Wishful thinking in Innes Ward

Have y’all been listening to the podcast? Yes, I have a podcast with CKCU host Mike Powell, Technically Interesting. We’re covering the municipal election while simultaneously taking a shot at some of the city’s past branding. We are, as much as possible, speaking with candidates in some of the more interesting races (sorry, Somerset), and we have a set of questions we like to ask each candidate.

One of those questions is, “where should the city be spending less money?” This should be a pretty straightforward question for anyone who is running for council. I can think of a handful of things we could spend less money on. I’m not going to give candidates any suggestions (*cough* road expansions *cough*), though, because they really should be able to come up with something.

A few weeks back, we (well, Mike) spoke with the candidates in Innes Ward (you can listen to it here!). The answers to this question were…uninspiring. Laura Dudas didn’t really have a response; Tammy Lynch joked that Mike was trying to get her in trouble because any suggestion would make some voters mad at her; Donna Leith-Gudbranson avoided the question, talked about “efficiencies” and said we should spend more money on bike lanes (hey, that’s a great idea, but that’s totally not answering the question); and Francois Trepanier…damn, I forget. Just go listen yourself.

The candidates were on CFRA last week, chatting with Rob Snow. They went through a number of issues, but one thing stuck out. Snow asked about taxes and Watson’s pledge from last term to cap tax increases at 2%. He asked if the candidates agreed to this.

Trepanier had the best, most nuanced answer. He spoke about the need to understand the context of the budget, and he also mentioned that our taxes aren’t all that high compared to other jurisdictions.

Dudas kind of evaded. She spoke about the need for predictability, and that people aren’t going to want high increases (yeah, they really aren’t). But she stopped short of agreeing to the 2% cap.

Lynch and Leith-Gudbranson agreed with the cap, or at least adhering to it as much as possible. Leith-Gudbranson returned to her Doug Ford-esque mantra about efficiencies.

Okay, this is a problem.

I get that no one wants their taxes going up. And I get that candidates, especially in the (overly subsidized) suburbs, can’t go around championing significant tax hikes if they hope to win.

But Lynch and Leith-Gudbranson embraced the spirit of the hard cap (if not pledging to it explicitly), while not being able to identify one thing they would cut from the budget to make such a cap possible. In fact, they both want to spend more money. Again, Leith-Gudbranson, when asked about cutting something, talked up additional spending.

Now, I get that. I think we short-change a lot of things around here: transit, affordable housing, social services, libraries, community centres, bike lanes, pedestrian infrastructure, parks…even, I hate to say it, police. But we can’t fix these issues without either raising more money, or taking money from elsewhere.

(Okay, you may think we should be able to hold the line on taxes and just not increase spending without having to cut stuff…but that’s not possible in Ottawa. With continued sprawl and continued road expansions, the cost of maintaining service levels goes up significantly each year. Development charges for new developments do not cover the cost of infrastructure for them. Future property taxes on new suburbs do not cover the ongoing costs of maintenance–those suburbs are subsidized by existing dense, central neighbourhoods.)

Snow also talked about the special levies that sometimes come around, and there was some hemming and hawing about these (again, you really need to judge them in context)…but, make no mistake, there are no special levies that will cover the up-front and ongoing expenses of things like the Brian Cobourn extension–a really damned expensive infrastructure project that the candidates support.

Look, this isn’t just some bad idea or poor planning. This sort of contradictory platform should be disqualifying for voters.

You don’t have to agree with a candidate 100% to respect their platform and consider voting for them. Disagreements are going to happen. But what you should demand is that a candidate is thoughtful, that their platform has been crafted with care and that they’re not just throwing things out that people want to hear.

Your city councillor will have to make tough decisions. There will be trade-offs between projects, and between spending and taxes. Demand that your candidates have positions that can actually be enacted. If you want someone to hold the lines on taxes, you need someone who will be honest with you about what they want to cut.

Right now, two candidates in Innes are promising you rainbows and unicorns, and no possible way to pay for them. The campaign is long, so maybe they’ll get themselves sorted out, but for me, these are big holes they’re going to have dig out of.

Trepanier and Dudas are looking really good, right now.

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Follow-Up on the possible Fifth Avenue bike lane

Yesterday (or maybe two days ago…who knows, really?), I noted that there are markings on Fifth Avenue implying a new bike lane is to be implemented. I also noted that the markings aren’t totally clear as to what is being proposed and where.

I paid slightly closer attention, and it appears that there is very little happening.

Okay, first, the good news. It does look like there’s a bike lane coming on the eastbound lane from Bank to the canal (well, it says it ends at O’Connor, but then there’s a bike lane protecting a row of parked cars from O’Connor to canal, so, close enough?).

That bike lane appears to start juuuuuuust west of Bank Street. So, no, this won’t connect any bike routes, other than connecting the canal, O’Connor/Holmwood contraflow lane and the (non-existent) O’Connor “bikeway” with the Bank Street death trap.

You’re not going from Madawaska to the canal, or even Percy to the canal.

Westbound, it appears there will be a bike lane for about four car-lengths approaching Bank Street. That’s it.

This mini-bike lane, along with the little bit of bike lane approaching Bank from the west appear to be ways to keep bikes from getting trapped behind parked cars.

At Bank Street, Fifth Avenue is/was a three-car lane street, with dedicated left turn lanes. With the one-side bike lane, it turns Fifth into a two-car lane (but, technically, a four-lane) street. So straight-through car traffic will have to wait behind turners.

This is good! We shouldn’t be making driving as easy as possible in the Glebe. It’s just fucking stupid.

Bikes are allowed to filter (go up beside cars at stop lights), so the teenie-weenie bike lanes will serve as a filtering lane, essentially, allowing bicyclists to continue on their way (just as pedestrians are allowed to).

Okay, so this makes some sense.

Now, it doesn’t appear there will be a bike box for left-hand turning bicyclists. That’s a disappointment. And we don’t know if the city will paint a solid line or a dashed line for these little bike lanes, or if there will be any sort of protection (bollards, curbs).

This will be important to see. If we put a dashed line, then we’re just inviting cars to bully bicyclists and force their way through the intersection in bike lane (or just sit there and block it).

If we put a solid line, we won’t be inviting such rogue behaviour, but we will be facilitating it.

Really, there will need to be some form of protection, at least in the long term. Maybe it just needs to be one bollard near the curb, cutting off any jerk driving. Or maybe it’ll need an actual curb (which could also have a button to trigger the light and a place to rest your foot).

Oh yeah, also, going west, it looks like the loop detector (those three dots that actually give a bicyclist a light) are right on the line of the bike lane. That’s not really ideal.

Finally, I didn’t notice if there’s a no-right-on-red sign. That, too, will be paramount. Personally, this is where I see a lot of really bad driver behaviour coming from. They want to get through on the red, so they cut off bicyclists, creep into (and block) bike lanes and just really make a mess of things (don’t get me started on how they treat pedestrians).

So TL:DR, this project isn’t quite as promising as it looked, but it is a step forward (though I still think it’s mostly a PR thing for the councillor and the city–both get to claim they’ve put in more bike infrastructure, even though they’re not really improving the situation that much).

There’s no connectivity, and we still have to see if any of the lanes will be protected and if the intersection will be properly managed.

So…sure?

New bike lanes are coming to the Glebe…just months before the election

Last month, maybe two months ago, a friend noted that there were new bike lanes on Glebe Avenue. I’m rarely around there, so I hadn’t noticed. This was an interesting development.

A few weeks later, I happened to be taking the bus down Glebe, and, yeah, there are some new bike lanes and stuff. There’s a bi-directional along the school and some ride-overs at intersections and some weird islands that seem to separate cars and bikes, slow cars down, and…force bicyclists into the back of parked cars, or something. So, yeah, some of the design decisions seem odd, but this could be promising.

A week or so later, another friend pointed out some dotted lines on the north side of Fifth Avenue near O’Connor. It looked like the makings of a bike lane. Lo and behold, there are even signs pointing to a non-existent-but-maybe-soon-to-be-existent bike lane.

Again, this is, potentially, a positive development. Granted, I couldn’t help but notice that there were only signs of a coming-soon bike lane on the one side of the street.

This isn’t unusual. The city likes the idea of putting in bike lanes more than they actually like doing it. So they tend to find places where it’s easy and displaces the least amount of parking (or no parking at all) and do it there. Often–like, say, on Lees Avenue–this means they’ll put a bike lane on one side of the street, but not the other.

You need to get to work safely, but it’s cool if you die on the way home, or something.

Oh ho! No, my skepticism did not appear to be warranted. Today, I noticed the makings of a bike lane on Fifth going west towards Bank. In fact, they’re even (it seems) re-jigging the intersection, so it’ll just be two car lanes, rather than three, and two bike lanes.

This is exactly what Fifth Avenue needs. It’s a connection to O’Connor (which is supposedly a bike lane), the canal MUP, Bank Street (granted, it’s shit to ride on, but it’s still the main street), the Percy bike route and Madawaska, which connects you to Commissioners Park, the canal MUP, the O-Train MUP, etc. etc.

If Bronson weren’t a (literal, sadly) death trap, it’d also help you get to Carleton University. So, hey!, the city is actually doing something right. My skepticism–my undying and ever-growing cynicism–was not warranted. This is marvelous! This is outstanding! This is what this neighbourhood and this ward (remember there’s an election coming up) should be.

Oh, wait, no, shit. We can’t really shake the cynicism just yet.

It’s noteworthy–it’s really fucking blaringly conspicuous–that this is happening just as the election campaign is kicking into gear (and the incumbent seems, and should be, vulnerable). The area has seen inadequate commitments to safe bicycling infrastructure from a councillor who seems happier opening a parking garage than securing a safe bike lane.

Very little has been happening in the Glebe in terms of bike infrastructure in the last eight years. We got screwed out of bike lanes on O’Connor–a decision the councillor supported. We got a protected contraflow lane on one block of O’Connor and Holmwood (this is a very good thing…though it took a long time to make it protected). And we got a painted bike lane on First Avenue…and, I dunno, maybe something else?

That First Avenue lane is interesting. I’m not particularly sure it’s needed on that street. It goes to the high school, so that’s nice, but it doesn’t seem like a really busy, dangerous street…but maybe I’m just wrong on that.

What I do know about the street is that the bike lane regularly becomes parking. It’s not protected, and, so, drivers feel entitled to it. I used to take that lane every Saturday morning and *every* Saturday morning, there would be at least one person parked in it (even when going to a house with a driveway).

Oh yeah, and about that bi-directional bike lane on Glebe, when I was there, a tractor trailor was parked in it, completely blocking it. It did move, but then there was another car parking in half of it. An unprotected, painted bike lane will always double as parking in this city.

Hell, even the rest of it along Glebe was a waste, because now they’re tearing up the fucking street. They built bike lanes (and I’m sure they’ll replace them…I mean, I’m pretty sure) on a street that was slated to be re-built within a month. Tell me it was much more than PR.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the westbound bike lane on Fifth. Not sure if you can see it, but it just ends at Bank Street, directing bicyclist into the curb. It doesn’t connect with any other bike infrastructure. It’s a token gesture by token city planners overseen by a councillor with a token interest in biking in the neighbourhood.

You may also be able to notice a sign on the lightpost, it tells drivers to yield to bicyclists when trying to turn right…but it’s installed after the intersection (where the bike lane has suddenly ended and conflict has been engineered-in).

The same sign appears for eastbound traffic, again, after the intersection, but at least the bike lane actually continues on there?

And, of course, let’s really hold off our applause until we see if the lanes are protected. Are they putting up bollards or curbs? Or will the lanes just double as car lanes when drivers want to park or jet around a turning car? And, hey, what about a bike box in front of the stop line? Maybe a bike and pedestrian advance? What about a prohibition against rights on red? Are we going to make it a dashed line, inviting drivers to bully bicyclists? Will there be any enforcement, or is this just an empty gesture by a politician looking to scrounge up votes.

This is information I’m waiting for.

But even when this is done…even if it’s executed perfectly (in its own, inherently-flawed way)…it won’t be enough. All infrastructure has been going on east-west routes (save for one tiny contraflow lane). There’s no way to go north-south safely, and there’s no way to get to anything on the “Traditional Main Street” safely and legally. We still can’t bike over a bridge without unnecessary risk.

I’m glad that something’s being done in the community, but I don’t think residents should just forget that for the last eight years, the needs of the neighbourhood have been ignored for the sake of commuters speeding through the community, injuring people and risking lives.

It came out recently that residents in the Glebe want safe bike lanes, even on their own streets. Only now are we seeing action from the city. Don’t get fooled. Don’t assume this is a commitment to do right by central neighbourhoods.

It’s electioneering. It’s cycnical. And it’s not how we should run Ottawa.