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(By the way, I had been in touch with this person using an email address that’s no longer valid…so if you happen to be reading this, I’d love to hear about how your work went.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