A Successful Test

Last week, OSEG had a test-run for RedBlacks fans and TD Place employees. They intent was to welcome the fans, tour the facilities and figure out just how the whole thing was going to work. It was, by all reports, a success. It is clear (and there was never much question) that Jeff Hunt and his cohorts know how to run a sports franchise. It was the development side of things, including transportation, that was a little more worrisome.

Thankfully, the transportation aspect seemed to go smoothly. I wound up on Bank Street at about 5:30 pm. It was noticeably busier–more drivers, more cars parked, more pedestrians–but everything was moving smoothly. Even on my bike, I was able to quickly merge with Bank Street traffic, change lanes and turn onto my street (which has no traffic light).

One interesting development is the effective reduction of Bank Street to one lane. On-street parking is prohibited from 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, and it doesn’t usually fill up right at 5:30, but last week was different. With all the parking (which, note, won’t be available for Friday’s home opener), cars had to occupy the centre lane, exclusively. This meant that straight-through traffic had to co-exist with left-turners and those lost or hunting for a parking spot.

My takeaway from this is that it would not be much of a problem to reduce Bank Street to one lane, expand the sidewalks and add bike lanes.

This would also address the one real issue with the open house, pedestrian traffic. Bank Street sidewalks are too narrow for the current burden of foot traffic. RedBlacks fans will just make it all the more crowded. Complicating matters is that a lot of fans appear to have little idea as to how to walk down and share a busy urban sidewalk. I’ve often noticed that those who don’t walk very much demonstrate little awareness of the pedestrians around them, and this was reinforced last week. But if that’s the worst of the traffic problems, I’ll take it (and, perhaps, it will be a learning experience for a lot of our residents).

There is, of course, a big caveat to all of this. There were only about 10,000 fans in attendance (according to reports, which are likely to overstate things) and we are expecting 27,000 at Friday’s game. In addition, fans did not all arrive for the 6:00 pm opening; they trickled in for hours. This probably won’t be the case Friday. It could complicate things.

Walking Gladstone

So the tire on my bike was dead. Saturday morning, I popped into the local bike shop to get it replaced. It’s an easy fix, take off one tire, put on another. Unfortunately, my bike was more damaged than I realized (though I wondered), and I needed a whole new rear tire. Rather than getting a brand new one, I wondered over to Cycle Salvation to get one on the cheap.

Cycle Salvation (which shares a home with Recycles) is a wonderful little initiative. It’s also a bit far away at Bronson and Gladstone, nonetheless, I decided to walk.

On my way there, I walked up Bank Street to Gladstone Avenue and hung a left. I’ve walked along parts of Gladstone often, but I’ve never trekked all the way from Bank to Bronson. In fact, I’ve rarely walked the stretch west of Kent Street. I had absolutely no idea what was on the street.

That stretch of Gladstone has far more going on than I realized. Local shops and intriguing eateries litter the blocks on the north and south side. There is park space behind the McNabb Community Centre and an art gallery at the Kent Street corner.

Of course, this is no grand revelation for those who live in the area, but it serves as a reminder that there are a number of interesting little streets and neighbourhoods throughout Ottawa, and often they are in places we are quite familiar with, even if we never really noticed what they had to offer.

Lansdowne Test-Run

So tonight, OSEG is hosting RedBlacks season ticket holders at Lansdowne/TD Place Stadium. They’ll be running shuttle buses along Queen Elizabeth Drive and there will be increased bus service along Bank Street. It’s an attempt to simulate the game day experience, and they hope it will serve as a training run for fans and employees, alike.

It will be interesting to see what happens. There will be no special parking restrictions, so this won’t simulate next week’s home opener. It’s also difficult to guess how many ticket holders will actually show up this evening. They’re expecting 27,000 for next week’s game. Will they get anything close to that? If they don’t (and with the additional parking), their may be a false impression given as to the ability to drive to the game.

Anyway, OSEG should still be commended for this effort. For all the faults of OSEG (retail mix, lack of setbacks), it is clear that they know how to run a sports team. It would be rather devastating to Lansdowne should football fail within a few years, again.

Here’s hoping this test-run will help smooth out any transportation problems.

Is OSEG Just Lying?

News came out yesterday that Winners is the newest retailer to set up shop at Lansdowne Park. The groans were inevitable. OSEG and the city have touted Lansdowne as an urban village, a “unique urban village”, but adding Winners to a list of shops that includes PetSmart, GoodLife, Booster Juice and Telus is just more evidence that the vision isn’t so much “urban village” as it is “South Keys North”.

OSEG and the mayor can object to the big box store label (and, perhaps they’re right, they’ll be medium-sized box stores), but they can’t really claim anything unique or village-y about this shopping plaza. So, it really brings us the question, were they just lying?

It is possible that Lansdowne will still resemble something close to an urban village–and I certainly hope it does–but the overall promise is going unfulfilled. Maybe OSEG never planned to make an urban village. Maybe they had no idea whether it was even possible. I should probably assume stupidity rather than malice.

But it reminds me of their treatment of transportation. The travel plan for RedBlacks games hopes for hundreds of cyclists. This is a good development, and they have planned for it, to an extent. They will have 600-1000 spots for supervised bike parking (for special events), and they are installing 300 bike rings throughout the grounds. So, they’re trying… sort of.

If OSEG really wanted people biking to Lansdowne, they wouldn’t handcuff the city when it comes to re-developing Bank Street. As it stands, we may not be able to get rid of on-street parking (thus making actual room for hundreds of cyclists) due to the contract with OSEG.

Further, the travel plan requires parking buses on the Bank Street Bridge, creating a walk-your-bike-zone (which apparently won’t actually be enforced). It’s bad enough that the bridge is unsuited to bicycle traffic (and pedestrian traffic), and the city isn’t doing anything substantive about it, now–on game days–they’re telling people to get off their bikes. And remember, Bank Street is considered a cycling route by the city.

I still have hopes for Lansdowne. I don’t think the obvious mistakes are crippling or irreversible (well, maybe some of them are irreversible). I just hope that the apparent dishonesty is just an appearance.

We shall see.

Bank Street Parking and Lansdowne

A report from March was brought to my attention today. Metro reporter Steve Collins notes that because of the Lansdowne deal with OSEG, the city may be handcuffed in regards to parking on Bank Street:

Legal staff, however, warned that tinkering with the parking supply runs the risk of violating the agreement the city signed with Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group. This seemed to be news to councillors on the committee, and that’s also in keeping with an emergent Lansdowne tradition: discovering surprising conditions buried in the city’s sweeping and labyrinthine deal with OSEG.

While much of the discussion in recent weeks has been about parking around Lansdowne during RedBlacks games, the issue of everyday parking is an occasionally overlooked aspect. As I’ve argued (and as I’m sure you agree), all parking along Bank Street in the Glebe (and probably from Wellington Street to Billings Bridge, and beyond) should be removed. Bank Street should adopt a Complete Street model with two traffic lanes, two bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Apparently, the OSEG deal puts a cramp in such thinking.

This is clearly bad news, even aside from implementing a Complete Street. The city has effectively handed OSEG control over one of the major streets that runs through our city, possibly handcuffing future councils. (And that city negotiators seem to have done this without discussing the matter with council means there are people who need to lose their jobs right now.)

But parking matter is overblown. It really is. People will complain about trying to park in the Glebe, but such complaints are quite ignorant. Every Saturday and Sunday, I walk along Bank Street multiple times. Without fail, there is ample parking. On just about every block, on each side of the street, there is at least one empty space. There may not be a spot directly in front of the store you want to go to, but there’s generally a spot within a block or two (which is actually closer than you’d be if you were parking at a mall or big box store wasteland).

And, of course, if Bank Street just happens to be full at some point, there are still a plethora of side streets for cars. The city even has plans to build a multi-story parking garage in the next few years.

There’s no shortage of parking right now, and there’s no strong evidence of a shortage in the years to come. OSEG claims they want to build an urban village–which is, essentially, what the Glebe and Old Ottawa South already are–but if that’s true (which, really, we know it isn’t), they shouldn’t be trying to turn Bank Street into a parking lot for a glorified strip mall.

In defense of the Glebe

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Matthew Pearson has a new post up at the City Hall Blog (yay, they’re updating the blog again) about the recent public meeting about OSEG’s transit plan for Lansdowne. Since we’re talking about the Glebe, there have been a lot of comments disparaging the complaints of the (stereo)typical Glebe resident.

But not to fear, Glebites, Pearson’s got your back:

Now, I’ve covered a lot of public meetings during my time as a reporter and can tell you that this is usually when public meetings lose the plot. People line up in single file with all their grievances and unload, their voices rising in anger as their confidence (or indignation?) is boosted by cheers from the audience.

The temperature in the room rises to a boil and soon nothing the people answering the questions can say will appease the angry masses.

Well, I sat in that grand hall on Third Avenue and can tell you it didn’t go down this way. Sure, some folks made snide comments about the Lansdowne redevelopment, but the vast majority was civilized and respectful. They got up, asked questions about things that matter to them and then returned to their seats.

Obviously, there’s middle ground. Some people are reasonable; others are not. Some people have strong opinions about the transportation plan; some of us don’t. However, there’s even something to be said for those who react strongly to these matters. As I wrote last year:

This does, of course, smack of NIMBYism (generally a scourge on development, progress and personal freedom). As bad as NIMBYism can be, it does have an upside. Those who so value their backyards and their communities are those who are working to make our communities stronger. Yes, the melodramatic lamentations over the removal of a few trees may be hard to take, but the opposite – living in a purely atomized city where you do not feel a connection to the community in which you live – is worse.

This is not an all-out defense of NIMBYism, but a sense of community is a wonderful thing.

Who wants to go to Lansdowne?

OSEG and the city have released their initial game day travel plan for Lansdowne Park. It’s pretty thorough, but also rather straightforward (dear God, don’t bring a car to Lansdowne). You can read about it in the Metro, the Sun or the Citizen. The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello also has a good take. It’s really too soon for an in-depth analysis, but it seems like a pretty good plan. Here are a few initial thoughts:

  • It’ll still kind of suck. Face it, transportation kind of sucks. You may like a leisurely Sunday drive in the country or cruising on your bike along the canal, but when it comes to more utilitarian transportation—especially when we’re talking about moving 20,000+ to one location, it’s going to suck. All we can hope for is that OSEG and the city make it suck as little as possible. They may have come close to achieving that.
  • Cars are not really welcome. Sure, you can take your car to Lansdowne, but—unless you’re a V.I.Fan—you’re not parking on-site. Even then, there are only spots for about half the number of potential VIPs. You can try parking in the neighbourhood, but no special accommodations will be made. OSEG claims there are 2500 spots nearby, but “nearby” means from the Queensway to Riverside and from Bronson to the river. Many people won’t consider such spots within a walkable distance to the stadium.
  • Yes, drivers, OSEG is trolling you. Live with it.
  • They really want you to use buses or shuttles. They’ll be churning up and down Bank Street and along the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. And you’ve already paid for them (they’re included in the price of the ticket, so they’re “free” on game day), so you might as well use them.
  • Fans who bike or walk will be subsidizing everyone else. Cyclists and pedestrians already subsidize all road users, but now those fans will be directly subsidizing mass transit-using fans. But no one should complain. That’s the price of having a CFL team back. If you don’t like it, don’t go to the games.
  • Concerns about transportation are overblown. People seem to think that the Glebe has never hosted an event with tens of thousands of people coming and going at approximately the same time. It’s like the Rough Riders never happened. I used to attend Riders games, and I used all modes of transport (walk, drive, drive-and-walk, bike, bus, bus-and-walk, shuttle bus). We all poured out of Lansdowne at the same time, and the place cleared out pretty easily. The only thing that didn’t was the parking lot. It’s a good thing we won’t have to worry about that now.
  • Seriously, why would you drive to Lansdowne?
  • For the first game, the city is barring all parking on Bank Street. This is probably a good thing, though there is a chance cars will drive way too fast. There’s also a chance pedestrians will fill the curb-side lanes. This would be a great use of the street. It also underscores the idea that we should make Bank a two-lane complete street.
  • I imagine part of the reason that there won’t be any parking on Bank Street for the first game is to drive home the message, you won’t find parking down here. If so, good job by the city and OSEG.
  • Apparently, the BIA doesn’t like this idea but have agreed to it for the first game only. The city wanted more. Well, the BIA helped kill any plan for a complete street on Bank, so I have no sympathy.
  • To that end, this gem came out in the Citizen’s report, “But some business owners remain concerned about how the narrow street will accommodate the additional traffic while leaving room for regular shoppers.” Well, if they’d just pushed for a complete street…
  • Glebe residents are going to complain. I say that as a Glebe resident who lives closer to Lansdowne than probably 98% of the neighbourhood. They’ll complain. I might grumble a bit, but it’s just the price of living in an urban centre. I’ll take this over the suburbs.
  • That being said, some residents will likely have legitimate beefs. For instance, residents on Lakeside Avenue (though not in the Glebe) are getting the shaft. My street is occasionally used as a cut-through to Fifth Avenue (it saves time only if you speed… unless you have to stop to clean dead children and pets off your grill). The city will need to address specific gripes.
  • I don’t want them to change parking limits to one hour. That also hurts residents and patrons of other shops. Keep it at three hours (maybe two or two and a half), and patrol it religiously at first. People will be away from their cars for more than three hours. Ticket the hell out of people.
  • If they put special one hour parking on game days on specific streets (say Clarey or Holmwood…maybe those are one hour now, I don’t drive so I don’t park), I’m not going to complain. My street tends to be full at all times, so I’m not too concerned about it.

In the end, there’s nothing new to complain about. If you never liked the idea of football in the Glebe, you’re still unhappy, and many of your concerns are reinforced. If you think you have a Russ Jackson-given right to drive your car anywhere and everywhere and especially to CFL games, you’ll be disappointed when you’re forced onto buses or sidewalks with the unwashed masses. I mean, you’re going to a football game, you certainly don’t want to be crammed cheek-to-jowl with other people.

For some fun rubbernecking, read the comments on the Sun or Citizen stories. Then weep for humanity.

We Should Narrow Bank Street

The other day, Capital Ward Councilor David Chernushenko explained the city’s reasoning for not putting bike lanes on the Bank Street Bridge. Since I was in the process of writing this when I saw a link to that post, I refrained from looking at it, lest this post turn into nothing more than a fisking exercise. I will, however, read it later. 

Bank Street, as it runs through urban neighbourhoods, should be adopt the Complete Streets model. It should be two lanes with a segregated (preferably raised) bike lane and expanded sidewalks. Such a shift would manageable and would merely reflect the current realities of life on the street. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the section of Bank from the Queensway south to Lansdowne Park, but will touch on the other sections.

There are a number of reasons to adopt this measure:

It’s mostly about pedestrians

When we debate implementing a Complete Streets model, the discussion tends to turn into a car vs. bike battle, but the pedestrians on Bank Street deserve better than the status. The Glebe (and Old Ottawa South) has the charm of an urban village. It is just that charm that the city is leveraging for the Lansdowne re-development (which they dub an “urban village). But this dynamic is predicated on the walkability of the neighbourhood. The Glebe has a significant walking culture. Sidewalks are regularly packed with shoppers, patrons and neighbours. And that’s the problem, they’re packed.

The sidewalks throughout the Glebe are ridiculously narrow. There is no space between the sidewalk and storefronts. The sidewalks are cluttered with bike racks, store signage, light posts, hydro poles, street signs and parking meters. We see families, couples, people with walkers or strollers, clusters of teens, and other random groups of people using the sidewalks. There often is not enough room for all people (especially when strollers, walkers or wheelchairs are introduced), and this problem is compounded when you include window shoppers. It becomes comically bad when you start adding in cyclists (yes, they should not be on the sidewalk—children aside—but they’re there because of the hazards of the street itself; city planners shouldn’t wish this away; they should understand what’s going on build infrastructure to reflect the actual needs of residents and users).

It’s quite wonderful that the Glebe has maintained this wonderful walking culture despite city infrastructure that actively discourages it. Continue reading

Traffic Laws and Unintended Consequences

vinyl-decal-sticker-8006If you were to drive east down Fifth Avenue from Bank Street, you might notice this sign (or you might not, it’s not really that noticeable, but you’re totally supposed to notice it). In case you don’t speak red-circle-with-red-slash, the sign dictates no trucks. Big, heavy trucks–construction trucks, delivery trucks–aren’t supposed to go down this road. Right at Bank Street, there are some restaurants and businesses, but further along it’s just residential units (except for the fire hall way at the end). It’s a wide street and can lead to the QED or the Queensway, so it makes sense to keep it from becoming a truck thoroughfare (since we know what that can lead to).

Does anyone think this will actually keep trucks off of Fifth?

One block to the south is small, residential one-way street. It’s a block and it leads to another short, narrow residential one-block street. That street connects with Fifth. These two streets–Regent and Howick, respectively–don’t have one of those nice picture-of-a-truck-in-a-red-circle-with-a-red-slash-through-it signs.

Regent is a street with at least 5 to 10 children (who often play outside), at least that many dogs and also a number of cats. There’s on-street parking on one side that fills up quite quickly and eternally. And children play. And people live.

And because Fifth Avenue–the wide street with traffic lights and multiple businesses–won’t allow trucks to enter from Bank Street, the trucks are tacitly encouraged to take Regent to Howick to Fifth, driving on roads that are not meant for vehicles of that size or for excessive traffic loads (unlike Fifth).

Fifth Avenue is considered part of Ottawa’s (woefully neglected) bike infrastructure. In addition, there is a plan to use it as a shuttle route to get commuters into the new Lansdowne village (because that’s how you build an authentic urban village, bus people in!). I image these are the justifications for trying to keep trucks off of Fifth, but it’s clearly not working.

The traffic measure the city has implemented does not keep trucks off of Fifth, it merely forces them onto even less-ideal streets before they wind up on Fifth, anyway. The city needs to either bar trucks from Regent and Howick, or let them back on Fifth.

Or they could just get these inappropriately-large vehicles out of our urban, residential neighbourhoods.