I’m a bit of a night person. I’m generally up past 11:00, most nights. I’m regularly up past midnight on weekends. A couple of weeks ago, I conked out early. In the middle of the night, I woke up. It was 2:00 am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning of Cityfolk. I couldn’t get really get back to sleep.
For about 45 minutes, I drifted in and out of sleep. Eventually, I could hear voices. It sounded like the TV or radio…but I knew that I had turned everything off. Nonetheless, I was thirsty, so I figured I’d check out the sound while I went to get some water.
As came towards the kitchen, the voice grew louder. It was definitely a radio. Then I saw the flashing lights illuminating the apartment. The voice was coming from a police radio. There was a cop parked outside my kitchen window, door open, radio on, lights going.
I tried to see as much as I could. Bank Street at Thornton was cordoned off with police tape. I could see more squad cars further south on Bank. This was right around Irene’s…but Irene’s never seems to have any trouble. I worried about a fight. I worried about something else.
I started scrolling through Twitter, looking for an explanation. CFRA had one. A 26-year-old woman had been run down.
There are a lot of things I’ve been meaning to write about. I have a half-finished piece on the cynical vote-buying of city council. I want to write about the importance of libraries as community institutions. There’s a massive development proposed for Bank Street that shatters the CDP. There was a really cool event a couple of weeks ago centring a public wood oven in Britannia.
I want to write about this stuff. I want to write about the cool things going on in our city. I want to write about the way our city can get even better.
But people keep getting run over, and I just can’t focus on those other things when there’s so much blood in the streets…and on our hands. I hate it. I hate it so much. There’s such a powerlessness. It’s all just screaming into a void–a void that steals lives and loved ones.
The people who could do something about it won’t; at least, they haven’t yet. Councillors Brockington, McKenney and Leiper held a rally after a bicyclists was killed. Six or seven councillors showed up at the recent Citizens for Safe Cycling Annual General Meeting. Councillors like Allan Hubley claim to care about safety.
It’s time to fucking do something.
No, no that’s absolutely incorrect. It’s past time. We have six rookie councillors. That means 75% of council has been there for more than one term. They’ve had time. They’ve just done nothing.
You’ll look at the stats, and, really, Ottawa will seem relatively safe. Collisions involving bicyclists have remained steady over the years even as the popular of biking has exploded. Pedestrians seem to be getting run down with similar frequency to previous years.
We have decided that a certain amount of death is ok. I don’t care what any councillor tells you. I don’t care what platitudes the mayor spews in between his bouts of condescension and sophistry.
September was a bad month. It started really bad, with the killing of Nusrat Jahan. A killing in our vaunted Laurier Bike Lane. It didn’t mean the bike lane was any less safe, it just demonstrated that just about none of our infrastructure is safe enough.
It was a high profile killing. It brought out councillors, spawned a rally, led to a lot of jibber jabber about safety, and it may even get a few results. Politicians at all three levels have taken notice, we’ve moved some stop lines and, who knows, we might finally implement other measures to improve safety.
In the days after Nusrat’s killing, the news was reporting more and more collisions. There was a bike hit on Bank Street, for instance. It was noted that these things happen all the time, but rarely get any press.
As the month went on, there were more and more collisions. A 13-year-old girl was run over biking to school. A 14-year-old boy was run over walking to school. A bicyclist was right-hooked at Lansdowne. A pedestrian on Riverside Drive was hit. A bicyclist near Walkley and Conroy was hit…a day or two after a bicyclist had been hit a few blocks away. A woman walking at Bank and Riverside (where Meg Dussault was killed and the only safety measure that has since been implemented has been removing her ghost bike) was hit. An acquaintance mentioned that one of her friends was hit, too.
And when the Citizen decided to chronicle all the danger on our streets, photographer Darren Brown was sideswiped on his bike. I was so a propos, we should probably laugh or something. (He was ok, thankfully.)
Oh yeah, and I was almost run over on Bronson today. When the woman decided not to kill me, she figured she should honk at me for good measure.
These are the incidents off the top of my head. There are more.
When Brian Thompson was killed by a pick-up truck because he wanted to do his laundry, I wrote a plea in the Ottawa Sun that he be the last, that his death bring about some necessary changes.
There was no rally at City Hall for Brian. The mayor didn’t convene a task force for him.
At the rally for Nusrat, a friend asked if I was going to write something about her killing. I had, naturally, already thought about it, but I couldn’t for the life of me try to write the same goddamned post that I’d written so many times before. I couldn’t possible call for an end to the killing in Nusrat’s name. I couldn’t keep arguing for lower speed limits, narrower streets, safer infrastructure, fewer trucks, and the political will and law enforcement that would be necessary to make improvements.
So I went dark. I wrote a modest proposal sort of thing. If you visit this blog, I’m sure you saw it. Death is a natural part of bicycling. Let the streets run red.
That was, to an extent, my white flag. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep going on with the same pleas in a city that doesn’t care. Government is the word for the things we do together. Government is the word for the people will kill together.
And this wasn’t even my first white flag. I wrote that a couple of years ago when councillor Bike City, Great City decided that keeping parking for a private business–rather than moving it around the corner in front of the business–was more important than keeping bicyclists (and, by extension, pedestrians) safe.
Obviously, I didn’t stop then, but it’s taken me two weeks to write anything about the person who was run over a block away from my home.
I’m really not surprised it happened. I don’t know the details, but Bank Street is wide and its four lanes and drivers go upwards of 80 and 100 km/hr late at night. I know. They literally shake my home with their speed.
This is in a densely-populated neighbourhood. This is a 40 km/hr street that gets no actual enforcement. This is a neighbourhood with tons of pedestrians (including people leaving events at Lansdowne) and a number of bars–so it’s a neighbourhood with a lot of intoxicated pedestrians.
But the city just lets people keep speeding down the street. They know people speed. They’ve put up a speed sign that displays your speed and flashes a tiny white light if you are going more than 125% of the speed limit. These signs are only posted at the Bank Street Bridge, and one of them isn’t even working.
I have no idea who the woman is who got run over in my neighbourhood…my community…my home. There was a tweet that said she was “VSA” when paramedics arrived. She was transported to hospital.
VSA, vital signs absent.
I kept checking the news, trying to find out what happened, but I never found any follow-up stories, and, eventually, I gave up.
There have been no further reports about the killing of Brian Thompson. Cops were looking into it, but, ya know…
I’ve never been able to find out what happened after the woman was killed in the Metro parking lot in New Edinborough. She was run over in a parking lot. She was putting her groceries away and someone was so careless with their car–so, dare I say it, negligent–that the collision killed her, and there was never any sign of charges.
A year or so ago, a friend was hit. The driver seemed drunk. The driver fled the scene. Witnesses had to chase him down. The cops did nothing.
A year or so ago, my wife was threatened and bullied on the street–a block or two away from where that 26-year-old was run down–by a cabbie. She got the number. She called the cops. She had a long, detailed conversation about the whole thing. The cop contacted the cabbie and spoke to him. The cabbie all but admitted that he had no fucking clue how to behave on the road. The cop gave him a talking to.
My wife explained to the cop about all the rampant speeding on Bank Street through the Glebe. The cops were glad to know, so they could do something about it.
Nothing has been done, not really. But a woman did get run over.
What’s the whole damned point of this. Why do we even pretend to care about street safety. Why do we worry about having these laws when we don’t care about enforcing them. The deputy chief got doored and the all the perpetrator got was a lecture.
There are people who no more about the inner workings of the city who are more optimistic than me. Than are people with far more power who are more optimistic than me. I’m out of all optimism. Hell, I’m even past cynicism. This is a deep, grieving resignation.
I still love this city, and I really do want it better. I can’t say I hold out much hope that there will be real change in my life time, but I’ll espouse some sort of empty hope that there will be. I just would have liked people like Nusrat Jahan, Brian Thompson, Meg Dussaut, Lise Leblanc, Mario Theoret, Danielle Nacu and all those nameless victims whose deaths get a passing mention in the media could be around to see it.
But we’ve embraced a sort of municipal nihilism, and without some actual courage by our political leaders, and a little less callous, destructive selfishness by residents, there’s no way we’re going to change.
I’m going to try to get back to writing about other things. And, yeah, I’ll probably write about this stuff again. I like writing, and I want life in the city to keep improving. So I won’t stop. I won’t stop writing, and I won’t stop living my life.
But I do it knowing that I could be easily and swiftly killed in our streets, and the city just wouldn’t care.