Urban life is a fantasy, a nuisance

There’s a pretty insidious attitude you see pop up now and again in our city. When it comes to our downtown and central neighbourhoods, city officials will often treat them as a means to an end for suburbanites (the streets are for commuters, the facilities are for entertainment and work) or, worse, a nuisance.

(The corollary to this is that people in central neighbourhoods will see suburban neighbourhoods as purely a drain on city resources and undeserving of nice things.)

One city councillor, Rick Chiarelli, demonstrated this attitude perfectly, if unwittingly, a month or so ago.

Speaking on CBC, Chiarelli was defending the Where Is My Plow app that completely failed users during the first big snowfall of the season (even when it worked as designed, it was still a failure as a communication device). Chiarelli was noting that the app was only for residential streets (though, as we all probably know, it wasn’t for all residential streets), and it wouldn’t give estimates for main streets, like Bank. This makes absolute sense. Bank Street is a high priority street for clearing. It’ll always be one of the first done (at least downtown), and it gets done regularly during the snowfall. That’s fine. No problem. As someone who lives on Bank Street, no complaints.

As a follow up, he notes that the app was designed for streets “where people actually live.”

Dick move, Mr. Chiarelli.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he knows that people “actually live” on Bank Street. (I’m typing this from a Starbucks on Bank Street underneath condo tower, sitting at a window facing another condo tower.) It was just easy shorthand for him. There was no evidence of malice. (From all appearances, he seems a jolly and likeable chap.)

So his words were ill-measured, but there is still meaning behind them. It may be shorthand, but it’s shorthand for something. He’s trying to build a city for the suburb-dwellers in his ward. He’s not considering that people (like me) actually live on Bank Street. We don’t count.

This is the attitude I’m talking about.

Council is often quite dismissive of people living an urban lifestyle. Whether it’s transportation, service delivery, schools, events, development or taxation, central neighbourhoods are considered secondarily or not at all.

It’s ugly, and it’s just demonstrative of the bullshit urban-suburban(-rural) culture wars that politicians feed upon. And it’s perpetuated by lies and misinformation. Whether it’s Jan Harder claiming Barrhaven is denser than downtown (well, if by dense…) or Chiarelli saying that people don’t actually live on Bank Street, it’s harmful to the city, and it’s just plain dumb for city-building purposes.

And, you know, I’ll bet these condo towers have more residents that Joyce Crescent in College Ward.

Ghost Bikes, Street Lights and What’s Really Important

The city is talking about ghost bikes again…and, to be clear, they’re talking about removing ghost bikes again. Never do we actually talk about the bikes themselves, not institutionally.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to write about this. I’ve written about it before; I’ve been interviewed about it; and I went on a bit of a twitter rant the other day (probably not my first). The narrative is always the same. People lie about the hazard ghost bikes pose, and others respond by trying to talk about safety.

Just about anyone with any sense will quickly go to the most accurate talking points: ghost bikes aren’t a distraction, certainly no more than the crazy billboards all around; don’t talk about ghost bikes, talk about what caused them; let’s trade all the ghost bikes for some safety improvements.

There you go. It can be said much more eloquently, but I just don’t have the patience to slog through this tedious, insulting, inhuman debate. The dance is stale.

But I will talk about one bike.

Much of the chatter about ghost bikes has centred around Meg’s Bike, installed at the Northwest corner of Bank and Riverside in memory of Meg Dussault, who was run over by a truck as she tried to navigate our city. There are calls to remove it. There are suggestions that it gets in the way of people walking the sidewalk.

Here’s the thing about Meg’s Bike. Anyone who tells you that bike is obstructing pedestrians is lying, to you and, possibly, to themselves. That bike is in no one’s way. It’s tucked back, completely out of the flow of walking traffic.

What is in the way is a traffic light. The light standards impede walking. The light standards pinch the sidewalk at a disgustingly dangerous intersection. The light standards ensure that it is uncomfortable to cross those streets. Meg’s Bike is further recessed than the light standards. You would have to intentionally snake around these large metal poles for Meg’s Bike to even come close to getting in your way as a pedestrian.

This is a perfect metaphor for this city and the way it manipulates the public about street safety.

We impose on pedestrians in order to benefit cars. We put traffic poles in sidewalks. We take up chunks of pedestrian space–what little we provide–for traffic, for speeding, deadly traffic.

And it’s worse for bicycles, of course. We often give them zero space. We have a street–a street–that we have dedicated to cars with no bike infrastructure whatsoever. It’s fast and it’s scary (I’m hardly ever willing to ride over either of the bridges on Bank Street). And it kills, and we know it kills, and everyday we go by, we’re reminded that it kills. And the city, in its cowardice and its complicity refuses to admit it.

The city refuses to do anything to make that street and that intersection safe. There have to multiple lanes. There have to be massive trucks. There have to be high volumes of traffic that are allowed to speed every damned day.

Because driving, and driving fast, is truly important to the city. The city does not value safety.

The city does so very little about safety, and they certainly don’t acknowledge the depths of our safety issues. A memorial to the victim of our city planning has to be taken down, and we have to gin up an excuse, lest we be exposed for the murderers we are.

So we blame the memorial. We blame the dead the cyclists and those who care that she was killed by our streets. There are traffic poles that block far more of the sidewalk than the ghost bike. The traffic standards block the ghost bike, but the city doesn’t care. The city has to make it about Meg’s Bike.

The city has to blame bicyclists–some of the most vulnerable road users–for endangering pedestrians. They do this all the time. We can’t have a bike lane, because then there won’t be room for sidewalks. We can’t have shared space, because pedestrians will be run down. It’ll be carnage! (Please ignore the actual carnage on the adjacent street.)

It happened with the Rideau Street re-design. We could make it safe for pedestrians or cyclists, but god forbid we make it safe for both groups, that might slightly inconvenience drivers. This is what this city, this council and this mayor do. It’s dishonest. It’s callous. And it should be unacceptable in any civilized community.

But no, it’s about ghost bikes. They’re in the way. Pretend that we can’t build a safe city. Pretend that the greatest threat to pedestrians is a guy on a Schwinn. Pretend that that if not for bicyclists, pedestrians would never be harmed by tonnes of metal flying through our city at 80 km/hr. It’s ghost bikes. Worry about them.

And ignore the fucking light post in the sidewalk.

Two Lanes on Bank Street, an Experiment

If you’ve been paying attention (and you are certainly under no obligation to do so), you know I’d like to see Bank Street reduced to two lanes. I’m not even going to link to the blog post I wrote last year or the year before, or all the tweets I’ve punched out. My opini0n is pretty well-established.

The other day, I was walking north on Bank Street at 4:30 pm, smack dab in the middle of rush hour. I was on the west side of the street, so I was facing traffic, looking up Bank from Fifth. Between Fifth and Fourth, there was a cop car stopped in the curb-side lane, which is, technically, a no parking zone. There are supposed to be two clear southbound lanes for rush hour.

(The cop seemed to be talking to someone. I have no idea why, and don’t mean to imply the cop shouldn’t have been stopped there…regardless, this whole parenthetical is completely beside the point. Aren’t you glad I wrote it?)

The traffic heading south was forced into one lane, and, you know what?, there was no impact on traffic whatsoever as far south as I could see (so, to the crest of the bridge). This is just how it was while Lansdowne was being developed and the road was permanently down to one lane. It was absolutely sufficient for traffic purposes.

For some reason, most of the cars stayed in the one (centre) lane. In fact, the only slow downs happened as drivers decided to switch into the second lane, slowing down to signal, look and change lanes (all good things).

So, yes, there is clear evidence that Bank Street absolutely does not need to be two lanes in our urban areas.

Car wars

Today I published an op-ed–okay, it was kind of a polemic–on the supposed War on Cars.

To be clear, there’s no war on cars. As I argue, there is a war on us. Cars, drivers, are killing us. They’re destroying the environment. They rob us of time and space. They injure us. They kill us. And through it all, we get little more than a corporate shrug from the city.

We don’t build proper sidewalks, or bikelanes, or intersections. We keep expanding roads. We desperately clutch to our parking–our city is zoned so that all new developments must have parking. It is absolutely insane.

Specifically in the piece, I talk about the failed attempt to build a bikeway along O’Connor. The city has cancelled have of it. The councillor for Capital Ward is suggesting some half measures to smooth over the open hostility the neighbourhood and the city has for non-automobile transportation. The official line is that we need to balance needs. We need to compromise.

Here’s what I didn’t get to in the op-ed. The O’Connor bikeway was the compromise. Every street–every damned street–is built for cars. Even our pedestrian mall allows cars. Lansdowne, a primarily pedestrian zone, has been given a car-centric makeover.

We have no bike infrastructure in the Glebe. None. We have sharrows and painted lanes. Latex on concrete isn’t infrastructure; it’s a pacifier.

We should have north-south bikelanes on multiple streets in the Glebe. Percy is considered a bike route. No bike lanes. Bank is considered a bike route. No bike lanes. O’Connor will be called a bikeway. No bike lanes.

Bike lanes should be going on Bank Street. That’s where the shops are. That’s where the restaurants are. That’s the main street that connects downtown, the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and parts beyond. Right now, bicyclists intermingle with cars that can easily kill them, drivers that can easily kill them.

Bike lanes on Bank Street would still provide the majority of the street to cars; it would still be a compromise.

Bike lanes on O’Connor would still provide the majority of the street to cars; it also ensures that all the space on Bank Street is devoted to cars; it would be a further compromise.

Nothing on Bank, nothing on O’Connor, nothing on Percy or Lyon, that’s not a compromise.

That’s surrender, and that was the point of the op-ed.

Glebe [Hearts] Mexican?

A couple of new developments are happening in the Glebe. Two storefronts on Bank (one just south of Fifth, the other just south of Second) are seeing new restaurants coming.

First, at Fifth, we have Glebe Taqueria/Encino Taco (I don’t actually know the official name; both are on the signage, but don’t totally make sense as a name; I imagine the former is more a descriptor, the latter the name). It’s going in what used to be a candy bouquet store, before becoming a temporary office for Whole Foods. It’s an interesting space, with an open loft at the back. And there’s a noticeable chandelier hanging. That’s about all you can see.

At Second, we have Burrito Shack. This is a little more interesting. It’s going in at Second beside Marble Slab, and kitty-corner from Feleena’s, the only current Mexican joint in the Glebe. I don’t think there’ll be a ton of competition, though, as they look to be tackling different markets, Burrito Shack seeming more relaxed with a faux-exposed faux-brick faux-motif* going on.

Both the Shack and the Taqueria will be licensed (assuming all goes according to plan). I have no idea how successful they’ll be, but it’s nice to get some of these empty storefronts filled.

*As you can probably guess, this look isn’t really my jam.

Why does the Glebe want more cars?

852 Bank Street Rendering.PNG_img-250x250-INNER-852 Bank Street RenderingI don’t get it.

Listening to reports from the media and from local councillor David Chernushenko, apparently all my neighbours want more cars driving through our community. At least, that’s I how I interpret this story.

For those not paying attention to minor neighbourhood squabbles (hey, I get that), the lot at the Southwest corner of Bank and Fifth has been, essentially, vacant for quite some time now. There is a defunct service centre, but mostly it’s just used for parking. Finally, we have a proposal for a new development. It’s two storeys with a part of the second storey being a patio. It’s not perfect (I would like a bigger setback, personally), but it’s good, and we’re never going to get “perfect”, anyway.

Outgoing councillor Peter Hume criticized it for not being tall enough. He wondered why we wouldn’t have a building go up to four storeys there. It’s a valid question. The land is zoned for more than two storeys. The rest of the block is two storeys, so going a bit higher wouldn’t be a drastic change, and it would add a bit more density without adding a monstrous tower. In the end, though, it was a compromise. The developer isn’t providing any parking spaces, and it was felt that a higher building would require more parking.

This is a wonderful compromise. We block out less sky and we don’t waste prime land on a parking lot. Kudos, developer people.

But residents aren’t happy. They want parking spots on that lot.

I get their worry; they don’t want all the surrounding streets getting jammed up with cars, but creating an incentive for more people to drive to the area is not going to help that. As it stands, we will have this new development, but there will be a clear statement (just like with Lansdowne and the most of the rest of the shops on Bank Street). Don’t drive. We don’t want to create a neighbourhood to which people are regularly inclined to drive rather than bus, walk or bike. We should be removing car infrastructure rather than adding to it.

And, let’s not forget, there is not a shortage of parking in the Glebe. Bank Street is never completely full. Rarely is an entire block even full. Add to that all the side streets, and you’ll see that we already give way too much space for cars (and, don’t forget, we’re planning to build a four storey parking garage at Bank and Second).

This new development is within a block or so from my home. I’m glad the lot will finally be used for something other than a monument to urban decay. And I am very thankful that we won’t be wasting the space housing cars. We do enough of that already.

Furyous Drivers

I have a few quick notes about Lansdowne transportation that I haven’t yet mentioned. I’m doing this bullet-style because it would just be too many words about this top, otherwise. Here you go:

  • After the second RedBlacks home game, Bank Street was a little more congested. It wasn’t really bad, and it didn’t last too long, but traffic did not flow as smoothly for this game. I don’t know if it had to do with the additional parking or what, but it’s interesting.
  • The first Fury game was pretty bad for congestion. A lot more people were driving and Bank didn’t seem to be able to handle to post-soccer traffic (as well as the normal traffic and parking). It cleared out fairly quickly, but, again, interesting.
  • Saturday’s Fury game seemed to have no such problem. I imagine attendance might be down a bit from the opener, and traffic might flow smoother on a Saturday night rather than a Sunday evening.

That’s it. I don’t know if I’ll ever write about this stuff again*.

*I probably will.

Re-visiting Lansdowne

It’s been two weeks since the inaugural RedBlacks home game, and with the second home game coming up tomorrow, I thought I’d go through my impressions of transit to and from the game. I had planned to give an elegant little review, but that never happened, so let’s just go through this bullet-point style. And to warn you, this will be focused the Glebe, since that’s where I live.

Pre-Game:

  • Things worked well. Bank Street wasn’t plugged up, and cars, vehicles and bikes were able to move along pretty freely. I got home form work around 5:00 pm, taking Fifth Avenue to Bank (and then quickly turning left off of Bank). It was easy to turn onto Bank, change lanes and turn at left without the aid of stop light.
  • Buses were running smoothly. They didn’t seem to be blocking other traffic at all.
  • This is primarily because there was no parking, so no need to make non-stop lane changes. Sadly, it seems like we’ll be saddled with parking tomorrow.
  • It was loud, but not too loud along Bank, though the KISS FM tent was obnoxiously loud. Pedestrians moved along quickly, and generally didn’t get in the way.
  • Some pedestrians would cross the street willy-nilly without looking or caring that they were cutting people off.
  • It really was a marvelous carnival atmosphere. This is the sort of thing we need to do more of in the city.
  • Bank Street emptied quickly right before kick-off. There was no mad rush, honking or anything. All of a sudden, there just wasn’t anyone there. This would be a testament to the planning of OSEG.
  • Apparently, they ticketed 51 cars and towed 8. I only saw one person get a ticket, it was around 8:00 and she had popped into Kardish to pick up a few things.
  • There bike cops everywhere, seemingly.

Post-Game:

  • After the game, I quickly headed to a local bar. Lansdowne emptied relatively quickly, and for a brief while it got a little loud. Still, it wasn’t that bad. Really, it was about what you’d expect for a central neighbourhood during a special event.
  • Within about 20 to 40 minutes, everyone seemed to have left or arrived at their destination, as Bank became relatively empty again (though bars were quite busy).
  • The bike cops were still patrolling.
  • There was an ice cream truck that parked illegally (with some irritating music playing). The cops told him to move. He got huffy, but moved anyway… to another illegal spot. They made him move again and he seemed to just give up and leave.
  • I didn’t see a ton of trash on the streets. There was some, sure, but again, downtown event; what would you expect?

So that’s about it. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. It’s a weekend, so that may altar travel patterns. It might rain, so that might put a damper on things. The biggest worry, though, is the parking situation. The city and OSEG admitted there was ample parking for the game, but, still, they want more for tomorrow. If enough people hear that and think it means oh, I can drive to this game, they’ll have screwed themselves and the neighbourhood.

This is why we can’t have nice streets

I’ve been meaning to write about the inaugural RedBlacks game at Lansdowne. As prep, I’ve been reading a number of different reports to try to get as complete a picture as I can. Reading this report in the Ottawa Citizen, I was just floored by this passage:

OSEG’s plan calls for 2,500 vehicles to park and walk, representing 6,200 “person trips.” Landry said while there were many cars parked around Lansdowne, there was lots of availability further north and east of Bank, as well as south of the stadium. That means the heavy no-parking restrictions the city introduced on various streets in the Glebe for Friday’s game might be relaxed in the future.

Greg Best, chair of the Glebe BIA, had similar findings. “I didn’t get the sense people were circling around trying to find spots,” he said. “I looked at Glebe, First, Second, I looked at them all. … The traffic wasn’t really an issue. I was surprised.”

This is just mindboggling. The traffic plan worked. The parking restrictions allowed for an easy flow of buses, bikes and pedestrians. People really listened to OSEG and left their cars at home. Some people drove and parked, but so few that even with a lot of parking restrictions there was still “lots of availability” for parking. Which mean, we don’t need more parking capacity!

There may be no better representation of the myopic idiocy of car-centric urban planning than to look at a successful transportation plan with ample excess parking and respond, “More parking!”

For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with the positive reports about transportation (speaking, at least, for the north side of Lansdowne), but part of what made the whole experience so great was the lack of parked cars (and drivers looking to park) gumming up the major streets, Bank and First.

Gameday!

In case you hadn’t heard (and if you’re in Ottawa, that seems unlikely), today is the home opener for the Ottawa RedBlacks. There’s been a lot of chatter in recent weeks (and months) (and years) about the viability of football, the best plan for Lansdowne, traffic and such. Tonight, we’ll finally get some answers.

Okay, we won’t, really, get many answers. Lansdowne is still mostly a construction site. The RedBlacks are an expansion team, and its easy for people to be excited about their first home game. And, of course, today’s traffic won’t really tell us what it’ll be like going forward. Likely, it’ll kind of suck, but it’s a progress that, hopefully, will keep getting better.

Interestingly, the city is well-ahead in planning for traffic concerns. This morning, they had a bunch of Special Event No Parking signs up. The city has actually expanded the no parking areas, which is great (and potentially troubling for those foolish enough to drive to the game). As well, last night they had dropped off some barricades at the corners of some side.

I will, alas, not be going to the game, but I will be down on Bank Street. It will be great to experience the carnival atmosphere. Hopefully, we can keep up this sort of enthusiasm for years to come. (Well, not to this degree. Obviously, things are a little extra amped up for the opener.)