Ownership of Public Space

No, no, I’m not going to talk about private ownership of public space. Hell, I’m not even going to talk about public ownership of public space. I want to talk about the individual sense of ownership of public space.

I took my kids to the RedBlacks’ fan appreciation day on Sunday. We watched a bit of scrimmage, ate some popcorn, played jumbo-sized jenga and the girls went in the bouncy castle (pretty sure I’m too big for that).

As it was time to go, we started walking along the south side concourse from the west endzone (where everything was happening) towards the east end zone. The kids wanted to see if anything else was going, and we were planning to hit the Farmers’ Market, so we had to go in that direction anyway.

One thing I like about the stadium is the way much of it has been integrated with the grounds, including the way the paths lead up to the back of the south side stands.

My eldest asked if we could go back there to get to the paths, and so we did. The back concourse was pretty empty, and all the exits were gated off…but they weren’t really. We walked along a bit, and then I just decided to move one of the barricades slightly so we could exit, and then moved it back.

The kids proceeded to run along the pathway around the hill and towards the play structure. From there, they ran through the little forested area between Lansdowne and the driveway (it’s a shame that a bunch of the trees and brush have been cleared; it used to be more of a secret place).

And then I got to thinking.

My kids–especially my eldest–have a real sense of ownership over Lansdowne, and especially the public greenspace at the back. They go and explore. They don’t hesitate to enter unconventional spaces.

And so I thought about when I was a kid, and how there were always these areas that we would claim–a short-cut through a schoolyard, a bushy area along a bike path, a fountain downtown. These were our places. We felt completely at home there, and we felt completely entitled to using those spaces.

And just as importantly, we cared about those spaces. We wanted to preserve them. We wanted to use them. We never wanted to damage them or prevent people from accessing them (save for the occasional fort we might build, but that’s different).

This is so very important. We should feel ownership over our public spaces…and not in some technical, governance sense, but in a real, living sense. We own these places because we use these places; we take care of these places; we enjoy these places; we value these places.

A lot of people think I hate Lansdowne Park because I have a lot of criticisms of it (because there’s a lot worthy of criticism), but, in fact, I love Lansdowne. I have a fondness, based mostly in nostalgia, sure, about the place.

To me, Lansdowne is Rough Rider games and the Ex. It’s going to 67s games and playing minor football on the field. Now, it’s RedBlacks games and the Farmers’ Market. It’s taking the kids to splash pad and going skating in the winter. There is meaning to that place for me, and that’s why I hate that we aren’t letting it be all it could be.

My kids have spent a lot of time at Lansdowne, too. And it’s clear that they are developing a similar fondness for it. There are hurdles (we lost an entire year of sledding because the hill wasn’t properly maintained during and after the Grey Cup and NHL outdoor game), but there’s still the places and activities to enjoy.

Honestly, it doesn’t appear that everyone who “enjoys” Lansdowne feels the same way. Speeding, driving in pedestrian-only areas, littering…these are not the things you do if you have that sense of ownership. If you did, you’d want to take care of it. You’d want it to be lovely for everyone, everyday.

We need to foster this love, this sense of ownership, this stewardship of our public spaces. We need to build them for just such interactions, and we must cater to the people who will actually engage the spaces in that way.

Too often, we have a transient class of visitors, there for a day or an hour, for a specific, one-time thing. They’re not there to take part in the Park, to be a part of it. They’re there to use it, and (metaphorically) discard it once they leave.

This is a bad way to live and it’s a bad way to function. Anytime we find groups of people demonstrating a real love and ownership over a public space, we need allow it, and we need to let it flourish.

We need to focus less on disposable experiences and focus more on enduring city life.

The War on Cars, Parking Edition

A ways back, I wrote up my interpretation of the so-called “War on Cars” as it pertains to Elgin Street. You can read it here. The gist of it is, even giving the vast majority of the space to drivers, to the point of excluding space for other road users, will be considered a “War on Cars”. Because drivers have to get absolutely everything, always.

(This is why, as a class, they’re a spoiled, pampered lot.)

Anyway, today, Ottawa’s By-Law Services tweeted about the new, relaxed parking regulations:

This is a pretty pro-car, pro-driving, pro-parking initiative…and it’s fairly benign. On quiet streets that don’t get a lot of parking, it’s probably fine to leave your car there most of the day. Busier streets get signage, so this new rule won’t apply.

Okay. Everybody’s happy, right? Well…

I’m not sure this could be any more of a caricature: a driving activist with a bad avi of a car in an empty, ugly parking garage; complaining about extended free parking; then complaining about no overnight parking…only to be told there’s free overnight parking and he just keeps on complaining.

(If you check out the twitter feed, dude has a real hate on for By-Law. Boomers, man.)

The “Court” in Fifth Avenue Court

I’ve written a bit about the proposed development of “Fifth + Bank” (the re-branded Fifth Avenue Court). If you’ve been following along, you know I didn’t love the original design, hated the dishonesty coming from the development team and have warmed to the re-design.

One thing I have (intentionally) neglected to discuss is the indoor courtyard currently at Bank + Fifth. It is, seemingly, a lovely little indoor public space. There’s a fountain, the businesses on both levels can open up to it and the Arrow & Loon has a sort of patio looking over the space.

Here’s an image from an old Citizen article:

I mean, yeah, it looks nice. There’s natural light. In the middle of winter it’s warm. And, hey!, there’s evening someone sitting on one of the benches there.

Further, public space is good for the neighbourhood and the city, and, in Ottawa, indoor public space is important. I think it’s easy to see why people are fond of this. It looks like exactly the sort of thing we need.


Look again. There’s one man sitting on a bench and there seems to be a little yellow caution standee. Generally, speaking, this is about how busy I ever really see it. Occasionally, you’ll see kids (possibly my kids) running around it. Once there was some sort of reception held there (making the public space private). And finally, they used it for a showcase for the new plans for Fifth + Bank (a very limited and particular sort of use).

Other than that, it tends to be empty.

Now, it is possible that I just happen to be missing all the times that it is bursting with people. I’ve been known to be there at many different times on different days and have never seen it, but, hey, maybe.

Or it’s possible that the people who profess a strong fondness for it either (a) don’t really go there; or (b) are in the minority who do, on occasion. Hey, I get that. Sentiment is important and it can be really strong.

But what we’re left with is a public space that is severely underused, and closed when the building closes. (Want to sit in there on a Sunday at 5:05 pm, too bad!). I, personally, don’t see how the professed benefit of this space outweighs the benefits of the redevelopment plan. (But if you have a good argument, please let me know in the comments.)

Further, there’s a big problem with this sort of public space…it’s not really public. It’s the private space provided for public use (during specified hours).

The private provision of public space is a very tricky matter. It sounds great–we force a private developer to make and maintain space for the general public that they can’t, seemingly, monetize. This sort of arrangement tends not to work out as intended. Spaces are either poorly maintained, or the public nature of them is gradually infringed…or the public space just eventually gets developed away.

(It can be hard enough to keep public space open to the public…just look at Lansdowne.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bemoaning the fact that public space can’t be (theoretically) monetized, definitely not. That’s not the purpose of public space.

We need these sorts of spaces, but we need them to be usable and used. And we should really demand that the government–ie, the public–provide these spaces, rather than dumping the responsibility onto developers.

So, yes, it is too bad. And, yes, I feel sorry for people who have a genuine fondness for it and tend to use it, but I just can’t get worked up over the loss of this “court”.

Special Rules for Drivers

Driving culture–of which Ottawa is fully immersed–has a weird hang-up about supposed “special rules” for bicyclists. There’s this cult-ish devotion to the idea that bicyclists have to Obey The Rules (even when drivers or cops don’t actually know what those rules are). Safety be damned, the rules are sacred, and no one road user should get special rules.

This is why eminently sensible things like the Idaho Stop are still illegal. Sure, they’re safer and more convenient for all road users, but then bicyclists would be getting their own special rules–tailored to their needs, reality and experiences–and the driving class just can’t have that. The concept of special rules are just so incredibly unfair.

Of course, we have special rules for drivers. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is a set of special rules for drivers. Our entire legal framework for how people use streets and get around the city is a set of special rules for drivers. They are all designed for the benefit of drivers.

Go to a pedestrian space, you won’t see stop signs or traffic lights. There’s no need for No Parking zones. There are no speed limits. There are no lanes, no correct side of the street.

Go to a MUP and you may see a stop sign or two, but generally, there’s no signage. There are still no traffic lights. People walk and ride on different sides, depending on need. There’s a certain etiquette, more important than in pedestrian-only places, but there’s nothing remotely like the HTA.

Drivers are the only class of road user that needs such a rigorous and imposing set of laws. Drivers are the only class of road user that desperately needs things like right-of-way, speed limits, traffic lights, No Parking zones and the like.

Further, driving created a bunch of new laws out of thin air. Jaywalking isn’t a real thing. It’s a classist epithet concocted by car companies to try to turn roads over exclusively to drivers. And, well, bravo.

Who would ever design a one-way street for pedestrians or bicyclists? That’s why we salmon. Ridiculous driving regulations actively make life more difficult and more dangerous for more vulnerable road users.

Even new rules “for pedestrians” or bicyclists, like pedestrian crossovers, are still special rules for drivers. You only need pedestrian crossovers because driving advocates criminalized crossing the street. And, of course, you still can’t cross wherever you want, only at specified locations, no matter how inconvenient.

Even the laws that are supposed to protect vulnerable road users–like, say, not killing them–are only mildly applied. Because even the informal rules of the road are designed to benefit drivers.

Driving is so inherently anti-social, that we have to have pages and pages of regulations to do our best to control what is a bit of a menace in our urban areas…and despite all this, they’re still in about 15,000 collisions each year, managing to kill around 30 people.

When bicyclists ask for “special rules”, really what they’re asking for is rules that are appropriate and fitting for riding a bike.

Idaho Stops make sense because you’re using your actual energy to get and keep a bike moving, as well, when an intersection is clear, you can get through it before any car traffic catches up to you. This has resulted in fewer injuries and deaths in the few areas that allow them.

Bicyclists need conterflow lanes so that they can get to their destination on a one-way street without be re-routed an insanely long distance or into dangerous heavy traffic.

Bicyclists should be allowed to go through an intersection on an advance pedestrian signal because they, too, need to be protected from cars as they go through intersections, avoiding right-hooks, left-hooks and rear-ends (or, well, minimizing them, cuz, y’know…).

But no, no special rules for anyone. The glorious HTA has been bestowed upon us and–ignoring that it is a giant set of rules designed especially for drivers–it must be thoroughly and exhaustively applied to each and every road user, even if it makes no sense or endangers them.

Drivers obey these god-given ordinances and so should everyone. There should be no special carve-outs for any road user.

Oh, except drivers need to make right turns on reds. That special rule is ok.

An improved plan for Fifth + Bank

I know I tend to crap on proposed developments and building designs, so it’s only fair to acknowledge when a plan isn’t bad…and may actually be good.

I’ve written before about the proposal for Fifth Avenue Court (now rebranded as “Fifth + Bank”), and how it wasn’t particularly good, how it was too big for the city regulations, and how the design team was being pretty dishonest. Well, they’ve made some changes, and, you know, I think I can live with the new plan.

Here’s a rendering of the original proposal:

And here’s the new proposal. It’s a bit lower (though still has a recessed extra storey); it has a bit less of a monolithic front to it; and, supposedly, it’s improved the entrances and exits for the parking garage.

For comparison, here’s their rendering with the outline of the original design added in. (Yes, they’re having some fun with angles and perspectives, but their plans have a number of diagrams, and it certainly seems like a noticeable change.)

Now, it’s still too tall for the current zoning, and their justification for going higher is that they’re maintaining the front part of the building which has heritage significance. Generally, we’d let someone bust zoning regs if they’re offering something to the city/community (brownfield remediation, affordable housing, park space, etc.). You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t consider “not destroying a heritage building” as the platonic ideal of corporate benevolence.

And so their proposal [PDF] goes on and on about “as of right”. I mean, they write it so damned many times, and I get what they’re trying to say, but it’s really just the urban development equivalent of the bleatings of a petulant toddler who feels entitled to having ice cream for dinner any day.

Regardless, I, personally, don’t feel like fighting half an extra storey, and that height isn’t egregious, so, yeah, whatever, take your “as of right” stuff, Little Timmy, us grown-ups will deal.

Now, the plan isn’t perfect. They’re putting in 100 parking spots (holy shit!) which is more than the minimum requirement of 72 (holy shit, that’s the minimum!?), and since we’re still ass-backwards on parking in central areas (we should have maximums and outright bans, but never, ever minimums), there’s no zoning-based objection to this…just a sanity objection, a holy-shit-why-do-we-want-all-these-cars-in-an-already-congested-area-for-a-building-that’s-on-two-bus-routes-in-an-eminently-walkable-neighbourhood-with-a-high-bicycing-modal-share-? objection.

(Oh, geez, sorry, it kind of got out-of-hand with all those hyphens.)

Now, I may change my mind, or there may be something in the plans that I’m missing–or maybe I’m being snowed because it’s actually a bad plan that only looks good in comparison to the original plan–but for now, I’ll say that this is the sort of development we should have in the Glebe and in the city, in general.

Except for the fucking parking. Get your act together, Ottawa.

Pedestrian space is really just extra car space

I’ve written before about flex space and other types of street space that is supposed to be shared by pedestrians and drivers. When we have this sort of arrangement, drivers tend to take over, bullying everyone else out. Hell, I’ve even talked about how the city allows cars to illegally take over pedestrian space–like how they’re unwilling to stop or ticket cars that routinely park on sidewalks.

But, you know, it’s not just the scofflaws taking away pedestrian space. It’s the city. The city, by plan, by design and by action treats pedestrian spaces as a reserve of space that can be used to facilitate driving. Right now, I’m thinking of sidewalks and parking meters.

Here’s a picture of Bank Street off of Google Maps:

The city is very proud about how they made the sidewalks wider when they re-did Bank Street a few years ago. Unfortunately, they’re still too narrow. Check ’em out this weekend. They’re way too full.

One big problem is that all that “extra width” is taken up–by street signs, by hydro polls, by bike racks (though those are disappearing) and by parking meters. (Oh yeah, and let’s not forget all the sandwich boards the shops have set up.)

I was looking at one of the parking meters. They’re fairly big. They’re back from the curb a bit. They take up a lot of space that should be used for walking. Basically, they shouldn’t be there. They’re driving infrastructure, and the sidewalk shouldn’t be used for driving infrastructure.

But you can’t put them on the street, that’d be too dangerous.

That’s my first reaction, and probably yours, too. That’s a four-lane road, and we don’t want people standing in the four lane road plugging change into a meter. And then there’s snow-clearing. And drivers would, no doubt, be hitting them when no one’s parked in that lane.

So, obviously, parking meters have to go on the sidewalk. They must take part of the dedicated pedestrian space.

That’s bullshit. It’s hard to break ourselves of this mentality, but make no mistake, this mentality is absolute bullshit.

This is one of the small, insidious ways that we have developed a car-centric city, even in our urban core. We allot a certain amount of space to driving and then a certain amount of space to walking (and then wave in a general direction about maybe have some space for bicycling somewhere nearby). We establish minimums for each or necessary dimensions for each, and we build them.

And then we clutter up the pedestrian space with more driving stuff. And it’s not just meters, it’s street signs, too. Pedestrians don’t no No Stopping or No Parking signs in their space. Those signs are for drivers. Pedestrians don’t need speed limits. Those are for drivers.

And even when we’re talking about infrastructure for everyone, it has to go in pedestrian space. We no longer have hydro poles in streets (though we used to). Further, we’re unwilling to bury hydro lines unless some mystical benefactor pays for it. So those massive poles go on sidewalks. Fuck walking, amirite?

Once again, this is all bullshit. We need to make space for infrastructure, not just force pedestrians to deal with it.

Traffic signs, traffic standards, parking meters–when the city is designing a street, the space for these needs to come out of the space devoted to driving. Yes, it will wind up doubling as a pedestrian space, likely, but it’s barely usable, so it’s not like some grand infrastructural windfall.

(Similarly, Hydro lines are a benefit to everyone. They should be buried. If they’re not, they need a place on the street that doesn’t exclusively hinder walking.)

When we’re talking about Bank Street, there’s not a whole lot of room. There’s no extra space, we’re told (that’s probably why we’re not allowed to safely ride our bikes on this Traditional Main Street). And, sure, there’s no extra space.

And if there’s no space for four driving lanes and associated driving infrastructure like traffic signs and parking meters, it means there’s no space for four lanes.

Bank Street is simply not wide enough to handle four lanes of driving, bicyclists, transit users and the amount of foot traffic it gets. Drivers have been given the vast majority of the space–those four lanes. It is absolutely ridiculous that they also get a foot or so of the paltry area given to pedestrians.

There’s only one sane solution in this type of situation: Two lanes, plus a bit of space for parking meters, two bike lanes, and wider sidewalks. Oh, and bury the damned hydro lines, cheapskates.

There’s another, similar, situation where we demonstrate the drivers are more important than pedestrians, and that’s when we have to put up temporary traffic signs relating to construction.

Occasionally, we’ll block traffic. Usually, we’ll prefer to block sidewalks. Here’s a current situation on Carling Avenue:

On each side of the Queensway overpass, there are staging areas for some (driving-related) construction work, so there are warning signs that trucks will be coming out. The sign in the picture is for the second makeshift entrance way that’s just beyond the overpass.

The sign takes up half the (narrow) sidewalk. For an idea of how high it is, the corner that is jutting out is at forehead level for me (I’m about 6′).

The city could just shut down that section of the lane…there’d still be two more driving lanes. Instead, they’ve chosen to make it dangerous and difficult for people trying to use the sidewalk. I don’t know if strollers can get by. I don’t know what it’d be like in a wheelchair.

But who cares. We can’t use precious driving space for a driving-related sign. Drivers are important. Driving is important. Everything else–everyone else–can just suffer.

No, I don’t respect private property

…or, I don’t respect private property qua private property.

I was walking home from the park today. As I was a couple of blocks away from home, I noticed a man doing some gardening work in front of some townhouses. He was talking to a couple of women. I didn’t hear what they were talking about (and wasn’t actually paying attention), but I did hear him remark, “…what, expect people to respect private property?”

So, clearly, there was some sort of discussion about what someone had done to the garden or the building. Or maybe someone had parked in their little lot. I don’t know, but there was some sort of transgression.

I’m going to admit, whenever people start talking about “private property” or, really, the sanctity of private property, I bristle. When it’s put like that, no, no I don’t care about private property.

Too often (though not exclusively), when I hear people talk about the importance of private property, they’re really talking about their desire to foist their desires on the rest of the community. Why can’t I pave over my front lawn? It’s private property. Why can’t I build a giant wall of a building? It’s private property. Why can’t I cut down all these trees? It’s private property.

As the cult of private property slowly pushes out public space, as it erodes our communities, no, I can’t really respect it.

This may seem like some kind of anarchist philosophy (and, hell, maybe there’s a tinge of that), but it’s really, truly, a deeply conservative and traditionalist perspective.

No, I don’t respect private property, but I do respect people’s homes. I respect people, and think they should be treated well.

But I also understand that home means more than the land you “own”. My street is part of my home. My neighbourhood is part of my home. I don’t ever see private property fetishists concerning themselves too much with respecting my home. They won’t (perhaps) litter on my front step, but will they speed past my home? Will they clog up the streets of my neighbourhood? Will they respect that this is a community and not just an attraction? Will they respect that my main street isn’t just an arterial?

Generally speaking, I don’t see it. This concept of respect is supposed to be extended to private property but not to communities.

The concept of private property can be useful, but it’s still pretty imaginary. As long as we’re using it for the betterment of our communities and our city, rather than the enrichment of certain demographics, then, yes, by all means, let’s respect.

But that’s not how it’s used. That’s not the mentality in this city, or this country, or this society. It’s used as a bludgeon. It’s weaponized to protect entrenched interests.

So, no, I’m not going to respect private property, and you shouldn’t either.

Respect homes. Respect communities. Respect people. That’s the better way to go.

A teachable moment on Carling Avenue

So I had a bit of an incident today.

I was walking along Carling towards Churchill. I was on the northwest corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross Churchill. Westbound Carling had the light, including an advance left turn, so I couldn’t cross. No biggie.

There were a few cars to my left, lined up at the red on Churchill, all wanting to turn right onto Carling. A few did, mostly at a reasonable speed. Again, no biggie.

Then a young guy in an SUV was at the stop line. He stopped and didn’t turn. There was an impatient old man behind him. It was a small car, and I don’t know if the old man could see what was going on at the intersection. The advance left had ended.

Just as my walk signal came on, the old man honked aggressively at the young guy to try to get him to turn. The young guy, clearly influenced by the d-bag behind him started to go, entering the crosswalk.

I exclaimed. (I just said, “whoa.” There was no swearing, or anything.)

The young guy, perhaps hearing me or perhaps seeing the walk signal…or maybe seeing the eastbound cars that now had a green, stopped abruptly and looked duly chastened. It was clear that he knew he shouldn’t have done it and was quite regretful.

He gave me a wave, and I gave him a re-assuring wave back. I know he didn’t want endanger me. I pointed accusatorily at the old man–the negligent, self-absorbed driver who started all this.

There are three lessons here:

  1. Don’t be that old man. Don’t be a jerk when you’re driving. You’re not entitled to go anywhere you want at the exact second you want to. You’re impatience and self-regard are not more important the than safety of others. You’re just not that special.
  2. I know it’s hard, but when you’re driving, you can’t let yourself be pressured into things by the bullies around you. You have to control what you’re doing with your vehicle. It doesn’t matter if someone’s honking at you, look, assess and drive only if it’s safe. Yes, it’s really tough when someone’s being a jerk, but you have to do it. Otherwise you could seriously hurt or kill someone.
  3. We need to get rid of right turns on reds. We’re teaching drivers that they’re allowed to do whatever they want, that red lights don’t always mean red lights. As a result, they just want to go, safety, right-of-way, the very existence of others be damned. Sometimes, drivers will just have to wait their turn.

That’s it. Three simple lessons. If we could just embrace them, our streets would be a lot safer and a lot more pleasant.

Taking your job as a city councillor seriously

I’ve been blogging for about ten years, now. I’ve always been opinionated (shocking, I know) and I’ve always followed politics to one degree or another, of a decade ago, I decided to dive in. At first, it was just a little personal site that no one ever really read, but, soon, I joined a group blog that received considerably more traffic.

I was well-versed in the political debating game. I knew the terms, the slang, the talking points, the arguments, the rhetoric, the preferred methods of attack, all of it. But when I started contributing to a relatively popular site, something changed.

It was on one of my very first post there. I was about to make some sort of factual declaration (“So-and-so said this”, “So-and-so believes that”, “The research says this”)…but just as I was about to write that–to write something I’d probably say off-hand in a conversation–I figured I should double-check.

And wouldn’t you know it, my memory or interpretation or understanding of the situation wasn’t accurate. Maybe it was close…maybe it was really close…but it wasn’t quite right, so I couldn’t quite make the argument I wanted to.

(This was on a fairly partisan website, so not every reader was happy with such nuance.)

Now, this is how I approach my writing and my blogging. I’ve been known to inundate my posts with hyperlinks (though, on this blog, sometimes I’m feeling lazy). When I write a column for the Sun, I do my research and I check quotes. I’ve made a couple mistakes here and there, but, generally, any declaration I’ve made, I’ve been able to back up.

Yes, the analysis, the opinion, the judgement applied to a situation will be subjective, but when it comes to facts and data, I want to be as accurate as possible. Their is a weight to participating in this sort of public forum. I take my role in it seriously.

And I believe our elected politicians should, too. Unfortunately, they do not. Too many think that city council is just their (and maybe their constituents’) personal grievance machine. They aren’t thoughtful. They aren’t prepared for council. They aren’t honest or straightforward. They aren’t taking their role seriously.

When you hear a city councillor questioning whether or not the Laurier Bike Lane has made the streets safer, he’s not taking his role seriously (there was a massive study done by the city to answer that question. The answer is yes.)

When you hear a city councillor suggesting that street lights will make other areas darker and more dangerous, she’s not taking her role seriously.

When you hear a city councillor suggesting road expansion will ease congestion, he’s not taking his job seriously. (It’s called “induced demand”, and you should be forced to look it up at least once before you vote on any road projects.)

When you hear the mayor suggest that drivers pay for roads because they pay for gas taxes, you know he’s not taking his role seriously.

When you hear a councillor claim he didn’t know about a city project, when he has been documented as a party to the discussions, he’s not taking his role seriously.

When our transit chair takes drives to a RedBlacks game, he’s not taking his role seriously.

When our public health chair hasn’t read any literature on safe injections sites, he’s not taking his role seriously.

These are just examples off the top of my head. Each one comes from a current member of city council. Each one helps demonstrate that many of our elected officials are not working in our best interest, but are cynically gaming the system for their own political gain.

They don’t deserve your respect. And they sure as hell don’t deserve your vote.

Commuter News Network

A few weeks ago, the National Capital Commission decided to fix the Portage Bridge. It needs to be re-surfaced, and they’re also going to try to make it safe for bicyclists. It’s a pretty big project, costing a few million dollars. It’ll make the whole area around the river and the Portage Bridge more accessible, and it’ll improve travel to Gatineau. It seems like a very worthwhile project. At the very least, it’s a pretty big decision that’s worthy of news coverage.

When the decision was made, CFRA made one lone tweet about it to the effect of, new project is going to cause traffic problems:

About six hours later, they offered a bit more info:

Of course, the lede for that article was, “You can expect closures on the Portage Bridge this summer.”

The CBC’s Joanne Chianello did better:

But the only story I can find begins, “Expect lane closures on the Portage Bridge this summer while crews work to repair its pavement and install a two-way segregated bike lane.

The other day, I was listening to CBC radio and they had a story about the latest consultation for the Elgin Street renewal, another significant project coming to Ottawa. Regardless what you think of the design (to be nice, it’s seriously flawed and dishonest), it’s a significant story, and the consultation component of the issue deserves a lot of attention (because the city has not been treating residents well during the process).

Nonetheless, the story opened mentioning that there will be traffic disruptions some time in the future.

It’s so maddening. There are no actual traffic disruptions (right now) to speak of. These are significant issues that deserve the public’s attention. There’s a lot to be discussed, and there aren’t easy solutions to all the problems for both projects. And yet, news orgs just want to talk about some future traffic problem.

In these situations, both CBC and CFRA did a massive disservice to their audiences. (And I don’t mean to pick on them, exclusively–I’m sure just about every news org does this–they’re just the examples that I’ve encountered recently.) They’re feeding into a narrative that too many adopt about city issues–that everything, always, is about driving. That anything that might inconvenience drivers is a big problem, whereas anything that makes life better for non-drivers is more of a footnote.

It’s a mentality that treats our city not as a place to be, a place to live, a place to enjoy; but as a place to drive through. Neighbourhoods, amenities, parks–any non-road space is just an inconvenience that makes driving and commuting that much longer. It’s such a toxic, car-centric view, not just of the city, but of life. As if the only thing that matters is commuting.

No, these are big projects that will have an impact on the lives and safety of residents for decades to come. Yeah, sure, there’ll be a few hiccups when it comes to driving, but those will be insignificant in the long run.

Unfortunately, it gets more and more difficult to have a proper discussion about what kind of city we want and how we can achieve it when media outlets feed into this driving-obsessed viewpoint.

Do better, guys.