Observations from not going on a public bike ride with a municipal candidate

So last night, Capital Ward candidate Christine McAllister was hosting a Capital Ward Bike Tour:

This seemed like an interesting event, and I commend candidates for getting out and doing new and different things with potential voters, so I decided I’d join in. I didn’t really have any interest in being instructed by CanBike people, but I was intrigued to see what McAllister did with this opportunity.

Alas, I was not allowed to participate. More on that later.

When this event was first announced a few weeks ago, I thought about the idea of a nice ward tour, and about how it is absolutely impossible to conduct. There is no safe, comfortable and legal way for me to get around my ward. If I wanted to ride proper infrastructure to get to the starting point (Immaculata High School), I’d actually have to bike up to Somerset Ward, across to Rideau-Vanier and then come back into Capital Ward.

(This is not an ideal scenario, and not the route I chose.)

I decided I’d take Pretoria Bridge and if the traffic wasn’t too bad and there wasn’t too much garbage in the bike lane, that’s what I’d take. So I rode down Fifth Avenue (which appears to maybe sometime be getting a bike lane…more on that in a later post), hooked up with the canal MUP and headed to Pretoria.

Traffic was ok, and the street looked recently-swept, so I took the bike lane. I noticed two other bicyclists up ahead of me, walking their bikes on the bridge sidewalk. They wore matching light blue t-shirts, so I figured they might be going to the bike tour.

The crossed Colonel By drive, and then it appeared one of them walked their bike on the sidewalk along Colonel By and one rode their bike on the sidewalk. I have no issue with them doing this. It’s a horrible, non-connection (I would ride my bike across the Pretoria Bridge sidewalk on the way home for similar reasons).

As they and others were crossing in the crosswalk, a car tried inching into the bike lane and the crosswalk to turn right, cutting me off (and again, don’t fucking drive your car at people). Due to physics and such, I was able to turn right first and get over into that really dumb left turn bike lane to the contraflow lane on Graham.

I guess that’s unnecessary conflict number one.

I took Graham to Main to use the “Complete Street” cycle track. That’s a dumb connection. There’s a sign that told me to keep right, but the cycletrack is on the left. Good work, guys.

As I was going down the cycletrack, I came across the first bus stop and the zig-zag paint on the cycletrack warning bicyclists about potential conflicts. But there were no buses nor people waiting, so there was no problem…and anyway, we all have to co-exist, so whatever, I’ll slow down for riders and let them get on the bus. It’s cool.

Then I looked to my left, there were four car lanes on the road. This is why Main is not really a Complete Street.

There could be a floating bus stop there, allowing bicyclists to go behind riders. There could actually be more than about eight and a half inches of space between the bike lane and the curb, giving riders more room as they get on and off the bus.

But no, we can’t value transit users or bicyclists, we need four fucking car lanes, instead.

I came upon the next bus stop, still no bus, but there was someone waiting for the bus. As I approached, they started walking to the curb (for no apparent reason, but, whatever). They stood there, then moved a little more into the bike lane.

I rang my bell. I rang it again. And again. And again. The person just walked further into the bike lane, still no bus and, anyway, there were looking the wrong way. So I had to actually call out to them to make them aware that I existed. Visibly startled, they moved out of the way.

Maybe, just maybe, all that space for cars could have been better used.

So I pull into the parking lot and see a group of bicyclists and start making my way over…and, yes, many of them were wearing those same blue t-shirts.

I had the chance to exchange about three sentences worth of pleasantries with the candidate, Christine McAllister, before a lycra-clad woman came over and asked me if I had a helmet at home I could go get.

The answer was no. I wasn’t going home to get a helmet and then coming back. I was told that I couldn’t participate; it was an insurance requirement.

I had wondered if I’d be helmet-shamed. CanBike is extremely pro-helmet. Their reputation among bicyclists is…mixed. I mean, their business model is based on people being scared to ride on public streets. I was concerned when I first heard that McAllister was signing up CanBike instructors; now it seemed she had turned the event over to CanBike.

I worry about what lessons were being learned. Was it all “wear your helmet and take the lane”, or was it, “so much of our infrastructure is shit and we need a council that does better”? This is what I was hoping would be answered, but, alas, I’ll never know.

I’m not particularly angry about this. It was inconvenient, but, again, whatever.

The issue of insurance is an interesting one. A number of organizations have helmet requirements for insurance purposes, but other organizations have people sign a waiver, instead. That’s still dumb as shit, but it’s not really a problem.

[Note to insurance companies: stop pulling this crap. Helmets offer no safety benefits for normal day-to-day biking and may actually endanger people. You don’t make people in a walking tour wear helmets, not do you require people in cars to wear helmets. You’re either being idiots or you’re just anti-bike.]

So, I wasn’t allowed to join in. McAllister apologized, earnestly, and I rode back home. I hadn’t learned what I’d hoped I’d learn, but I did learn something.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think this was a disqualifying issue for McAllister. I still think she’s a solid candidate, and I’m still considering her for my vote. No candidate is perfect and no candidate will run a flawless campaign…but, make no doubt, this was a flaw in her campaign. Flaws do add up.

So to other candidates, if you’re planning to have one of these events, be careful about who you invite to run them. CanBike is not a worthwhile organization to attach your campaign to, assuming you care about safe bicycling. And make sure that your events can properly include everyone. Other people may get more turned off by such incidences than me.

To Christine McAllister, it’s too bad that I didn’t get to be part of the bike tour. I’d still like to know what your plan is for creating safe streets in our ward. I guess I’ll just have to wait a little longer to find out.

Advertisements

It’s time for some fun at City Hall

So this tweet caught my eye, in regards to Clive Doucet’s announcement. Reporters were camped out at Ottawa’s elections office, waiting for any last minute candidate. Well, they got a candidate and he had something to say:

Maybe this seems trivial. Or maybe it seems silly. Or maybe it seems like something completely inconsequential…but, nah, this is actually a worthwhile statement.

Running the city is hard work, no doubt. There will be struggles and conflicts. Council members should be challenging each other, and competing interests should be pressing their case. There will be long days and difficult issues. There will be times when there are good solutions, just ones that are less bad.

But, in the end, that doesn’t mean city governance can’t be fun.

There should be an excitement to sitting on council. Putting aside the occasional boring technical update about city policy #4529-B pertaining to the implementation of an oversight framework for the revitalizzzzzzzz…zzz…zzz

Sorry, sorry about that, everyone.

Yeah, there should be excitement. You get to mold the city. You get to have a hand in what Ottawa will be like next year and for the next generation. With your decisions, you have the power to affect people’s lives, every single day. That means you have the chance to make life better for your neighbours and everyone else in the city.

No other level of government has such an immediate effect on people’s everyday lives. Yes, many significant issues (healthcare funding, LGBTQ+ rights) are more serious and handled at higher levels of governments (though, not exclusively!), but you can make it easier for people to live and work and enjoy their life.

It should be rewarding and empowering. It should make you feel good, overall. (Yes, I know, “should” is doing a lot of work here.)

Yes, it is serious and challenging work, but it should still be fun. Our councillors and our mayor should enjoy what they do and what they’re able to accomplish.

A city that lacks fun in its planning and governance, is a city that will lack fun in its streets.

So say it with me, let’s bring fun back to City Hall.

It’s a race for mayor

In a bit of a surprise move (though there have been rumours), former councillor and 2010 mayoral candidate Clive Doucet has registered to run for mayor. As I write this, there are only 76 minutes left before nominations close, so Doucet is getting in just under the wire.

It’s being reported that he decided last night at 7:00 PM, when it was clear there would be no other strong challengers to Jim Watson.

Is Doucet a serious threat to Watson, well, we’ll see I guess. It’ll be quite a challenge to take Watson down and it’s not clear that Doucet is the best person to do it, but it’s clear that he’s better positioned than most.

As an experienced councillor and politician, he should have an above-average grasp on issues and the intricacies of city governance. He also doesn’t seem like he’ll be cowed by the mayor, so even if he’s not going to threaten Watson with defeat (though, who knows?), he is going to challenge the mayor on the issues, and this is something the city desperately needs.

Watson has a compliant council, for the most part. There’s a handful of councillors who are willing to challenge him, but too many are happy to fall in line and absorb some of Watson’s reflected glory. He doesn’t get challenged consistently, and is often able to do what he wants.

When he does get challenged–either by other council members, by the public or by the press–he has a habit of caving. From safe injection sites to the proposed women’s bureau to the recent Harmer Bridge detour fiasco, and even all the way back to the campaign to save the Aberdeen Pavillion, Watson has often found himself on the wrong side of an issue–either in terms of prudence or politics–and he is willing to alter or change his policy in order to position himself at the front of a popular issue.

It’s kind of gross and deeply cynical. It shows that he doesn’t really have a vision for the city. But, hey, it’s better he come around to the right decision than cling to mistakes and hold the city back.

So now it’s time for the campaign. We’ll have to see what kind of a challenge Doucet can muster. We’ll also have to see what kind of coverage he gets. The local press has to be happy about this. The mayoral race was looking really dull, but that should be changing.

Further, this could have an impact on councillor races. Without an interesting mayoral race, people may be less likely to turn out to vote or to even pay attention. Hopefully, Doucet’s decision will lead to more engagement and a better council next term, no matter who winds up as mayor.

And, of course, this is all assuming there’s no other surprise nominations. There’s still 64 minutes…

Uber, but for stealing my TV

Cyril settled into his couch. It was Saturday afternoon, and it was sure to be a lazy one. He’d had a long week; there’d been meetings and deadlines, volunteer activities, and then the hockey game last night. It was time to take a break and watch a little TV. The morning cleaning had been done and the garden was freshly weeded. He deserved this.

Cyril didn’t have the fanciest television. It was a modest size–good enough draw you in and let you get lost in stories of space travel and zombies and whatever was happening in New York (but shot in Toronto) these days–but it didn’t overpower the room. It was a few years old, but the picture was still sharp and he’d hooked it up to a new sound system last spring.

So there it sat, in the centre of the wall, just waiting for Cyril.

“I know a TV shouldn’t be the focal point of the room,” thought Cyril, “but what’s the harm? Maybe I watch a little too much TV, but I enjoy it. Besides, those documentaries are educational, and I can hookup my laptop and skype with friends and family I wouldn’t otherwise get to see. It’s not just junk food for my mind.”

Outside, Cyril could see Xavier and Lyle, a couple of teenagers, brothers, who lived down the street. Their family had moved in the winter before last, and Cyril hadn’t taken a shine to the boys right away. He couldn’t say why; they were just different…at least, they were different than the old retired couple that had lived in the house for decades prior.

There’d been one time Cyril caught the boys looking in through his living room window. It was just a week or so after they’d moved into the neighbourhood. Cyril had left the TV on and the boys were either casing the joint…or, more likely, checking out the score of the basketball game.

As time wore on, he realized the brothers were okay. Yes, they made a bit more noise than the block had been used to–they’d be outside talking and laughing, maybe have some friends over for a pick-up game–but they weren’t hurting anyone. Anyway, the street could use a little liveliness. It could get awful quite at times.

Y’know, it’d dawned on Cyril in that moment, watching them walk down the street–he’d been wrong. They were fine lads. They didn’t get into trouble or throw crazy parties. They were just living their life, enjoying their home and not trying to bother anyone.

Cyril was going to make a change.

Walking out onto his porch, he called to the boys, “the game’s on. Wanna come watch?”

Exchanging a look and a shrug, Lyle and Xavi (as he was called) walked up the driveway and to the front step, careful not to trample the garden that was looking so neat. Cyril went back inside, leaving the door open for the boys.

Cyril called to them to take off their shoes, for the sake of his floors, as he went into the kitchen for snacks.

Returning with a couple of bowls of chips, Cyril nodded to his TV, “it’s a pretty good TV. I’ve thought about getting a new one. I know there are bigger, shinier models out these days, but this one suits me right. It’s a good size for the room and still has a pretty good picture, don’t ya think?”

“Yeah, most def,” said Xavi, “no point in throwing your money away just for the sake of it. TV looks good.”

Lyle nodded in appreciation, his mouth full of all dressed chips.

“I’m glad you appreciate it, guys. I figured you would. It’s a good TV. I think most people would be happy to have it,” replied Cyril. “Say, whadda ya think? You want it?”

Confused, the brothers just looked at each other.

“Seriously, fellas. I can see you like it, and I’m happy you can share in my appreciation of it. It’s a good TV. Take it. Take it home. I bet you don’t have a TV like this in your room. Take it. You can watch the game there, or play Mario Kart, or whatever it is you teenagers do.”

Okay, maybe this was weird, this old guy just inviting them in and then letting them leave with his TV, but he seemed so earnest, like it meant a lot to him for them to take his TV. 

“Oh, ok, thanks,” said Lyle.

“Yeah, it’ll be good to have a nice, bigger TV,” Xavi concurred.

Without delay, Cyril was bundling up the cords and throwing them in an old box, along with the remote. He unplugged the cable, unhooked the sound system–he was going to need to keep that–and helped the boys get the TV out the door.

He walked a few houses down with them, held their front door open as they carried the TV inside, then helped Xavi and Lyle set up the TV in Xavi’s bedroom (he was older, you see).

“All right, guys. This is great. This is going to be a real positive change in all our lives. Don’t you worry.” Cyril gave a little wave as he left and went back down the street, entering his house through the front door he’d mindlessly left open ten minutes earlier.

He took off his shoes–gotta mind the floors–sat down on his couch, and looked approvingly at the vacancy where once lived his beloved TV. This was a good day.

Cyril exhaled. He picked up his phone and he called the police.

So today, I was a reading a story about how ride-hailing services actually increase traffic…

 

Good riddance to Vision Zero: We need a new lexicon

A while back at Treehugger, Lloyd Alter wrote a piece about abandoning Vision Zero. I’ve been writing about Vision Zero for a few years now and I instinctively recoiled at the suggestion. Vision Zero is a fantastic philosophy. It takes a serous look at the state of streets and prioritizes life and well-being over the ability to drive fast and unfettered. It’s exactly what so many North American cities need.

But reading through that post, you know, he’s absolutely right. In North America, Vision Zero has been an absolute failure. The term has been co-opted and corrupted by various organizations, jurisdictions and politicians. New York City has officially adopted it, and in response to any bicyclist death, their reaction is to head out and ticket bicyclists.

Toronto has adopted it, too, supposedly. Nonetheless, the city won’t take street safety seriously. In Ottawa, we won’t even go that far. We have a policy of “Towards Zero”, which takes some of the language of Vision Zero, waters it down and then we don’t even bother implementing that.

Throughout the continent, Vision Zero is, at best, meaningless. At its worst, it’s a cudgel–it’s cover for increased “enforcement”, which basically means it’s being used to justify targeted harassment of marginalized communities.

Alter suggest we go further–a throwback to the Dutch activism of the 1960s and 70s–Stop the murderStop killing children…these have more emotional impact than the opaque-sounding “Vision Zero”. It’s probably time we move on from the Vision Zero mantra, sadly. We need a movement, a rallying-cree that’s less cerebral; something that will grab people, that will make them uncomfortable about their complicity in street deaths.

***

This got me thinking about some of the other words we “urbanists” tend to use. Maybe it’s time that we move on from these, too.

Complete Streets: You know me. You know I love Complete Streets. Like Vision Zero, it’s a great concept with clear, practical applications. It’s simple to understand (prioritize the needs and safety of the most vulnerable street users over the needs of the least vulnerable), but also dives deep into what we need to actually do.

And, again, it has been rendered meaningless by politicians, organizations and governments. Ottawa likes to talk about its Complete Streets policy, but our policy is a bastardization (we balance the needs of all street users) and we even fail at that (see: Elgin Street).

Here’s Ottawa’s dirty little secret that no one at City Hall is willing to say: We have no Complete Streets, despite our claims. Churchill and Main Street are held up as our Complete Streets, but, when you get right down to it, they’re not.

Ignore the fact that they don’t have real connections and Chruchill even dumps bicyclists into traffic mid-block. Neither one prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable. Both of them prioritize the needs of drivers over everyone else. On both streets, the cycle track and sidewalk have to weave back and forth because of parking. They could wider, but for that parking. On Churchill, there’s often no room for transit users to wait at bus stops without creating conflict.

Sure, these may seem like quibbles, but the fact that we can’t even get one Complete Street right–and then we further bastardize the term applying it to Elgin–demonstrates that “Complete Streets” is just cover for more car-centric planning.

Walkability: Another great concept, but, again, it’s been watered-down and bastardized. Suburban neighbourhoods without easy access to amenities–or sidewalks–get high walkability scores because they’re near a path. We talk about walkability, but we never apply it to raised sidewalks, better light-timing for pedestrians or just making sure that we don’t have puddles forming at every crosswalk.

But the real issue is that “walkability” is inherently exclusionary language. Yes, I know that when we say it, we’re including people with mobility aids, but, technically, if I say “walkability”, that doesn’t account for people in wheelchairs, for example. (This applies to the term “pedestrian”, as well.) I’ve got no suggestion to replace it (maybe the “10-minute neighbourhood”, but that seems too specific and not specific enough).

I don’t know what can replace it, but it would behoove urbanists to find better, more inclusive language.

Urban Village: This is one that really never made sense. It was more a buzzword for developers than a serious term used by urbanists, and, yet, it persists. It was bandied about when talking about the Lansdowne redevelopment, and I tend to think Lansdowne truly personifies what an “Urban Village”, think more Upper Canada Village and less Greenwich Village. Urban Theme Park is probably more accurate. For this one, we can ditch the term and the concept.

Urban: Yes, the word at he very root of so much we talk about. In an Ottawa context, there’s little wrong with this word, but it’s not all about Ottawa. A week or two ago, I saw a comment on Twitter mocking/attacking/critiquing an Urban Outfitters ad. It was one of those big window-sized stickers that cover up a storefront during renovations. It read something like, “Wanted: Urban Explorers”.

People on Twitter mocked this, describing it as some sort of David Attenborough-esque expedition into the wilds of downtown. It was presented as the Gentrifier-Colonizer settling in poor urban neighbourhoods, forcing out those who already live there.

Here’s the thing: the concept of urban exploration is a marvelous thing. I want people out of their cars, malls and private homes, and I want them out seeing city life, experiencing it first hand. There are cool parts to the city that you won’t see if you’re just driving by or even riding the bus. There are alleyways and shops tucked away. There are remote parks and shortcuts that make it easier to get around. So, yes, go out and explore your damned city! Become an Urban Explorer! (Like, I get that that’s cheesy, but cheesy isn’t that bad.)

I checked the bio of the person who made the initial tweet. She’s from Chicago. “Urban” can have different connotations in different contexts, and as it relates to Chicago, it can be synonymous with crime and poverty and people of colour.

(There’s a scene in the U.S. office where the Michael Scott character introduces someone to Stanley, who’s black. He refers to Stanley as being urban, to which Stanley points out that he grew up on a farm, or something. This is how the term urban is abused: urban = black = poor = decaying.)

Now, in Ottawa, I’d say that urban has a much different context. We hear about the urban councillors and urban wards, and there can often be remarks made about elitism or wealth or privilege (and these comments can be justified). Urban, in Ottawa, is something different…and in urbanist discussions, it’s definitely something different.

But that doesn’t mean the word doesn’t have negative connotations. Maybe we really just need to be talking about city life when we’re talking about urbanity. Maybe that’ll strip it of its baggage and allow us just to discuss making the city a better, safer more prosperous place for everyone.

Who am I kidding. We’ll just corrupt whatever new terms we com up with and we’ll be doing this whole exercise again in a few years.

Nonetheless, I think I’m abandoning Vision Zero. It’s too corrupted. It gives too much cover to disingenuous politicians and planners. And it just isn’t blunt enough.

Stop The Killing.

Municipal Election Disclaimer

We’re starting to get into the swing of the municipal election, and there are a few housekeeping things I want to take care of. First, I should point out that I’m not a reporter and barely a journalist. I don’t really do news; I peddle in opinion and, maybe, analysis, so I have no obligation to be unbiased dfssdfsdfdsfor impartial or anything like that.

However, since I’m going to be writing and talking about the election a lot (listen to my podcast!), I do want to keep a degree of impartiality. So here’s how I’m approaching “covering” the election campaign…

I had planned not to endorse any candidates. Instead, I wanted to endorse ideas–I wouldn’t say that a specific candidate is good, but I would say their platform is good. But that’s not really feasible. If I’m talking about a race, and I’m endorsing ideas, then I’m kind of endorsing the candidate.

Further, what kind of analysis would it be if I didn’t state whether or not I thought someone was a good candidate? So, yeah, I guess I will (in a way) be endorsing candidates, though maybe I’ll be endorsing multiple candidates in a single race.

(Also, I reserve the right to change my assessments multiple times during the campaign.)

What I won’t be doing, and this I’m firm about, is officially endorsing any candidates. No candidate is going to be “my candidate”. Yes, I’ll have my preferences, and I’ll vote for someone, but I’m not going to be a part of anyone’s bandwagon.

Which brings me to my next point; I’m not going to be campaigning for anyone. I think this is pretty important. I don’t think I could be on a candidate’s campaign and still do what I do here. So I’m not taking a lawn sign. I’m not going door-to-door and I’m not donating money.

(Now, if a candidate enters a race and I feel compelled as a resident to join their team, I will–but I’ll disclose that, and I’ll be transparent about it in my writing. I won’t feign and unbiased stance.)

That said, I am meeting with a lot of candidates. I have met with all the challengers in my ward (primarily as a resident than as a writer, so I’m not disclosing anything that was talked about). I’ve also been contacted by a few out-of-ward candidates who wanted to chat about local politics.

In these discussion, I have given advice when asked. I’ve offered my perspective on things. And I do this unapologetically. I’ll offer my thoughts to anyone who asks. (I’m not suggesting my thoughts are useful, just that they’re there for the taking.)

And, really, I’m probably not going to say much different than I’ve written on this blog.

So that’s my disclaimer. You’re going to have the usual profane opinions you’ve come to dread expect. You know I’ll tell you what I think of stuff, but you can trust that I’m not in the tank for anyone.

Holland Avenue and the mayor’s deceit when it comes to street safety

So I wanted to write a post offering Mayor Jim Watson a chance to reverse his horrible, callous decision to remove protected bike lanes from the Holland Avenue detour (no, don’t worry; it wasn’t going to be an “open letter”). I wanted to empathize with him–he’s made a bad a decision. It doesn’t matter why he made this decision–maybe to appease his driving-oriented, suburban voter base; or maybe to pander to a handful of voters on Holland Avenue; or maybe just because he kind of hates bicycling. It was a bad decision, but after personally intervening to make Holland Avenue more dangerous, it’d be hard to suddenly switch course.

I wanted to tell him he could. That he could find some way to give himself cover, some sort of excuse, so that it didn’t seem like he was caving to pressure and common sense, but that there were new revelations that made a reversal warranted.

I mean, yeah, it would all be total bullshit, but most people don’t really care about that. They care about not being run over. They care about their kids not dying on their way to summer camp. So I wanted to offer an olive branch.

But, fuck, Jim Watson just does not ever let you hold such thoughts of goodwill for very long. The deceit and bullshit that pours out of his mouth…the smarmy, cynical politicking…the dissembling…the evading…the intellectual dishonesty…the sheer contempt he has for residents…no, fuck that.

He spoke to CBC (after traffic planner Greg Kent spoke the other day…disastrously), and it was all just so much bullshit. Here’s how the whole damned thing started:

It’s my understanding we’ve got this system in place. Let us go through one season and if there are changes that have to be made, obviously from a safety point of view, we’ll do that

This is so fucking dishonest. It’s his “understanding”? It was his fucking decision to make the horribly dangerous and antagonistic arrangement of the street.

And “we’ve got a system in place”? Yes, we did. There were consultations. The councillor solicited feedback in person and electronically. He went door-to-fucking-door. After all that, the city planners made a wise decision, they chose to put protected bike lanes on Holland Avenue while the footbridge was being replaced.

That was the fucking system we had in place. It was Watson who decided to completely circumvent and subvert–to fucking sabotage–that system.

If you really want to know about the “system” we have in place, it clearly states we need concrete barriers in this situation:

So if Jim Watson was less cynical, more honest politician, he would have done exactly what he said: he’d follow the system we have in place, and try it out for a season before making changes. Instead, he changed the solution before it could even be tried.

Of course, Watson has a preferred solution over demonstrably safe infrastructure: Sharrows:

We have sharrows — for instance — in Hintonburg right now that are well used. Unfortunately, we can’t have a segregated lane on every single street.

You know what good Sharrows are? This:

Those are the same sort of “Super Sharrows” they’re using on Holland. That’s a professional driver. And that’s a bicyclist that wasn’t that far from being killed.

The second part of that tweet is also quite galling. No one is asking for protected bike lanes on every street, but there are no protected bike lanes on any of the streets around it.

The Harmer Avenue Bridge was the only way to cross the Queensway safely in that neighbourhood. And since the Queensway cuts the neighbourhood diagonally, the bridge was a necessary East-West and North-South connection.

There are no protected bike lanes on Parkdale. There are no protected bike lanes on Island Park. There are no protected bike lanes on Carling. You can no longer safely cross the Queensway around there if you’re a bicyclist.

So this bullshit about not having a segregated lane on every street is just so insulting, so deceptive. There are no protected bike lanes (or separated 417 crossings) anywhere. People want one. Just one. Not every street, just one fucking street.

Eight hundred people signed a position to have a safe route on just one fucking street and Watson does not care.

Now, maybe you don’t bike. Or maybe you don’t bike around Holland. Or maybe you only bike on paths or quiet residential streets. So maybe you’re not sure what the big issue.

That’s fair (or, at least, we’ll say it is). Here’s the issue:

Jim Watson wants kids going to school to use that infrastructure. It’s fucking unconscionable.

(And if they don’t use that, they’re allowed to ride on the sidewalk. Well, about that…on his first day to summer camp in the area, a friend’s young son was almost knocked off his bike by a pedestrian who wasn’t watching where he was going.

I bet we can all get behind a ton of sidewalk riding, right?)

You know, it seems like a lot of the people who pushed for this, have gotten cold feet. The resident behind the position that gave Watson an excuse to remove the bike lanes acknowledges that it seems pretty dangerous (he doesn’t explicitly say it’s bad…just that it’s dangerous…and that he’s glad he still has his free parking on public property. But I’m going to assume he’s not an absolute monster, just a selfish, entitled, parking enthusiast).

So, no, I’ve got no time for Watson, his bullshit or his declaration that we just have to wait a year and hope no one fucking dies.

My life is worth more than his damned ego. Your life is worth more than his hostility towards safe streets.

This is all bullshit. And we shouldn’t put up with it anymore.

Dear candidates, you need to do more than listen.

It seems pretty clear that Ottawa has a consultation problem. No, it’s not that consultations never happen–that’s often a line used when people don’t like the results (*cough*Holland Avenue*cough*). It’s that people regularly feel ignored. You go to consultation after consultation, but to no benefit–the powers that be are just going to do whatever they want to do (*cough*Holland Avenue*cough*).

You can see this appetite for a more consultative and collaborative city not just in local news stories or on social media; you’ll see it from candidates for the upcoming municipal election. Websites are strewn with pledges to consult with residents more; to hold workshops and gather feedback; to find out what you want; and to better champion your wishes at City Hall.

This is all very good. This is what a councillor should do. It’s what many (but not all) already do. So, yeah, find out what’s important to residents, and do your best to build the city they want and deserve.

But goddammit, do more than that. Have a vision. Have some ideas. You need to represent your ward, but you also need to be a leader.

I see too many websites that have no policy positions. They have no platforms. There is no way of figuring out what the candidate actually wants to achieve. Rather than present a set of policies, or a vision, or even an idea of what they want to achieve, many of these websites ask you to tell them what needs to be done.

In lieu of a presenting a platform, they’re asking you to build one for them.

(And, to be clear, I’m not picking on any one person. This is pervasive.)

These candidates without platforms…I’m not arguing that they’re bad candidates or that they don’t have any good ideas (I know some of them do!). I’m just suggesting that they need to give something to residents, to show residents they’re thinking about ward and city issues, and have at least a general idea of how to address any issues.

Now, it’s still July. We’re still in the nomination period (and there will probably be more people declaring in the coming week) and residents aren’t paying the closest attention, yet, so it’s still early. You don’t have to roll out your plan right at the start of the campaign.

But we’re getting closer and closer to home stretch. The longer a candidate goes without some sort of policy stances, the more I think they have no plan for what they should do if they’re elected.

And that would make them bad candidates.

In Ford’s Ontario, it’s time for Ottawa to grow the f up

Okay, I just tweeted this. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since Ford was elected, last month:

The story here is that with the cancellation of the cap and trade program (which is a very bad decisions for very straightforward reasons), there will be a ton of promised funding that is being cancelled, too. Much of this is for bike projects (also to fix up our schools and get rid of asbestos, if you care about that sort of thing).

The city, proud of its bike projects and “Gold Medal” cycling status, never likes to do things on its own. Take the Fifth-Clegg Bridge (the problematically-named “Flora Footbridge”…we’ll get into that another time); city pols will trumpet it as a success, cut ribbons and take lots of pictures, but they weren’t actually willing to build it. Not until the province and the feds provided a ton of cash did this project finally get going.

So it’s still going ahead, as is the replacement of the Harmer Bridge, but projects on Wellington and Albert and Slater and elsewhere are now in jeopardy. The big mean province is cutting funding, so these projects will be delayed…if they’re ever actually done.

The city will, no doubt, lament the province’s decisions which are resulting in delayed/cancelled projects. But don’t believe them. It’s really nice to be able to blame someone else for not doing your job for you, but it’s still bullshit.

Ottawa is a wealthy city. We have a pretty massive budget (even as we’ve been starving many programs and services). We have a significant transportation budget, and proper bicycling infrastructure makes up a small percentage of it.

If the city wanted to–and if we were willing to–we could fund these projects. We find money for road projects (see: hospital link, Brian Coburn extension, Strandherd widening, etc.). We could find money to build bike lanes on Albert Street. More and more, cities are finding quick and cost-efficient ways to build safe, protected cycling networks, you just need to want to.

Urban planner Brent Toderian likes to say that to understand a city’s priorities, don’t look to its vision document, look at its budget (or something like that). The city insufficiently budgets for bike infrastructure (hell, they insufficiently budget for almost everything, but especially bike infrastructure), because this council and this mayor don’t really care that much about it (see: Holland Avenue).

When Ford was elected, we knew cuts were coming. Putting aside all the municipal culture war bullshit the Fords participated in in Toronto, he wants to cut taxes, cut spending and also do a whole bunch of expensive shit. He has no plan in the election, and all his promises were supremely expensive and budget obliterating.

“We” elected him, anyway.

So news that the province won’t be funding bike infrastructure (thanks for attaching strings to all the funding promises, Liberals!) isn’t a surprise. The province won’t, in general, be funding much of anything that we want.

So, it’s time for Ottawa to grow the fuck up.

As a city, we need to take responsibility for our affairs. We need stand on our own feet and fund our own projects. That doesn’t mean we can’t seek grants and support from other levels of government, but that we can’t trust that such support will always be there.

And this needs to be an issue in the election. We need council members who will act as adults, will be honest about our budget and finances, and will be dedicated to properly fund the city we want and deserve.

Or we could keep going down the same path, ignoring important needs and living in city that won’t reach its potential.

Parking over people, College Ward vs. Heron Gate

Minto wants to be able to charge for visitor parking at its residential rental buildings. In fact, they’ve already started doing so, and a lot of people aren’t happy, including College Ward councillor Rick Chiarelli.

This issue came up last year and, somehow, is back in the news. Buildings that used to have free visitor parking (and, thus, abused visitor parking) now see a fee of $1 per hour.

Look, this kind of sucks for tenants. They rented in a building with free visitor parking and, quite possibly, considered it one of the amenities that drew them to that building. Landlords changing things willy-nilly is never particularly good.

However, this hardly seems like an unreasonable change. $1 per hour is pretty cheap parking, and they say there’s a drop-off/pick-up loading zone, and that they won’t charge caregivers. So, yeah, some necessary accommodations are being made.

(This is far more reasonable than the tenant who complained that their parents were visiting for 15 days and had to pay for each day. Visitor parking isn’t supposed to be for long-term parking or extended stays.)

Despite all this reasonableness, Chiarelli wants it to stop, and he wants to bring the weight of the city against Minto. This is pretty dumb, but I’m not really here to argue this point, right now.

(Okay, here’s my solution: minor changes to visitor parking prices have to be handled the same way rental increases are, in terms of warning and in terms of cost-of-living increases. Starting off changing the cost to a dollar seems fine.)

No, I think there’s a bigger issue here.

Timbercreek is about to evict hundreds of people in Heron Gate so that they can tear down their homes and build something more profitable. They’ve neglected these buildings for the past bunch of years and now claim there’s no way to save them.

Mayor Jim Watson and Alta Vista councillor Jean Cloutier have lamented the displacement, but have also thrown their hands in the air, declaring there’s nothing they can do.

So, you see, we have civic leaders who get more upset about losing free parking than about the eviction of hundreds of mostly marginalized people.

The current city council is more concerned about homes for cars than homes for people.

Now, maybe city council won’t pass any silly motion Chiarelli concocts. Maybe council will let a landlord charge for visitor parking. I dunno, but over and over again, we see the city prioritizing parking, ensuring there’s somewhere to put cars.

This is the second round of evictions by Timbercreek in the Heron Gate community, and it’s the second time the city has offered no protection to these people.

If only they were cars, then maybe our councillors would care.