The Missing Bike Lane

[Editor’s note: the revelation of the cancellation of half the O’Connor bike lane project was reported during the time the Transportation Committee was meeting, but it wasn’t actually given at the committee meeting. It was, apparently, merely a press release. All the arguments still stand, but I will edit the post for clarity in the near future.]

The city has been planning some new bike lanes. In the immediate future, they plan to build a north-south route along O’Connor. This would stretch from the core through the Glebe (I wrote about it here).

Sorry, wait, wait. That was silly. Let’s start over again.

The city has been planning some new bike lanes. In the immediate future, they had planned to build a North-South route along O’Connor. This would stretch from the core through the Glebe (I wrote about it here), but of course the city is looking to scrap parts of it.

Yes, that’s right, the city planned to do the least possible to help cyclists get in and out of the core, and they’re scrapping it. Reports have varied; they’re either scrapping it from Strathcona to Glebe or Strathcona to Fifth. I’m sure everyone can guess the reason for this change of tune, parking.

The process to build this lane was flawed from the outset. City planners accurately identified a need for new bike infrastructure. We have the Laurier Bike Lane going through (sort of) downtown from east to west, but we had no good bike infrastructure running north-south (and if you mention Percy and Lyon, you’re high; that’s bad bike infrastructure).

The next logical step after identifying the need for a bike lane would be to determine a location; obviously, it’s going to run along an existing street. There’s nowhere in the core of the Glebe to create a brand new bikeway. There was only one logical choice, Bank Street.

Bank Street is our main street. It’s the main north-south route for commuting. It connects to Old Ottawa South, Alta Vista, South Keys and beyond. It has lots of destinations–shops, restaurants, churches. It will even take you to the city’s shiny new development, Lansdowne. It is, in many ways, the place to be.

And it is quite easy to tell that it is the place to be. It has the highest bike, car and foot traffic downtown and in the Glebe. Cyclists are all over the street. It’s the location for one of the city’s bike corrals. And it’s dangerous. If you’re on your bike, you’re dodging cars and buses. You’re worrying about doorings and navigating parked cars. Do you filter? Do you take the lane? The Bank Street Bridge and Billings Bridge are unfit for safe traffic.

Further, the sidewalks are unreasonably narrow. There’s little room. On the Bank Street Bridge, pedestrians can be forced onto the road…a road that cars endlessly speed down. A bike lane offers a buffer to pedestrians, keeping them even further away for the scofflaw death machines. Our planners need to remember, bike infrastructure makes walking safer.

It’s easy enough to say that bikes can just pop over to O’Connor, but that’s ridiculous. Bank Street is right in the middle of downtown. We don’t need (as much) a route on the east side of downtown. Sure, if you’re right in the core, O’Connor is only one block east of Bank, but at Fifth Avenue, O’Connor is approximately four blocks east of downtown. Why would I take that route if I just had to get back to Bank Street (or worse, Kent) at the end of my trip?

So city planners screwed up. It’s not really on them. There’s no political will to make Bank Street anything close to a safe street. Planners had their hands tied. They went with the second-best choice, O’Connor. I can’t really blame them.

A lot of work went into this plan; it wasn’t some idea just thrown out off the top of someone’s head. There was a lot of work. There were consultations with the public and stakeholders. This showed dedication. It showed that maybe, maybe, the city was actually taking things seriously.

Then a business complained, and some residents complained. There were about twelve complaints. People were worried about all the parking that would be lost. The business, a pediatrician for heaven’s sake, worried that their clients wouldn’t be able to park (because apparently they couldn’t park on any of the other streets around there). Because of this, cyclists shouldn’t be given proper infrastructure.

So at the Transportation Committee, we were all blindsided. There had been no mention of any concerns before, but at committee, the planners decided to recommend scrapping half the plan. As a resident, you should be outraged that the process can be so hi-jacked and safety so compromised. As a taxpayer, you should be outraged that city planners wasted all this time and money.

I rode down O’Connor the other day, from Pretoria to Fifth, and here’s what I found out. There’s hardly any parking there, at all. There are maybe five or ten spots between Strathcona and First. You have bulb outs and bus stops. An embassy and a school. An overpass over Patterson Creek. You also probably have room to create the bike lanes and still save some parking.

(Oh, and the sidewalk is pretty narrow. There’s barely room to walk side-by-side going over the creek. This is problematic when walking with children or people with mobility issues, as someone can be force to walk on the road in a bus route. Again, bike lanes would provide a bit of a buffer; it’d be much better to be forced into a bike lane than into an oncoming bus.)

From First to Fifth, there’s a healthy amount of parking, but only on the east side of the road. The west side is all No Parking. But more than that, it’s a ridiculously wide road…which can lead to speeding, which is all the more reason to have bike lanes. In fact, the street is so wide that you could easily have bike lanes on both sides of the road and maintain all the existing parking.

There is a severe level of cowardice and dishonesty going on here. The concerns for parking are pretty unfounded. The whole thing might–might–cost five spots, but city planners are willing to cancel the project to placate the parking lobby (of twelve whole people). When the issue of parking was presented, the planners should have been able to demonstrate that the concerns were unfounded. They should have told the complainers that hardly any parking would be lost whatsoever.

But…cowardice. Or they never really believed in the project to begin with.

Further, the city has once again played residents against each other. Yes, there has to be some give-and-take, but building this bike route will take away so little parking, that there’s barely any cost to it, but city officials–planners and politicians–won’t play that conciliatory game. No, bike infrastructure harms everyone else (even though it will help pedestrians!), so we have to scrap it.

Those complaining were, ignorant, at best, maliciously dishonest at worst. Their concerns where unfounded, yet they had to complain, anyway. It would seem they had done no research into what parking (if any) would actually be lost; the response was just so reflexively anti-bike that it demonstrates the city’s politics of division works.

Or, they’re just liars. Maybe they know that there are no legitimate concerns, but they just hate the thought of (more) bikes going (safely) down the street that they made up this lie, assuming (correctly) that it would work.

All is not lost…technically. Council still gets the final say on this. The issue is to come up today at full council. It’d take a near miracle for council to overrule planners and the recommendation of the cowardly Transportation Committee, but it is possible.

I’m not holding my breath.

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Towing the line

I’m a little late to the game, but I found this story interesting:

Ottawa police have taken to staging fake car accidents to drive home a point to tow-truck drivers racing to crash scenes: Stay away or be fined.

Police say trucks competing for towing contracts are breaking a city bylaw when they park within 100 metres of an accident scene and try to solicit business from motorists.

Sgt. John Kiss, who manages the Ottawa police towing contracts, said the tow-truck races have become so aggressive that Ottawa police have staged fake accidents to ticket drivers who police say are chasing collisions.

It’s an interesting strategy. They’re trying to stop tow trucks from driving recklessly by inducing them to drive recklessly. It’s not entrapment, but it is, theoretically, contributing to the problem and putting residents at risk. But, I imagine, it’s a case of short-term risk for long-term safety, so I’m certainly not against it.

And I am most definitely in favour of the police enforcing this law. I have sympathy for the tow truck drivers. It is, by all accounts, a competitive business, and I can understand why they are compelled to take risks in order to get business. But that competition doesn’t absolve them of law-breaking.

I also found this response interesting:

Fadel Ibrahim of Parkdale Towing agrees there’s no place for tow trucks that speed to accidents, only to put the safety of other drivers at risk. However, given that Ottawa police have contracts with companies such as Gervais Towing and Ottawa Metro Towing for cars that are impounded for criminal reasons, he says, to ensure fairness, all tow-truck drivers should be given towing contracts on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Let’s say there’s an accident involving two cars and two tow trucks are on it, if it’s on a first-come, first-served basis you’d never find eight trucks at that one accident,” says Ibrahim.

The very problem is that trucks are racing to the scene of accidents; employing a first-come first-served policy would merely reward those drivers who are the fastest/most dangerous.

No bike lanes or how good is no infrastructure?

Recently, I wrote about the proposed bike lanes on O’Connor. It seemed like a worthy endeavour. We’re seeing more and more bikes on our streets and we definitely need more infrastructure, especially north-south infrastructure. Personally, I’d never really envisioned O’Connor as the place for bike infrastructure. There’s not a whole lot there. It’d be far better to have bike lanes on Bank Street, a true main street where there are more places to go.

Though I’m still supportive of this plan, I was worried that it could be used as an argument against any further infrastructure.

The other day, it came out that the city might be having second thoughts about this project. Perhaps the most amusing aspect of this development is that I began getting concern-trolled by a “Cyclist-hating-cyclist” on Twitter (code for a vehicular cyclist who doesn’t want anyone to partake in bicycling unless they do it his way). You see, Ottawa already had enough bike infrastructure, and we should all just shut up about the fact that even the tiniest concession to cyclists (and pedestrians!) might be getting watered down or nixed.

This was a new one. I’ve heard sub-standard development as an argument against new development, but never had I heard cancelling development projects as an argument against new development. Sometimes, Ottawa is really screwed up.

A hero is dead but a city won’t care

Some of the flowers are gone. They were placed at the Northwest corner of City Park and Ogilvie. I don’t know what happened to them; the city doesn’t always like memorials. But in the median, there’s a bouquet taped to the light standard, which is just about where Lise Leblanc was killed on April 14, struck by an SUV as she tried to cross the road.

She wasn’t just a victim, though, she was also a hero, saving a life on that very same road:

He recalled how in late February last year Leblanc was the driver who troubled to stop at 4:45 a.m. and saved a child who’d simply wandered away from his nearby Aviation Parkway home unbeknownst to his mother.

“Other cars drove past, but Lise stopped immediately, wrapped him in her emergency blanket and brought him into the shelter of her car,” Paige said. “She dialed 911 and did her best to warm him up and comfort him until officers arrived. Lise continued to stay by his side for as long as possible.

“Police and paramedics praised her actions, telling her that without her intervention, the boy would not have survived.”

We don’t know yet what happened. Either the driver or Leblanc may have been “at fault”. Leblanc may not have had the right-of-way. She may have been running to be the late or dodging traffic. Of course, none of that allows you to kill a pedestrian, but our community is built with a massive deference to cars and drivers in all situations.

But hers’ something we do know. We know who killed her.

We did. We killed her.

Ogilvie Road is a god-damned freeway. It’s wide and it’s fast. It’s built to link suburbia with the rest of the city. It’s built to get people through Gloucester as fast conceivably possible. The laws, the lights and the intersections are built for cars, and minivans, and SUVs. The road grudgingly accepts that pedestrians will be there, but does nothing to accommodate them or make them safe. This city is built for cars.

We know this kind of development is deadly. We know that we’re killing our citizens. But we don’t care, or we pretend not to know…but that’s just another form of not caring.

In a few months, the police may tell us what happened (or what they think happened, or that, gosh darn it, they’re stumped), but it’s highly unlikely anything will happen. Sometimes, pedestrian deaths are worth a ticket. Often, they’re merely forgotten about.

Because, as a city, we don’t care. We do very little to make our roads, streets and neighbourhoods safe. We keep building bigger and faster roads. Communities have to make repeated genuflections for any safety concessions. Real change never happens.

Other cities are fed up with these deaths. They make transformative changes to their infrastructure. They enforce their laws. They adopt a Vision Zero policy. But not Ottawa. We’re wedded to our cars, and we’ll do just about anything to accommodate more of them.

We killed Lise Leblanc.

What is Bob Monette thinking?

The other day, we were treated to an update on Lansdowne transportation. We were told that the transit plans for RedBlacks games were a resounding success. Yes, there were fewer people biking than was anticipated (though some people would park off-site and walk a block or two to the game) and the shuttles weren’t as popular as intended, but lots and lots of people used OC Transpo, so it’s kind of a wash.

So, we learned, special event transportation worked as well as could have been hoped (and, from what I observed, this is generally true…though with relaxed parking restrictions late in the RedBlacks season, a lot more people started driving…and drinking and driving).

What we didn’t get (at least not from the city or OSEG) was an update on the day-to-day traffic issues, and there are a few. There’s no doubt that Lansdowne has caused traffic problems in the Glebe, and I can only assume Old Ottawa South, too (in the past few years, traffic in Old Ottawa South always seemed worse than the Glebe, at least in my journeys).

Orleans councillor Bob Monette had an… interesting… idea:

During a transportation committee meeting Monday, Orléans Coun. Bob Monette suggested transit use to Lansdowne in the winter might not be as high simply because people don’t like walking. Allowing parking in the stadium could reduce the traffic congestion on Bank St., Monette said.

This is, obviously, ridiculous (and not just because the idea of turning your professional sports field into a parking lot is ludicrous).

First of all, creating an inducement to driving (more parking) will just result in more traffic, not less. I imagine Monette might be thinking that it will keep traffic flowing as people don’t stop to park on the street. But this assumes a finite number of people driving to Lansdowne. There’s no reason to think that’s the case (or that we’re at that limit). We’re Ottawa; we’ll always find more cars if we need to.

Under this proposal, we’ll have people driving to TD Place to park, driving around to park on neighbourhood streets, and, soon, driving to the parking garage mobility hub they’re building down the street.

Further, Monette’s argument has an internal contradiction. He is suggesting that people don’t take the bus in the winter because they don’t want to walk a few blocks. If that’s actually the case, then they wouldn’t be parking throughout the neighbourhood in order to walk a few blocks to Lansdowne. But this is exactly what is happening.

Monette’s solution to the traffic problem is predicated on the notion that the exact cause of the traffic problem doesn’t exist.

This is why we’re in our current traffic mess. All of our solutions–more roads! more lanes! more parking!–exacerbate the problem.

Credit where it’s (over)due

Back in March, I wrote about fixing up Rideau Street and noted that council should tackle some of the underlying issues, including poverty. This came at a time when a number of funding cuts for organizations that help the poor and street-involved had been announced (and, it should be noted, these cuts were coming from other levels of government). Well, a few weeks after I wrote that, council passed a measure to provide $50,000 of transitional funds to organizations to help them transition.

There is still more to do, and not all organizations will qualify (it’s not helping the Odawa Centre, for instance), but council deserves credit for taking this measure.

Further, in that op-ed, I was responding to comments by councillor Riley Brockington. Brockington was part of the unanimous vote to provide transitional funding, so credit to him, too.

Bike Lanes or How Bad is Good Infrastructure?

So we’re getting more and more reports about the development of a bi-directional cycletrack* on O’Connor (we’re also getting a report of some sort of bike infrastructure on Wellington…someday). There’s even an open house on Thursday. This is a pretty great development (especially if it really is going to be a cycletrack, rather than just a bike lane). There are some concerns about building a two-way track on a one-way road**, but more bike infrastructure is really needed.

But I’m also a little worried. O’Connor is not the street we should be working on right now. We should be building bike lanes on Bank Street. This is the main street. This is the street with shops and restaurants. This is the street that is the heart of Centretown and the Glebe. This is where cyclists–where people–need to be. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that when the issue of bike (and pedestrian) safety on Bank Street is raised in the future, there will be a chorus of “use the O’Connor cycletrack”.

Shuffling residents and patrons off the main streets is not how we should be building our city. We should want people out on these main streets. We should want urban life. We should encourage people to engage with Bank Street, and we should protect them when they do. Making more room for bikes (and pedestrians) just makes sense.

And remember, bike lanes, not parking spaces, are good for business.

*The Citizen referred to it as a cycletrack, but city diagrams show either a segregated lane or a painted lane, depending on the location.

**I’m agnostic in this debate, leaning to being in favour of contraflow lanes. The issue, of course, is O’Connor is a dangerous speed, with lots of speeding cars with drivers who probably aren’t really paying attention. O’Connor shouldn’t really be a one-way street, and we should, of course, tear up the Queensway. If we did these two things, we wouldn’t really have to worry about the issue.