This is not a concern about safety

So the town of Smiths Falls succumbed to the great and powerful Angle Parking Lobby, nixing the plan to create a Complete Street on their main drag. This seems like a sad decision, but I’m not a resident, nor do I visit Smiths Falls with any regularity, so I don’t want to insert myself too deep into the issue.

But I will note one bit of disingenuous nonsense from a resident:

Vince Hamilton said the parallel parking plan would have had people exiting their cars into a bike lane and that would be no solution for safety or accessibility concerns with angle parking.

“By shoving everything into [the wide street we have], you would end up with an incomplete street. You didn’t have a good bike lane, you didn’t have a street for patios. You had terrible accessibility with parallel parking onto a bike lane,” Hamilton said.

(By the way, I like to think the reporter, Matthew Kupfer, was throwing a bit of shade with the square-brackets insertion.)

Mr. Hamilton alleges to be concerned about safety, worrying about bicyclists being doored in a bike lane. This is a fair concern, as no one wants to get doored in a bike lane, but it is far more dangerous to be run over in the street. No, Mr. Hamilton isn’t worried about safety; he’s worried about losing angle parking (that would have been replaced by parallel parking).

If you’re worried about safety, you’ll know that having cars backing up at bicyclists is far more dangerous than giving bicyclists separated, protected infrastructure. Safety concerns demand that you take scrapes and broken bones over serious injury and death. (It also would suggest that you add a bit of a buffer between the parked cars and the bike lane…but that seems to take too much effort to dream up).

We see this sort of faux safety concerns in Ottawa. People will complain about bike lanes, saying that they can lead to more right-hooks, completely ignoring the data that demonstrates that they make roads safer for all road users.

People will complain about the bi-directional bike lane on O’Connor, and though it may be sub-optimal, the design has been proven safer than the status quo.

We’ve even had a councillor argue that the Laurier bike lane is a problem because bicyclists will get doored…ignoring the real threats…ignoring that it’s better to get doored in a bike lane than the middle of the road…ignoring the death of Danielle Nacu.

No, people who try to use safety concerns to argue against proven safety measures are deeply cynical and intellectually dishonest (or just liars). They’re concern trolls. They are cold and inhuman, using people’s lives as pawns in their to advance their own political preferences, only to discard any concern for other people’s physical well-being once they’ve gotten their way.

Don’t accept. People like Mr. Hamilton are actively working to make the world more dangerous for other people, all because he doesn’t want to parallel park.

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Mayor Watson’s lack of transparency

A week or two ago, Rideau-Rockliffe councillor Tobie Nussbaum wrote a solid op-ed about the lack of transparency pertaining to the problems with the LRT and the health of democracy. Basically, secrecy is bad for democracy.

I was thinking about that today, as I read two stories that demonstrated, again, how Mayor Watson and a number of councillors have hid information from the public–and sometimes the rest of council–for their political gain. And of course, that made me think of all the times this term that such secrecy happened, to the detriment of democracy, governance and the public.

Here’s a Greatest Hits:

  • LRT: Watson knew it was going to be delayed when council passed the budget late last year. They voted on fare increases for transit and based all revenue projections on LRT opening on time (and on budget, ha!). Watson knew that LRT was going to be delayed. City staff knew it. Councillors were never informed, even when they asked directly.
  • LRT II: We were all under the impression that if RTG failed to meet it’s deadline, there’d be a $1M punishment. We weren’t informed that, in fact, this wasn’t true, and if they were going to miss the deadline, they’d get a mulligan. Watson allowed this misconception to persist until the very last minute.
  • Magical Budget Surplus: Also in the lead up to passing the budget, there was a lot of talk about both the city’s deficit and the city’s infrastructure deficit. Watson’s leadership (and his approval ratings) are based on starving the city of the money needed to maintain our infrastructure and our services. Some councillors decided a levy was in order, and they had a motion coming to council to that effect. There was a ton of discussion about the levy in the news and on social media…then on the day of the council meeting, Watson announced a surprise surplus (coming out of some property tax adjustments) that would keep the city out of the red and fund about $10M worth of infrastructure fixes. This was good news…good news that he kept to himself (and a handful of councillors), while the rest of wrestled with the city’s deficits. He saved the news so that he could do a bit of gloating and grandstanding at council.
  • Sally Ann: Last year, we went through the whole Sally Ann/SOS Vanier debate. The relocation of the shelter came as a surprise to the community, and they were never really given proper time to investigate it, or to consult, or just generally to be part of the process. However, it was learned that both the mayor and councillor Fleury knew about the relocation a year before it was  announced to the public.
  • Mooney’s Bay: So Ottawa is starved for park capacity (not everywhere, but a bunch of neighbourhoods). We’ve also got a bunch of  amenities falling into disrepair. That didn’t stop the city from secretly giving $1M and special approval to a reality TV show to build a playground at Mooney’s Bay. Whatever you think about the playground (it’s pretty cool and really big), the process was a contemptuous fuck up. Residents didn’t learn about it until the TV show started cutting down trees…but the mayor and councillor Riley Brockington knew about. A non-disclosure agreement meant they “couldn’t” talk about it, but it was really their choice to enter into the agreement (and the mayor very helpfully put all blame for lack of consultation on the inexperienced councillor).

Over the last four years, it has become clear that mayor views Ottawa as his own little fiefdom. Sure, he appears to care about the city, but he seems to care about the city as a reflection of him and his mayoralty. He’s decided he gets to do what he wants, and he gets to decide what information residents and other councillors are privy too, even information that is necessary for councillors to do their jobs and provide wise governance of the city.

It’s absolutely disgusting that residents seem willing to accept this mayor, his duplicity, and his sheer contempt for residents and their chosen representatives.

Nussbaum was right. Democracy requires transparency. A healthy city politic requires leaders who are honest, forthright, and will not hide, obscure or misrepresent vital city information.

Bikes, buses and a whole lot of bluster

If you’re following Ottawa politics these days, you know the city is getting all worked up at the possibility of people riding bikes to an LRT station during peak times, then wanting hop on a train with their bike. It’s basically impossible, we’re told. Bikes will overrun the LRT station, swatting people off the stairs, crushing those lucky enough to find room amidst all the Greg LeMonds and Curt Harnetts, and–no doubt–pushing the rest of our peaceful riders onto the tracks to be quickly dispatched from this world.

I mean, I get the concern. bikes already clog our streets and fill our buses, making transit completely unusable. Naturally, the same thing will happen with LRT. I mean just look at the Trillium Line. We already let bikes on at all times and we’re going to Memorials for Multi-Modal Mass Murder every other week. It’s wise for the city to take these life-saving precautions.

Okay, okay, fine. Yes, I understand the concern. Our public transit is generally so starved of resources that someone bringing extra stuff on board can really screw things up. If we do get a glut of bikes on trains, it might make the trains less useful. So, the question is how many bikes would we expect?

Oh, yeah, about that. We don’t know. OC Transpo doesn’t bother to gather that info and the city, apparently, doesn’t care.

Oh, but they did look at a handful of other cities that don’t allow bikes on during rush hour. Helpfully, they ignored all the cities (like Ottawa, currently!) that do. So, yeah, they’ve done their homework.

The problems with this potential policy are multiple. Because they’d be banning bikes from Trillium Line and because they’d be replacing buses with rack-and-roll with bike-hostile trains, this counts as a service reduction. We’re bleeding ridership, raising fares and reducing service levels of some routes; we don’t need to do more to force people off of public transit.

Also, with an expansive city and no bike shares at transit stations, we’re offering no multi-modal alternative (outside of park-n-rides and taxis…not really ideal.)

If there are really going to be that many bikes that it’s a problem, that’s a good thing. That means that LRT is wildly popular. It means LRT is wildly successful. It means people are getting out of their cars. It means people are being healthier. It means are using transportation modes that provide environmental and economic benefits to the city. If we have this problem, embrace it and find a way to accommodate everyone.

But perhaps the biggest issue–when looking at the big picture–isn’t really about this specific topic; it’s about the way we plan.

This is pretty much a made-up issue. There’s no data backing it up and our city’s own experience with bikes doesn’t imply that it will be a problem. This is a worry that some people have conjured up almost out of thin air.

And when faced with this possible, yet kind of imaginary, problem, our city planners have simply thrown their hands in the air and given up, without even trying.

There’s no attempts to understand the issue, to find ways to mitigate it or evaluate a wide range of options to accommodate everyone. Hell, the very concern about people being whacked by bikes on stairs (yes, that one is real), demonstrates that we haven’t put those little narrow ramps on the edge of stairwells to let people push their bikes up. That’s inconsiderate. It’s bad planning. And it’s an accessibility issue.

But most of all, it’s a demonstration of the city’s failure mindset when it comes to city-building. We don’t tackle problems. We don’t build to the highest standards. We don’t have a true vision for the city.

We just fret about made-up problems and don’t even try to do better.

Fixing Winterlude

Over the weekend, I read this blog post, Winterlude: On a wintery weekday night in Ottawa. I saw a tweet saying it was a critique of Winterlude. Now, I enjoy Winterlude, and I find most (but not all!) complaints about Ottawa events to be pretty irritating.

So, I was ready to dislike the post, but I felt I should read it with an open mind. All in all, it was a good assessment–and as a proponent of creating a better winter city, I’m happy to see others rallying to the cause.

All right, let’s take a look at the post. Even though I think it was good, overall, I have some nits to pick, and I’m doing that first (because I’m that kind of jerk):

“We already get six months of winter here in Ottawa, give or take…”

No, we don’t. This year, I was still riding my regular bike a week in to December. Winters were never six months in my lifetime, and they’re (worryingly) getting shorter. This sort of winter fatalism is used as an excuse by many to do nothing during non-summer months.

“We parked the car on a side street (parking at the World Exchange Plaza was suddenly closed for some reason) and walked over…”

Argh! Why does any Ottawa assessment of an event have to include parking right up front! First of all, we need to stop relying on driving in winter. Second, the complaint seems to be that there was abundant side-street parking within walking distance. Come on, people, please.

“I had money to spend, and I wanted to spend it, but there was nothing to buy!”

This one’s a good and a bad complaint. The overall issue was that everything was closed (bad! very very bad!), but I do cringe a bit at the suggestion that spending money might be a necessary component of a fun event…but, yeah, you should be able to buy a Beavertail.

Which brings us to the valid observations/complaints:

“The sculptures were there, and most were lit, but otherwise there was nothing going on. Except for the Beavertail stand, the rest of the food trucks were shut down. There was no one in the info booth. No fire in the fire pit. The audio speakers around the venue were hissing. (Were they supposed to be playing music?) That big “face” interactive art sculpture, which I really wanted to see, was turned off.”

Yes, this is absolutely on-point. Keep Winterlude open! Years ago, Winterlude switched from a two-week/16 day event, to a three-weekend event. It made a bit of sense–put more stuff on the weekends when more people are available, and give the public more weekends to go–however, we shouldn’t just abandon weekdays/weeknights.

“People went to see the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition and it was minus 30 that night!”

This is spot-on. Some people like to complain that we can’t do anything in winter. You can’t go outside. You can’t ride a bike. You can’t do anything but huddle in doors and wait for spring. But the actual lived experience of Ottawans demonstrates that’s not true. When the canal opens, it’s packed–even on bitterly cold days. People ski and skate and sled and build snowmen. And people went to Crashed Ice. We’re already a winter city…a winter people…we just need city officials to realize it.

“Related to this: have you seen the official Winterlude website? What do you think of it? Is it just me, or is it underwhelming?”

The website is absolute garbage. It’s horrible. It’s a wretched way to try to find out about Winterlude and make any sort of plans. Fix it, people!

All right, that’s it.

The writer, Andrea Tomkins, pretty much nails the situation. We–the city of Ottawa (and associated government agencies)–like to talk a good game about winter, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t ever really commit to it. We don’t put in the work. We fail to realize that makings of a stellar winter city already exist in Ottawa.

And, because we won’t fully embrace our winter identity, we rob ourselves of the wonderful experiences winter and winter-related activities bring.

At least my bus was on time this morning

So LRT is going to be late. After all the On-Time and On-Budget bluster from the mayor and the city, we’re getting the system half a year late and we’re not getting the promised $1 million if RTG failed to meet the May 24 deadline. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, but the public outrage is really a result of the years and years of promises.

Six months may not be that big a delay in the big picture (or maybe it is), but sprung on us in February 2018, it sure as hell is.

Quick morning thoughts:

  • Residents have every right to be upset about this. Yeah, yeah, sinkholes and everything, but we should have learned about this delay earlier. You can say that we should have known this would happen, but when officials (and the mayor!) are concealing information, what are we supposed to do?
  • I’m not really that concerned about the $1 million penalty being waived…at least, I’m not that concerned about the money (though it’d sure be nice to have). I’m more concerned about how it looks like the city is rolling over. This whole project was set up to put the burden on RTG to deliver. It cost more to do it that way, but it was supposed to provide the incentive to get it done on time. Now, we’re arbitrarily relieving them of one of the incentives.
  • Or maybe we’re not. I caught the end of an interview with…John Manconi, I think? (if I’m wrong, please correct me, readers)…this morning on CBC. He wasn’t being straightforward. He was obfuscating. He was dodging questions. And he made it sound like there never was a penalty for missing the May 24 deadline, that the penalty was always for some future deadline if they missed the May 24 deadline…so who the hell knows?
  • Actually, somebody does know. Somebody knew all along. The mayor and the city promoted this fantastical, Austin Powers-esque million dollar penalty, but maybe it never really existed? Or maybe it always existed but not the way the public believed. Politicians and officials have a habit of saying something vague enough that the public will read into it what is the only good faith understanding of what is said, but that will actually mean something different. They’ll then fail to correct the public until they’re absolutely forced to. (The provincial government did this with updates to the HTA a few years ago. They led the public to believe that they were adding protection to pedestrians in crosswalks, but they weren’t; they were adding protections for pedestrians in crossovers, then played dumb when people criticized them.)
  • So we’ll (hopefully) be getting the system in November and running buses in late November. This doesn’t seem great. We’ll be right in the middle of commuter season. If there are problems with it, we’ll have to scramble to run buses, potentially in snow storms. It would have been nice to have the summer to iron out the kinks. I guess we may have some downtime over Christmas to do that.
  • We jacked up fares on the premise of better transit service. Transit ridership is going to suffer.
  • The mayor needs to own this. The On-Time On-Budget BS was always his. He trumpeted the progress and the success. Then, when informed that O-T O-B wasn’t going to happen, he didn’t bother to tell anyone until after the budget was passed.
  • Seriously, he had council pass his budget without this crucial information. Pure cynicism.
  • Also, at least one councillor asked staff for an update on progress. They didn’t answer. They had told the mayor and they thought that was good enough. Whether or not that’s policy, it’s not good enough.

So enjoy your bus rides. Enjoy more tie-ups and traffic jams. Enjoy a winter launch of LRT. And for god’s sake, hold the mayor to account for this major screw-up in October.

A winter city should never rely on driving

So it snowed yesterday. It really came on in the afternoon, and roads were a bit of a mess come rush hour. I biked to work yesterday, but as things got worse and worse, I did a bit of discretion-valour calculus and decided to take the bus.

It was a mistake.

It moved along Carling okay for much of the route, but as we passed Sherwood and approached Dow’s Lake, everything stopped moving. I’d been on the bus for about 40 minutes, and after sitting and going nowhere for 10 minutes, I decided to hop off an walk the rest of the way. It only took me 22 minutes, so, all told, I got home in a little over an hour.

From all reports, it was worse downtown.

snow

The closure of a few blocks on O’Connor had already made things slow, recently, and now a totally normal but rather snowy afternoon had completely messed everything up.

Well, that’s not really true. Our obsession with driving completely messed everything up.

Construction, road closures and snow are perfectly predicable. Every year, we get snowy days that completely derail car traffic. Roads are slow, accidents are up, people drive erratically and illegally, and people regularly block intersections, helpfully screwing up traffic flow on two streets at once.

People often think I’m crazy or brave or… something… for riding my bike in the winter. But with proper infrastructure, riding a bike in the winter is just not that big a deal. Other than extreme cold, it’s not nearly as susceptible to normal winter conditions (and extreme cold can screw up cars, too).

No, bicycling in winter isn’t crazy; driving is. And building and maintaining a winter city that is so focused on drivers is pure insanity. It strangles our streets. It screws up transit. It kills people. The sooner we realize that a winter city like Ottawa cannot be based on driving, the sooner we’ll be able to fix so many of the messes we see each year.

A few years back, I spoke with PhD student. He was working on his thesis, comparing Ottawa to a city in Finland (I can’t remember which one). The two cities have similar climates, but the Finnish city is completely based on transit. It has something like a 79% modal share. It’s a winter city, and it’s a winter city that understands that transit has to be the main mode of transportation in order to function properly year round.

(By the way, I had been in touch with this person using an email address that’s no longer valid…so if you happen to be reading this, I’d love to hear about how your work went. Drop me a line!)

Yeah, yeah, not everyone can take transit, but if we could just get a little more balance in our transportation system, it would do a world of good.

You’re going to hear a lot of complaints these days about road closures and bike lanes. You’re going to hear people clamour for more car lanes, longer lights, higher speed limits and a host of other car-centric measures.

Ignore them…hell, challenge them. They’re wrong. Their preferred method of transportation and of city-building is what’s gotten us into this mess. We’re all paying for their preferences…and when the city they want has failed, they just look at what’s failing and ask for more of it.

The next time this happens (which might be this afternoon!), look at the cars on the street. They don’t need to be there. We don’t have to tailor city-building to their needs. We can do better. We can build a city that serves everyone better…including those who are sitting in cars, causing the problems.