Fixing Winterlude

Over the weekend, I read this blog post, Winterlude: On a wintery weekday night in Ottawa. I saw a tweet saying it was a critique of Winterlude. Now, I enjoy Winterlude, and I find most (but not all!) complaints about Ottawa events to be pretty irritating.

So, I was ready to dislike the post, but I felt I should read it with an open mind. All in all, it was a good assessment–and as a proponent of creating a better winter city, I’m happy to see others rallying to the cause.

All right, let’s take a look at the post. Even though I think it was good, overall, I have some nits to pick, and I’m doing that first (because I’m that kind of jerk):

“We already get six months of winter here in Ottawa, give or take…”

No, we don’t. This year, I was still riding my regular bike a week in to December. Winters were never six months in my lifetime, and they’re (worryingly) getting shorter. This sort of winter fatalism is used as an excuse by many to do nothing during non-summer months.

“We parked the car on a side street (parking at the World Exchange Plaza was suddenly closed for some reason) and walked over…”

Argh! Why does any Ottawa assessment of an event have to include parking right up front! First of all, we need to stop relying on driving in winter. Second, the complaint seems to be that there was abundant side-street parking within walking distance. Come on, people, please.

“I had money to spend, and I wanted to spend it, but there was nothing to buy!”

This one’s a good and a bad complaint. The overall issue was that everything was closed (bad! very very bad!), but I do cringe a bit at the suggestion that spending money might be a necessary component of a fun event…but, yeah, you should be able to buy a Beavertail.

Which brings us to the valid observations/complaints:

“The sculptures were there, and most were lit, but otherwise there was nothing going on. Except for the Beavertail stand, the rest of the food trucks were shut down. There was no one in the info booth. No fire in the fire pit. The audio speakers around the venue were hissing. (Were they supposed to be playing music?) That big “face” interactive art sculpture, which I really wanted to see, was turned off.”

Yes, this is absolutely on-point. Keep Winterlude open! Years ago, Winterlude switched from a two-week/16 day event, to a three-weekend event. It made a bit of sense–put more stuff on the weekends when more people are available, and give the public more weekends to go–however, we shouldn’t just abandon weekdays/weeknights.

“People went to see the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition and it was minus 30 that night!”

This is spot-on. Some people like to complain that we can’t do anything in winter. You can’t go outside. You can’t ride a bike. You can’t do anything but huddle in doors and wait for spring. But the actual lived experience of Ottawans demonstrates that’s not true. When the canal opens, it’s packed–even on bitterly cold days. People ski and skate and sled and build snowmen. And people went to Crashed Ice. We’re already a winter city…a winter people…we just need city officials to realize it.

“Related to this: have you seen the official Winterlude website? What do you think of it? Is it just me, or is it underwhelming?”

The website is absolute garbage. It’s horrible. It’s a wretched way to try to find out about Winterlude and make any sort of plans. Fix it, people!

All right, that’s it.

The writer, Andrea Tomkins, pretty much nails the situation. We–the city of Ottawa (and associated government agencies)–like to talk a good game about winter, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t ever really commit to it. We don’t put in the work. We fail to realize that makings of a stellar winter city already exist in Ottawa.

And, because we won’t fully embrace our winter identity, we rob ourselves of the wonderful experiences winter and winter-related activities bring.


At least my bus was on time this morning

So LRT is going to be late. After all the On-Time and On-Budget bluster from the mayor and the city, we’re getting the system half a year late and we’re not getting the promised $1 million if RTG failed to meet the May 24 deadline. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, but the public outrage is really a result of the years and years of promises.

Six months may not be that big a delay in the big picture (or maybe it is), but sprung on us in February 2018, it sure as hell is.

Quick morning thoughts:

  • Residents have every right to be upset about this. Yeah, yeah, sinkholes and everything, but we should have learned about this delay earlier. You can say that we should have known this would happen, but when officials (and the mayor!) are concealing information, what are we supposed to do?
  • I’m not really that concerned about the $1 million penalty being waived…at least, I’m not that concerned about the money (though it’d sure be nice to have). I’m more concerned about how it looks like the city is rolling over. This whole project was set up to put the burden on RTG to deliver. It cost more to do it that way, but it was supposed to provide the incentive to get it done on time. Now, we’re arbitrarily relieving them of one of the incentives.
  • Or maybe we’re not. I caught the end of an interview with…John Manconi, I think? (if I’m wrong, please correct me, readers)…this morning on CBC. He wasn’t being straightforward. He was obfuscating. He was dodging questions. And he made it sound like there never was a penalty for missing the May 24 deadline, that the penalty was always for some future deadline if they missed the May 24 deadline…so who the hell knows?
  • Actually, somebody does know. Somebody knew all along. The mayor and the city promoted this fantastical, Austin Powers-esque million dollar penalty, but maybe it never really existed? Or maybe it always existed but not the way the public believed. Politicians and officials have a habit of saying something vague enough that the public will read into it what is the only good faith understanding of what is said, but that will actually mean something different. They’ll then fail to correct the public until they’re absolutely forced to. (The provincial government did this with updates to the HTA a few years ago. They led the public to believe that they were adding protection to pedestrians in crosswalks, but they weren’t; they were adding protections for pedestrians in crossovers, then played dumb when people criticized them.)
  • So we’ll (hopefully) be getting the system in November and running buses in late November. This doesn’t seem great. We’ll be right in the middle of commuter season. If there are problems with it, we’ll have to scramble to run buses, potentially in snow storms. It would have been nice to have the summer to iron out the kinks. I guess we may have some downtime over Christmas to do that.
  • We jacked up fares on the premise of better transit service. Transit ridership is going to suffer.
  • The mayor needs to own this. The On-Time On-Budget BS was always his. He trumpeted the progress and the success. Then, when informed that O-T O-B wasn’t going to happen, he didn’t bother to tell anyone until after the budget was passed.
  • Seriously, he had council pass his budget without this crucial information. Pure cynicism.
  • Also, at least one councillor asked staff for an update on progress. They didn’t answer. They had told the mayor and they thought that was good enough. Whether or not that’s policy, it’s not good enough.

So enjoy your bus rides. Enjoy more tie-ups and traffic jams. Enjoy a winter launch of LRT. And for god’s sake, hold the mayor to account for this major screw-up in October.

A winter city should never rely on driving

So it snowed yesterday. It really came on in the afternoon, and roads were a bit of a mess come rush hour. I biked to work yesterday, but as things got worse and worse, I did a bit of discretion-valour calculus and decided to take the bus.

It was a mistake.

It moved along Carling okay for much of the route, but as we passed Sherwood and approached Dow’s Lake, everything stopped moving. I’d been on the bus for about 40 minutes, and after sitting and going nowhere for 10 minutes, I decided to hop off an walk the rest of the way. It only took me 22 minutes, so, all told, I got home in a little over an hour.

From all reports, it was worse downtown.


The closure of a few blocks on O’Connor had already made things slow, recently, and now a totally normal but rather snowy afternoon had completely messed everything up.

Well, that’s not really true. Our obsession with driving completely messed everything up.

Construction, road closures and snow are perfectly predicable. Every year, we get snowy days that completely derail car traffic. Roads are slow, accidents are up, people drive erratically and illegally, and people regularly block intersections, helpfully screwing up traffic flow on two streets at once.

People often think I’m crazy or brave or… something… for riding my bike in the winter. But with proper infrastructure, riding a bike in the winter is just not that big a deal. Other than extreme cold, it’s not nearly as susceptible to normal winter conditions (and extreme cold can screw up cars, too).

No, bicycling in winter isn’t crazy; driving is. And building and maintaining a winter city that is so focused on drivers is pure insanity. It strangles our streets. It screws up transit. It kills people. The sooner we realize that a winter city like Ottawa cannot be based on driving, the sooner we’ll be able to fix so many of the messes we see each year.

A few years back, I spoke with PhD student. He was working on his thesis, comparing Ottawa to a city in Finland (I can’t remember which one). The two cities have similar climates, but the Finnish city is completely based on transit. It has something like a 79% modal share. It’s a winter city, and it’s a winter city that understands that transit has to be the main mode of transportation in order to function properly year round.

(By the way, I had been in touch with this person using an email address that’s no longer valid…so if you happen to be reading this, I’d love to hear about how your work went. Drop me a line!)

Yeah, yeah, not everyone can take transit, but if we could just get a little more balance in our transportation system, it would do a world of good.

You’re going to hear a lot of complaints these days about road closures and bike lanes. You’re going to hear people clamour for more car lanes, longer lights, higher speed limits and a host of other car-centric measures.

Ignore them…hell, challenge them. They’re wrong. Their preferred method of transportation and of city-building is what’s gotten us into this mess. We’re all paying for their preferences…and when the city they want has failed, they just look at what’s failing and ask for more of it.

The next time this happens (which might be this afternoon!), look at the cars on the street. They don’t need to be there. We don’t have to tailor city-building to their needs. We can do better. We can build a city that serves everyone better…including those who are sitting in cars, causing the problems.

Electing more women to city council

The other day, I wrote about the announcement by Emilie Taman that she would be running for city council in Capital Ward. It’s too early to make any grand pronouncements on her candidacy. The campaign hasn’t officially started, so she’s not technically running yet, and we’ll still need to see a platform and hear what she (and any other candidates) has to say.

One thing I did note, though, is that it’d be good to elect a woman, all things being equal.

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years (and earlier) about the dearth of women running and winning political office. After the last election, we went from a paltry six woman on council (out of 24 members, mayor included) down to four. Groups like Equal Voice have been working to change that, but this is going to be a long struggle.

I made a decision a while ago, and I’m going to share it now. If presented with two candidates of roughly similar merit, one a man and one a woman, I’m voting for the woman.

In 2014, such a commitment would have meant choosing Michelle Reimer over Jeff Leiper in Kitchissippi, Catherine Fortin-LeFaivre in Rideau-Vanier and Catherine McKenney over the field in Somerset. It would have meant Laura Dudas over Jody Mitic in Innes (well, Dudas was clearly the better candidate, anyway). It probably would have meant choosing Kim Sheldrick in Osgoode, and either Sheila Perry or Penny Thompson in Rideau-Rockliffe (I’m hedging on these ones, because I can’t really remember the races as well…give me a break; it was four years ago).

This isn’t about tokenism. It’s not about getting women elected purely for the sake of electing women. There are important reasons to do this.

First, the experiences of woman and men tend to be different, and, too often, public policy is tilted towards the needs of men, as they’re the ones making the decisions. This can present itself in rather obvious ways (say, taxing tampons because they’re a “luxury” good), or it can be far more insidious. Stockholm recently instituted a gender-equal snow plowing policy. Studies showed that women were more likely to walk, whereas driving was dominated by men. So, city government shifted their priorities to ensure that sidewalks, bus lanes and bike lanes got cleared first.

Now, this isn’t to say that all women have the same experiences, certainly not. But, the more women we get on council, the more likely it will be that the needs of women are given equal priority to the needs of men.

Second, representation matters, beyond specific policy. It is important that all members of the population are able to feel properly represented by council. It’s important for everyone to feel that people like them have access to political power.

Finally, I’m doing this to combat any latent biases I have. I’d like to think that I always and forever judge everyone fairly, but I know that, as a society, we judge women differently, and it would arrogant of me to feel that I’m magically above all this. Last time ’round, I caught myself falling into this sort of trap while watching a Kitchissippi debate. Here’s what I wrote:

I was quite interested to see how Reimer was to fair. At first, I wasn’t too impressed. She didn’t jump into the back-and-forth as much. She wasn’t getting her message across, and she seemed tentative, almost as if she just didn’t have enough of a grasp of the issues or solutions to hold her own against Hobbs and Leiper.

Then I caught myself.

It was Reimer’s tone and style that undermined her candidacy, not her actual arguments or policies. I realized that Reimer was speaking in a manner that society often conditions women to speak. If a woman is too assertive, she can be labelled as bossy. Strong women, who wear their strength on their sleeve, will either be undermined or demeaned, or they’ll be ignored or mocked for not knowing their place. Politics is still very much a man’s world–that’s obvious in this municipal race, and obviously a problem, too–and a female candidate has a fine line to walk. You have to play the game and stand up to men. If you don’t, you’re not strong enough to do the job. However, if you play the game too well, you’ll be cast a bitch.

So part way through the debate, I started listening to Reimer with this firmly at the front of mind. I noticed that she was polite and deferential. She demonstrated humility and acknowledged, implicitly, that others had valid perspectives to offer. I had to ignore these aspects of her performance to properly judge the candidate and the platform.

Her arguments were just as strong as the other candidates, more or less, and she displayed the intelligence and wisdom that we should all want in a civic leader. Her primary failing was that she too perfectly played the role that society tends to impose upon women. That’s absolutely no mark against her; it’s a mark against us.

This is the biggest reason why, if presented with two roughly equal candidates, I will select the woman: it is quite possible that I will be subconsciously discounting her candidacy; if I think the two are roughly equal, then there is a good chance she is the significantly better candidate.

So, no, a move to elect more women to council isn’t about tokenism; it’s about finally giving women something close to a fair shot at winning (putting aside all the reasons why women may be deterred from running in the first place).

Now, I think you could read all of this and say, what about other marginalized people, will you do the same thing? Pretty much everything I wrote would apply to other under-represented members of our city, so, yes, I think  I will


It’s always about cars

Back before Christams–I can’t remember when exactly–the Percy bike lane got its own dedicated light Catherine (right where it goes under the Queensway). This made sense. When going south, cars have a no-right-on-red. A dedicated bike light should, thus, reduce conflicts between poor/negligent drivers and bicyclists. Now, I found that most drivers were observant of bicyclists, and it driver behaviour was getting better and better.

Nonetheless, it only takes one careless driver to kill someone, so, sure, let’s be proactive with safety.

The first day I came across this, I didn’t realize it had been put up (there was no *New* sign that they always put up for new car traffic lights). So the light changed to green and I went and it turns out I didn’t have the right-of-way. Crappy. I felt bad about that, and I was committed to not making that mistake again.

In the coming weeks, I wasn’t getting a bike light, at all. I notified the councillor. Soon, the bike light was working and everyone was getting their turn to go.

I was on the bike route on Sunday. The car light went green. I didn’t go. I waited. The bike light never went green.

I was on the bike route again last night. The car light went green. I didn’t go. I waited. The bike light never went green.

Both times, there was basically no traffic, so I just went on the red. So much for safety.

The lesson here isn’t that the loop system needs to work better (though, yes, it would seem it does). Nor is it that lights need better timing (though, again, yes, they do).

No, the lesson here is that these bike lights were not installed for the safety of bicyclists. They were installed for the benefit of drivers. If they were not there, I could have just gone on the regular green. Instead, I was expected to sit through a red.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. Too often, measures to improve driving are dressed up as safety initiatives. These… favours… we do for vulnerable street users are really just means of moving more cars faster through our city.

A familiar face joins the Capital Ward race

So we have our first (pseudo) official candidate for Capital Ward. Emilie Taman, who ran for the NDP last year, has announced that she’s gunning for a seat at council:

According to the Citizen‘s Jon Willing:

Taman said her platform will be about “public accountability, increased public engagement in planning and development, evidenced-based decision-making in public health and strengthening environmental sustainability across city projects.”

Assuming David Chernushenko runs for re-election, Taman should pose a serious challenge that was sorely lacking last time (Chernushenko got over 77% of the vote). That’s not a shot at his main rival from 2014, but Scott Blurton didn’t have the public profile that Taman does.

Here are some quick thoughts on the announcement:

  • Taman’s description of her platform sounds good, but it’s also rather vague (which is fine, for now). I can see how those principles could form a quality platform, but we shall see.
  • Her description speaks to what she sees for the city–which is good! Too many councillors lack such vision–but I’d still need to know what she sees for the ward.
  • Taman ran for the NDP, but that doesn’t necessarily tell us anything. Provincial and federal partisanship doesn’t track well to municipal issues, even though many people try to do just that. People assume that the NDP/left wing politics and urbanism go hand-in-hand, but various NDP parties have been against road tolls and have supported subsidizing hydro use in recent years. I’m not going to assume much from that part of her background.
  • She was involved with Bookmark the Core, fighting to keep the main library downtown. I didn’t agree with everything they did (I think that the city could provide library services to downtown/Centretown/Golden Triangle without having the “main” branch in the core), but it did display a desire to have city services align with city/urban living. So that’s, generally speaking, a positive.
  • Swapping a woman for a man would be a good thing, ceteris paribus.

The campaign doesn’t officially start until May, and we don’t know who else will step up to challenge Chernushenko, or if Chernushenko will even run again (he hasn’t said either way, yet). But more ideas, more candidates and more women running will be a good for the ward and the city.

Requiem for a marginal hockey fan

Note: I came up with the idea for this blogpost before the news about a Lebreton deal broke. This doesn’t have anything (directly) to do with that news.

I like hockey enough. I am, nominally, a Senators fan, at least those times I’m paying attention, they’re who I root for. I’ve been to at least three games in my life, maybe a couple more (one back at the Civic Centre). I watched every game of the Cup run a decade ago. I watched most of the games in last year’s playoff run (at least in part). Before having kids, I knew the roster, the players and the usual lines and D-pairings. However, life often gets in the way, and I haven’t followed too closely for the past seven or eight years.

I don’t write this to establish any bona fides, just to let you know where I’m coming from.

So here’s where I am right now: there are times when I sort of want the Senators to fail, to go bankrupt, to move, whatever. There are times that part of me want them gone.

Now, before you sharpen your pitchforks or send out your “energy” line, let me be clear, I don’t actually want that to happen. I’ve derived varying amounts of enjoyment out of the team over the years, and may again in the future. And regardless, other people derive enjoyment (well, not so much this year) from the team, and I’m not looking to rob anyone of that.

But I am worried about the development of Lebreton Flats. I am worried that “we’re” going to completely screw up the whole thing. I’m worried that it’ll be abandoned or the Senators will go belly up and the arena will sit in disrepair. I’m worried that it’s just a stupid plan that’s really only being undertaken to prop up an otherwise-failing team.

I don’t have enough faith in the Senators organization to be able to feel comfortable with Rendez-Vous Lebreton. For me, it would cause much less heartache (and have far fewer negative side effects) to have the team fold quickly than to watch the Lebreton project slowly, continuously fail over and over again for the next two, five, fifteen and fifty years*.

And don’t try to tell me this fear is unfounded.

This is a team that, structurally, can’t consistently field a competitive line up. It’s a team that can’t pay a roster anywhere close to the salary cap (that will only keep rising, no doubt). It’s a team that often has attendance woes (and, yes, part of those woes should be alleviated with a central arena).

And, of course, it’s more than the team. It’s the owner.

It’s an owner who pulls out of community work when he doesn’t get his way. It’s an owner who openly muses about moving the team right before the team’s biggest game of the year (in terms of public interest). It’s an owner who regularly embarrasses himself (and, by extension, the team and the city). It’s an owner who got laughed at by a former star player’s wife about how that player wound up being traded. It’s an owner heading a management group that seemed to be playing head games with a generational talent, probably the greatest player in Senators history.

It is this owner and this team to which we will hitch the prospects of Lebreton Flats.

It cannot be overstated just how important this project is. There aren’t a lot of large parcels of land in the central neighbourhoods just waiting to finally be developed. This is a chance to create something great, something vibrant, something lasting.

I don’t trust Eugene Melnyk to be able to do that. There’s no reason to believe he will spearhead a viable, worthwhile city-building initiative–and even though he’s (hopefully) surrounded himself with smart people who can take the lead, there’s no reason to believe he still won’t cock it all up somehow.

Further, I don’t trust any development based around a sports team to be great, vibrant and lasting. Hell, I don’t trust Eugene Melnyk or the Senators to stick around.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible this whole thing will work out well. There are some very intriguing aspects of the proposal (and some aspects that they probably need to re-think). It is certainly possible to build something great around a sports team (hell, Lansdowne may be failing at that right now, but the possibility is still there).

And, yes, I hope that everything is going to work out. I will be happy for a healthy Senators franchise to move into a thriving central community and stay there for generations to come.

But there are just so many risks, so many problems surrounding this team and this owner, that it’ll be a long time before I’m actually comfortable with this relationship (if I ever am). And if my fears come true and this whole thing goes to hell, it’ll be a long time before I’ll be able to forgive the NCC, Eugene Melnyk or the Senators.

For me, the city’s future isn’t worth a hockey team.

*Who am I kidding, I’m not living another fifty years…so let’s say fourty-nine years.

A life is worth $2000. The system works.

I’ve seen a couple of news organizations (the Citizen and the CBC) cover the heartbreaking story of a driver, Felix Laframboise, who killed Kristine Cadieux and was forced to pay a measly $2000 fine. To add insult to the deceased’s family’s injury, they weren’t even allowed to make a statement in court…they weren’t even told about the court date until after the punishment, such as it was, was handed down.

Seeing the coverage of this story, all I can think is: Where the hell have you been?

In 2014, a driver killed a pedestrian and got a $1000 fine and three demerit points (as I wrote about in the Citizen three years ago). In that context, I guess a $2000 is pretty good.

(The cynic in me would note that it appears that we consider a driver’s life twice as valuable as a pedestrian’s, but I swear I’m trying not to be so cynical.)

Hell, you’re lucky if there are any charges

Years ago, Mario Theoret was killed by a driver on Hunt Club. All evidence, including reports from the police, demonstrate the driver was in the wrong; he dangerously and illegally crossed the bike lane when Theoret was there.

The driver was never charged.

Meg Dussault was run over by a truck driver on Bank at Riverside. She regularly gets blamed for it, as she was filtering (driving up beside a vehicle at a red light), even though filtering is legal.

The driver was never charged.

Laurie Strano was run over by a garbage truck driver during the Ride the Rideau event.

The driver was never charged.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there’s coverage of this. My second reaction to seeing these reports was that I was very happy to see multiple media outlets care…because too often, there’s no evidence of that.

Now, I know that media outlets are understaffed, and I know that traffic “incidents” probably aren’t the most attention-grabbing stories (without some exceptional circumstances), but still, there’s hardly any follow up to the injuries and deaths in our streets.

Remember when someone was hospitalized when they were struck by a cabbie as they walked on the sidewalk on Elgin Street? I’ve seen no updates on any charges.

Remember when someone was killed by a driver while they were walking in the parking lot of the Metro in New Edinburgh? I’ve seen no updates on any charges.

Remember when Brian Thompson was run over by a pick-up truck driver while crossing the street at Somerset and Rochester? I’ve seen no updates on any charges.

There’s more, but it’s too time-consuming and way too depressing to research them all. Despite the challenges, it would be nice if we could get more follow-up on these issues…if we could actually remember the people whose lives are lost and drastically altered by car violence on our streets (and sidewalks and parking lots).

But for that to happen, society would have to care, and as Cadieux’s family is finding out, it doesn’t.

A handful of blocks downtown will be closed to cars, and Ottawa’s economy is absolutely doomed

Bell Canada needs to do some work on some manhole covers or something, so five blocks of Somerset O’Connor (man, I’m making some dumb mistakes these days) will be closed to cars for a few weeks. This unexpected-but-not-particularly-earth-shattering development has brought out one of our most storied types of news…er…stories: how will businesses survive? 

Per CBC:

In a release, the City of Ottawa said the closure was necessary to allow Bell Canada crews to repair manholes where the street intersects with Gloucester, Nepean, Lisgar and Cooper streets.

Businesses along that stretch say the impact could be devastating.

“It’s going to destroy our business,” said Fortunato Calabro, owner of Tosca Ristorante, located at the northern edge of the construction zone.

All right, let’s talk about this, bullet-point style:

  • It’s five blocks for six weeks. It’s hard to imagine this as commercial armageddon.
  • One owner worked in a jab at the minimum wage increase, nice.
  • Sometimes, there needs to be roadwork. Sometimes, a road needs to be closed for a while. This isn’t like when they closed Bank Street for a year or two.
  • The road isn’t actually closed; it’s only closed to cars. It seems weird that these restaurants would be so dependent on car traffic. Your business is right downtown, well-served by transit and the area is quite walkable. I don’t get how they don’t capitalize on that.
  • These stories are presented uncritically. Do they have any actual data on their clientele’s modal share? Is it just a gut feeling that everyone (aside from the 9-5 crowd) drives?
  • We rarely get follow up on these stories. Other businesses have been in similar situations. What was the result?
  • Maybe businesses should stop claiming that it will be impossible to get to their location (especially since it’s not true). When Rideau Street was first closed to cars, businesses were apoplectic. The kept going to the media claiming (falsely) that the street was closed and that there was no way for their customers to get to them. It kinda seemed like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • The owners think the city should have consulted with them, but to what end?
  • One owner suggested that they shouldn’t need to close all car lanes, and should only close one. Maybe that’s true, but in my experience, the city does everything it possibly can to avoid inconveniencing drivers, so I’m skeptical that that’d be a viable alternative.
  • Bell is doing this in a compressed timeframe (they say), so the businesses may be getting off easy.
  • Could a journalist doing one of these stories please ask the owners (aside from pressing for actual facts) what they plan to do to adjust? Are they going to try new things to bring people in or are they just going to complain?
  • I think a story like this is really problematic, the way it’s been done. There’s no critical inquiry, no request for facts or data, no follow up to see if the end of the world actually happened and little exploration as to why this work needs to be done.

Okay, so I’m not particularly sympathetic to the plucky protagonists in this story, but I’m willing to take up their cause in one respect (even though they probably won’t like what I’m going to say):

The root cause of this neverending story is our addiction to cars, and the car-centric nature of Ottawa, as an institution. The city basically tells us that we need cars, that we have to drive.

We still have parking minimums for central, urban, walkable areas. BIAs consistently agitate for driving and parking (and generally get it). We don’t, by default, maintain bike infrastructure during the winter…hell, we generally refuse to build it in the first place. On evenings and weekends, we reduce bus service.

Yet we never have to refrain from building roads. We never close streets or reduce capacity (other than via added parking) in off-peak times. We think “Complete Streets” means letting people park on the sidewalk.

And every time a story like this comes up, there is little to no pushback, either from the media or the city.

Do you want a thriving downtown business that can weather a few construction periods? You need a livable, walkable area. You need various modal options. You need a healthy and reliable transit system.

If you decide to hitch your business to driving, you’ll be at the mercy of the smallest inconvenience.

And I’ll have very little sympathy for you.


I’m a bad citizen

A few weeks back, I wrote about the proposed redevelopment of Fifth Avenue Court (or “Bank + Fifth” as the owners marketers dubbed it, but pretty much no one calls it). They want to bust the zoning regulations (like the proposal at 890-900 Bank Street), and I’ve neither seen nor heard any justification for the bulk of it (there are a couple of minor encroachments that don’t seem like big deals).

There was a public meeting about it Tuesday, and I had mentally circled the date on the calendar. I mean, it was just two blocks away; it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

…But other matters have demanded my attention, and the family has been battling colds and/or flus, so I neglected to properly plan to make it there, and, really, it just wasn’t going to work out, no matter how well I planned.

I felt I should really do my damnedest to get there. I write about this stuff. I provide comments to my councillor and the city. I comment on these issues on social media (probably more than is healthy). I thought it would be prudent to go and hear what was to be said.

Then I thought a bit more about it. I thought about the multiple meetings I went to about 890-900 Bank Street. I thought about the community’s response and the way city planners and council summarily ignored it. I thought about the lies that the development team told over and over again. I thought about how the city planner assigned to the file carried water for the developer and repeated their easily-exposed lies.

I thought about Elgin Street. I thought about how the public response cried out for bike lanes and a Complete Street, and I thought about how we got neither. Elgin will still be a car-centric design. It may be slowed a bit, and we may get wider sidewalks, but even those sidewalks will be given over to cars.

I thought about the O’Connor bike lane. Years of planning went into that. Residents gave hours upon hours of their time over those years, only for the section in the Glebe to be scrapped at the last minute, because some businesses (or maybe it was just OSEG) complained. I thought about how the local councillor supported the change and praised a business owner rather than supporting the will of residents.

I thought about the recent decision pertaining to the Salvation Army and how the debate was constricted by city officials and how there lacked a solid planning rationale for the decision (since people were only supposed to speak to it in terms of planning, not service delivery).

I thought about all the time that gets wasted by public consultations. I thought about how cynical city staff and councillors often are when they embark on these missions of civic engagement.

So I read stories to my girls. We played Pick-Up-Sticks. It was a far better and, no doubt, a far more productive use of my time.