I’m with Jim

It hasn’t been a stellar week or two in federal-municipal relations. First, we had the feds announce that they were going to waste $80M refurbing the old-moldy-bread-factory-turned-“temporary”-science-museum rather than building a proper facility in a proper location. That was unfortunate, but worse was the NCC ambushing the city on their LRT plans, deciding that their precious highway is more important than building a livable city.

Thankfully, it appears that Mayor Jim Watson and the ranking local government MP John Baird have reached a bit of a detente for now. This is an improvement, and certainly better than a bunch of appointed NCC henchmen hijacking our development plans.

Before this peace in our time, Watson made the comment that residents needed to make this an issue in the next federal election (which is supposed to occur next year), and he’s absolutely right. There can be valid debates about the LRT. Is it worth the money? What’s the best route? What should be buried? But there is no debate about the fairly useless, almost malicious, organization that is the NCC.

It’s ridiculous that NCC’s prime mission right now is to save a waterfront freeway in Kitchissippi. There is nothing, nothing, about the Parkway that has national significance. It ruins the riverfront, blocks the actual parkland from people and actively destroys the environment. And it’s not even in a particularly significant location.

The NCC needs to be reformed. It’s an outdated organziation staffed mostly with people who little connection to the city (only two of the board members have to be from Ottawa). They have no particular expertise in urban development, and their love affair with parkways demonstrates how archaic their visions actually are. The only people who rein this group in is the federal government.

So, yes, people of Ottawa, the actions and disruptions of the NCC should be a federal election issue.

Another failure from Lansdowne: Sporting Life and the death of Tommy & Lefebvre

Stores at Lansdowne are starting to open. Lindt, BMO, Winners, Milestone’s and Whole Foods are already doing business. Sporting Life is set to open its doors in a few days. It is this last one that may be the biggest betrayal of all.

I don’t want to rag on Lansdowne. I hope it succeeds. I hope it achieves its goal of being an urban village. I hope it brings some variety to the Glebe shopping experience (and for all that we may, rightfully, rag on the opening of a Winners, there’s pretty much nowhere else in the Glebe or Old Ottawa South to get reasonably-priced clothes). I still think it will, but I think Sporting Life is a significant misstep.

There are a number of reasons to recoil at the opening of Sporting Life. It’s a chain; it doesn’t bring much new to the neighbourhood; it’s facade is looking very box store; it’s not a local company. These are all unfortunate aspects of Sporting Life, but these are not the big problem. The problem is that Sporting Life is killing off Tommy & Lefebvre.

T&L is an Ottawa institution. Founded in 1958–in Ottawa–it’s been a staple of our city’s sporting goods industry for over half a century, it has lasted through tough economic times, and it even rebounded from a fire a few years ago.

Last year, T&L was bought out by Sporting Life. Since then, it has continued to operate out of its Bank Street location. But that’s over now. With the opening of the Sporting Life, T&L will shutter for good.

This is a betrayal of the goals and responsibilities of OSEG. The Lansdowne development was not supposed to cannibalize Bank Street. It wasn’t supposed to steal tenants, robbing the rest of the city of merchants and community icons. It is supposed to nurture Ottawa retailers, not bury them.

There is, of course, a rather simple solution. Sporting Life could resurrect the T&L brand. Sporting Life is not established in Ottawa. There is little brand awareness, and there can’t be much value in adopting the Sporting Life name and ditching the T&L legacy. T&L is part of our community. It’s been around longer than many of us. It is quite sad to see it go. It would be a lovely gesture for Sporting Life to re-establish one of the preeminent Ottawa brands.

Even when they do something right, they do something wrong

It was with a bit of (well-deserved) fanfare that the city and the NCC unveiled new crosswalk lights at Fifth Avenue and the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. It made a lot of sense. The multi-use paths on either side of the QED are quite popular with both pedestrians and cyclists. Fifth Avenue is a main street and bike route linking people to the canal. Before the new lights were put in, it was quite dangerous to try to cross the QED, as cars zip by ridiculously fast.

The design of the new intersection was well-executed. Bike lanes were added to Fifth Avenue. At the intersection, the lanes extend from Fifth to the entrance to the MUP. Signage dictates that cars yield to bikes and both yield to pedestrians.

On both sides of the QED, there are pedestrian buttons to trigger the light, as well as clearly marked dots allowing bikes to trigger them, as well. All three different types of users, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, as kept separate and have infrastructure designed specifically for them.

It’s quite a good little intersection, now.

The other day I was approaching the intersection from the north along the canal MUP. There was a short line of cars lined up across from me waiting to turn from Fifth onto the QED. I pulled up to the intersection just as the light changed. There were no other cyclists and no pedestrians at the intersection. I didn’t get a light.

Having not been there soon enough to trigger the light change, the lights changed only to allow cars to turn. This is a flaw in the project.

Sadly, it’s not unusual for crosswalk lights to fail to change with the traffic lights if they’re not specifically triggered in time. This should change. There’s absolutely no valid reason for it. It is especially egregious at an intersection that gets heavy pedestrian and bike use, and that’s officially part of Ottawa’s bike route network.

This is a perfect example of the car-centric nature of Ottawa planning. Even when we take the necessary steps to accommodate and (hopefully) provide a little equality for all users, we screw it up by always giving consideration to cars, but only giving limited consideration to pedestrians and bikes. You won’t see an intersection where a pedestrian triggers a cross light while car traffic gets an unchanged red.

This is why we have problems. This is why our streets are far more dangerous than they should be. Even with a bunch of pedestrians around, we don’t really want them getting in the way of cars.