Department of Bad Timing

Starting today and continuing to May 14, city residents are invited to provide their thoughts on a proposed bike path connection* between the segregated bike lane on Laurier and the multi-use pathway along Albert Street. It would seem to require some sidewalk biking, and would put cyclists on the wrong side of Slater. Also, you can’t actually ride your bike all the way. You have to walk across the Slater/Bronson intersection. The route goes thusly:


So that’s what we’re invited to talk about today, funneling cyclists through the Slater/Bronson intersection. Then this happened:

That’s probably not how the city wanted to kick off this discussion.

[H/T: Cassandra Fulgham]

*To be clear, this isn’t really a bike path nor is it a connection, but I digress.

Lessons from a Blank Wall

IMG_1514The photo to the left depicts the mural on the side of Glebe Meat Market. It was painted last fall and livens up an otherwise blank wall. It’s a small thing , but it’s the sort of initiative that helps to make our streetscapes more pleasing. Kudos to them.

The picture also shows a bit of Glebe’s graffiti problem. Taggers left their mark on the Bell Canada thingama-box, but nothing on the mural. Half a block up Bank Street, there’s more graffiti. In a little alley north of Regent Street beside a now-empty storefront, vandals have left the following greeting:

IMG_1513It’s well-known but nonetheless noteworthy that graffiti artists tend towards blank canvases, often leaving murals in peace. This brings two thoughts.

First, it just reinforces that drab concrete monoliths are not only blights in their own right, but are invitations for defacing. It’s like visual white noise dotted with occasional screams. No one wants that.

Second, these vandals are not the indiscriminate menace to society that 1980s-based stereotypes would have us believe. These people are attacking businesses rather than residences. They will deface the wall of a commercial building in an alley, but not homes down the street… or even the white luxury car parked in the alley. There is a definite message in this, and one we shouldn’t ignore.

None of this is new, of course. It’s just that we rarely see these points made through such proximate juxtaposition.

Crosswalk Rant [Updated]

Update here.

Via Kevin O’Donnell, here’s the official policy on on crosswalks and the threshold for deciding whether or not to put up a light. It’s a pretty clear statement that cars are prioritized over pedestrations and really puts the lie to the notion that widening sidewalks, putting in lights or developing any sort of Complete Streets model is unduly fair to motorists. We’re really just trying to make things a little less unfair to everyone else. But that’s not really the point of this rant.

Living in the Glebe and walking along Bank St. multiple times a day, there is one aspect of crosswalks that really annoys me. It’s not the fact that there are street lights at First, Third and Fifth, but not at Second or Fourth, and it’s not the way some of these lights take forever to change, even at night when traffic is minimal (but just present enough to prevent jaywalking). No, the issue is that to cross Bank St. at these lights, one must press the walk button.

And, again, it’s not that you have to press the button to trigger a change in the lights, it’s that if the light is changing anyway, if you fail to press the button, the light won’t change for pedestrians–you’ll get that red hand staring at you while all the cars get a green.

Bank St. is a heavy pedestrian area; especially during the day, you will see a constant flow of pedestrians (often jaywalking). Regardless, pedestrians looking to cross Bank St. still must press the little irritating button. Moreover, they must press it sufficiently prior to the change in the lights to trigger a walk signal.

When a pedestrian fails to press the button, fails to press it on time, or gets to the intersection just as the light is changing, they won’t get the light. City planners, it would seem, expect them to stand there and wait for the next cycle to complete. This is strong evidence that city planners are morons.

Pedestrians do not and will not wait. The green lights give sufficient time for people to cross, and it is rather unreasonable to expect pedestrians to wait, especially when the reverse is not true (if a pedestrian triggers the light, cars will still get a green light, whether they were waiting patiently at the intersection or not).

Maybe you think pedestrians should take their second-class status lying down and should just wait longer (often in the cold or rain) to cross. That’s fine (well, it’s not, it makes you a jerk, but that’s beside the point), but the clear fact is that pedestrians won’t wait. They will cross the street safely, and cars will understand that they are crossing. Changing the system at these intersections so that a walk signal automatically occurs with every green light would just be a reflection of reality (as well as a nod to the idea that pedestrians are people, too).

But designing your traffic system in a way that completely ignores the way residents actually use the street is just madness. City planners are not going to change the behaviour of pedestrians in the Glebe, nor should they even attempt to do so. The street and traffic lights should be designed for the benefit of those using the street, not to imperil or inconvenience certain residents at the (very minor) benefit of others.

Karaoke and Cheap Quarts, a Part of our Heritage

I was walking down Bank St. recently, and I was struck (once again) by the state of Somerset House – the former home of the Duke of Somerset and the Lockmaster Tavern. Back in the day, it was a good place to grab a beer, sing some karaoke or maybe catch some Pay-Per-View sports on TV. Today, it’s a shell. The facade remains, somewhat, but it’s hardly a building; it’s not even a construction site. It’s an eyesore and a potential danger. It cuts into the sidewalk with its ugly wooden barricade. At such a prominent intersection, Bank and Somerset, it’s quite the embarrassment. But still it stands.

You see, it is a Heritage Building.

I don’t really know why – though I’m sure I could look it up – but it’s a part of our heritage, just like burnt toast and illiterate school councilmen. This heritage status has prevented anyone from razing the damned thing, so it just sits there, in all its decrepit glory.

There have been disputes between the city and owners. There have been illegal renovations. There has been a collapse that trapped a worker and closed down this major street. Nonetheless, it’s a heritage building, so there it sits.

There was talk of development. That was in December, and no timeline was ever given. So we can believe it when it happens. In the meantime, there it sits.

There is value in preserving many of our heritage buildings. With the current rate of development, many of these buildings could be lost to condos or commercial centres before we could realize what they meant to us. But urban decay should be offered no such protection.

The city should do something with Somerset House, even if it means tearing it down.