Yes, we pamper drivers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column for the Sun about how we’re screwing up downtown because all of our development has catered to drivers (I assume you all read it, right? Right?) Well, not all readers agreed; here was an objection raised:

On Jonathan McLeod’s column regarding “pampering drivers”: Obviously, he hasn’t seen the state of Ottawa’s streets.

In fact, I have seen the state of Ottawa’s streets! In fact, as a bicyclists and pedestrian, I get a much better view our streets than drivers. They’re kind of crappy. There’s tons of pot holes. And the city never seems that interested in properly vising or maintaining them.

And yet! Drivers are still pampered.

As a bicyclist, I’m forced to ride on the street with cars. Many of the pot holes and crumbling infrastructure is near the curb, right where I ride. I’m regularly faced with the choice of hitting a giant divot in the road or swerving into the path of a car.

Pot holes can send me flying. They can injure me. They can damage my bike. They can throw me into traffic, killing me. Drivers–the people who caused the damn things in the first place–just roll right on over them, no risk to life or limb. So yes, drivers are pampered.

In my neighbourhood, there are zero north-south bike lanes. I’m forced to mingle with cars. Drivers get a network of car lanes. They have ample choice. I get to choose the least bad option, weighing the cost-benefit of time vs. danger. Yes, drivers are pampered.

In my neighbourhood, there is only one useful E-W bike route. It’s wide and drivers often go really fast. It connects with a road that is horrible for pot holes. It’s cracked and pock-marked. It isn’t properly cleared in winter, allowing ridges of ice to build up. It’s a hazard, but still the best and safest way for me to get to work. Drivers whiz by, barely caring. Drivers are pampered.

That road connects with Commissioners Park, a key bike route. It hasn’t been plowed all winter. I get to choose between dangerous roads, incredibly long detours and sidewalks. All car routes are cleared. Drivers are pampered.

In my neighbourhood, there is one N-S “bike way”. It has no infrastructure and regularly puddles. It’s like this so that drivers get wide lanes and still get to park wherever the hell they want. Drivers are pampered.

A few blocks over on the main street, there’s no bike infrastructure, because we need to maintain four lanes, including parking lanes. This road is in far better shaped than the “bike way”. Drivers are pampered.

As a pedestrian, the sidewalk is regularly used for driving and parking. Drivers cut corners, destroying the sidewalks. They pull up on the sidewalk because they’re just going to be a minute. There’s no political will to address this. Ottawa By-Law won’t even send people to enforce the no-sidewalk parking law. Drivers are pampered.

We now build sidewalks with the intention of having people park on them. We let hotels use the public sidewalk as a loading bay. Drivers are pampered.

We’ve just decided not to build a sidewalk in Orleans–on a bus route, on a street with a park and a school–in part to preserve parking. Drivers are pampered.

Walk along Bank Street and you’ll encounter massive puddles–lakes, really–at just about every corner. All sidewalks have curb cuts to lower them to road level. Streets are draining on the curb side, leading to the splashing of pedestrians. We refuse to build raised crosswalks or intersections. The corners are dramatically rounds to let cars zoom around them. Drivers are pampered.

Even if you’re on a main bike route, traffic lights won’t be timed to facilitate the flow of bikes. Bicyclists, on signed bike routes, have to ride up to the yellow dots (assuming they’re there and they’re not under snow and ice) to trigger the lights. The main arteries for cars get lights optimized, often unchanging until triggered. Drivers are pampered.

Pedestrians are forced to push beg buttons. It doesn’t matter if it’s -20 or pouring rain. It doesn’t matter if the button is inaccessible due to snow or ice. You have to push it if you want to cross. Cars get to just keep on going. Drivers are pampered.

The city is unwilling to spend much money on bike infrastructure or sidewalks. We keep building, expanding and maintaining roads. Drivers are pampered.

The “winter cycling network” isn’t actually maintained by the city. It’ll get plowed maybe once or twice a year. It’s basically just PR. Drivers are pampered.

Maintaining our roads cost money. It is, predominantly, the councillors from wards with high bicycling, transit and pedestrian modal shares that push to raise sufficient funds to properly maintain our infrastructure (for all modal shares). It is councillors from car-dependent wards that seek to starve the city of the necessary revenue to maintain our infrastructure. Drivers are, disproportionately, at fault.

Transit fares have to make up about 53% of OC Tranpso revenue. We won’t even debate road tolls or congestion pricing. Drivers are pampered.

Transit fares are continuously going up. Parking fees remain unchanged. Drivers are pampered.

We still have minimum parking requirements for developments, shifting the cost of driving onto non-drivers. Drivers are pampered.

Elgin Street is undergoing construction for the next few years, to help out businesses, the city will be offering free parking at City Hall. There will be no similar relief for transit users. Drivers are pampered.

So I don’t care if you have to drive over a few pot holes. You don’t have it as bad as pedestrians, bicyclists or transit users. The city still designs itself around your needs, regularly to the exclusion of those of others…to the exclusion of the safety of other road users. Further, it is, predominantly, your political representatives who are at fault for so many of these issues, and yet you keep rewarding them.

Ottawa pampers drivers. You have an easy ride…but it’s not sustainable. Someday, the politicians and planners will catch up to this reality and no longer will receive your favoured, pampered status. I know you hate that. I know you clutch at with jealousy. But at least have the decency to acknowledge the preferential treatment you receive.

Or failing that, just stop whining.

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One thought on “Yes, we pamper drivers

  1. Pingback: The War on Cars, Parking Edition | Steps from the Canal

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