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.

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