Would you really re-name the Eiffel Tower?

There is a movement afoot to name the recently unveiled Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge (better known as Ottawa’s Eiffel Tower) Vimy Bridge. Silly word games aside, I’m not really in favour of naming the bridge after the famous World War I battle, and I’m generally against the knee-jerk instinct to name new things after war, but what caught my attention was this comment by councillor Steve Desroches:

“My view was that the bridge naming would be of a national significance given our role as the nation’s capital,” said Desroches. “The focus to date has been 100 per cent on completing the project and getting it open to traffic and buses, and now that we’ve reached that milestone, I think it’s the right time to talk about the future name of the bridge.”

Being the nation’s capital is undoubtedly a significant part of Ottawa’s character, so it is only logical that certain names will have “national significance”. This is why we have Laurier Avenue or Prince of Wales Drive, or anything with the names Macdonald and/or Cartier. It’s also why we have deal with meddlesome federal bodies like the NCC.

However, Ottawa has a rich history outside of its role as national capital. It is entirely appropriate for prominent structures to carry names that carry local significance. It would be great if we could find a name that had direct and prominent links to Ottawa or the surrounding area.

So, naturally, Emjay Memorial Bridge it shall be.

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This is why we can’t have nice streets

I’ve been meaning to write about the inaugural RedBlacks game at Lansdowne. As prep, I’ve been reading a number of different reports to try to get as complete a picture as I can. Reading this report in the Ottawa Citizen, I was just floored by this passage:

OSEG’s plan calls for 2,500 vehicles to park and walk, representing 6,200 “person trips.” Landry said while there were many cars parked around Lansdowne, there was lots of availability further north and east of Bank, as well as south of the stadium. That means the heavy no-parking restrictions the city introduced on various streets in the Glebe for Friday’s game might be relaxed in the future.

Greg Best, chair of the Glebe BIA, had similar findings. “I didn’t get the sense people were circling around trying to find spots,” he said. “I looked at Glebe, First, Second, I looked at them all. … The traffic wasn’t really an issue. I was surprised.”

This is just mindboggling. The traffic plan worked. The parking restrictions allowed for an easy flow of buses, bikes and pedestrians. People really listened to OSEG and left their cars at home. Some people drove and parked, but so few that even with a lot of parking restrictions there was still “lots of availability” for parking. Which mean, we don’t need more parking capacity!

There may be no better representation of the myopic idiocy of car-centric urban planning than to look at a successful transportation plan with ample excess parking and respond, “More parking!”

For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with the positive reports about transportation (speaking, at least, for the north side of Lansdowne), but part of what made the whole experience so great was the lack of parked cars (and drivers looking to park) gumming up the major streets, Bank and First.

Gameday!

In case you hadn’t heard (and if you’re in Ottawa, that seems unlikely), today is the home opener for the Ottawa RedBlacks. There’s been a lot of chatter in recent weeks (and months) (and years) about the viability of football, the best plan for Lansdowne, traffic and such. Tonight, we’ll finally get some answers.

Okay, we won’t, really, get many answers. Lansdowne is still mostly a construction site. The RedBlacks are an expansion team, and its easy for people to be excited about their first home game. And, of course, today’s traffic won’t really tell us what it’ll be like going forward. Likely, it’ll kind of suck, but it’s a progress that, hopefully, will keep getting better.

Interestingly, the city is well-ahead in planning for traffic concerns. This morning, they had a bunch of Special Event No Parking signs up. The city has actually expanded the no parking areas, which is great (and potentially troubling for those foolish enough to drive to the game). As well, last night they had dropped off some barricades at the corners of some side.

I will, alas, not be going to the game, but I will be down on Bank Street. It will be great to experience the carnival atmosphere. Hopefully, we can keep up this sort of enthusiasm for years to come. (Well, not to this degree. Obviously, things are a little extra amped up for the opener.)

A bad day for cyclists

Do you want to hear a funny story? A couple of months ago, I wrote an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen arguing that the city is not doing enough to keep cyclists safe. It was planned out a few days in advance to be a part of the new re-branded paper. As the publication day approached, a bit of irony almost befell me. I was riding home along Prince of Wales, in the bike lane. Traffic was pretty busy, and often that means that drivers will pull their cars into the bike lane in order to… I don’t… be assholes, or something. So whenever it’s busy, I make sure to go a bit slower and keep my hands ready for braking.

And, wouldn’t you know it, someone pulled into the bike lane. They weren’t going to go anywhere, I guess they just wanted to get a better look at all the bumpers ahead of them. I didn’t get hit, but I thought how I’d have the “best” bio ever on an op-ed about cycling safety:

Jonathan McLeod was an Ottawa-based writer who killed by a driver.

It would have been a poignant, if unwanted, end to the op-ed.

Anyway, yesterday Prince of Wales was pretty busy again. No one actually drove into me, but a number of people where veering onto the magical painted line that somehow gives cyclists super protection for two-tonne death machines. As I turned the corner, I saw a car in the bike lane… a cop car, lights flashing. It happened around here. You can clearly see the bike lane.

It appears that there was an incident of sorts between a cyclist and a minivan. It didn’t seem like anyone was hurt, thankfully.

I was chatting with a local newspaper editor about it, and he noted that there’d likely be no press release from the cops because no one was hurt, so it likely wouldn’t get much (if any) press. This isn’t really a surprise. Collisions between cars and bikes happen with alarming frequency, but don’t get reported a whole lot.

As I was chatting with the editor, I learned that there was another incident on the evening commute. Along Wellington West, a cyclist was doored in heavy traffic. Here’s a tweet:

It should be obvious that the man in the LTD Landscaping truck almost killed the cyclist. It should also be clear that he committed a crime. There’s no real grey area here. Dooring is a crime. Here’s the response:

Look, I get that the cops can’t be everywhere and police everything, but a man was almost killed. Perhaps the authorities (cops, city councillors, city planners, etc.) should do <i>something</i>, rather than waiting on someone to report this.

Oh, and Wellington West is considered a bike-friendly area. Yeah.

Jack Astor’s and the Urban Vision

Yesterday, the Ottawa Citizen published an op-ed of mine offering measured support for the Lansdowne re-development project. I know it’s a controversial issue in Ottawa, but there was a bit of pushback that I really wasn’t expecting:

There are two points where I mention Jack Astor’s. Here:

Despite assurances of unique boutique retailers, we are getting Winners. And Jack Astor’s. And PetSmart. We are getting establishments that superficially play into the original vision, but demonstrate a lack of understanding of the connections between urban dwellers and their neighbourhood.

And here:

Lansdowne, as a residence, is being marketed as the newest hip urban experience. It aligns nicely with the compositions of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, while still maintaining its own character — smaller dwellings, no single-family homes. This is not the Winners/Jack Astor’s crowd. The residential development is a good match for small boutique stores. Unfortunately, if the retail mix does not attract the local crowd, it will need a car-heavy commuter class to survive.

I responded noting that I wasn’t objecting to Jack Astor’s, per se, but that it is a part of the overall composition of food and retail stores going into Lansdowne, and that composition is a betrayal of the original plan put forth by OSEG and their partners J.C. Williams (in June of 2010, J.C. Williams claimed that OSEG claimed to have formal interest from many unique boutique retailers). However, my interlocutor was objecting to the specific inclusion of Jack Astor’s:

I’m still unconvinced. Jack Astor’s is a derivative corporate chain with a name that was originally just silly wordplay. It is akin to Boston Pizza, Montana’s and Outback. These are the big box stores of restaurants. Look at the current Ottawa location. The restaurant’s design, as well as the general form that the restaurant takes does not fit with the urban vision of Lansdowne.

We must remember that OSEG (and J.C. Williams) stressed that they were looking to complement the Glebe and Old Ottawa South. The vision of Jack Astor’s (either the Kanata location or their other locations) in no way complements these neighbourhoods. It clashes.

Of course, when talking about Lansdowne, we’re talkinga about a vision, a new urban village. Even if we don’t want to compare it to the long-established urban villages of the Glebe or Old Ottawa South, we could, at least, compare it to Ottawa’s newest hip urban neighbourhood, Hintonburg.

Can anyone reasonably argue that Hintonburg needs a Jack Astor’s, that the chain would, in any way, fit with the vibe of the neighbourhood? I can’t imagine taking any such argument seriously.

Further, I don’t have to make the claim that Jack Astor’s is commonplace in Ottawa. I’m not judging the project by my aesthetics, I’m judging them by the aesthetics laid out by OSEG and J.C. Williams. They’re the ones who said that they would get unique stores rather than chains, but that when they got chains, they would get ones that would then be unique to Ottawa and would fit with the overall concept. Jack Astor’s isn’t unique to Ottawa, even if it is not commonplace, and does not fit with the vision.

In the end, Jack Astor’s is a perfect fit for the types of stores that OSEG has found, stores like PharmaPlus, Winners, GoodLife, Sporting Life and Telus. These are all chains that better fit a suburban shopping model than a walkable urban village.

Perhaps Jack Astor’s will scale back their typical overbearing exterior and create something that will at least look like it fits with the Lansdowne vision. That would be nice. But there is no way to justify their inclusion with the purported vision. Lansdowne is walking a fine line. They’re a part of the Glebe, but trying to set themselves apart. If they go too far, we will see the waste of the land and the erosion of an existing comunity.

A Successful Test

Last week, OSEG had a test-run for RedBlacks fans and TD Place employees. They intent was to welcome the fans, tour the facilities and figure out just how the whole thing was going to work. It was, by all reports, a success. It is clear (and there was never much question) that Jeff Hunt and his cohorts know how to run a sports franchise. It was the development side of things, including transportation, that was a little more worrisome.

Thankfully, the transportation aspect seemed to go smoothly. I wound up on Bank Street at about 5:30 pm. It was noticeably busier–more drivers, more cars parked, more pedestrians–but everything was moving smoothly. Even on my bike, I was able to quickly merge with Bank Street traffic, change lanes and turn onto my street (which has no traffic light).

One interesting development is the effective reduction of Bank Street to one lane. On-street parking is prohibited from 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, and it doesn’t usually fill up right at 5:30, but last week was different. With all the parking (which, note, won’t be available for Friday’s home opener), cars had to occupy the centre lane, exclusively. This meant that straight-through traffic had to co-exist with left-turners and those lost or hunting for a parking spot.

My takeaway from this is that it would not be much of a problem to reduce Bank Street to one lane, expand the sidewalks and add bike lanes.

This would also address the one real issue with the open house, pedestrian traffic. Bank Street sidewalks are too narrow for the current burden of foot traffic. RedBlacks fans will just make it all the more crowded. Complicating matters is that a lot of fans appear to have little idea as to how to walk down and share a busy urban sidewalk. I’ve often noticed that those who don’t walk very much demonstrate little awareness of the pedestrians around them, and this was reinforced last week. But if that’s the worst of the traffic problems, I’ll take it (and, perhaps, it will be a learning experience for a lot of our residents).

There is, of course, a big caveat to all of this. There were only about 10,000 fans in attendance (according to reports, which are likely to overstate things) and we are expecting 27,000 at Friday’s game. In addition, fans did not all arrive for the 6:00 pm opening; they trickled in for hours. This probably won’t be the case Friday. It could complicate things.

Walking Gladstone

So the tire on my bike was dead. Saturday morning, I popped into the local bike shop to get it replaced. It’s an easy fix, take off one tire, put on another. Unfortunately, my bike was more damaged than I realized (though I wondered), and I needed a whole new rear tire. Rather than getting a brand new one, I wondered over to Cycle Salvation to get one on the cheap.

Cycle Salvation (which shares a home with Recycles) is a wonderful little initiative. It’s also a bit far away at Bronson and Gladstone, nonetheless, I decided to walk.

On my way there, I walked up Bank Street to Gladstone Avenue and hung a left. I’ve walked along parts of Gladstone often, but I’ve never trekked all the way from Bank to Bronson. In fact, I’ve rarely walked the stretch west of Kent Street. I had absolutely no idea what was on the street.

That stretch of Gladstone has far more going on than I realized. Local shops and intriguing eateries litter the blocks on the north and south side. There is park space behind the McNabb Community Centre and an art gallery at the Kent Street corner.

Of course, this is no grand revelation for those who live in the area, but it serves as a reminder that there are a number of interesting little streets and neighbourhoods throughout Ottawa, and often they are in places we are quite familiar with, even if we never really noticed what they had to offer.

Lansdowne Test-Run

So tonight, OSEG is hosting RedBlacks season ticket holders at Lansdowne/TD Place Stadium. They’ll be running shuttle buses along Queen Elizabeth Drive and there will be increased bus service along Bank Street. It’s an attempt to simulate the game day experience, and they hope it will serve as a training run for fans and employees, alike.

It will be interesting to see what happens. There will be no special parking restrictions, so this won’t simulate next week’s home opener. It’s also difficult to guess how many ticket holders will actually show up this evening. They’re expecting 27,000 for next week’s game. Will they get anything close to that? If they don’t (and with the additional parking), their may be a false impression given as to the ability to drive to the game.

Anyway, OSEG should still be commended for this effort. For all the faults of OSEG (retail mix, lack of setbacks), it is clear that they know how to run a sports team. It would be rather devastating to Lansdowne should football fail within a few years, again.

Here’s hoping this test-run will help smooth out any transportation problems.

How to kill a street

I got a flat this morning. It’s not a huge surprise; my tires are old and worn, and I drive a pothole-filled route to work. Still, it kind of sucks. Getting home may be a challenge, but I have three potential options: I could bus with bike on the front; I could walk my bike home (it’d be long, but rather lovely); finally, I can pump up the tire, hope it’s a slow leak and ride home, pumping as needed. That’s the option I’m going with.

Of course, this means I need a pump (I needed a pump, anyway, so this is no biggie). Working in the west end these days, I wandered over to Canadian Tire during lunch to pick one up. It’s the Canadian Tire on Carling Avenue. It’s relatively new (stress “relatively”), having been constructed at the site of the old Turpin dealership. There are some other store there, and it’s right beside a Boston Pizza.

Approaching these businesses, it became so very apparent–once again–that pedestrians aren’t really wanted. Carling is a horrible place to walk, anyway (cars speeding past going north of 70 or 80 clicks, no buffer between the sidewalk and the right lane of traffic), but these buildings were built facing away from the street.

Parking is in the “rear”, but it’s not really the rear, because that’s where you can enter (actually, I think you can enter from Carling–on my way out, I found a small door that seemed like a fire exit, thankfully it wasn’t, that lead me out to the sidewalk through Canadian Tire’s front garden). The stores are built only for cars and drivers. The stores have literally turned their backs to the street.

I can’t blame the stores or the developers for this (well, I can blame the developers a bit); they’re just responding to incentives. It’s really the city’s fault. The west end around Carling could be a wonderful area. The neighbourhoods are lovely, there are (or were, I moved out a long time ago) some good schools and there is enough commercial property that it’s not just a quite bedroom community.

Unfortunately, by making Carling a six-lane, island-separated road, the city has turned Carling into a thoroughfare. It’s unpleasant for walking or biking, and there’s no real draw for people to be out and about.

Carling really could be much more than that. Reduce the traffic lanes, shorten up the blocks (at least for pedestrians), throw in a bike lane. There are shopping centres and strip malls along the route. There are, in fact, some neat restaurants. It wouldn’t take much to make the street a little more lively.

Instead, it’s a road seen mostly as a blur through a passenger window.