Parking and Driving, Driving and Parking

Kathryn Hunt does a great job of writing about biking and infrastructure matters in Ottawa. She’s thoughtful and she knows what she’s talking about. For these reasons, I was a little surprised by her recent column:

Recently, someone asked me if I thought motorists would drive through parks, over lawns and on sidewalks if there were no dedicated space for cars (as cyclists do, at times). At the time, I didn’t know what to say. Since cars need flat surfaces and a lot of room, it was hard to imagine. There just isn’t room on a sidewalk for a car.

Luckily, the current mess that is Lansdowne set her straight.

But even without Lansdowne, it’s obvious that Ottawa drivers will go wherever they please. I see cars driving and parking on the sidewalk with great regularity. It probably happens at least once a week on my street. And this past Victory Day, we got some lovely evidence that drivers will take over parks if they feel so inclined:


So, yes, drivers will drive anywhere.

Car wars

Today I published an op-ed–okay, it was kind of a polemic–on the supposed War on Cars.

To be clear, there’s no war on cars. As I argue, there is a war on us. Cars, drivers, are killing us. They’re destroying the environment. They rob us of time and space. They injure us. They kill us. And through it all, we get little more than a corporate shrug from the city.

We don’t build proper sidewalks, or bikelanes, or intersections. We keep expanding roads. We desperately clutch to our parking–our city is zoned so that all new developments must have parking. It is absolutely insane.

Specifically in the piece, I talk about the failed attempt to build a bikeway along O’Connor. The city has cancelled have of it. The councillor for Capital Ward is suggesting some half measures to smooth over the open hostility the neighbourhood and the city has for non-automobile transportation. The official line is that we need to balance needs. We need to compromise.

Here’s what I didn’t get to in the op-ed. The O’Connor bikeway was the compromise. Every street–every damned street–is built for cars. Even our pedestrian mall allows cars. Lansdowne, a primarily pedestrian zone, has been given a car-centric makeover.

We have no bike infrastructure in the Glebe. None. We have sharrows and painted lanes. Latex on concrete isn’t infrastructure; it’s a pacifier.

We should have north-south bikelanes on multiple streets in the Glebe. Percy is considered a bike route. No bike lanes. Bank is considered a bike route. No bike lanes. O’Connor will be called a bikeway. No bike lanes.

Bike lanes should be going on Bank Street. That’s where the shops are. That’s where the restaurants are. That’s the main street that connects downtown, the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and parts beyond. Right now, bicyclists intermingle with cars that can easily kill them, drivers that can easily kill them.

Bike lanes on Bank Street would still provide the majority of the street to cars; it would still be a compromise.

Bike lanes on O’Connor would still provide the majority of the street to cars; it also ensures that all the space on Bank Street is devoted to cars; it would be a further compromise.

Nothing on Bank, nothing on O’Connor, nothing on Percy or Lyon, that’s not a compromise.

That’s surrender, and that was the point of the op-ed.

“Why is there no braille?”

IMG_1839On Saturday, my eldest daughter and I headed through Lansdowne. She’s learning to ride her bike, so we were out an about the neighbourhood. Going through South Court between the Pavillion and the lawn (and, yes each part of the park has its own name), we came across the plaque dedicating the opening of the park last August (pictured left).

But, there was something missing.

My daughter (who is still learning to read), turned to me and asked, “Daddy, why is there no braille?”

It’s a good question. Sure, braille isn’t an official language. And sure, it’s just a plaque, not emergency information or anything. But it would make the park a little more welcoming and a little more accessible.

So, Mr. Mayor, why is there no braille?

It’s not quite car-free, but it’s a start

There’s a vacant lot sitting at the northeast corner of Cumberland Street and York Street. It’s quite a shame. What should be a prominent intersection is sadly underdeveloped, Mr. Mozzarella’s valiant attempts to hold things together aside. But now we have a new proposal for the lot. EcoCorner Inc. wants to build a  mix-use tower with retail at ground level and small residential units above (approximately 400 square feet).

It’s interesting. It’ll need a variance. And the community is already skeptical of the proposed height.

What the community isn’t questioning, however, is this building’s most unique feature: it will be car-free. Underneath there will be parking, yes, but it will be bike parking. The building will offer no parking to residents.

Well, let’s back-up a bit. It will offer no on-site parking to residents. There is chatter that they could provide off-site parking with a shuttle service to and from the lot. So that’s not exactly car-free; it’s more car-remote. I don’t like the rhetorical sleight-of-hand (we haven’t always had good experiences in Ottawa with developers who don’t actually mean what they say), but I do like the initiative.

There is very little reason that a building must provide parking to residents, especially a building in an area like the market. It’s a walkable neighbourhood (though it does need some infrastructure improvements…and it needs King Edward fixed) with a plethora of shops, restaurants and other amenities nearby. There’s transit that links to other central neighbourhoods, as well as the transitway and, eventually, the LRT. You don’t need a car to live downtown.

Of course, you might want a car. That’s the big objection (especially if you read comments at The Sun), but that’s a red herring. No one will be forced to move into this building. No one will be forced to sell their car and live there. Every other new build in Ottawa offers parking. Almost all of our residential buildings offer parking. There is no shortage of options for people who want to buy or rent a home for their car (there are also parking garages in the Market).

The big worry would be residents appropriating street parking for their cars. This does not seem like an insurmountable issue. The city doesn’t have to issue parking passes to residents (I’m not even sure if they do that for the Market…and I’m too lazy to really look into it right now). If you live in the core, you are not eligible for an on-street parking pass; the Market can be the same.

The off-site parking could be a concern. It’s not exactly eco-friendly to constantly drive people to their cars, and I have a bit of a worry that if the city changes the bylaws to allow “car-free” buildings, they’ll make remote parking a requirement.

(I don’t think this will happen. I think city officials are starting to understand that you don’t have to have parking absolutely everywhere, but the city still loves cars and parking, so you can never be sure.)

A more immediate concern is the suggestion that the car-free parking could just be shuffled onto the city:

One possible solution to the visitor parking issue would be for the developer and the city to reach an agreement that would designate some spaces in the city-owned lot at Dalhousie and Clarence for the building’s exclusive use, Fleury said.

This would not present a step forward in our city planning. We already provide businesses and residences with too much parking, a lot of it free. We need to move away from this dependence on parking cars. If the city wants to help, it would be much better for them to find a way to help Vrtucar (and any similar services *cough*Uber*cough*) expand. We can rid ourselves of car ownership without ridding ourselves of cars.

The project still has a few hurdles. Aside from getting a parking variance, the proposed height also violates the secondary plan for the neighbourhood. I am loathe to start tinkering with secondary plans too much (because then why have them at all?). If this tower is going to be built, it needs to find a way to keep the spirit of the secondary plan even if it can’t adhere to the letter of the plan.

(Or it could be a little shorter.)

Regardless of the height issue, this could be a major victory for bringing a little more parking sanity to a city drunk on cars.

Diane Deans and Tactical Urbanism

It may have just been a passing comment, but Diane Deans scored some points with me at a committee meeting. In the discussion about the patio project on Elgin Street, this occurred:

You may not be familiar with the term “tactical urbanism”. Here’s a pretty good definition:

…a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places. Tactical Urbanism is also commonly referred to as guerilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism, city repair, or D.I.Y. urbanism.

It really is a wonderful idea. It’s an easy way to spruce up our city streets (like the Glebe BIA is doing by putting out flower boxes for the Tulip Festival), and to adapt them to changing needs, events and seasons.

And I’ll admit; I was a bit surprised to hear this comment from Deans. It’s not the usual sort of comment we hear coming from our suburban councillors (and not always from our urban councillors, either). I hate to fall prey to the stereotypical thinking of the the urban-suburban divide, but with so many of our city debates breaking along those lines, it’s very difficult to avoid such a reaction.

So good for Diane Deans. Not only for having a good observation and promoting a progressive vision for the city, but for also breaking the mold of or urban-suburban culture wars.

MUPs, accidents and a city that just doesn’t care

On Tuesday, I came across an incident on the multi-use path along the western side of the canal. A woman was hurt. She was on a stretcher about to be loaded into an ambulance. She was sitting upright and it looked like an injury to her arm. (I did not stick around to watch; no one needs or deserves the rubbernecking.)

There was a young man standing on the grass, watching, a bike lying on the grass at his feet. I don’t know what happened and I doubt there will be any coverage of this event, but, naturally, I wonder what happened. The MUP was quite busy, lots of people walking, biking, jogging and rollerblading. It’s easy to guess that there was a collision, possible a bike hitting a pedestrian.

I’ll admit it; I have a selfish reason for not wanting to see a bicyclist hit a pedestrian. The city and much of our community likes to pit bicycles against pedestrians. Incidents between a pedestrian and cyclist tend to gets a disproportionate amount coverage, often with bikes painted as some kind of menace.

(Meanwhile, drivers keep injuring and killing people with alarming frequency, and we give a communal shrug.)

However, I am not going to go out of my way to defend someone on a bike who hits a pedestrian. There are very few accidents on our roads, sidewalks or MUPs (though considering the shape the MUPs are in, it’s certainly possible this was an accident). Negligence isn’t an accident; it’s recklessness.

I don’t actually know who was at fault but I know who is responsible. We are.

It’s the same refrain, over and over again. We do not build safe infrastructure. We do not provide sufficient safe space for all road, sidewalk and path users. We create these situations. We as a city. We as a community.

The MUPs are the NCC’s responsibility. They’re multi-use, but bikes must yield to pedestrians (they also aren’t supposed to go more than 20 km/hr…for all those bikes with speedometers). These paths get a lot of use. A lot. The NCC has not devoted enough space for bikes and pedestrians. They have, however, built a freeway along a national heritage site. They need to realize they are intentionally putting people in harm’s way.

The city shares blame here, too. The city relies on the NCC’s paths as our bike network. These paths are often referred to as bike paths, but they’re not. The city encourages bikes to use them, but they shouldn’t. Congestion and irritation ensues.

Bikes could, of course, hop onto the road. The driveway is right there. I sometimes choose that over the MUP. But it’s dangerous, too. It’s built for speed and its a commuting artery. Drivers don’t seem happy about bikes on the road.

The city has another option; they could build proper bike infrastructure. They’ve promised to do that, but, of course, the city is, as a corporate entity, liars. They proposed a bike route along O’Connor. This is one block over from Colonel By and the MUP. This could help to get bikes off the MUP (especially if they could connect it to Pretoria Bridge).

But the city is in the process of cancelling these plans. The bikelanes will be built, but they’ll Glebe. There will be no bike infrastructure from Glebe to Fifth or to Holmwood. It was right around Glebe (or where Glebe would connect with the MUP) that this incident happened.

Again, I don’t know if it was a bike that caused the injury. However, it is quite easy to see how the city–by not providing proper bike infrastructure in a bike-heavy area–is asking for collisions.

But the city doesn’t care about pedestrian or bike safety. They care about parking and driving really fast.