Do resident concerns matter downtown, or only in the suburbs?

Elgin Street has been on my mind lately. It’s really the Poster Child for all the stuff the city does badly, as well as showing how the city half-asses stuff, and, finally, how their claims (it’s a Complete Street! We designed it for everyone!) get parroted throughout the media even though they are laughably false.

One aspect that is particularly galling is the way they completely ignored public consultations and the desires of residents. The results of the consultations were pretty clear–residents wanted a real Complete Street. They wanted protected, safe bike lanes. They wanted wider sidewalks. They didn’t care about parking on Elgin Street.

The city came back with zero bike infrastructure, sharrows and wide sidewalks that would be “flex space” (meaning cars get to park on it). After a ridculous fight, they did reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h, which is nice…but let’s wait and see if they do anything to make sure drivers actually abide by it.

A few weeks ago, there was a story about a proposed sidewalk on Sunview Drive that was scrapped because residents opposed it. The story notes:

In the city’s report, Mitic said a resident petition opposing the sidewalk was signed by “nearly every resident on the east side of the street.”

That story mentions a similar issue that occurred last year in Kanata South:

In that case, Coun. Allan Hubley had a large portion of a sidewalk scheduled to be constructed on Chimo Drive in Kanata postponed until after 2020, following public outcry.

The people whose homes the sidewalk would connect with signed a petition and told the councillor they didn’t want it.

Hubley told CBC in May 2017 it made sense to comply with the majority of people who would have been most affected by the sidewalk.

And this story also reminds me of the proposed baseball diamond at Heritage Park in Orleans that was nixed because it was also a dog park, and local residents didn’t want to lose that use. Mr. Mitic is quoted as saying, “It’s something the community absolutely does not want.”

Now, I’m not against these residents voicing their opinions on their wards, and, in fact, I think their opinions should definitely be given weight. But since both Hubley and Mitic voted for the Elgin Street proposal–thus ignoring or discounting the wishes of local residents–I thought it seemed like a bit of a double standard.

Orleans residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one. They didn’t want a ball diamond, so they didn’t get it.

Kanata North residents didn’t want a sidewalk, so they didn’t get one.

Somerset residents wanted a Complete Street, so…well, too bad, I guess.

And so, with this observation, I decided to contact the two councillors. (And to be fair, I wasn’t intentionally singling them out; those are just the stories that have jumped to mind.)

Allan Hubley

Here is what I asked Mr. Hubley, via email:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the Chimo Drive sidewalk, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

Mr. Hubley responded promptly via email:

I believe each councillor has been elected to represent the views of their residents. On most issues, I support the Ward councillor, and in this case also the representative chosen to speak for local businesses on Elgin for the plan they wanted for their street. Could it have been a better plan?  Possibly, however the priority for them was to get the work done quickly and that involves trade offs.

With respect to the sidewalk in my area we had several letters dropped at each house, met with groups of residents, responded to multiple emails and phone calls  as well as walked the street knocking on doors to ensure I had a picture of what residents wanted.  

Over 70% said the pathway behind the homes met their needs and they did not want to be walking near cars.  The extensive pathway network we enjoy is part of the vision that Kanata was built on but that was left out of the CBC story.  The local paper had a more factual balanced report if you are interested.

I asked a follow-up question, “If the local councillor had supported adding bike lanes and wider sidewalks to Elgin Street (at the expense of on-street parking), would you have supported such a proposal?” But I did not receive a response.

Jody Mitic

I would up having an extended chat with one of Jody Mitic’s staff about the matter.

My initial question was:

“How do you reconcile your desire to comply with the wishes of residents when it comes to the Sunview Drive sidewalk and the proposed baseball diamond, but not to comply with the wishes of residents when it came to the re-design of Elgin Street? Is this not a double standard?”

During our chat, I also brought up the issue of 890-900 Bank Street, in which the proposal for an eight-storey building was pretty uniformly opposed by both residents and the local councillor, and city council approved it anyway.

The reply:

Regarding the baseball diamond, this was a situation of competing needs and finding a way to ensure that current users of the park for both baseball and dog walking would still be able to use it. Taking away greenspace from the park would infringe on the dog owners ability to walk their dogs in a comfortable distance away from ball games. Similarly, allowing dogs too close to the diamond is problematic while a game is in progress, which is why on lease setbacks are in place around the diamond while games are being played. There is other existing capacity for baseball in the area at other city-operated diamonds. 

Regarding the proposed Sunview Drive sidewalk, residents on the street came out strongly against the proposal, but this was more than just a question of the wishes of residents. It was also a question of the price, and whether it was a worthwhile use of the funds. Price was a significant factor in the decision.

Regarding Elgin Street, the re-development of a main street is different than adding a sidewalk to an existing residential street, and was a decision made by city staff and approved by council.

Regarding the proposed development at 890-900 Bank Street, development proposals are different than proposals pertaining to parks or sidewalks. It is a question of adhering to the city’s planning regulations. Council and councillors can’t just say “no” to these development proposals without proper reasoning, because any decision made by council could be taken to the OMB [editor’s note: this decision–and this conversation about the decision–was made before OMB reform went through].

When Councillor Mitic is dealing with development issues, he tries to get the community and the developer together so that they are on the same side to get the best possible development. In fact, Councillor Mitic has supported multi-story residential developments in Innes Ward which also have retail on the main level.”

I certainly appreciate the responses from both, however, I’m not really satisfied by either response. I think it’s been pretty clear for a while now that different areas get treated differently at city council, and more deference is given to certain residents, and not others.

This sort of hypocrisy needs to be called out. We shouldn’t accept it. We can’t expect that all wards will be treated exactly the same, but we should expect that city council treats all residents equitably.

And that’s not happening right now.

The only real safety is safety

There’s a lot of bad safety advice out there, much of coming from various city organizations (Ottawa Public Health, Share the Road Ottawa, Ottawa Police Services, etc.). And, no, I’m not talking about helmets (even though their effect on bike safety seems to range between negligible and detrimental). I’m talking about the other pieces of advice that keep getting hurled at us.

Like the idea that pedestrians and bicyclists should always make eye contact before crossing the road. The cops like that one.

Oh, hey, it turns out that’s bullshit:

But no one would ever advocate confidently striding out into the street, even if that would keep people safer. It just seems so much more dangerous, and our institutions are so into performative safety over actual safety that they’ll push unproven or disproven safety measure because they seem to make sense. (And, hey it’s not a whole lot better to get run over only 29% of the time rather than 70%.) We’ve fetishized caution to the point where we’ll accept it–demand it–even if its dangerous.

You can also take the key element of Be Safe, Be Seen, wearing high-visibility clothing:

As they say…

Slapping reflective material on your arm or wrist is an easy and practical way to make sure you are seen at night. Without reflective gear you are practically invisible to other road users. With a reflective band you can be seen up to 150 metres away!

Oh yeah, we’ve now learned that high-viz clothing does nothing:

Hey, well, at least it doesn’t actively endanger people (though if it discourages healthy transportation, I guess it kinda does, indirectly…but indirectly endangering people is okay, I guess).

You see, as it turns out, the only real safety measures are actual safety measures. You want bicyclists to be able to ride safely, build bike lanes. You want pedestrians not to die, build safe crossings.

(Oh, and to all the VCs who want to jump in here, it’s been shown, once again, that you’re all full of shit.)

Now, it’s more than just safe crossings and better bike lanes. Cars generally go too fast, and we need to do something about that. So, slow them down. Our city streets should default to 30 km/hr, ideally, or at least 40. Few roads inside the city should go much higher than that.

And you can’t just put up signs and hope everything’s going to be ok. Narrow the roads. Get rid of medians. Stop rounding corners. Plant trees.

I’d love to see Ottawa Public Health take up the mantle of slower speeds and proper bike lanes. Hell, they do that, and I’ll let the occasional ignorant helmet-obsessive tweet go by without criticism.

Speed limits aren’t the only laws that need to change. Eliminate right turns on red. Allow bicyclists to go on pedestrian advances. Legalize the Idaho Stop. Oh yeah, and enforce the damned laws. OPS should worry less about people making eye contact and more about actually arresting drivers who threaten, hit, injure and kill vulnerable road users (and other drivers, too).

In the end, all this shaming, victim-blaming and schoolmarming about high-viz, helmets, eye contact and “shared responsibility” is just bullshit. We keep learning that all these things the city is willing to do (throw in “education campaigns” and sharrows, too) are just cop-outs. It’s a way for them to look like they’re doing something when they’re just allowing our streets to continue being way too dangerous.

And then when the predictable happens, and their negligence results in another pointless death, they can just remind people to make eye contact before crossing the street.


Welcome to the bandwagon

[Note: This was originally published in the Ottawa Sun in May 2016…but it didn’t seem to make it online. It was partially inspired by the Toronto Raptors playoff run. As they launch into another playoff race, I thought I’d bring this back.]

There can be a real joy, a purity, to jumping on the bandwagon. You may not have paid your dues, but you’re putting your emotions on the line for this team…and you’ll likely be disappointed.

Most playoff runs end in a loss.

It’s sort of like love at first sight. You’re just all of a sudden swept up in the magic of it. And if it’s your first time really following the sport or the team, it’s this awesome but completely foreign thing. Everybody remembers their first time and all that.

This is what it means to a bandwagon fan, the most cursed type of fan in sports.

Fandom is serious business in some circles. Those most loyal and most devoted to their team will tend to follow them, almost obsessively, all through the year. Pre-season, regular season, post-season and off-season, there’s never a downtime, never time to catch your breath.

The devoted fans know it all. They know the players, the coaches, the records. They know the highlights and the triumphs. They’ll tell you the all-time greats, as well as their all-time (often obscure) favourites.

They’ll remember the losses, too. The upset in the playoffs when they just knew it was going to be their team’s year, the seasons when the team could barely scrape together a few wins, and the times the refs stole the game from them, they can tell you about it.

Oh the refs. Those ones really burn.

The devoted fans, they never leave, no matter how bad things might get. They’re still in the stadium. They’re still watching on TV. They’re still buying and (not-so-proudly) wearing the team’s gear. And they’re always hoping that next year will be different.

Eventually, next year will be different. The jinx will be lifted. The most inept franchise will get hot. The Leafs shall inherit the Cup. Just about every team hopes for that proverbial next year.

And when that next year arrives, the bandwagon will be suddenly crowded. The devoted fan will turn around and see a lot of people he doesn’t recognize wearing pristine jerseys that have never lived through the blood, sweat and beer stains of true fandom. These bandwagon fans will know the players’ names (at least the stars) and, hopefully, most of the rules, but not necessarily much more.

Reflexively, the devoted fan might get annoyed. It’s understandable. The bandwagon fans are enjoying all the excitement of a playoff run without having had part of their soul die with every crushing loss. There’s a certain hipster cred to being a devoted fan. They were into the team before it was good.

But there’s always room on the bandwagon for someone new. True fandom isn’t rooted in exclusion. The devoted fan knows better than anyone the joy of a team on winning streak, and there’s no reward to be derived from hording that joy. Sharing it—with your city, with your country, with people you’ve never seen before and may never see again—amplifies it. It multiplies with every cheer, every high-five, every new convert.

And when the ride ends, you may be left with something even better: a new person with whom to share the blind determination to do it all again next year, and the undeniable appeal of the streaking-through-the-night-sky winner.

It’s great that you ride a bike, but it’s not really about you.

This weekend, I’ve been involved in a long twitter conversation about the prioritization of driving in our city…and specifically, in the Glebe (as you can imagine, I’m not a fan). A pro-car interlocutor mentioned that he, too, is a cyclist.

It’s a common trope for people arguing against safe bicycle infrastructure to lobbed out “I’m a cyclist, too,” and there’s a lot wrapped up in such a statement in that specific context. With this post, I’m not directing anything at this most recent use of the trope; I want to address it, in general.

When those arguing for anti-bike, pro-car infrastructure make this claim (whether it’s true or not), it’s generally disingenuous, an attempt to claim unearned authority, to deceitfully claim the high road…basically, it’s concern-trolling.

Sometimes, it’s defensive. Maybe they’ve realized how heartless and cruel their perspective is, and they’re trying to claim back some of their humanity…without actually offering any to people who don’t drive.

Occasionally, it may even be an attempt to provide greater context to one’s perspective, offering a full understanding of where they’re coming from. This is rare, if not a complete fiction I just dreamed up.

But motives aside, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter that you already ride your bike. It doesn’t really matter that I already ride my bike. I mean, yes, we should both absolutely have safe infrastructure, but our primary concern should be to build infrastructure for people who do not currently ride their bike, but would.

This is basically the idea behind 8-80 street design. We need city infrastructure that is safe and welcoming for all people, not just you and me. It needs to be safe for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old. It needs to be safe for people with mobility issues. It needs to be safe for parents pushing strollers. It needs to be safe for people on foot, on bikes, on transit and in their cars.

Here’s the crux, when we build streets that are safe for all people, they’ll be safe for you and me, too. Hell, we’ll get safer streets than we actually ask for. This is a win for us.

Whenever we build bike lanes (and “we” can mean just about any community in the world), we see more and more people riding bikes. But this isn’t some magical transformation of the human spirit; we’re merely unlocking desires that are already there.

New bike lanes don’t make people ride bikes; our existing, dangerous infrastructure prevents people from riding bikes. It stops them from doing what they actually want to do.

People arguing for pro-car infrastructure are arguing from a point of selfishness. They want to drive fast, drive everywhere and park everywhere, no matter what dangers and costs they impose on anyone else.

Pivoting from that to saying “I bike, too,” is just another layer of selfishness. You have decided that your preferences, your experience and your desires should override the experiences, wants and needs of everyone else.

I don’t care that you’re a cyclist, too. I care that there are people who want to bike, but can’t.

…And then there’s Innes Ward

Since we’re talking about people jumping into the upcoming municipal election, let’s talk about Innes Ward. Jody Mitic is the serving councillor, but he has announced he won’t be seeking re-election. He has spoken of taking more time to be with his young family and to focus on his health. This is a very respectable choice, and considering his struggles with mental health and addiction, I hope everything works out for him.

But that does leave a hole in the east-end of council. There’s been a lot of chatter about one of Mitic’s challengers from four years ago running, and she’d probably be the best possible choice. (It’s pretty clear she would have been the best choice last time.)

There’s also a bit of buzz that former councillor Rainer Bloess might run again. This would not strike me as an exciting choice.

But they’re not who we’re talking about right now.

On Thursday, Tammy Lynch notified the mayor and council that she’s taking unpaid leave from the position of Assistant to Councillor Mitic to run in Innes Ward. It doesn’t seem like there’s been an official public announcement, but it’s been tweeted out by local press and retweeted by the councillor. That feels like an endorsement, which would be a pretty big boost to a campaign.

It doesn’t appear that Lynch is active on Twitter, and I haven’t checked Facebook yet, so I’ve really little information about her.

Innes Ward was pretty crowded last time, with nine candidates in the race. An open seat, we could see a similar situation this time around.

Can College Ward do better than Rick Chiarelli?

It’s that time of year. Candidates for the fall’s election are starting to announce their candidacy. They can’t officially launch a campaign until May 1, but many are officially unofficially launching their campaigns. The most recent is Ryan Kennery who announced his intentions to run in College Ward.

Kennery is a comms guy, with experience working at the city and in the mayor’s office, and now is at Mediastyle. In his press release, he says he “intends to raise issues such as fiscal responsibility, community safety, and customer service during the campaign.”

I’ve had the chance to speak with Kennery (and we were also on the 10:00 Talk one morning…you’re all listening to that, right?).  And though it’s way too soon fully assess candidates, I think it’s clear that he’ll make a worthwhile challenger to Rick Chiarelli (assuming Chiarelli is running again).

And lord knows College Ward deserves that.

Ottawa already has a Men’s Bureau, City Council

The other day, The Ottawa Sun published a letter from resident Doug McGoldrick. In response to Councillor Diane Deans’s motion for a Women’s Bureau, McGoldrick responded:

If we are going to set up a women’s bureau at city hall, there should also be a men’s bureau set up. After all, there are many problems that men have.

Many of the men working for the city are in jobs where injuries often put them off work for some or all of their remaining careers. Very few women are in positions with those risks.

The time has come for males to stand up for themselves and that doesn’t begin with bodies demanding special rights for women. That is, after all, what women want from this new bureau. I may just file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission if this bureau is formed.

(Full disclosure: I’m a bi-weekly columnist for the Sun. Go read me. Now!)

What Mr. McGoldrick fails to understand is…well, everything about this issue. But the basic point of it all is that cities tend to plan and design things around the needs of men. This isn’t a new phenomenon and it’s not unique to Ottawa. It’s happening around the world, and it’s being studied and addressed around the world–like this, for example.

So it you’re wondering whether or not there’s a “Men’s Bureau”, the city, city councillors and city planners are already functionally more than adequately as one. Deans’s motion merely acknowledges this and seeks a means to tackle the problem.

Look, I don’t expect everyone to have read up on this stuff. I know I read more about city planning issues than the average person, so, sure, you don’t have to be an expert (and, hell, I’m not). But goddammit, take a moment to fucking read something and reflect a little bit before demanding that poor beleaguered men be treated as well as women in our society have historically been.

You know, Deans’s motion isn’t a critique. No one is saying politicians and planners are oppressing women on purpose. No one’s saying they lack empathy or don’t want to help women. What’s happening is that without stepping back and looking at things through a different frame, your inherent biases are going to creep in. And we all have inherent biases. It’s tough, but necessary, to try to counter-balance them.

It’s not a moral failing for city officials to have a less than 100% perfect holistic view of every city planning issue. It’s just human. Taking time to look at issues through a “gender lens” just helps them expand their understanding of city issues. It’ll just help them do their job better.

However, it is a moral failing to see women asking to be treated equally (or, at minimum, less unequally) and declare that your sacred rights as a man are being violated. Look, you (we) have been favoured for pretty much ever. Unfortunately, many people who have been so favoured react virulently against any sort of attempt to make life a little more fair for those who have not been so favoured.

It’s a common, ugly part of human nature. If you see it coming out in you, you need to step back, turn on your damned brain, grow a bit of compassion and humanity, and… well… feel free to do nothing. Just don’t get in the way of people who are trying to actually help.