Deceptions, traffic webs, Booth Street and Lebreton Flats East

I have, in the past, lied at work. I think a lot of us do it. Maybe we’re trying to cover up a mistake, maybe we’re trying to buy more time to get something done, maybe we’re trying to avoid a confrontation, whatever. People do this.

As you go on about your life, you learn more about tangled webs and deception, and (generally speaking) it’s really not worth it to lie. Often, you’ll just wind up making everything worse and more stressful for yourself. Being honest and straightforward is one of the best characteristics you can develop in the workplace (and in life).

This brings us Booth Street.

Booth Street is a colossal fuck-up by the city. It’s a busy street. It’s a main route for bicyclists and drivers. It’s a transit station. And it’s running right through the biggest development opportunity in this city since maybe the canal.

It’s a wide street, with lots of space. It was a perfect spot to integrate different forms of transportation and demonstrate the city’s commitment to safe, wise, equitable urban planning.

And, yeah, they fucked it up. They fucked it up so bad, they’re already re-doing it.

The re-development of Booth Street, coupled with changes to the Parkway (and by extension, construction of the War Museum) meant that we were getting a beefed up street and bridge. So much so, that it required a cement median. It was load-bearing or something.

Prior to this, while the NCC was still happy letting most of Lebreton Flats rot, there was a tiny intersection along Booth Street. Fleet Street connected with Booth at a T-juncture, and there was, temporarily, the ability to turn left off of Fleet onto Booth.

Bear in mind, this was never meant to be permanent. It was a favour, always meant to be temporary and that maybe never should have been granted. All city plans stated that access to Booth via Fleet was never in the plans.

(And, to be absolutely clear, this is undeniably and unequivocally the right decision. Allowing a left turn onto Booth would encourage more driving through the existing Lebreton/City Centre/Little Italy area. Booth is already too much of a thoroughfare. The existing and future Lebreton Flats developments can’t follow a suburban, car-centric design. They’re right next door to the core, they have to prioritize transit, walking and biking…and, yeah, discourage driving.)

So with this absolutely essential median, the former temporary left turn was cut off. This caused much consternation to those who had grown accustomed to the temporary benevolence (and now want to open up Wellington and Booth to left turns), but it didn’t actually change much in terms of long-term planning.

Oh, except it took up more space. And when they designed the bridge, they decided not to have any bike infrastructure (and the pedestrian/transit rider infrastructure wasn’t super ideal, either).

(By the way, initially they designed the bridge with bike lanes, but then some car-slavering pol or planner decided to change it for no good reason.)

As people asked for bike lanes, and as residents of “Lebreton Flats East” initially sought their Fleet Street left turn, they were all told it was impossible because without the median, the bridge would collapse and all of Lebreton Flats would be sucked into an underworld vortex…or some shit like that.

Wouldn’t ya know it? That wasn’t true!

The median is coming out, and Booth Street is going to be improved. I know I’m only giving a rough sketch of the situation (and I’m sure I’m obscuring a few details someone will find important)–is it as good as it should be?, maybe, probably not–but whatever, I don’t care about that right now. Here’s what I care about.

The city fucked up. Some planner fucked up. And city staff decided that instead of owning up and saying either “we fucked up” or “fuck you, bicycles, die in fucking traffic accident, there are cars that need drivin'”, they lied and blamed it all on the median.

So now, we have a public that is (even more) distrustful of planners. We’ve spent a ton of time fighting about this, when they should have just done initially what they’re doing now and started fixing the bridge.

And they made it seem like the city was trying to pull one on the residents of Lebreton Flats East. Rather than explaining to those residents why it was unwise to have that turn at Fleet Street (and, similarly, why we can’t have left turns at Wellington and Booth to make up for the left turn they “lost”), they lent credence to any grievance the residents had about getting screwed by the city.

And, you know, if they’d just been honest and straightforward from the start–telling them why there can’t be left turns onto Booth and explaining that there never should have been one in the first place–most people probably would have accepted it. Not everyone, of course, but most people are reasonable if you’re straight with them.

Next time, opt for the truth, even if it’s a more difficult conversation.

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Looking isn’t enough

The trial of Steven Conley, the man who killed Nusrat Jahan while she was biking legally along the Laurier Segregated Bike Lane, has been going on this week. The details are horrible. The descriptions of the sights and sounds of Conley running of Jahan with his truck are gruesome. The evidence is clearly stacked against him (probably because he fucking recklessly killed a woman), but he’ll probably get off.

His basic defense (from the CBC Ottawa coverage):

“When the light turned green, before I turned, I looked in the mirrors three times and then I looked again in my mirror on the hood and then I went ahead,” Conley said.  He told Gendron he always waits a “few seconds” before turning.

“I didn’t see her at all. She came out of nowhere, and if I’d seen her I would have stopped,” he said. “It’s not something you want to see, someone under your truck.”

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know I have a lot to say about the “she came out of nowhere” bullshit, and, don’t worry, I have more to say about that.

Right now, though, I want to address the “I looked in the mirrors three times and then I looked again…” part of his testimony.

He says he couldn’t see her. And he’ll probably get off because he was driving a big truck and it has more challenging sightlines (though the prosecution demonstrating that driving a big truck does not actually preclude you from seeing a bicyclist in the bike lane).

Drivers often say they don’t see the people or things they hit. They often talk about people coming out of nowhere–which is always bullshit; no one comes out of nowhere. They’ll say they looked and though it was clear to go.

This is the crux of it: looking isn’t enough.

Drivers talk about checking blindspots and checking mirrors, and, yes, no doubt they look in them. But studies and anecdotes have demonstrated that drivers can look right at someone and then just run them down. You’ll be crossing a street, a driver will be staring right at you and then they’ll just start driving, because though they were checking, though they were looking, they weren’t seeing anything.

Because looking isn’t enough. You need to be aware.

Pedestrians and bicyclists tend to understand this, especially if you’re on a busy street. There are cars and drivers all over the place, and you can never trust them to be safe.

You know the car at the intersection ahead might be turning, even though they have no signal on.

You know the driver at the corner might just drive through the intersection, even though you have the right-of-way.

You know you can’t trust the benevolence, consideration, ability or attentiveness of anyone wielding two tonnes of metal in our city. So you have to be aware. And, as someone not in a car, you are more aware. You see more. You hear more. You are more engaged with the street around you.

I mean, cars are fucking marketed to keep drivers disengaged from the road–you can’t feel anything, you can’t hear anything, and you can accelerate easily and without care.

If you’re driving beside a busy bike lane, you need to pay attention to the bicyclists. If you pass a bicyclist, be aware that they’ll catch up with you if you slow down. If you’re sitting at a red light waiting for it to change, be aware that there might be bicyclists coming up from behind you, right in the place they’re legally allowed and told to be.

If you’re at a busy downtown intersection, know that people will be crossing the street. Realize that the person walking towards the intersection may turn and cross in the crosswalk (because, again, that’s where they’re told to cross). Be aware that people come out of buildings, that they walk at varying speeds and that they are allowed to try to live their lives without offering a lake of blood to the driving gods.

So, yeah, maybe Steven Conley “looked” in his mirrors three or four times. Maybe he “checked” everything before he turned (illegally, without signalling). But his excuse is really an indictment. It’s clear he wasn’t paying attention to the street around him. He wasn’t aware of what was going on.

He had no idea who was beside him and yet he drove, anyway, utterly destroying a person–snuffing out her life with a loud pop.

We have insulated, figuratively and literally, drivers from the ramifications of their actions and their negligence. We’ve given them no reason to feel they need to be aware of their surroundings, driving with the caution their motorized weapons demand. We tell them they should look, but we never worry about them being aware.

And people like Nusrat Jahan are dead because of it.

More on the mayor and the politics of parking

In my previous post, I wrote about the Mayor Watson’s decision remove a safe, legal detour for bicyclists while the Harmer Bridge is being replaced. A friend on Twitter, made this observation:

He’s right. There’s no political upside to this decision. Watson has high favourability numbers. He has no real competition in the upcoming election. There’s no clear political reason for this.

I mean, maybe he’s trying to paint Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper into a corner (Leiper won’t toe the mayor’s line, regularly supports sane urban development and advocates for safe streets, so you can see why Watson wouldn’t like him), but the possible votes of 118 driving advocates probably aren’t going to make or break Leiper’s re-election. These people seemed unlikely to vote for him anyway.

(And his only challenger so far is Daniel Stringer, and that’s probably not much of a challenge.)

So, no, this isn’t a political calculation. It’s pretty clear the mayor is just a big booster of driving.

But there is a political dynamic underlying all this. There are many, many times we see driving advocates and politicians from car-centric communities (the latter being a sub-set of the former) oppose any projects that benefit non-drivers in central areas.

Because Watson isn’t doing this just (or maybe at all) for the Holland residents who signed the petition. He’s signalling to his core constituency in further out suburbs that he supports their unfettered (except for traffic) driving and will do what he can to ensure the car remains supreme.

He’s saying, don’t worry drivers, you still get to drive everywhere.

And he’s not the only one who does this.

Allan Hubley and Jan Harder railed against the Main Street bike lanes because they didn’t want to take away car lanes (or just increase safety) in the suburbs.

Rick Chiarelli opposed a parking-free apartment building on Rideau Street near uOttawa, because he wouldn’t want there to be a parking-free building in College Ward. College Ward wants to drive and park in their ward, so Rideau-Vanier can never be improved!

We often see suburban councillors attempt to scuttle city-building projects for the supposed benefit of their constituents (they want ample car lanes downtown for driving; they won’t pay for bike lanes because they want low taxes). These rationales are often…irrational (and not even what all their residents necessarily want), and they’re generally misanthropic, but there is a direct link.

But what we’re seeing in these other examples is something different. It’s about sacrificing certain wards and certain neighbourhoods and certain people to maintain the illusion of a driving utopia for those in the outer suburbs.

So, no, there’s no political upside to endangering children, but there’s still a lot of politics to it.

Mayor Watson shows his hostility towards residents and safe streets

David Reevely has a report in the Citizen about the movement to get a safe bicycle detour in place for the next two years while the Harmer Bridge is re-built. There was a plan in place (bike lanes on Holland), but some residents put together a petition with 118 signatures and the mayor got the detour removed. They wanted to save a few free on-street parking spaces.

(This might also be a good time to point out that in that entire area, there is only one safe, legal way for bicyclists to cross the 417. Maybe that needs a fix, too.)

In response to the mayor’s decision, there’s now a petition that has garnered over 700 signatures asking, pleading, for safe way to cross the 417. The local community association is backing this, as well. Apparently, there might be signs of life, as there is to be a meeting between the mayor and some of the bicyclists who don’t want to die on Holland Avenue.

There’s a lot of talk about the issue–about how bad it is, about how it is for both bicyclists and pedestrians, how it’ll endanger school children, how we’re prioritizing private car storage over public safety–and it’s all quite on point. This decision by the mayoral was a betrayal…both of the people who need a safe way to get to work and school, and to the city and its supposed commitment to active transportation, environmental protection and public safety.

The whole thing was also incredibly dishonest. The 118 pro-parking signatories claimed that there’d been no public consultation. There, in fact, had been public consultations, public notices, and the councillor and his staff went door-to-door talking to residents and leaving information if they weren’t home.

But there’s another part of the issue that I touched on briefly on Twitter, and that’s the mayor’s quick and solitary decision to kill the bike lanes (and maybe some bicyclists, who knows).

If you’ve ever seen the mayor interact on Twitter, you know he likes process. When complaints come, he quickly directs them to city councillors. When people want changes to projects, he either tells them it’s too soon and consultations are coming, or that it’s too late and the consultations are over (it’s the too soon, too soon, too soon, too late method of avoiding public accountability).

But this time, he got a petition with a measly 118 signatures (hundreds of people use that bridge regularly), and he went behind everyone’s back and got the change made.

This is the mayor telling you who he is. He’ll trumpet the city’s “record spending” on bicycling infrastructure and he’ll call us a Gold Medal cycling city. He’ll support motions about Complete Streets and “Towards Zero”, he’ll talk a good game about Safer Roads Ottawa, and he’ll pass out the Bruce Timmerman Award for cycling advocacy. But when it comes right down to it, when push comes to shove, he shoves bicyclists back in the gutter.

Watson is a commuter mayor. He’s building a city for suburban commuting and extensive driving.

Just look at Lansdowne. It was built as a “Pedestrian Priority Zone”. There are even signs! But a few weeks and a handful of dumbass drivers complaining, and suddenly there are lines painted all over the park, delineating what is clearly, if unofficially, supposed to be car-first areas. No where else do pedestrian zones get painted to look like city streets.

No one knew how this happened. There was no public consultation. OSEG claimed not to be behind it. The local councillor didn’t ask for it (and he had always wanted a car-free Lansdowne, he says). Word is that the mayor made this decision and directed crews to paint lines without even discussing the matter with council, the councillor or the public.

And then there was the vanishing bike lane on O’Connor. It seemed to be supported by the councillor and by city staff. They planned it for two years, and then suddenly, without warning, it was axed. There are a lot of rumours about who was behind it, but they all lead back to mayor, in way or another.

This is who Jim Watson is. He does not want safe streets (he may not be against them, but driving and parking are higher priorities). He has shown this numerous times, but always tried to hide his animosity for bicyclists.

Now, it’s clear as day. He didn’t want the bike lanes there. He wanted to prioritize parking and driving over bicycling. He congratulated the anti-street safety group after doing their bidding.

This isn’t the only way the mayor shows his true colours. We’ve seen it with safe injection sites–claiming he’s worried about public health and public safety, ignoring all evidence until the political winds shift against him.

We’ve seen it with women’s issues and representation on council. He’ll talk a good game when he sends and MRA/”pick-up artist” packing or nominally defends a woman’s right to choose, but then he’ll make pro-life declarations every year and oppose a motion to explore the implications on women of city activities (again, changing tack when it is advantageous to do so).

Jim Watson is, at his core, a cynical politician. I used to think that meant that he didn’t really believe in anything, but it’s clear he does. He believes in securing and protecting his status as a part of car culture (not to mention as a man) over just about anything else.

The mayor doesn’t really care about you or your safety.

Mayor Watson looking for another petty social media fight

Mayor Jim Watson is an avid social media user. You’ll find him promoting events, recording his public appearance and, sometimes, saying dumb stuff in the face of tragedy (when a bicyclist was killed, he tweeted about record spending on bike infrastructure; when Abdirahman Abdiab was killed by cops, he tweeted about baseball).

You can also see him picking fights and obsessing over petty grievances. He’ll attack city activists and advocates if they don’t toe the line, and he’s had numerous bickering matches with Alex Cullen. It’s all pretty unseemly.

Yesterday, he decided he needed a new foil, and decided it would be Stittsville resident and city council candidate Glen Gower.

Glower established and used to run Stittsville Central–a website covering issues pertinent to Stittsville. It really is a fantastic source for hyper-local coverage, and Glen should be proud of what he built.

But notice I said “used to”. Glen stepped down from Stittsville Central when he signed up to run for council, as he should have. He’s no longer involved in it. Devyn Barrie is now the editor, and yesterday, Devyn ran story about Watson’s cynical ploy to spend money on an environmental assessment to get LRT to Barrhaven.

It’s a pretty transparent election-year promise…but a lot of people have wondered what it means for light rail out to Kanata and Stittsville. Will we do both? Will we shift the focus to Barrhaven? Is this just an empty gesture? It’s a valid question and a valid issue for Sittsville Central to cover.

The mayor was pretty upset:

So this story had absolutely nothing to do with Gower and yet Watson decided to smear Gower, nonetheless. You might wonder why he would do this. Gower is an active and passionate advocate for his community and the city, as a whole. He is committed and works hard, and probably has a decent shot at beating the incumbent, Shad Qadri…

…oh that might explain it. Gower speaks his mind, looks to improve the community and doesn’t appear to be someone whole fall in line if elected to council. Watson has very little time for these people.

Watson has often said that if people want to make a difference, they should run for office. But it seems that’s just a canard and he doesn’t really mean it.

Stittsville Central fired back at Watson and his false claim:

Oh yeah, and that wasn’t the only bit of incorrect info Watson blasted out:

Naturally, Watson didn’t acknowledge his false claims; in fact, he doubled-down on the whole matter. It was a rather tactless episode from a mayor who always tries to present a very specific–if inaccurate–face to the media.

Gower seems to have taken the high road in all of this and not responded. It’s quite possible he’s just a bigger, more considerate person than the mayor.

Who matters and who doesn’t, NCC and Robert Moses Edition

The NCC is an interesting…department? pseudo-municipal agency? collaborator?…when it comes to urban development in Ottawa. Their roots can be found in the federal agencies the brought us the Greber Plan and razed Lebreton Flats–two horrendous, classist policies that we’re still actively trying to recover from (and may never, really).

…But, it’s also started to embrace a proper urban vision for the city of Ottawa. There are still flaws, many of them, and they’re still an unelected, unaccountable federal agency foisted on the residents of Ottawa, but they’re becoming more of a trusted partner.

Weirdly, though, they still act as protectors of single-occupancy vehicle commuting. This doesn’t actually fit in with their official vision, nor does jibe with their newfound urbanism, but, still, it persists.

The other day, I wrote about the OC Transpo summer schedule. I focused on how the reduced service demonstrates a real lack of care for city services, but I could just have easily focused on a more class-based issue. Drivers never get seasonal reductions for service levels like bus riders do. It’s quite fair to take from this that the city believes drivers are more important than transit riders (the price/funding disparity of the two really underscores this point).

The NCC, too, feels this way, and it’s a damned shame.

The NCC is the keeper of the parkways. They decide on the roads, who can use them and whether or not the city should be bankrupted trying to build sustainable transit infrastructure.

The parkway system is a throwback to mid-century North American thinking. It’s based on the notion that the government should be providing ample natural space for people to drive through. (I don’t know if the idea of the “Sunday Drive” still persists, but if it does, it should die in a fire.)

Robert Moses, the notable and notorious New York City planner from half a century ago, was a big believer in this model of transportation. I mean, he wasn’t actually a proponent of driving through luscious park space, he much preferred being chauffered through it.

He also kind of hated transit. (If you needed to get into New York City, the preferred way was to be driven across a magnificent bridge, rather than riding a train.) Moreover, he hated the people who used transit…typically poorer, less-white people.

One thing Moses did to ensure proper car supremacy was to build New York parkways so that any overpasses were too low for buses. This meant fewer tourists in his scenic parks. It also helped keep out The Poors.

For years, the NCC has been allowing buses on the parkway, but it was always supposed to be temporary. The transitway was supposed to continue through the west end (between Byron and Richmond, I believe), rather than connect with the Moses-esque parkway.

Soon, the bus issue will be resolved, as we switch to LRT. And LRT is basically following the route of the transitway. This means it has to go along the river (please, let’s not argue the chosen route, right now; that’s not the point of this post).

Well, the NCC didn’t really like that. There are a bunch of expensive homes kind of nearby and those people deserve to be able to look out over the parkway without having to see any trains. (I mean, those trains might be carrying people of a lower socio-economic status. We can’t have that.)

Now, if you’re like me, you might think a four-lane divided freeway is a significant barrier to accessing public greenspace. You would, of course, be wrong. The NCC has decided that providing a commuter route for drivers is an important part of its mandate to deliver a sustainable National Capital Region that can be enjoyed by all Canadians.

So the NCC has no problem with traffic jams and car traffic.

The NCC will go to bat for middle- and upper-middle-class homeowners.

The NCC will hold its nose and accommodate public transit…but only for so long.

The NCC has demonstrated that they believe in a transportation user hierarchy. Drivers (and their passengers) are deemed more important than transit users. (They’re also deemed more important that pedestrians, bicyclists and the environment.)

If you doubt this, check out how badly they want to get buses off of “Confederation Boulevard”, but won’t try to limit car traffic. (The very concept of “Confederation Boulevard” is stupid, not least of which because it demonstrates that the NCC cares more about their self-importance than the livability of our capital city.)

So, yes, the NCC is coming along way. Quite often, I trust it more than I trust city council. However, for the past few decades, they’ve adhered to a transportation caste system, and though there’s some evidence that they’re willing to change, we haven’t yet seen significant changes to demonstrate they’re on the right track.

All local agencies need to stop ghettoizing transit. We need healthy and successful transit, not more people in cars.

Summer Transit Service is a Sham

On Twitter, a friend pointed out that OC Transpo is set to switch to its summer schedule, meaning they’re cutting service on a whole host of routes, specifically: routes 12, 19, 30, 33, 44, 61, 63, 64, 82, 85, 87, 88, 91, 94, 95, 97, 98, 104, 105, 111, 129, 235, 236 and 272. That’s a lot of routes, including a number of prominent ones.

Now, there are a number of reasons to ridicule critque this schedule:

  • Car traffic is also lighter in the summer, but we’re not closing down streets or reducing the number of lanes open on the Queensway.
  • The #12 to Vanier and the #95 to Barrhaven have notoriously bad service levels already, and now we’re planning on making them worse.e
  • OC Transpo is already too commuter-focused, and this just re-inforces that.
  • Supposedly, we’re going to want people to use transit when LRT opens in the fall, but every time we reduce service or make it unreliable, we’re creating a deterrent to use transit
  • Man, we really are a fucking cheap city, aren’t we?

Each of these on its own is a valid criticism, but I want to dig down to the underlying philosophy of this decision.

***

A few months ago, Centretown News did a story on the debacle that is the Elgin Street renewal. In it, they spoke to Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko:

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko, who cycles in Centretown himself, said he is working hard to balance the needs of the cycling community and the rest of the city.

Now, I don’t know if this was Chernushenko’s words or the reporters, but it’s an interesting phrase to employ, “the cycling community and the rest of the city.” It sets up a (false) dichotomy between “bicyclists” and “the rest of the city”, as if people riding bikes are not fully-integrated into the overall life of the city.

Speaking off the top of one’s head, it’s an understandable phrase to use. We get what it means. But if it is someone’s measured, thoughtful construction, well, that’s something else altogether.

Not only does this rhetoric exclude people on bikes from the rest of city activity (even though they likely walk, bus and drive, as well), it excludes the people who would bike, but for the lack of safe infrastructure. It tells us that we only build bike lanes for people who already ride bikes, not for everyone.

This is a dangerous formulation, because it can then be turned against the city and the public. It’s an argument for exclusion. It’s how we wind up with vehicular cycling. It’s prevents us from building safe, 8-80 streets. It marginalizes those who’d like to not get run over.

***

Seem like an odd segue? Don’t worry, I have a point.

By reducing bus service in the summer, we’re telling people that OC Transpo is only really for those who use it regularly. It’s for the monthly pass-holding commuters. It’s for the people travelling to school or work at 8:00 am and travelling home at 5:00 pm.

The philosophy behind this sort of schedule change tells us that we don’t run transit as a service for residents, giving them options; letting them know that if they need to get somewhere, they can rely on OC Transpo. No, this philosophy tells “the rest of the city” that OC Transpo is for existing transit users and, specifically, those who travel at certain times, Monday to Friday.

If you want transit to survive, it needs to be convenient and reliable. People need to be able to trust that a bus is coming when they go outside. They need to be able to trust (hopefully), that they won’t have to wait an egregiously long time for the next bus to come. They need to be able to count on the same bus showing up on Monday June 25 that showed up on Friday June 22.

This doesn’t mean that there has to be the same level of service at all points of the day, on weekends or even on holidays (though this one can really screw people over). It means that a regular schedule needs to be maintained.

It means that people shouldn’t be late for work, miss their kid’s piano class or wait extra long to visit a loved one in the hospital…all because of a seemingly arbitrary change in schedule. To those who are riding the bus everyday, all year long–you know, the backbone of transit ridership…the people we need to make LRT a success–there is no material difference between Friday and the following Monday. They’re still just trying to live their lives, and OC Transpo and the city are making it a little bit harder.

Now, this probably sounds expensive and, yes, it is going to mean there are added costs to transit, but we already cheap-out on paying for transit. We give millions upon millions to drivers, for free, and we’re skimpy with transit.

Transit has to be at the core of our efforts to make Ottawa more livable. We need people out of cars and on buses (and trains). Transit users help make our city richer, healthier and safer. We need to treat transit as a service that is bigger than just transportation. It’s about creating better city living.

And if that means that in the summer the buses are a little emptier, well maybe that’s ok. Maybe riders who suffer through poor service levels deserve a seat all to themselves every now and then.

Who do the streets belong to? Who gets to live in the city?

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I live on a one-way, one-block street that connects to another one-way, one-block (basically) street. There’s one business at the start of my street, otherwise the entire stretch is residential.

I regularly salmon down these two streets (“salmoning” means riding your bike against the flow of traffic). I’m not the only one; it’s a fairly common practice. There’s sufficient room, you can pop up on the sidewalk if you have to, and if you’re not going unreasonably fast, it’s quite safe…certainly quite safer than the alternative.

But these streets don’t have a contraflow lane (a bike lane that goes the opposite way on a one-way street). It should–and if I get my hands on some yellow paint, it might soon–but right now, it doesn’t.

I and everyone else who lives here who does this is, technically breaking the law (and it’s probably 99% people who live on these streets that do this, as there isn’t much of a reason to be on the street if you don’t live here or aren’t visiting someone).

Within the past year or so, a stop sign was put up at the end of my block. It was never necessary before–short, one-block, one-way streets, you know–and it’s kind of ignored, now. I certainly don’t stop at it when I’m biking down my street (unless I encounter traffic).

But, my street gets more traffic than you’d expect. You regularly see cars whizzing down my street, cutting from Bank to Fifth (when the light at the corner is red, I guess). Or you get trucks. They’re not allowed to go onto Bank at Fifth, so they hop one block over to access it.

Or you get people heading to Lansdowne looking for parking. They’re generally not going to fast–often they’re going quite slow–but they’re looking around, not really paying attention, not really knowing where they’re going (they often start to head down the dead-end of the other street before realizing).

All this, minus the speeding (though even that really gets a shrug from the city…anyway, you’re allowed to drive really fast, just not really really fast), is legal. All these people who are driving recklessly but legally on a street with many kids, many pets and people with mobility issues are perfectly in their “right” doing this.

These are the people whom the city has decided deserve priority on these small, residential streets. It shouldn’t belong to those who live here and just want to get home safely; it’s for traffic; it’s for drivers racing to beat a light; it’s for car storage; it’s for semis.

This is your car-centric Ottawa, and this is really fucked up.

What to do about Brownfields?

City council currently has a mini debate on its hands. Windmill’s Zibi development is seeking help from the city to clean up the Domtar lands. Much of the island is polluted and the city’s Brownfields policy offers to cover up to 50% of such clean-up costs (not through a direct payout; the money comes from a reduction in property taxes for the next few years).

Somerset Councillor Catherine McKenney (the councillor for the area) doesn’t like the idea, in part because this includes federal lands that the government never bothered cleaning up (though there seems to be some question about how much of the problem was really the fault of the feds).

The clean-up would cost the city approximately $60M, and that’s way more than has ever been spent before on remediation.

This is a worthwhile issue in its own right, but, perhaps more importantly, it’s foreshadowing for an even bigger issue–Lebreton Flats. The developers have made it known that they would like to tap into the Brownfields program. The mayor has also let it be known that he wouldn’t support such an request (nor should he).

Lebreton is clearly an issue where the fed not only robbed residents of the use of Lebreton Flats for half a century (having razed a low-income neighbourhood they found distasteful), but also let the land rot. The extent of the contamination is clearly their fault.

Lebreton is also incredibly bigger than any other Brownfields project, and would require far more money than anyone has ever requested, including Windmill. It’s just inconceivable to think the city should be on the hook for this.

So, really, the question is: what should be done about contaminated lands? Is there a future for the Brownfields program?

Back in the fall, the CBC’s Joanne Chianello took a thorough look at the issue. I’d suggest you read the whole thing, but the basic takeaways are:

  • There’s no way to know if any development wouldn’t have happened without a Brownfields payment (which is the supposed reason we have the policy).
  • The city has no data on the actual benefits of the program.
  • Because developers and landowners know about the policy, they factor the windfall into the purchase price of land (thus meaning it’s a transfer of wealth from residents to a landowner who let the land rot).
  • If you limit sprawl, you encourage development on these lots, regardless.
  • Other jurisdictions do other things, like re-zonings, to entice the development of contaminated property (we do this, too, but we just throw the money on top).

So what do we do? Well, a friend had a suggestion:

Capping it certainly makes some sense. This way, no Lebreton-like deal could come looking to us claiming poverty…but that doesn’t really address the validity of the policy in the first place.

Scrapping is also pretty desirable. We have no way of knowing if it’s doing anything, or if we’re just foregoing a whole bunch of tax revenue.

But totally scrapping it would leave open the possibility that some vacant lots might not be developed due to soil contamination.

Another option, would be to only provide payment to contaminated lands that are vacant for a while…say three or five years, maybe? But that’d just encourage people sitting on property until it qualifies for funding (and we already pay landowners to keep their lots vacant by slashing their property taxes). If we wanted to do this, we’d need to start charging delinquent lot owners penalties for keeping their land vacant (note: we should do this; our current policy is incredibly stupid).

So we’re pretty much left with scrapping it. It might be wise to keep the possibility of re-zoning to entice development on lands that otherwise sit vacant, but it really doesn’t seem like there are that many of them out there.

So maybe we’ll give money to Zibi, but that should be the absolute last time we ever do this.

Glebe Transportation Safety Survey

A while ago, the Glebe Community Association (GCA) undertook a neighbourhood survey gathering residents’ thoughts on street safety in the community (it was probably open to all Ottawa residents, but I can’t remember the specifics). It was a good, thorough survey, I thought.

So in the most recent issue of the Glebe Report, they’ve released their findings, and they’re pretty interesting. Here are some thoughts on what was reported:

Speeding: Residents think speeding is a problem. This isn’t really a surprise. What’s interesting is the streets they picked out as being the most problematic…well, no, it’s more the street they didn’t pick out, Bank Street. Don’t get me wrong, there’s speeding on all streets, but I doubt any other streets regularly have people going 80-100 km/hr as Bank does. But here’s the thing, I think it’d be tough to address neighbourhood-wide speeding issues, without addressing Bank Street. When the community’s main street is built to be–and allowed to be–a bit of a drag strip, I imagine there’d be a spillover effect.

Speed Limit: 81% of respondents said they’d support making the speed limit in the neighbourhood 30 km/h. That’s huge. It’s great that lowering the speed limit would have such support. Now, of course, it’s not good enough to simply say the speed limit is 30; you’ve actually got to do the work to slow the cars down. Still, this is a positive development.

Safe School Routes: Basically, we don’t have them. And Corpus Christi was called out for having drop-off zones all around their school. That really is unconscionable.

Bike Infrastructure: I really hope the shade in this sentence was intentional: “Almost half of the people expressed concern about the continuing lack of an interconnected cycling network, even following development of the Glebe Neighbourhood Cycling Plan.” Because, as you may recall, the cycling plan is absolute garbage.

This is similarly interesting: “Many respondents are similarly concerned about the lack of a single north–south bike lane in the Glebe”, since the city planned to have one, promised it over and over again, and then killed it at the last minute…with the support of the local councillor.

And in terms of their own streets, 69% would support a painted bike lane, 50% would support flexiposts and 45% are ok with a segregated bike lane. To be clear, not every street in the Glebe necessarily requires a bike lane, and certainly not a segregated bike lane. In that context, this seems like tremendous support.

(And, so, if residents in Orleans can kill a sidewalk, can residents in the Glebe get some bike infrastructure? What’s that? No? Oh.)

Bronson Sucks: Bronson is a horrible pedestrian experience. Everyone knows that. Residents would probably like that fixed, but the city values speeding more.

The Bank Street Bridge Sucks, Too: Again, we all know this. Residents from far off suburbs demand their right to endanger every other road user and resident on their way to work, so the city isn’t inclined to do anything. People who have to live with this horrible infrastructure, day-in-day-out, would like the city to fix it. The numbers aren’t too clear from the article, but it seems like twinning it with a bike/ped bridge, or reducing the number of car lanes would be popular. Again, the city won’t do anything, because fuck these people, amirite?

Okay, so the devils in the details and I haven’t seen the actual report…and there’s selection bias and sampling questions and all that, so this isn’t some really scientific study, but, still, these are interesting results. And one thing it should demonstrate is that there people living in the community who want to improve it. They want it safe. They want it livable.

Now we just need politicians who’ll listen to residents.