Whenever someone suggests that Ottawa infrastructure needs to accommodate pedestrians or bikes a little bit better (or at all), there is typical response from certain folks decrying the so-called “War on Cars“. From this perspective, any attempt to slightly reduce the massively favoured status of cars–offering a bit of safety for other people–is a sinister plot destroy our very way of life.
Of course, this is absolute bullshit. There’s no war on cars, even if there should be. We build highways through communities. We spend millions to expand roads and build bridges. We subsidize driving and parking endlessly. Rideau Street is a bit of a death trap, yet with the recent re-design, we couldn’t make it safer for everyone; lord knows massive transport trucks have to go through downtown.
No, the real “war” is on pedestrians and cyclists. It is almost impossible to get proper infrastructure built. And even when it is built, the city doesn’t want to maintain it. In the recent budget debate, any spending on bike infrastructure would have to be discussed later, as a possible special project. Meanwhile, the road construction budget passed with nary a raised eyebrow. Our tribute to traffic must not be impeded.
The most recent example of this (at least, the most recent example I’ve noticed) comes from Lansdowne. I popped over to the park last night, and this is what I noticed on Marche Way:
Marche Way is a multi-use space. It is for cars, bikes and pedestrians. There are pedestrian-only sidewalks, but pedestrians are free to walk wherever they please, and drivers just have to learn how to deal with it.
And, to their credit, most drivers have. There was some initial idiocy (and there are still some people who seem to get lost in this “urban village”, and drive around aimlessly), but for the most part, drivers have learned that they can’t speed through Lansdowne. There will be people walking around, and they will have to defer to these people, rather than run them down.
But now the city has put large ugly lines and arrows on the brick street. If you look at the street now, it really looks like something that was built for cars. All the paint signals that this is where cars get to be, and everyone else needs to stay out of the way.
(It’s also really ugly. I know that’s not as big a deal as safety, but we’re trying to build nice, welcoming public spaces, and aesthetics matter. Also, this paint isn’t going to increase anyone’s safety. It’ll likely just lead to more aggressive driving.)
What is perhaps most comical/sad/depressing is the need to include the arrows. This is basically a statement declaring that drivers won’t know that they can only turn right. They won’t be able to see the median in the middle of Bank Street blocking a left-hand turn, and they won’t understand the sign in the middle of that median telling them they can only turn right. Basically, this paint says that the city thinks Ottawa drivers are morons.
Hopefully, this will be a short-lived situation. Lansdowne won’t survive as a haven for cars. It’s on a major bus line and it’s in a very walkable and bike-able neighbourhood. If anything, we should just be banning cars from the grounds completely. It’d make for a much nicer space, and it would better live up to the promises made by OSEG and the city.