Beware of Dog, or, Allan Hubley and the Bart Simpson Approach to Street Safety

Beware of Dog signs have always seemed completely messed up, at least in the city. They’re a warning and an attempt to shift liability: enter at your own risk. What you’re really saying when you put up that sign is, “I’m keeping an inappropriately dangerous animal that could easily harm other people.” It’s an admission of guilt.

On that note, Kanata South Councillor Allan Hubley tweeted:

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I saw this this afternoon, and wasn’t sure what to think about it (other than to note Hubley’s pointed shot at “cyclists”). My gut feeling was that it was a pretty crappy thing to do, to build what really looked like a crossing and then tell people to go away.

Luckily, Hubley decided to save me some time investigating. When called out on this, Hubley responded:

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Here’s what his tweet is saying: the city, and Hubley, are knowingly building and maintaining unsafe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and instead of fixing it, they’re trying shift blame on to the people who will be victims of this malicious street design.

This is a cold, callous and irresponsible way to run a city.

This isn’t about safety, and this isn’t about providing wayfinding as Hubley might want to claim. This is about saving money and evading responsibility. A good representative, one who cares about safety more than dollars, might say, “this is a good temporary measure until we get lights at this crossing,” but no, this is about city liability, not providing safe infrastructure.

I mean, I get it, when you’re shirking your responsibility, you don’t then want to be held responsible.

This is what they call a Kinsley Gaffe (thanks to my friend Will for reminding me of the term):

A Kinsley gaffe occurs when a political gaffe reveals some truth that a politician did not intend to admit. The term comes from journalist Michael Kinsley, who said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

Judging by his evasive responses, he let slip a truth he wanted to keep hidden.

But, you know, even if the installation of this sign isn’t a cynical ploy by liability-evading misanthropes, it’ still a pretty shitty thing to do. It is completely contemptuous of residents. It’d still be a situation where the city built half the necessary infrastructure and then basically told people to eat it.

This whole thing reminds me of an old episode of The Simpsons:

We’re going to build this dangerous path, and if you get hurt or killed, it’s your own fault.

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Two Terms Bad Four Terms Good

Here’s an interesting little story from CBC’s Joanne Chianello. Four local councillors are facing a tough choice: break their promise or be unemployed.

Chianello writes about four councillors who, running for the first time in 2010, promised to only serve two terms. Each councillor won re-election in 2014, so if they’re keep their trousers from immolating, they’d best be polishing their resumes. The four councillors are Bay Ward’s Mark Taylor, Kanata South’s Allan Hubley, Beacon Hill-Cyrville’s Tim Tierney and Cumberland’s Stephen Blais.

(This follows similar pledges made by Steve Desroches and Bob Monette in 2006. Desroches kept his word, Monette is serving his third term as I type.)

Taylor has said he’s sticking to his word. Hubley was mum. Tierney expressed regret about the pledge (but hasn’t decided on his 2018 plans). Blais, too, is equivocating.

Personally, I never put too much stock in these promises, nor their shattered remnants when the third election rolls around. I mean, I get it. Things change. It’s easy to make that promise eight years in advance, but things change. A councillor can still feel driven to help his community. He might feel there’s unfinished business. He might think that his constituents want him to stick around (and he might actually be right).

(Note, I’m saying “he” because every councillor mentioned in the story is a man.)

So, no, it’s not a horrible transgression to go back on a two-term pledge. In the end, it is for the voters to decide.

But…

It’s still a broken promise, and that’s not nothing. A voter really should take this into account. There has to be a reason the politician made that promise in the first place, and there has to a reason he’s breaking it now. Odds are, the reasons are pretty self-serving.

Was he a dreamy-eyed populist railing against career politicians? Did he think he had to make that pledge to be elected in the first place? Was he just really naive about politics? Or was it a thoughtful and earnest promise that he is compelled to renege upon due to changing circumstances?

I really can’t tell you what the situation is for these three candidates, and I wouldn’t suggest that this broken promise alone would be reason enough to vote against any them in 2018 (though there may be other valid reasons). But I do have sympathy for the kick-the-bums-out mentality of voting, and I can see how this would reinforce such an inclination.

And let’s be clear, none of these men are irreplaceable. If you followed the 2014 election, you might remember how many good candidates were out there. Kitchississippi, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier, Somerset and Osgoode all had multiple quality candidates. River and Capital each had a green candidate who looked like they might have potential. There are people out there capable of serving. We can lose some of our current councillors without weakening council too much.

If these councillors decide to run again, they should be held to account. They’ll owe their constituents an explanation and an apology, and residents will be right to press them on it. Residents would also be wise to balance this against whatever merits they might possess.

False Dilemmas on Rideau Street

The city wants to rehabilitate Rideau Street. Who can blame them? It’s a prominent Main Street. It’s a block away from Parliament Hill (it’s basically on the same street, just with a different name). It connects multiple neighbourhoods, and it should be a prime shopping and commercial strip.

And, of course, Steve’s. You’ve gotta love Steve’s.

The street needed a reconstruction, so it’s been the perfect time to make the place a little more spiffy, and, if it works out, a little more safe. We’re widening some sidewalks and putting down some sharrows.

Oh, what’s that you say? Why sharrows instead of bike lanes? Glad you asked.

The city, for all its talk of Complete Streets, safety, environmental concern and bicycle safety, bike lanes didn’t make the cut. It was wider sidewalks or bike lanes, and the sidewalks won out.

This is what the city likes to do. They like to pit pedestrians against bicyclists. They like to make bicyclists the threat to pedestrians. They like to make them compete for space. (And if anyone complains, the mayor likes to go full condescension and whine that people are never happy.)

It’s all complete bullshit.

Bicyclists and pedestrians are not at war. They are not threats to each other. Safe, proper infrastructure for either one tends to provide benefits to the other. When the city, politicians or local councillors are claiming that we can have safety for pedestrians or for bicyclists, but not both, they are lying. They are playing residents off each other in order to take the heat off themselves.

The reason why we couldn’t have bike lanes is not because of pedestrians, it’s because of cars and trucks. The city was unwilling to reduce the proportion of space given to motor vehicles to a fair and safe degree.

You know, motor vehicles, the things that kill pedestrians and bicyclists. It’s amazing that our politicians and planners have been able to convince residents that cars aren’t the existential threat that they, in fact, are.

The false dilemmas continue today.

We learn, from Metro’s Emma Jackson, that there’s a bit of a to-do about an illegal patio at a Starbuck’s on Rideau Street. Starbucks didn’t ask for permission first. They’re getting it now, and they have to pay some retroactive fees or something, but that’s not really the concern.

The issue is that the new patio takes up 3m of the new 6m-wide sidewalk (still much wider than the pitiful 1.8m sidewalks they stick other neighbourhoods with).

Local councillor Mathieu Fluery had a few things to say (as excerpted from the Metro story). Lets go through them, shall we?

“We’re trying to pedestrianize the streets, create wider sidewalks,” he said.

Great…sort of. Yes, we should definitely “pedestrianize” our streets. We want walkable streets, but walkability isn’t an end in and of itself. The point is to create lively streets where people want to be. People want to be where other people are. Patios are a big part of that. It’s easy to say you want to “pedestrianize” by making wider sidewalks, but things like patios should be a part of that extra width.

(Oh yeah, they’re not doing that widening all the way. In some areas, to “pedestrianize” apparently means to leave ample space for cars and trucks.)

…“As soon as there’s an opportunity, the businesses will try to gain the sidewalk,” Fleury said.

This is the false dilemma. The city chose to manufacture the conflict between patios and sidewalks. One fewer lane in each direction and you could get your wide sidewalks, a bike lane and some extra space for a patio.

I don’t see this issue as a business trying to “gain the sidewalk”. I see it as a business providing a service that helps animate the street.

“There’s a sweet spot where you have a patio and you have enough sidewalk space to enjoy the benefits of wider sidewalks,”

There’s also a sweet spot where cars don’t completely dominate our central neighbourhoods, but we haven’t been able to find that yet.

“The patio is a luxury.”

If you really want to “pedestrianize” this “Traditional Main Street”, patios are not a luxury; they are an essential component. We don’t want people merely walking through the Rideau Street corridor; we want them enjoying it.

Patios are not some added bonus to squeeze in if it doesn’t detract from interprovincial trucking lanes.

Of course, neither were bike lanes, but here we are.

Look, I’ve grown to quite appreciate Mathieu Fleury as a councillor. He’s done some really great work in his ward and for the city, in general. But there’s some sort of blind spot with Rideau Street. The city, our planners and our politicians aren’t willing to do what is necessary…to do what residents deserve.

Instead, we get limited choices. We get bad tradeoffs that always favour vehicle traffic. We get cynical games of residents against residents.

We get dishonest, false dilemmas.

The Truth About Ottawa Transit (People Will Actually Use It)

On Canada Day, CTV correspondent Glen McGregor made this observation (not in his professional capacity):

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I can’t speak to the competence of OC Transpo in this regard, or if it was really possible for them to meet demand on Canada Day.

Aside from reinforcing OC Transpo’s reputation for service levels, something else struck me, people–lots of people–will take the bus.

Okay, okay, I know what you’re going to say. Of course they do, on Canada Day. Of course they do, when it’s free. Of course they do, when they can’t park downtown. These objections are all true, to an extent, but they don’t really get down to the foundation of the issue.

People, Ottawans, will take OC Transpo when they are presented with the proper incentives (and correlating disincentives).

People will take the bus when they want to get downtown…when the transit is priced competitively with every facet of driving (including parking and road use)…when we don’t cater to parking (I’m looking at you, Ottawa city social media staffer)…when there is sufficient service…when they can count on that service.

So what’s our lesson here? If we really want transit to succeed, and we really want a vibrant downtown (and city), we need:

  • Reasonably priced transit: it shouldn’t cost $29 for a family of four to go on an outing.
  • Road tolls: at least during peak hours, this is how we get people out of their cars.
  • Less parking: this is just a waste of precious space, and an inducement to not use transit.
  • Properly priced parking: this is just subsidizing people who don’t use transit.

But…and this is important: the city needs to invest in transit. We need better service. We need more buses on the roads. We need to stop tailoring our transit system to commuters. The bus needs to serve all needs.

So, yeah, we can do this, if we ever have the political will.