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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Summer Transit Service is a Sham

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do about Brownfields?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glebe Transportation Safety Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Civic Pride

I’ve been thinking about these tweets from neuroscientist and urbanist Robin Mazumder:

The very concept of pride is interesting and contradictory. On the one hand, it’s a sin–one must not be prideful, cometh-ing before the fall and all that–but on the other hand, it’s aspirational–you should take pride in your work, yourself, etc.

This is pretty much what’s at work when we’re talking about civic pride.

So we get the negative sense–people are being prideful about their city, and it breeds stubbornness and defensive. It’s about elevating your city above others, people and cities, alike. This haughty attitude prevents you from being able to accept any suggestions, let alone criticisms.

It is the conceit of civic pride.  In Ottawa, we see this a lot, much of it coming from the mayor’s office.

But a pride that is rooted in joy and in love and in affection can be empowering. A parent can be proud of their child without conceit. It is appreciation for them and for what they have accomplished. It is not about putting them on a pedestal, imagining them perfect or making them untouchable. It is about acknowledging them and appreciating them.

It really is this second sense of civic pride that we need to foster. We should love our city and want the best for it, just as we would our children.

We should eschew the civic pride of conceit, for it is not rooted in valuing our city. It does not want what is best for our city. It is rooted in ego. It’s not about a love for one’s city, but about a love for one’s self, and the city serves no purpose but as aggrandizement of one’s identity.

Be proud of our accomplishments, but be humble. Realize we can always improve, and then demonstrate enough love for your city to actually make it happen.

Ownership of Public Space

No, no, I’m not going to talk about private ownership of public space. Hell, I’m not even going to talk about public ownership of public space. I want to talk about the individual sense of ownership of public space.

I took my kids to the RedBlacks’ fan appreciation day on Sunday. We watched a bit of scrimmage, ate some popcorn, played jumbo-sized jenga and the girls went in the bouncy castle (pretty sure I’m too big for that).

As it was time to go, we started walking along the south side concourse from the west endzone (where everything was happening) towards the east end zone. The kids wanted to see if anything else was going, and we were planning to hit the Farmers’ Market, so we had to go in that direction anyway.

One thing I like about the stadium is the way much of it has been integrated with the grounds, including the way the paths lead up to the back of the south side stands.

My eldest asked if we could go back there to get to the paths, and so we did. The back concourse was pretty empty, and all the exits were gated off…but they weren’t really. We walked along a bit, and then I just decided to move one of the barricades slightly so we could exit, and then moved it back.

The kids proceeded to run along the pathway around the hill and towards the play structure. From there, they ran through the little forested area between Lansdowne and the driveway (it’s a shame that a bunch of the trees and brush have been cleared; it used to be more of a secret place).

And then I got to thinking.

My kids–especially my eldest–have a real sense of ownership over Lansdowne, and especially the public greenspace at the back. They go and explore. They don’t hesitate to enter unconventional spaces.

And so I thought about when I was a kid, and how there were always these areas that we would claim–a short-cut through a schoolyard, a bushy area along a bike path, a fountain downtown. These were our places. We felt completely at home there, and we felt completely entitled to using those spaces.

And just as importantly, we cared about those spaces. We wanted to preserve them. We wanted to use them. We never wanted to damage them or prevent people from accessing them (save for the occasional fort we might build, but that’s different).

This is so very important. We should feel ownership over our public spaces…and not in some technical, governance sense, but in a real, living sense. We own these places because we use these places; we take care of these places; we enjoy these places; we value these places.

A lot of people think I hate Lansdowne Park because I have a lot of criticisms of it (because there’s a lot worthy of criticism), but, in fact, I love Lansdowne. I have a fondness, based mostly in nostalgia, sure, about the place.

To me, Lansdowne is Rough Rider games and the Ex. It’s going to 67s games and playing minor football on the field. Now, it’s RedBlacks games and the Farmers’ Market. It’s taking the kids to splash pad and going skating in the winter. There is meaning to that place for me, and that’s why I hate that we aren’t letting it be all it could be.

My kids have spent a lot of time at Lansdowne, too. And it’s clear that they are developing a similar fondness for it. There are hurdles (we lost an entire year of sledding because the hill wasn’t properly maintained during and after the Grey Cup and NHL outdoor game), but there’s still the places and activities to enjoy.

Honestly, it doesn’t appear that everyone who “enjoys” Lansdowne feels the same way. Speeding, driving in pedestrian-only areas, littering…these are not the things you do if you have that sense of ownership. If you did, you’d want to take care of it. You’d want it to be lovely for everyone, everyday.

We need to foster this love, this sense of ownership, this stewardship of our public spaces. We need to build them for just such interactions, and we must cater to the people who will actually engage the spaces in that way.

Too often, we have a transient class of visitors, there for a day or an hour, for a specific, one-time thing. They’re not there to take part in the Park, to be a part of it. They’re there to use it, and (metaphorically) discard it once they leave.

This is a bad way to live and it’s a bad way to function. Anytime we find groups of people demonstrating a real love and ownership over a public space, we need allow it, and we need to let it flourish.

We need to focus less on disposable experiences and focus more on enduring city life.

The War on Cars, Parking Edition

A ways back, I wrote up my interpretation of the so-called “War on Cars” as it pertains to Elgin Street. You can read it here. The gist of it is, even giving the vast majority of the space to drivers, to the point of excluding space for other road users, will be considered a “War on Cars”. Because drivers have to get absolutely everything, always.

(This is why, as a class, they’re a spoiled, pampered lot.)

Anyway, today, Ottawa’s By-Law Services tweeted about the new, relaxed parking regulations:

This is a pretty pro-car, pro-driving, pro-parking initiative…and it’s fairly benign. On quiet streets that don’t get a lot of parking, it’s probably fine to leave your car there most of the day. Busier streets get signage, so this new rule won’t apply.

Okay. Everybody’s happy, right? Well…

I’m not sure this could be any more of a caricature: a driving activist with a bad avi of a car in an empty, ugly parking garage; complaining about extended free parking; then complaining about no overnight parking…only to be told there’s free overnight parking and he just keeps on complaining.

(If you check out the twitter feed, dude has a real hate on for By-Law. Boomers, man.)

The “Court” in Fifth Avenue Court

I’ve written a bit about the proposed development of “Fifth + Bank” (the re-branded Fifth Avenue Court). If you’ve been following along, you know I didn’t love the original design, hated the dishonesty coming from the development team and have warmed to the re-design.

One thing I have (intentionally) neglected to discuss is the indoor courtyard currently at Bank + Fifth. It is, seemingly, a lovely little indoor public space. There’s a fountain, the businesses on both levels can open up to it and the Arrow & Loon has a sort of patio looking over the space.

Here’s an image from an old Citizen article:

I mean, yeah, it looks nice. There’s natural light. In the middle of winter it’s warm. And, hey!, there’s evening someone sitting on one of the benches there.

Further, public space is good for the neighbourhood and the city, and, in Ottawa, indoor public space is important. I think it’s easy to see why people are fond of this. It looks like exactly the sort of thing we need.


Look again. There’s one man sitting on a bench and there seems to be a little yellow caution standee. Generally, speaking, this is about how busy I ever really see it. Occasionally, you’ll see kids (possibly my kids) running around it. Once there was some sort of reception held there (making the public space private). And finally, they used it for a showcase for the new plans for Fifth + Bank (a very limited and particular sort of use).

Other than that, it tends to be empty.

Now, it is possible that I just happen to be missing all the times that it is bursting with people. I’ve been known to be there at many different times on different days and have never seen it, but, hey, maybe.

Or it’s possible that the people who profess a strong fondness for it either (a) don’t really go there; or (b) are in the minority who do, on occasion. Hey, I get that. Sentiment is important and it can be really strong.

But what we’re left with is a public space that is severely underused, and closed when the building closes. (Want to sit in there on a Sunday at 5:05 pm, too bad!). I, personally, don’t see how the professed benefit of this space outweighs the benefits of the redevelopment plan. (But if you have a good argument, please let me know in the comments.)

Further, there’s a big problem with this sort of public space…it’s not really public. It’s the private space provided for public use (during specified hours).

The private provision of public space is a very tricky matter. It sounds great–we force a private developer to make and maintain space for the general public that they can’t, seemingly, monetize. This sort of arrangement tends not to work out as intended. Spaces are either poorly maintained, or the public nature of them is gradually infringed…or the public space just eventually gets developed away.

(It can be hard enough to keep public space open to the public…just look at Lansdowne.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bemoaning the fact that public space can’t be (theoretically) monetized, definitely not. That’s not the purpose of public space.

We need these sorts of spaces, but we need them to be usable and used. And we should really demand that the government–ie, the public–provide these spaces, rather than dumping the responsibility onto developers.

So, yes, it is too bad. And, yes, I feel sorry for people who have a genuine fondness for it and tend to use it, but I just can’t get worked up over the loss of this “court”.

Special Rules for Drivers

Driving culture–of which Ottawa is fully immersed–has a weird hang-up about supposed “special rules” for bicyclists. There’s this cult-ish devotion to the idea that bicyclists have to Obey The Rules (even when drivers or cops don’t actually know what those rules are). Safety be damned, the rules are sacred, and no one road user should get special rules.

This is why eminently sensible things like the Idaho Stop are still illegal. Sure, they’re safer and more convenient for all road users, but then bicyclists would be getting their own special rules–tailored to their needs, reality and experiences–and the driving class just can’t have that. The concept of special rules are just so incredibly unfair.

Of course, we have special rules for drivers. Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act is a set of special rules for drivers. Our entire legal framework for how people use streets and get around the city is a set of special rules for drivers. They are all designed for the benefit of drivers.

Go to a pedestrian space, you won’t see stop signs or traffic lights. There’s no need for No Parking zones. There are no speed limits. There are no lanes, no correct side of the street.

Go to a MUP and you may see a stop sign or two, but generally, there’s no signage. There are still no traffic lights. People walk and ride on different sides, depending on need. There’s a certain etiquette, more important than in pedestrian-only places, but there’s nothing remotely like the HTA.

Drivers are the only class of road user that needs such a rigorous and imposing set of laws. Drivers are the only class of road user that desperately needs things like right-of-way, speed limits, traffic lights, No Parking zones and the like.

Further, driving created a bunch of new laws out of thin air. Jaywalking isn’t a real thing. It’s a classist epithet concocted by car companies to try to turn roads over exclusively to drivers. And, well, bravo.

Who would ever design a one-way street for pedestrians or bicyclists? That’s why we salmon. Ridiculous driving regulations actively make life more difficult and more dangerous for more vulnerable road users.

Even new rules “for pedestrians” or bicyclists, like pedestrian crossovers, are still special rules for drivers. You only need pedestrian crossovers because driving advocates criminalized crossing the street. And, of course, you still can’t cross wherever you want, only at specified locations, no matter how inconvenient.

Even the laws that are supposed to protect vulnerable road users–like, say, not killing them–are only mildly applied. Because even the informal rules of the road are designed to benefit drivers.

Driving is so inherently anti-social, that we have to have pages and pages of regulations to do our best to control what is a bit of a menace in our urban areas…and despite all this, they’re still in about 15,000 collisions each year, managing to kill around 30 people.

When bicyclists ask for “special rules”, really what they’re asking for is rules that are appropriate and fitting for riding a bike.

Idaho Stops make sense because you’re using your actual energy to get and keep a bike moving, as well, when an intersection is clear, you can get through it before any car traffic catches up to you. This has resulted in fewer injuries and deaths in the few areas that allow them.

Bicyclists need conterflow lanes so that they can get to their destination on a one-way street without be re-routed an insanely long distance or into dangerous heavy traffic.

Bicyclists should be allowed to go through an intersection on an advance pedestrian signal because they, too, need to be protected from cars as they go through intersections, avoiding right-hooks, left-hooks and rear-ends (or, well, minimizing them, cuz, y’know…).

But no, no special rules for anyone. The glorious HTA has been bestowed upon us and–ignoring that it is a giant set of rules designed especially for drivers–it must be thoroughly and exhaustively applied to each and every road user, even if it makes no sense or endangers them.

Drivers obey these god-given ordinances and so should everyone. There should be no special carve-outs for any road user.

Oh, except drivers need to make right turns on reds. That special rule is ok.