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.

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