It’s the mayor’s little fiefdom and we just live in it.

So, Regional Group says they’re going to try to save the trees in Old Ottawa East.

In case you missed it, the other week, residents along Springhurst Avenue noticed that two century-old trees were slated for removal as part of the Greystone Village development near Main Street. Residents were promised that the trees would spared, but suddenly, that wasn’t do-able. Capital Ward candidate Shawn Menard highlighted the issue on social media, and it was eventually picked up by the CBC and others.

It seems a lot of people wanted the trees saved, so the developer, Regional Group, has said they’re going to try to save the trees and have given themselves until September 30 to do it. It’s a definite win for the community (even if it meant a last-minute edit to my column last week, thanks guys!).

It was also a pretty good win for the candidate. Menard entered the race late and with other competent candidates challenging David Chernushenko, it can be hard to set yourself apart. Menard got ahead of this, forced the issue (which was then taken up by other candidates) and basically forced Chernushenko to step in in his official capacity.

The mayor had an interesting response to this issue, thanking the councillor and positioning himself as defender of the trees:

Kitchissippi councillor Jeff Leiper asked a pretty good question:

The mayor’s response was basically, because I can.

I see about three separate issues here:

The mayor gets to do what the mayor gets to do

Is this really how a city is supposed to be run? I mean it’s great if the mayor is going to actually protect these trees, but can the mayor actually just make decisions willy-nilly about what can and cannot be approved by staff? His position offers a good check on these situations, but shouldn’t his Stop Work order really only apply until council can take a look?

We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Trivially, there was the matter of putting up signs for Sens Mile, which council passed, the Senators then pushed back and the mayor unilaterally decided to overrule council.

And, of course, there was the Holland Avenue bike detour. Months of work went into consultations, canvassing the neighbourhood and making a reasonable plan that best accommodated everyone. Then the mayor–unilaterally–decided he didn’t like it, axed it and then very very reluctantly agreed to offer minimal protections to kids riding bikes to school.

So this is how our city is run now? The mayor gets to make decisions based on his gut and the desire for good press?

And, so what about other trees? There have been a bunch of trees cut down with zero oversight in recent years. Is the mayor going to start taking his Lorax-like role seriously? Councillors Leiper and Catherine McKenney both took note of the mayor’s apparent power. We’ll see how that goes.

Um…Heron Gate?

At the risk of going all whatabout on this issue, but, what the hell? What about Heron Gate? A councillor can pressure to save two trees and the mayor can declare that no ill will come to a single leaf, but when a massive corporation wants to evict–and destroy–a community of poor and marginalized people, it’s just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ?

I mean, I get that there maybe isn’t a clear law here protecting residents from a multi-national profit-maximizing corporation, but where’s that Executive-Ordering, willy-nilly decision-making when it comes to people’s homes and lives? Even if city rules allow for more protection of trees than of people, where’s the political pressure from the mayor and local councillor?

Don’t call it a bobblehead

Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko decided to take credit for this victory. He writes, “…Regional Group will be – at my request – putting its application in abeyance… [sic]” [emphasis mine].

Look, Chernushenko is running scared. He had little challenge last election, but he has been underwhelming (to put it mildly) these last four years. A lot of people are fed up with him and are looking for change. If he’s going to claim a third term, he needs to put in more effort this year…and we’re seeing it.

Of course, the residents of Springhurst were not viewing Chernushenko as their champion. His office was not getting the results residents demanded, and it wasn’t until things got more public that Chernushenko positioned himself in front of this issue.

And, notice, the mayor decided to elevate Chernushenko’s status in all this, thanking him by name.

Chernushenko isn’t what some might describe as a bobblehead for the mayor. He’s come out on the other side of many issues from the mayor…but he’s also not much of a thorn in the mayor’s side. He’s not Jeff Leiper. He’s not Catherine McKenney. He’s not Diane Deans. He’s not Rick Chiarelli. The mayor surely knows exactly what he has in Chernushenko, and maybe he’s trying to protect that.

I don’t see another candidate who would be easier for the mayor than Chernushenko. Maybe some wouldn’t be pains in the mayor’s ass (which is actually probably what they should be), but none would be any more pliable.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Last time around, the mayor went to bat for Mark Taylor against his old foe, Alex Cullen. The mayor is now retweeting stuff for Dan Dransfield, who is seeking to replace Taylor and running against Theresa Kavanaugh (who will be a pain in the mayor’s ass…and is also married to Cullen).

This year, he’s already gone after Glen Gower, a rear-guard attack to help out Shad Qadri, who is much more of a “bobblehead”.

And he’s already gone after Shawn Menard this year, when Menard was supporting a community organization in Bay Ward working for better child care for lower-income residents:

This was before Menard was running for council, but over the years, Menard has made clear where he stands on municipal issues. He seeks a healthy, urbanist agenda–one that doesn’t placate parkers and privilege drivers over everyone else. One that doesn’t burden transit in order to subsidize sprawl. One that is compassionate and seeks the best outcomes for all residents.

It’s quite a bit different than Watson’s divide-and-conquer approach–his pandering to his core constituency of suburban commuters.

I mean, could it be any clearer that Watson does not want Menard to win.

But, in the end, trees are saved. A community rose up. A challenger took charge. Two establishment politicians fell in line. And the mayor is trying to spin everything to his advantage. Maybe this is how we get things done now in Ottawa.

Maybe we just need a little more unrest in Watson’s little fiefdom.

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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 jurisdicitons.

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 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 with 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 continues sprawl and continued road expansions, the cost of maintaining service levels go 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 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.

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.

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.

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.