Baseline Rapid Transit and contempt for communities

So Baseline is getting a Bus Rapid Transit makeover. I’m not going to get into the merits of the plan in the post (I generally like the project, but I don’t like all the details), but I want to highlight one issue surrounding the plan, and the greater problems in so many of our city plans.

College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli brought up the problem: the new bus plan will mean that people living in a number of residential buildings (condos, a retirement home) will suddenly have a much longer walk to a bus stop and this will greatly deter bus ridership.

He’s absolutely correct. Too often, we make it inconvenient to take the bus, promote car use and then wonder why we’re not reaching ridership goals. It’s a common problem, but it’s not what I’m thinking about right now.

No, the problem comes with the reason that the residents along Baseline would be so inconvenienced. Transportation Chair Keith Egli argued that putting in more stops would make the whole thing less rapid.

The implication of this is that Baseline Rapid Transit isn’t being designed to help people who live in the neighbourhood along the bus route. No, it is being designed to help people travel though the neighbourhood, as fast as possible.

This is the same reason we have a highway running through the centre of our city. It’s why we won’t put bike lanes on Bank Street. It’s like the city wants to pretend that no one lives on the street, just travels along it.

It’s why Metcalfe, O’Connor, Lyon and Kent are such wretched streets–they’re designed to get people through the neighbourhood and flee.

It’s why suburban councillors opposed the Main Street improvements…because it would add three minutes onto the trips of commuters racing through the neighbourhood.

It looks like the city will find some compromises to keep the buses rapid without totally neglecting the residents who need to catch a ride, but this should have been considered much earlier. With this project, Baseline is primed for some transit-oriented development (TOD). We shouldn’t be scuttling it before we can even start.

This is mentality–that inner neighbourhoods are mostly just nuisances for commuters–has to change. Neighbourhood development projects need to consider the concerns of those who are living in the neighbourhood. Long-distance transportation has to take a backseat to liveability.

Some time ago, I wrote about how confounding it was that suburban dwellers supported more sprawl (sorry, can’t find the post). I understood that they liked being on the edges of the city, but I didn’t get why they would want the city to keep expanding, leading to more and more people wanting to speed through their neighbourhoods into the core.

This is what might be happening to College Ward, and it is a direct result of sprawl and disdain for non-suburban living. It needs to change, and people in the inner suburbs need to realize they are the next victim of this attitude (if they aren’t already).

City Capacity – Updated

Our water treatment system isn’t designed to handle the largest rainfalls we get. That’s why after a big summer rainfall, the beaches close. The system can’t handle the volume and so the runoff–and all the waste in with it–goes directly into the river.

The system’s capacity is about 50% of the expected peak volume. When we get a typical downpour, we know half of it is just going right to our waterways, untreated. This seems gross, but it makes sense. It would be beyond impractical to build, maintain and pay for a system that could handle 100% of the expected peak volume, so we live with some pollution and the occasionally-closed beaches.

Snow clearing is in the news these days, because, well, it’s been snowing. A lot. Ottawa has established service levels for snow clearing, but the city is well aware that in larger-than-average snowfalls, we will never meet those service levels. Again, this makes sense. We can debate if we’ve got enough snow clearing capacity (I would argue we don’t), and we can debate if our priorities are straight (I would argue they aren’t quite), but few would suggest that on a day of really heavy snowfall, a bit of a service delay is unreasonable.

Now, I don’t know what the city’s capacity is for the expected peak volume of snowfall, but it’s clearly less than 100%.

Transit capacity is also less than 100% expected peak volume. You can tell because so many rush hour buses are packed well beyond capacity (if you get on a bus and don’t have a seat available, that’s over capacity by any reasonable measure). Of course, the justification for this is that these packed buses balance out those that are well under capacity. That’s understandable, but it’s a question of to what degree is it acceptable.

Ottawa likes to drive. She likes to drive a lot. She likes to drive a helluva lot. Yes, we have traffic issues, but no it’s not really that bad. We’re not Toronto or L.A. When the city plans road building, road widenings and road extensions, they target meeting 100% expected peak capacity. (They don’t meet it, because more road capacity means more driving, but that’s the goal.) Sure, when a Tanger Mall opens, that’s going to bust our road capacity (*weeps*), but that’s above expected peak capacity.

If you drive a lot, you’re probably going to want to park. City planners seek to provide parking capacity for 118% of expected peak volume. When on-street parking usage rises above 85% (meaning only 15% of spaces are free at a given time), it’s considered a problem.

Yes, that’s right. For every 85 on-street parking spots that are needed, the city seeks to provide more than 100 spots. (And, again, more spots will encourage more driving.)

So, to review, here are out targets:

Water treatment: capacity should be 50% of expected peak volume.

Snow clearing: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.

Buses: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.*

Roads and driving: capacity should be 100% of expected peak volume.

Parking: capacity should be 118% of expected peak volume.

What the hell.

*Yeah, I forgot to add that part about transit the first time around.

No, the city doesn’t prioritize bike lanes. Yes, CTV is trolling again.

I’ve long since abandoned watching CTV news. They’re victim-blaming, anti-street safety trolls, regularly touting the value of hi-viz clothing and helmets. They would regularly run polls designed stoke anti-bicycle riding animus.

And they’re at it again.

Last week, they decided to run a oh-my-god-the-city-is-plowing-a-bike-lane-how-dare-they story. The framing was that “bike lanes are cleared before sidewalks” (by the way, nice picture of a bike box covered in snow). And here’s what CTV came up with: the city considers the bike lanes part of the road so they do them first.

…but that’s not really what’s going on, and if CTV preferred to rely on journalism than “people” saying things on Twitter, they’d know that this isn’t actually correct.

The picture was of the O’Connor Bike Lane and, yes, it appeared cleared before the sidewalk along O’Connor. If that was the only bike lane downtown, then maybe (maybe) CTV would have a story, but it’s not, and most of downtown has been ignored all winter.

There is a bike lane on Lyon that has maybe been partially cleared once this year.

There are bike lanes on Percy that has been cleared sporadically and incompletely in some spots, and hasn’t been cleared at all in other spots.

I don’t even try to use the Bay Street lane, but I’ve heard it’s been neglected, too.

Every street downtown gets plowed after every snowfall. Every sidewalk gets plowed (poorly and far from promptly). If you’re going to run a story on the plowing of bike lanes, it’d be good to check and see if most of the bike lanes even ever get plowed.

Or if you want to just rely on Twitter (which seemed to be the extent of their investigation), it is not at all hard to find example after example after example after example after example of the neglect or blocking of the few bike lanes that actually ever get plowed.

Look, there is never going to be even distribution of snow clearing, and when you plow two bike lanes but every sidewalk, some sidewalks will be done after bike lanes. Further, sometimes it’s going to continue snowing after a sidewalk is plowed, so it will look a bike lane is getting special treatment.

Of course, it’s undeniable that the city is failing its service level promises. Bike lanes and sidewalks come secondary (if at all) to roads. On Sunday night, I shoveled out the sidewalk from my building to Bank Street. There’s a 94-year-old woman who lives above me. She doesn’t get to leave her home if the sidewalk isn’t cleared.

Sometime Sunday night or Monday morning, a plow came by…a street plow, but it wasn’t there to clear the road (which had already been done), it was pushing the snow further to the side to make room, it would seem, for parking spaces (there was no other reason to clear that far). In doing so, all the hard, heavy chunky snow was pushed into the sidewalk, making it impassable for anyone with a mobility issue, and pretty much impossible to shovel out.

A day and a half later, the sidewalk plow came along, clearing a path, but not really plowing. I don’t know if my neighbour is able to leave her apartment. (My street is supposed to be cleared within six hours, according to city standards.)

There is a problem with clearing sidewalks and making the city manoeuvrable for pedestrians, but it is not caused by clearing two bike lanes every now and then. It is caused by our car-centric planning. People who are against safety improvements for bicyclists have a tendency to pit bikes against pedestrians (this is what happened for the Rideau Street re-development…we could have appropriate sidewalks or safe biking infrastructure, but not both because we had to maintain pre-existing car lanes).

We need to understand that pedestrian and bicycling safety often go together…that these two groups are not adversaries, no matter how much driving advocates and the media try to say otherwise.

(Note a month or so ago CBC ran a story about people being forced to walk in the O’Connor bike lane because the city was neglecting the sidewalk…again, it was framed in a pedestrian vs. bicyclist manner, while cars sped along unimpeded.)

When people noticed the horrible reporting by CTV, there was a Twitter convo pointing out that TV companies still seem to rely on car ads. Maybe this colours their vision, maybe not, but it’s really hard to ignore the extreme bias from a company like CTV.

Remember how I mentioned their inclination to run troll polls to gin up some resentment against bicyclists? Well, they’ll also use that poll to present a blatantly pro-car policy. Less than a week after running that vacuous story about plowing a bike lane, they ran a poll asking, Would you pay more in taxes to have the City clear the snow from the end of your driveway?

I’m not kidding:


It was nice to see their respondents not fall for it…though I do wonder how many saw the irony.