Green bins, Presto cards and our over-reliance on corporations

A few months ago, I wrote about Presto cards. Now, I like my Presto card. It’s very handy. But it was really a pain to get it. There was nowhere nearby, so I had to pick one up when I was at the Rideau Centre.

In my column, I noted that this was a problem. Tickets could be purchased just about anywhere, but the city was phasing them out. There are only a handful of places to get a Presto card.

A comms person for Metrolinx objected, saying that they were working on a deal to get Presto cards sold in Shoppers Drug Mart locations.

Well, Metrolinx has some great news for us. Now you’re going to be able to buy and top up your Presto cards at Shoppers and at Loblaws! (The two stores are now owned by the same company, you see, so they both get the perks.)

This is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t sufficiently address the problem.

Do a search for Loblaws and Shoppers locations. Check the maps. There are a bunch of them, but there are also a whole whack empty spaces. Not everyone will be able to get out to these locations.

The old way—having tickets and passes sold at a variety of stores—was far more useful and far more accessible.

Why are we farming out our public services to a private corporation, only one, no matter how limiting it is?


I live in an apartment building, meaning I don’t get to participate in the city’s green bin program. (For some reason, we don’t think people who live in multi-home buildings produce waste or something.) But, y’know, I figured if I could get a green bin, I’d just start using it. I’m not at the top floor of a high-rise, I’m on the ground floor of a walk-up, and there’s space around behind the garbage cans, anyway.

So I went to the city’s website to see about getting one. There are coupons! I could just download a coupon and go get my own green bin without even worrying about a landlord or anything. But wait…

The coupons are for Canadian Tire. I don’t live anywhere close to a Canadian Tire. I, generally, don’t drive, so getting to a Canadian Tire and getting a green bin home is prohibitively difficult.

I do, however, live a few blocks away from a Home Hardware. A few more blocks and there’s a Loblaws. But, no, I can’t get green bins at either of those retailers, only Canadian Tire.

Again, I ask, why do farm out our public services to private corporations, and why only one corporation per service? Surely, there’s a way to get other retailers on board. Maybe we could set something up where there are regular (if infrequent) times when there’ll be green bins at your local community centre, or library, or school. Is it really so difficult?

Relying on the corporate world to provide these sorts of services can be useful. Hell, sometimes, it’s the best way to do it. But when we offer certain corporations a monopoly on delivering public services, we set up significant, unfair and unnecessary barriers to many residents who need those services.

Really, just give me a damned green bin.

Councillor Fleury and the problem with the McArthur bike lanes

So I’ve been thinking about this Twitter exchange for the past day or so:

The city is making some changes to McArthur, and they’re adding in bike lanes…but it’s not a full re-design (like Elgin Street, for example); they’re looking to add the bike lanes to the existing roadway, and it’ll result in one fewer car lanes.

This great! The city’s obsession with addressing road safety primarily during full reconstruction is incredibly irritating. There are lots of things we can do with the existing infrastructure. As the local councillor, Mathieu Fleury, notes in the thread, he has paint, planters and bollards to work with.

The objection raised in this tweet is about the points where there’s a slip lane for right turners, putting the bike lane between two car lanes. This isn’t ideal. This isn’t particularly safe or inviting. This is the type of design that led to a truck driver running over and killing Mario Theoret on Hunt Club.

But, hey, as Fleury notes, we have planters and bollards to work with. There’s a lot you can do with them, even if it’s not ideal or not as pretty as we’d like. People in the thread starting making a lot of suggestions, but it seemed each one was unworkable, for some reason.

There is at least workable solution, though. Use those bollards and planters to close off those slip lanes. Make people who want to turn right drive all the way to the corner to make the turn. Yes, drivers will still have to cross the bike lane, but at least it’s in a much more controlled situation.

It’ll have the added bonus of eliminating those pedestrian islands, too. Those things are horrible and should never be seen in Ottawa’s semi-urban centre.

You may notice that there’s a parking lot exit there which could make things complicated…but no! We can use those planters and bollards to extend the exit all the way to the main part of the road. Yes, they’ll still cross the bike lane, but such crossings are always going to happen.

Currently, the plan is set up so that some drivers will be trying to cross the bike lane to get over to the slip lane, some other drivers will be trying to enter the slip lane from the parking lot, and some other drivers will be trying to leave to cross the slip lane and the bike lane in order to get on McArthur from the parking lot.

That’s a ton of conflict to expect bicyclists to deal with just to try to move around their neighbourhood.

Now, there are maybe a few other things we could do to make these intersections safer:

We could eliminate right turns on red lights. I mean, we should eliminate them anyway, but the very concept behind them no longer makes any sense once you have bike lanes. Just don’t let people do this inherently dangerous and selfish manoeuvre.

And, y’know, we could also give bicyclists their own lights (maybe along with the pedestrians), so that when they have the green, drivers can’t turn. Even just an advance for bikes and pedestrians would probably be good. (Oh, and make sure these lights change every cycle…none of this begging bullshit).

Now, making the best of this situation can take some discussions and some planning. I get that. It’s not too concerning if the initial plans are sub-optimal, if the city eventually gets to a safe plan.

No, what’s really concerning about this is that councillor Fleury (who, I believe, tends to bike) just didn’t get it.

The issue was presented many times, and he just seemed unable to comprehend what the danger was. People kept making suggestions, and he just consistently metaphorically threw up his hands and said he only had planters and paint. He went on and on about how moving from four lanes to three is good, but there’s only so much that can be done.

None of this was difficult.

None of this was hard to understand.

The current design creates massive conflict between drivers and vulnerable road users. It’s incredibly dangerous for bicyclists. There are other designs that could address safety…but he just seemed unable to comprehend that these slip lanes are a bad idea. It seems like the usual city blindness to anything that doesn’t prioritize drivers.

Eventually, he fell back to the claim that right turners are going to have to cross the bike lane eventually, so there’s nothing that can be done to increase safety. This is completely insane. It took residents multiple attempts to explain that we’ve already dealt with this on the Laurier Bike Lane–the one that goes right past City Hall, the flagship of our cycling infrastructure.

So, I don’t know what the deal was. I don’t know if he’s just in over his head when it comes to street safety. I don’t know if he was just trying to avoid conflict. I don’t know if he’s just dedicated to maintaining car supremacy in his urban ward.

Whatever was going on, it was an extremely bad look for Fleury. Hopefully, the efforts of residents can make up for the negligence of the councillor and actually force planners to make McArthur a safer street for all road users.