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.

The Missing Bike Lane

[Editor’s note: the revelation of the cancellation of half the O’Connor bike lane project was reported during the time the Transportation Committee was meeting, but it wasn’t actually given at the committee meeting. It was, apparently, merely a press release. All the arguments still stand, but I will edit the post for clarity in the near future.]

The city has been planning some new bike lanes. In the immediate future, they plan to build a north-south route along O’Connor. This would stretch from the core through the Glebe (I wrote about it here).

Sorry, wait, wait. That was silly. Let’s start over again.

The city has been planning some new bike lanes. In the immediate future, they had planned to build a North-South route along O’Connor. This would stretch from the core through the Glebe (I wrote about it here), but of course the city is looking to scrap parts of it.

Yes, that’s right, the city planned to do the least possible to help cyclists get in and out of the core, and they’re scrapping it. Reports have varied; they’re either scrapping it from Strathcona to Glebe or Strathcona to Fifth. I’m sure everyone can guess the reason for this change of tune, parking.

The process to build this lane was flawed from the outset. City planners accurately identified a need for new bike infrastructure. We have the Laurier Bike Lane going through (sort of) downtown from east to west, but we had no good bike infrastructure running north-south (and if you mention Percy and Lyon, you’re high; that’s bad bike infrastructure).

The next logical step after identifying the need for a bike lane would be to determine a location; obviously, it’s going to run along an existing street. There’s nowhere in the core of the Glebe to create a brand new bikeway. There was only one logical choice, Bank Street.

Bank Street is our main street. It’s the main north-south route for commuting. It connects to Old Ottawa South, Alta Vista, South Keys and beyond. It has lots of destinations–shops, restaurants, churches. It will even take you to the city’s shiny new development, Lansdowne. It is, in many ways, the place to be.

And it is quite easy to tell that it is the place to be. It has the highest bike, car and foot traffic downtown and in the Glebe. Cyclists are all over the street. It’s the location for one of the city’s bike corrals. And it’s dangerous. If you’re on your bike, you’re dodging cars and buses. You’re worrying about doorings and navigating parked cars. Do you filter? Do you take the lane? The Bank Street Bridge and Billings Bridge are unfit for safe traffic.

Further, the sidewalks are unreasonably narrow. There’s little room. On the Bank Street Bridge, pedestrians can be forced onto the road…a road that cars endlessly speed down. A bike lane offers a buffer to pedestrians, keeping them even further away for the scofflaw death machines. Our planners need to remember, bike infrastructure makes walking safer.

It’s easy enough to say that bikes can just pop over to O’Connor, but that’s ridiculous. Bank Street is right in the middle of downtown. We don’t need (as much) a route on the east side of downtown. Sure, if you’re right in the core, O’Connor is only one block east of Bank, but at Fifth Avenue, O’Connor is approximately four blocks east of downtown. Why would I take that route if I just had to get back to Bank Street (or worse, Kent) at the end of my trip?

So city planners screwed up. It’s not really on them. There’s no political will to make Bank Street anything close to a safe street. Planners had their hands tied. They went with the second-best choice, O’Connor. I can’t really blame them.

A lot of work went into this plan; it wasn’t some idea just thrown out off the top of someone’s head. There was a lot of work. There were consultations with the public and stakeholders. This showed dedication. It showed that maybe, maybe, the city was actually taking things seriously.

Then a business complained, and some residents complained. There were about twelve complaints. People were worried about all the parking that would be lost. The business, a pediatrician for heaven’s sake, worried that their clients wouldn’t be able to park (because apparently they couldn’t park on any of the other streets around there). Because of this, cyclists shouldn’t be given proper infrastructure.

So at the Transportation Committee, we were all blindsided. There had been no mention of any concerns before, but at committee, the planners decided to recommend scrapping half the plan. As a resident, you should be outraged that the process can be so hi-jacked and safety so compromised. As a taxpayer, you should be outraged that city planners wasted all this time and money.

I rode down O’Connor the other day, from Pretoria to Fifth, and here’s what I found out. There’s hardly any parking there, at all. There are maybe five or ten spots between Strathcona and First. You have bulb outs and bus stops. An embassy and a school. An overpass over Patterson Creek. You also probably have room to create the bike lanes and still save some parking.

(Oh, and the sidewalk is pretty narrow. There’s barely room to walk side-by-side going over the creek. This is problematic when walking with children or people with mobility issues, as someone can be force to walk on the road in a bus route. Again, bike lanes would provide a bit of a buffer; it’d be much better to be forced into a bike lane than into an oncoming bus.)

From First to Fifth, there’s a healthy amount of parking, but only on the east side of the road. The west side is all No Parking. But more than that, it’s a ridiculously wide road…which can lead to speeding, which is all the more reason to have bike lanes. In fact, the street is so wide that you could easily have bike lanes on both sides of the road and maintain all the existing parking.

There is a severe level of cowardice and dishonesty going on here. The concerns for parking are pretty unfounded. The whole thing might–might–cost five spots, but city planners are willing to cancel the project to placate the parking lobby (of twelve whole people). When the issue of parking was presented, the planners should have been able to demonstrate that the concerns were unfounded. They should have told the complainers that hardly any parking would be lost whatsoever.

But…cowardice. Or they never really believed in the project to begin with.

Further, the city has once again played residents against each other. Yes, there has to be some give-and-take, but building this bike route will take away so little parking, that there’s barely any cost to it, but city officials–planners and politicians–won’t play that conciliatory game. No, bike infrastructure harms everyone else (even though it will help pedestrians!), so we have to scrap it.

Those complaining were, ignorant, at best, maliciously dishonest at worst. Their concerns where unfounded, yet they had to complain, anyway. It would seem they had done no research into what parking (if any) would actually be lost; the response was just so reflexively anti-bike that it demonstrates the city’s politics of division works.

Or, they’re just liars. Maybe they know that there are no legitimate concerns, but they just hate the thought of (more) bikes going (safely) down the street that they made up this lie, assuming (correctly) that it would work.

All is not lost…technically. Council still gets the final say on this. The issue is to come up today at full council. It’d take a near miracle for council to overrule planners and the recommendation of the cowardly Transportation Committee, but it is possible.

I’m not holding my breath.

Bike Lanes or How Bad is Good Infrastructure?

So we’re getting more and more reports about the development of a bi-directional cycletrack* on O’Connor (we’re also getting a report of some sort of bike infrastructure on Wellington…someday). There’s even an open house on Thursday. This is a pretty great development (especially if it really is going to be a cycletrack, rather than just a bike lane). There are some concerns about building a two-way track on a one-way road**, but more bike infrastructure is really needed.

But I’m also a little worried. O’Connor is not the street we should be working on right now. We should be building bike lanes on Bank Street. This is the main street. This is the street with shops and restaurants. This is the street that is the heart of Centretown and the Glebe. This is where cyclists–where people–need to be. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that when the issue of bike (and pedestrian) safety on Bank Street is raised in the future, there will be a chorus of “use the O’Connor cycletrack”.

Shuffling residents and patrons off the main streets is not how we should be building our city. We should want people out on these main streets. We should want urban life. We should encourage people to engage with Bank Street, and we should protect them when they do. Making more room for bikes (and pedestrians) just makes sense.

And remember, bike lanes, not parking spaces, are good for business.

*The Citizen referred to it as a cycletrack, but city diagrams show either a segregated lane or a painted lane, depending on the location.

**I’m agnostic in this debate, leaning to being in favour of contraflow lanes. The issue, of course, is O’Connor is a dangerous speed, with lots of speeding cars with drivers who probably aren’t really paying attention. O’Connor shouldn’t really be a one-way street, and we should, of course, tear up the Queensway. If we did these two things, we wouldn’t really have to worry about the issue.