perhaps, a tad bit of convenient dishonesty).

Overall, he has a general goal, but he seems to be applying a high-level political philosophy that works well on talk radio (and, to be frank, blogs) but doesn’t translate neatly to the intricacies of municipal governance. It was never my intention to do a point-by-point fisking of his platform, but, well, here we are.

Taxes
This appears to be his fiscal discipline pillar (his main concern, from interviews and reports, appears to be the city’s debt, but he doesn’t have a plank titled “debt”, so everything goes here). Maguire wants to “rein in spending and lower taxes to foster growth”. It’s a nice idea, and maybe it’s workable. At this point, his site doesn’t have any further specifics, so we don’t know what will get cut.

He has stated that he’s not going to give a specific promise in terms of how much he’ll lower taxes. I respect that. Larry O’Brien got scorched for his “zero means zero”. These sorts of things always lead to a “read my lips” scenario that’s open for easy mockery during and after a campaign (*cough*MillionJobsPlan*cough*).

Unfortunately, he also has an odd definition of taxes:

The City directly taxes residents through property taxes. However, the current City Council has increased indirect taxes by increasing the cost of parking, public transportation and electricity.

Parking prices, transit fares and electricity rates aren’t taxes. They’re prices.

I’m willing to hold off on judgement on this part of his platform until further details arise. All things being equal, lower taxes and more growth would be nice.

Transit
This is a pretty big issue right now, with the LRT, bike infrastructure, Lansdowne and sprawl, there’s a lot to deal with. Unfortunately, despite his (quite true) opening statement, “[g]ridlock in Ottawa has a huge negative impact on our quality of life,” he doesn’t have any sound suggestions for easing congestion.

Further, the very second statement is either dishonest or ignorant. He states:

The Complete Streets Approach to transit, favoured by the current administration, favours pedestrians and cyclists at the expense of cars and drivers.

While it is true that the Complete Streets model purports to favour pedestrians over cyclists and cyclists over cars, the implementation of this model has done no such thing. Ottawa is just in the process of unveiling our first Complete Street, Churchill Avenue. It is a raised cycle track adjacent to the sidewalk with no buffer from the road. Driveways and pseudo-parking lots still intersect the raised cycle track, and there are clearly instances where everyone just has to learn to get along.

In reality, the Complete Streets approach does not favour pedestrians and bikes over cars (even though we should, as these are both the more vulnerable users of the road, and the ones more likely to be using the surrounding neighbourhood as more than just a cut-through). Ottawa’s Complete Streets seek to favour no one. It’s about creating balance between bikes, walkers, cars and buses.

Further, if he is so worried about economic growth, he should acquaint himself with the literature detailing how walkable neighbourhoods help businesses.

Even though Maguire will claim to not be pro-car, he has this to say about transportation infrastructure:

Mike Maguire will focus on relieving congestion for the average commuter in Ottawa, the car driver with common sense solutions. [sic]

That’s pretty blatantly “pro-car”.

Maguire claims that the Laurier bike lanes have created congestion in the downtown core. This is patently absurd. Expanding Laurier back into a four-lane road will do nothing for congestion. Road expansion just leads to traffic increases. This is pretty basic city planning. Only die-hard conservatives with a culture war axe to grind make claims to contrary. Maguire can increase traffic lanes downtown all he wants, it won’t solve congestion (well, until he makes downtown so undesirable that no one will actually go there).

You see, this is where he demonstrates that he does not have the proper knowledge of municipal governance to be mayor.

Maguire seems a little more bullish on OC Transpo than he does on cycling (even though he likes to bike, he swears!). He doesn’t like the current system, and argues for a “hub-and-spoke” system. I’m ambivalent. Generally, I haven’t been swayed by arguments for hub-and-spoke, but I’m open to being persuaded.

Another suggestion, which is a little worse than hub-and-spoke, is cutting away at our sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Oh, he doesn’t say that, but he wants to create more bus lane “pull-ins”, so that buses aren’t stopping on the street blocking traffic, ie cars. As someone who walks, bikes and buses to work at various times, street stopping for buses isn’t a big deal. It slows Bank Street a tad, but not much. It has no effect on Albert or Slater, because those have dedicated bus lanes. Carling has ample space to get around, as do roads like Innes and Merivale. And, really, the further you get from downtown, the less of an issue this becomes.

I don’t think this is a serious policy; I think it’s a statement: Cars come first, buses second. No need to worry much past that.

However, the absolute worst suggestion Maguire has is to open up bus routes to competition–because having one bus line filling our streets isn’t enough. We need multiple bus companies running amok. I get where Maguire is coming from. Generally, competition is good and the government should get out of the way as much as possible, but the infrastructure demands (not to mention the barriers to entry) in the mass transit industry makes it a slightly different beast.

We don’t want multiple transpo garages. We don’t want to worry about multiple fare types, passes and tickets. We don’t want buses getting cute with their routes or their levels of service. As much as OC Transpo should attempt to cover all its costs through fares and advertising (and it should!), there is still a public service aspect to it, and we grant buses a lot of non-monetary subsidies to operate (the transitway, bus lanes, special road laws). The city is a pretty direct stakeholder in the transit system. A wild west isn’t going to help anyone.

Maguire isn’t a big fan of the LRT, and that’s fair. As he says, “[c]urrent projects do not address gridlock on the Queensway or arterial roads, and will not be completed for years.” He’s absolutely right! And, unfortunately, residents regularly get a sold a bill of goods about how improved mass transit will reduce traffic congestion.

It won’t. Additional mass transit will, in the short term, take some cars off the road, but as the roads become clearer, more people will be encouraged to drive (and move to the middle of nowhere while commuting into and through the city). It’s just like adding additional lanes to a road. Build it, and they will drive.

Of course, the ship has kind of sailed. Chewrocka is already underground. Contracts are signed, and the LRT is being built. Throwing up your hands and saying, we’re done! isn’t truth telling, and it isn’t fiscal responsibility. Also, good luck getting council to agree.

Well, even if his promise to scrap the LRT is pretty worthless, at least he understands that expanding mass transit doesn’t actually address congestion issues.

Wrong!

He wants to build light rail, just different light rail. On tracks that are already there. Because somehow this will magically make no one want to drive into the city.

And, though he’s “not for or against cars”, he wants to make it easier for people to drive everywhere. He would roll back the price increases for parking. Free or under-priced parking is good for nobody. It is an incentive for driving, and, therefore, increases congestion. Make no mistake about it, Maguire is pro-car.

And you can’t be pro-car and anti-congestion. It just doesn’t work that way.

One last thing about transit, he promises to do nothing for pedestrians.

Trash
There seem to be two basic elements to Maguire’s trash pillar (which is great imagery for cynics like me), scrapping the Green Bin program and returning to weekly trash pick-up.

Maguire has some interesting slides with a lot of (seemingly sound) back-of-the-envelope math demonstrating that we’re paying a lot for the Green Bin program, and it’s not really achieving what it is intended to achieve (extending the life of our landfills). His arguments are somewhat compelling, but I’m inclined to think that there’s more to it that what he’s presented. Unfortunately, this issue is outside of my wheelhouse (though I recall there being a lot of issues with the roll-out, which meant higher-than-expected up-front costs, so extending the program won’t re-incur those costs).

One thing I will say in favour of the Green Bin program: it’s not just about a cost-efficient prolonging of a landfill’s useful life. There are other environmental benefits to composting and a city-wide program might get more people thinking in terms of not destroying the environment. That’s a good thing… though not necessarily at the cost of the program.

Maguire also claims that we are currently paying as much for bi-weekly garbage pick-up as we paid for weekly garbage pick-up. I find this hard to believe, but if it’s true, then I’m all for weekly pick-up. At this point, Maguire does not have any further details on this on his website, so I can’t judge the veracity of the claim. The site states that more information will come.

Hydro
Maguire wants cheaper hydro. If I combine with his support of driving, his antipathy towards cycling and walking, and his desire to axe the Green Bin program, I’m inclined to think he doesn’t give a whit about the environment.

Maybe that’s unfair. Still, it’s my impression.

Maguire claims that through some really odd accounting (a $200M promissory note from Hydro Ottawa to the City of Ottawa, the sole owner of Hydro Ottawa), Hydro customers are being overcharged. He has a nifty slide show to back that up.

Personally, I’m unconvinced. His argument against the promissory note (which seems to have been issued for no tangible reason) seems thin. I can imagine a perfectly valid reason why the city would demand $200M from Hydro Ottawa (even though it is wholly-owned by the city): getting to be the monopoly provider to Ottawa hydro customers is a damned sweet deal. The promissory note, I would imagine, ensures that Hydro Ottawa pays significant dividends to the city.

This isn’t just a tax grab like he says (though I understand that argument). This is the city selling something of value–the rights to hydro delivery–while maintaining control over an essential service. Maybe it would be better if the government was out of the electricity game, but if that’s the argument, Maguire should make that case. Currently, he’s merely arguing for the city to establish lower costs–and therefore lower rates–for hydro.

Personally, I don’t think hydro is egregiously expensive. I think people who waste hydro (including through heating, cooling and lighting massive homes) are essentially stealing from the rest of us. Their consumption puts an incredible burden on the rest of us in terms of pollution. Lowering hydro rates is merely rewarding environmental degradation. Further, considering how hydro consumption tends to increase with wealth and income, it’s a giveaway to the rich. Conservation is an issue that addresses inequality, and politicians who don’t recognize that are transferring wealth and utility from the poor to the rich.

Contradictions and Summation
Since I’ve wound up at over 2000 words, I think a bit of a TL;DR recap is in order.

Mike Maguire has as his focus a very worthy goal, fiscal discipline. We should concern ourselves with the city’s debt. As much as Jim Watson hasn’t been some crazy-spending liberal, we have embarked on some pretty expensive projects in the past four years. Now, Maguire doesn’t offer convincing arguments against those projects, but having someone hammer on the fiscal discipline bell is useful.

Unfortunately, for Maguire, his campaign doesn’t actually represent fiscal discipline.

He wants to lower taxes and lower spending. OK, if you lower spending more than taxes, you should be able to get your house in order. However, he’s not just talking about lowering property taxes.

Maguire wants to lower hydro rates and erase the dividend the city receives from Hydro Ottawa. He wants to cut the price of parking, selling this precious city asset at a below-the-market rate. He also thinks the city needs to lower bus fare. That’s a wealth transfer to the rich and a way to increase city spending!

At his campaign launch, Maguire noted the very stale anecdote of an Ontario businessman losing a city contract to someone from Quebec (xenophobia is ugly, even just inter-provincially), so he wants to make sure city contracts go to good ol’ Ontario residents, regardless of price. Protectionism is bad enough, but when you’re running on your fiscal responsibility bona fides, it really undercuts your campaign.

Maguire also rails against congestion and gridlock, but he offers no actual solutions. Do you want to get rid of congestion? You’ve got to attack driving; make it expensive. That means road tolls. It means aggressively pricing parking… that is, when you’re not eliminating parking. The carrot of good public transit (or bike lanes) is all well and good, but you really need a stick.

You also need to abandon the suburban bedroom community dream. You need to create real Garden Cities that are self-sufficient. You need mix-use zoning and intensification to make it work. Not only do you need to deter people from driving, you need to make sure that you have the necessary amenities nearby so that they don’t have to drive.

Maguire does none of that. He just wants different transit expansion.

Make no mistake, Maguire’s platform is bad. His heart may be in the right place (and he certainly seems sincere) but his policies are scattershot. There’s no continuity and there’s no clear method as to how his policies would actually get to his goal. Of all the critiques one can make of Jim Watson, he has displayed a competency that just isn’t present in Maguire.

It would not be good should he become mayor.

One Way Bad! Two Way Good!

Here’s an interesting little study from Louisville (a town with much going for it). Apparently, an extensive network of one-way streets can kill a downtown, and if we truly want to have vibrant downtown neighbourhoods, we should probably switch to two-way streets:

Here is one simple and affordable strategy to renew our downtown neighborhoods: immediately convert multi-lane one-way streets back to two-way traffic. Such conversions reduce car speeds and encourage greater pedestrian and bike mode-share. As a response of calmer residential streets, neighborhoods become more livable, more prosperous, and safer.

The results were stunning. Two-way conversion improves the livability of a neighborhood by significantly reducing crime and collisions and by increasing property values, business revenue, taxes, and bike and pedestrian traffic. Outside consultants, with price tags of millions of dollars, never predicted this in places like Oslo, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Atlanta.

Ottawa is in love with one-way streets downtown. North-south, you’ve got Metcalfe, O’Connor, Kent, Lyon, Bay and Percy (if I recall correctly). East-west, you’ve got… pretty much all of them. It would seem we might want to change that.

(H/T: Charles A-M.)

To Ottawa!

I’m just going to steal this entire press release from the city, because it’s such good news. Council supports “By the Glass” licence for local craft breweries and wineries:

26 June 2014
Public Service Announcement

Ottawa – Council support of the “By the Glass” licence applications to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario opens the door for interested local craft breweries and wineries to serve and sell their own beer and wine where it is made.

Realizing the restricted Council schedule over the summer and fall months, Council proactively extends its support beyond yesterday’s applications to support all interested all Alcohol and Gaming Commission (AGCO) licensed manufacturers who wish to apply to AGCO between now and December 31, 2014.

“By the Glass” is formally named the Manufacturer’s Limited Liquor License. It was introduced by AGCO to allow provincial wineries and craft brewers that already hold a manufacturer’s licence to serve and sell their own beer and wine to consumers at their manufacturer site, under certain conditions.

The license requirements exempt applicants from the public advertising process. Instead, it requires support from the appropriate municipal council, to indicate the communities’ support for the application.

What is going on in Little Italy?

Seriously, someone needs to explain what is going on. Someone official. Maybe a city councillor or something.

The planning committee met this week and discussed a number of development proposals for Little Italy, as well as a number of zoning amendments. At the centre of this discussion was a proposal to develop a nine-storey building on Norman Street. An amendment to the secondary plan passed, allowing for the development. The debate, however, is about far more than one building.

There is a Preston-Carling Design Plan. There are, currently, zoning regulations for the neighbourhood, but what we saw this week were serial attempts to make ad hoc changes to the plan. It’s not even a matter of whether or not these buildings are right for the neighbourhood (I’m doubtful); it’s about determining appropriate zoning for a neighbourhood and then sticking to it.

It’s a stark difference to the Mizrahi proposal in Wellington West. In that case, we saw the planning committee stick to its guns and adhere to the carefully crafted requirements within the CDP. It’s actually a little weird that suddenly the planning committee would veer away from thoughtful, consistent and predictable development rules. In the past, council has been accused of being in the pocket of developers. The Mizrahi decision showed they weren’t. The Norman Street decision clouds things a bit.

Eric Darwin has chronicled the corrupted process that brought us to Tuesday’s meeting. The neighbourhood boundaries have been shifting and ill-defined. There has been little consistency in rules applied to similar streets. Though a wise building limit (four storeys) was established, the city has done everything it could to circumvent the limit. Worse, they embarked on a plastic public consultation process that was focused on selling a developer’s visions rather than gaining insight from the community.

The proposal must now be approved by full council next month. It would be prudent for council to put the brakes on this development until a separate assessment of the suitable development limits of the entire neighbourhood can be completed.

Of course, the developers–demonstrating their devotion to community, democracy and justice–have threatened to go to the Ontario Municipal Board if they don’t get their way. They’re petulant children.

Peter Hume Throws Down

Peter Hume, the chair of the city’s planning and development committee isn’t particularly sympathetic to the complaints of Brian Johnston, the Chief Operating Officer of Mattamy Homes, who recently complained about the “red tape” associated with development projects in Ottawa. Here’s what Hume had to say:

“I’m exasperated. I’d reject the claims that red tape is an issue,” said Hume. “In Ottawa, as well as other municipalities, we are trying to control growth and stop sprawl. It’s not sustainable. It’s the residents that will suffer.”

And at the planning meeting on Tuesday, Hume went even further:

Here’s what the COO said:

“Buying land is very difficult. If it’s got approvals, it’s incredibly expensive,” Johnston told the Globe and Mail. “We’ve created such an onerous planning system in this country, and I would argue that’s one of the reasons that we see such significant house price inflation. We’ve made it difficult for ourselves to get land through the planning system, and that’s creating this supply constraint. So you’re seeing much higher (house) prices, and a lot more highrise condominiums.”

Well, guess what; that’s what happens in a democracy. We’re allowed to shape our community as we see fit. We’re allowed to fight sprawl. We’re entitled to fight environmental degradation…we have a moral obligation to fight environmental degradation. Our city does not have to genuflect to the whims of developers and financiers.

Johnston complained that it is easier to develop property in Florida than it is here. Florida’s housing market was one of the worst hit during the recession of 2008, and they’re still recovering. They grew fast, created a huge bubble and suffered severely when it burst. It’s probably best we don’t follow their lead.

I’ll take Peter Hume over the trivial bleatings of a developer.

K2J Postal Codes “Moving” to Community Mailboxes

This is an interesting little story:

Canada Post informed its employees Monday that neighbourhoods in Ottawa with postal codes starting with K2J will be converting to community mailboxes from door-to-door delivery in early summer 2015.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t seem interesting (and maybe it really isn’t), but this lede is inaccurate.

I moved into the K2J area in the summer of 1993. Our mail was delivered to a community mailbox. It was actually pretty common in my neighbourhood… I’m not sure which streets might have been blessed with door-to-door service.

This isn’t the biggest inaccuracy in a news story ever, nor does it matter a whole lot. It is, however, a good snapshot of the ridiculous hysteria around Canada Post’s decision to go exclusively to community mailboxes. Many–many–communities have had these mailboxes in the past, and the earth didn’t open up and swallow us whole.

Yesterday’s mail service is just that, yesterday’s. We’re not going back, and Canada Post cannot provide a viable service providing door-to-door delivery. We all just need to accept it and move on.

Attacks on Trees

It was a bad week for trees in Ottawa as the city was victim to two incidents of old trees being sacrificed for development. On Thursday, residents of Rodney Crescent in Alta Vista witnessed 50-year-old trees being abused and limbs being cut off in order to move a bungalow off a private residence. Rodney Crescent is a lovely little street, and some residents weren’t too happy about the actions of the house movers:

Margaret Buist, 55, who lives across the street, was concerned about the project and said she previously asked the city to send an arborist to monitor the move, but the first signs of trouble came around 12:30 p.m. as workers manoeuvred the truck carrying the home down the narrow street.

“It’s a beautiful, quiet, green neighbourhood with old mature trees and these neighbourhoods are rarer and rarer in the city,” she said, adding that many of the trees were planted in the 1950s when the subdivision was built.

When a city arborist arrived on scene shortly before 1:15 p.m., one of his first comments was that the situation seemed very unprofessional. His supervisor, who arrived on scene shortly after, refused to comment.

The Citizen‘s Andrew Nguyen tweeted a photo of the some of the wreckage:

Sadly, the owner of the property had good intentions; he is building a new home on the lot and didn’t want the old bungalow to become landfill, so he sold it. It is unfortunate that his attempt at conservation had some opposite effects. It also seems as though the moving company was less than honest with him about the process.

In a much more nefarious situation, Metcalfe Realty surreptitiously destroyed an old forest in Kanata. The forest was scheduled to be assessed for heritage status, but in a clear move to skirt the law, Metcalfe had their henchmen clearcut the middle of the forest, leaving tree cover at the property’s edge so as not to be detected. Neighbours heard the noise, but city officials could not respond in time to stop the destruction.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a developer destroy forests in an attempt to force development. It’s a clear it’s easier to seek forgiveness (or pay a token fine) than ask permission. Metcalfe can be fined up to $100,000 for their transgression, but that’s merely the cost of doing business. If it allows them to build a shiny new development, it’ll be worth it.

Clearly, the maximum fine isn’t enough. Perhaps a maximum fine of $100,000 per tree would be better. We should probably also repossess the land, whether it’s granted heritage status or not. Metcalfe clearly can’t be trusted.

Friday Night Lights

Looking at the RedBlacks’ schedule yesterday, I suddenly realized that the team only has one afternoon game all year, August 24. Even as we get into colder weather, it’s all night games. As I’ve noted, I haven’t really been a fan for a while, so I don’t know if this is just standard for the CFL these days, but it is quite a change from the Rough Riders days. Back then, autumn games tended to be a Saturday afternoon.

I can’t say that this is a better or worse approach, but it’s noteworthy. It might get pretty cold for the late season games which might deter fans. It can also make it difficult for young families. I hope to take my girls to a game or two, so I should probably snap up some tickets for the 24th while I can.