Small steps for safety

Following in the footsteps of John Tory–the ever the forward-thinking, progressive mayor of Toronto–River Ward Councillor Riley Brockington is looking to find ways to control the costs of policing while also increasing street safety.  Brockington has moved that we formally ask the province to allow the city to use technology—such as photo radar—to deal with traffic infractions, thus freeing up police officers to worry about things like, well, crime.

It takes but a second of reflection and a scintilla of compassion to realize the wisdom of this idea, an idea we in Ottawa should gladly adopt. The city always preaches the Three Es of street safety: Education, Enforcement and Engineering. Here’s a perfect tool to help tackle enforcement (the benefits to the police force and city finances are just the proverbial cherry on top).

With that in mind, here are two more ways in which Ottawa could make the city a little safer and a little more walkable.

First, install raised intersections or crosswalks (meaning that the sidewalk won’t lower to meet the street at intersections, but will continue at the same height through the interscection). This, too, is a fairly straightforward safety measure. Raised intersections serve as speedbumps, one of the most effective traffic calming measures. Drivers will be less-able to whip around corners, cutting off pedestrians. Further, without those low curb cuts, they won’t be able to cut across the sidewalk while speeding through a turn.

Moreover, raised intersections are a signal to drivers that the intersection and the cross walk belong to pedestrians just as much, if not more so, than drivers. The current system of lowering the sidewalk to the roadway is a message that pedestrians are treading into the realm of cars. It tells them that they are second class to motorists and should be submissive to the whims of driving.

And it would address the problem of all the massive puddles that form at crosswalks when winter snow melts.

This should be standard procedure. When a street is being built or re-built, all intersections with crosswalks should be raised.

Next, let’s fix pedestrian lights. Eliminate beg buttons (lights that will only change if a pedestrian presses a little button). They’re ridiculous. Whenever a car gets a green light, pedestrians should get a walk sign. Further, lights should change regularly (and not just because pedestrians can’t always safely access beg buttons when snow clearing and salting isn’t done properly). Lights should change regularly to slow traffic, because slower traffic is safer. Lights should change regularly in order to remove the incentive for people to cross against the light.

Light timing shouldn’t be used to move cars as fast as possible through communities. It should be used to increase the safety and walkability of our city streets.

But if we decide we must use beg buttons, make them command buttons, instead. If the light is not on a regular cycle, pressing the button should make the light change immediately. None of this waiting a minute and a half, make it change right away. If there are too many pedestrians and that would unduly disrupt traffic, then there are too many pedestrians for a beg button.

There are other things we could do, but neither of these measures require drastic changes to our infrastructure. No lanes are narrowed or removed (even if they should be). No space is taken away from cars. Our streets are just made a little more welcome for all. That’s it.

Shad Qadri: Nihilist or Anarchist?

Commendably, River Ward Councillor Riley Brockington has put forward a motion to take some preliminary steps to bring a bit more safety to our streets. He moved, seconded by West-Carleton March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, that the city ask the province for permission to use photo radar as a traffic enforcement measure (basically).

In the past, Brockington has talked about speeding being a big concern for his ward, so good on him for trying to do something to address the issue.

Even though the city always touts the Three-Es of road safety (Education, Enforcement, Engineering), not all councillors are ready to sign on. Here’s Stittsville Councillor Shad Qadri (via Glen Gower):

There are many instances of well-intentioned traffic mechanisms not always operating as intended. Stop signs, for example, may effectively work to bring vehicles to lower speeds; however, reckless drivers may run through the sign, endangering the lives of pedestrians who thought it was safe to cross the street.

Help me out, is this an lol nothing matters response or a just wanting to watch the world burn response. I’d like to know just what strain of nihilism or anarchism he’s embracing as a public safety philosophy.

You see, photo radar, like stop signs, won’t stop reckless drivers, so why have ’em, amirite? And I guess we can do away with stop signs, too, and traffic lights and pretty much the entirety of the HTA. We can’t stop everyone, so why bother trying.

Thieves can pick locks, murderers can get guns, criminals gonna criminal. The law’s just a really wordy shruggie emoji.

Yes, yes, I know. You’re going to call reductio ad absurdum on me. I don’t care. Qadri’s argument is so absurd on its face, there’s really very little reductio upon which to embark.

But I don’t believe Qadri’s been flung into some sort of existential crisis about road safety and city building. That comment was really just a cover for his true intent, to protect the ability of drivers to speed with near immunity.

Likewise, photo radar’s effects may prove unpredictable. Though a speeding deterrent, it will need to be demonstrated that the immediate effects will work to actively slow down drivers rather than simply punish them long after the risk has already been incurred.

Alternatively, I will need to examine whether or not the tool can successfully compensate in the areas where police simply do not have the manpower to monitor.

Let’s take a closer look and see what he actually said in those two paragraphs.

First of all, he said, plain and simple, that photo radar is a speeding deterrent. He says the effects “may prove unpredictable” (how’s that for hedging so you don’t actually have to do anything about a serious problem?), and he tries to wave away the positive impact by writing, “Though a speeding deterrent” (emphasis mine), but it’s still clear as day. He calls it a speeding deterrent.

(I’m not sure what he means by the effects being unpredictable when he also calls it a deterrent. The degree to which it is a deterrent is unpredictable? The revenue generated is unpredictable?)

Next, he demands that the effects be “immediate”. Well, what does “immediate” mean? More importantly, why the myopic view for public safety? If it takes two years to see a noticeable decrease in dangerous driving, accidents and injuries is that okay? What if it takes five years, is it not worth it then? What a horrible perspective for our civic leaders to have.

In the final sentence of the first paragraph of that quotation, he states he doesn’t want to punish these lawbreakers “long after the risk has already been incurred”. What the hell kind of argument is this? It’s fundamentally flawed in two ways. Since when do we decide criminals and scofflaws can get away with their infractions if they’re not caught in the act? I’m starting to lean towards nihilism, here.

Worse, though, is his inability to comprehend the risk that is on our streets. An episode of dangerous driving isn’t the risk, dangerous drivers are. A dangerous driver getting away with his dangerous behaviour and pulling into his garage does not signal the end of the risk. The risk persists until that driver has his behaviour corrected or until he loses his license (or, in extreme cases, more severe punishments).

Drivers are not external to the risk they pose. They are the risk.

Finally, Qadri argues that he will need to study the issue before he can be convinced of its usefulness (even though he’s already admitted it’s a speed deterrent!). This is status quo bias mixed with a toxic driving culture.

Thankfully, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson has the information Qadri needs! The question will be, as it always is, if the politician will actually look at the evidence (via Chris Begley).

But there’s another problem with that final paragraph (I know, Qadri is a master at fitting multiple problems in a single line of text!). Brockington isn’t proposing that Ottawa use photo radar (though I assume that’s his end game). He’s proposing that Ottawa seek the ability to use photo radar.

So, Qadri isn’t saying no to photo radar with this stance. He’s saying no to even having the option…even though he claims he would support it if the evidence does (which it does!), even though he says its a speeding deterrent.

For all of these reasons, I see this entire post of Qadri’s as some epic concern-trolling. I see no reason to believe he is open to implementing photo radar. I see no reason to believe he is open to having his mind changed on the issue.

He’s protecting driving culture. Safety be damned.

(By the way, you can sign a petition to support photo radar. I did.)

Lisa MacLeod and Politics…Again

Growing up, did you ever know that kid who would quit a game the moment he was winning? I mean, we probably all did that at times. If there’s not a defined end-point, the lure to end the game when you’re not losing makes total sense. It’s not the best sportsmanship, but what are you going to expect from 7-year-olds.

There’s an old episode of The (American) Office that demonstrates this perfectly. The sales team is playing basketball against the warehouse crew. At one point, the Steve Carrell character gets, accidentally, hit in the face, so he calls the game off…moments after hearing that his team was in the lead. It’s understandable for kids, but bad form for adults, don’t you think?

Enter Lisa MacLeod.

As Catherine McKenna, Yasir Naqvi and a host of concerned residents try to create an open and honest consultation on the future of the Experimental Farm and the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital, MacLeod is tagging along, trying to preserve what little is left of the Conservative Government’s local legacy:

But Progressive Conservative MPP for Nepean–Carleton Lisa MacLeod sees it as a political move.

“I think it’s really politics at play,” said MacLeod, who also attended the meeting. “My hope is the current [federal] government is not going to reverse everything the previous government did — that’s what this appears to be.”

Get it? All the cynical political manoeuvring of the Conservative government was okay, but if anyone else tries anything, it’s just playing politics. Now that the Tories are done, everything should stay as is. Baird’s decision should be maintained. Game over. Tories win.

Basically, she’s Michael Scott.

There are so many problems with what she’s saying. First off, of course this is political. We’re talking about shaping our city. We’re talking about the work of multiple levels of government. We’re talking about the life of the public. We’re talking about the fucking body politic.

Second, no one–I repeat no one (other than MacLeod)–appears to be trying to inject an inordinate amount of politics into this process. People are trying to strip the politics out of it. It was the Tories and Baird who made this a political issue. The rest of us are just trying to fix all the meddling.

(By the way, I did a quick search, and I couldn’t find MacLeod condemning Baird or the Tories for playing politics with the location of the Victims of Communism memorial. So her lamentations about inserting politics into city-building ring doubly hollow.)

McKenna and Naqvi aren’t demonstrating any heavy-handedness. They’re listening. Councillors Leiper and Brockington are just trying to make sure their residents’ voices are heard. MacLeod (whose riding doesn’t include the Farm) is the one playing partisan politics.

It is such a cynical and contemptuous move by MacLeod: the Tories and the Hospital rammed through a crass political decision, and that decision needs to be preserved in amber.

Read: Everything my team does is okay. Anything your team does is out of line.

This is all just so very gross. In this situation, MacLeod is the manifestation of so much that is wrong with politics these days: rampant, rabid partisanship; contempt for the public; secrecy and obfuscation; cynical projection; intellectual dishonesty (if not outright dishonesty).

We desperately needed new political leaders in Ottawa (both “Ottawa” the federal government and the city of Ottawa). We need to scrub our city of the shallow, crass decisions of the former government.

Mark Taylor and Victim-Blaming

We’ve had a few violent incidents in the city, recently. Some shootings, a beating, a knife attack, possible arson, all these have found their way into the news. After one of the most recent cases—on Ritchie Street—Bay Ward councillor Mark Taylor responded:

Mark Taylor, the councillor for Bay ward, where Wednesday’s killing occurred, said the one “consoling factor” is that the latest attack was targeted at one person who was known to police.

“The underlying message here is if you don’t hang out with bad people, bad things don’t happen to you,” he said.

It’s quintessential victim-blaming. The victim was shot because of what he did and with whom he associated. The implication being, if he hadn’t led that life, he wouldn’t have been shot. As a series of events, it’s true, of course, but such a statement isn’t just chronology; there is an implicit (if not actual) message that by his choices, the victim caused his own death.
This is bullshit.

It’s bullshit whenever we tacitly or explicitly define the actions of a victim as the cause of a crime. There should be little need to explain that the cause of a crime is a criminal.

But we see this sort of victim-blaming quite regularly. If women don’t want to be raped, they shouldn’t go out at night, they shouldn’t drink too much, they should watch what they wear, they should travel in pairs. All of these sentiments have been expressed by local, provincial and national leaders.

When a cyclist gets hit by a driver, we worry about helmets. When it’s a pedestrian, we make sure to warn everyone else to make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. The crime is waved away as an organic result of circumstance (yet, we give less concern for the circumstances of someone who might turn to a life of crime).

This time, it’s: if you don’t hang out with the wrong people, you won’t get shot.

Of course, we know why Taylor said this. It’s comforting. A random act of violence could victimize anyone, even you and even me. We feel we have more control over our lives if it’s a targeted attack. There are things we can do. We can avoid bad neighbourhoods. We can avoid criminals. We can avoid dark parks. We can avoid bars. We can put on more clothes. We can put on a helmet. Half of us can not be a woman.

Eventually, this sentiment changes from what I can do to protect myself, to what you must do to protect yourself. Responsibility is shifted. There’s no additional burden for me to say we should all avoid dark alleys in certain areas of town. I can pass that weight on to the people who live there and have to walk those alleys in order to get home.

Still, we can all understand why the sentiment is comforting, and I’ll condemn no one for experiencing any sense of relief knowing that it wasn’t a random attack, and feeling a little more secure. I won’t even condemn Mark Taylor for feeling that way.

I’ll condemn the statement he made. That sentiment may be perfectly natural as a personal reaction, but it should never be expressed by one of our civic leaders. He wasn’t confiding to a friend about his fears, nor was he participating in an academic discussion about crime and security. He was speaking as an elected official and a community leader.

He was adding an air of legitimacy to the ugly sentiment. His words should be condemned by all.


I started this post a week ago, in the meantime, Taylor “apologized”:

The councillor for Bay ward says what some have called his “insensitive” and “dangerous” comments in the wake of Taylor Morrow-Flint’s execution-style killing were taken out of context and misinterpreted.

Coun. Mark Taylor says he apologizes for “the way in which a select few of my comments have been interpreted.”

This seems like the classic non-apology. I’m sorry some people misinterpreted my perfectly fine remarks. It shifts blame onto the offended. But it’s worse. It’s dishonest.

The Citizen‘s Matthew Pearson has provided the full conversation. Here’s how it started:

First question is to partially cut off; I turned on my recorder as I sat down.

MP: “…Ritchie, I understand.”

MT: Yeah, it was, you know, unfortunate obviously. I mean, I guess the consoling factor is that, as I understand from the police and their investigation’s ongoing, is that this was very specific, very limited to the individual who was shot. This wasn’t one of these random cases of people of firing bullets going through the neighbourhood, I think we’ve turned the corner on that, thankfully. So, you know, unless you were this individual, you probably had nothing to fear.

He wasted no time getting right to his “consoling factor”. The context of his victim-blaming was him blaming the victim. Nothing is taken out of context. Nothing is misconstrued. What on earth could Pearson have said while turning on his recorder to trick Taylor into saying so insensitive?

And, again, we should all be able to understand why someone would have Taylor’s reaction. That’s not the point. The point is, he went from that reaction to blaming the victim for being killed.

So his apology isn’t a non-apology. It doesn’t rise to that level. It’s just dishonesty.

It’s not that hard to say, “you know, I shouldn’t have said what I said. I’m sorry.”

Hell, through on a caveat, if you want. “It was an emotional response, but I should have thought before I spoke.” I think most people would offer a bit of understanding.

But hiding behind “a select few of my comments have been [ed.: correctly] interpreted” is just gross.

Lisa MacLeod and De-politicizing Our City

Lord, save me from a sanctimonious politician imploring everyone else from politicizing an issue. Save me from partisan rhetoric dressed in post-partisan garb. Save me from ridiculous diatribes. Save me from the hubris.

Oh, sorry, I’m not being terribly specific. This could be about pretty much anything. My bad. Let me try again.

Lord, save me from Lisa MacLeod. (No relation. The spelling should give it away.)

Let me offer a bit of background. One of the defining features of our city is the Central Experimental Farm. Built in 1886, the farm is a valuable research facility. It provides knowledge and economic benefits to our city and our nation. It doubles as an educational institution. So many Ottawa school kids have received hands-on learning thanks to the farm.

It’s also a fabulous bit of greenspace. Take a walk, ride your bike, go for a jog. These are some of the pastimes in which you can take part in the farm. And there are fewer things more magical in our city than walking through the farm in the black of night and seeing the Northern Lights.

I don’t know what MacLeod thinks of the farm, but I know what she thinks of the attempts of local residents to save the farm.

“I just hope this isn’t an idea by local Liberals to say let’s undo everything (former federal Tory cabinet minister) John Baird did. We don’t have time for that,” she lamented.

Opposition to a poorly thought-out giveaway of a public asset is just Liberals hating on John Baird, apparently.

“If we are going to reopen (the search for a hospital site), the federal government has got to be cognizant of the real timelines the provincial government has. It shouldn’t just be because John Baird is a Conservative.”

Look, we’re not talking about reopening the process. The process was never open to begin with. There was no consultation with the public. There was no consultation with the farm. There was no consultation with scientists.

The Ottawa Hospital, complicit in all this with federal politicians and bureaucrats, made sure this wasn’t an open process.

Local residents aren’t the ones playing politics. The Conservative Party spent years playing politics with our city, and now MacLeod is carrying water for their (hopefully) failed vision of a lesser Ottawa.

Remember the Victims of Communism memorial? The backers and the NCC worked together to find a nice little spot for it, the Garden of the Provinces. This spot, on “Confederation Boulevard” wasn’t good enough for the Conservatives. They decided that all the non-partisan planning that had gone into the Long Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) of the Parliamentary Precinct should be scuttle for their pet project.

The NCC never seemed on board. The decision not only went against the LTVP, it went against their mission, as well. The Tories didn’t care. They stacked the NCC board and made sure that this monstrosity went through. It wasn’t supported by Canadians. And it wasn’t supported by Ottawans.

So, yes, the federal Liberals and the NCC are undoing the damage done by John Baird and the Conservatives. This isn’t playing politics. This is scrubbing cynical political maneuvering from city-building.

John Baird was not a trustworthy steward of the NCC or our city. The Liberals could hardly do any worse.