Not everyone can ride a bike

When discussing making our streets safer and implementing proper bike lanes, one of the most banal and irritating counters is that “not everyone can ride a bike”. It came up on Twitter last week during discussions about Bridgehead’s ridiculous stance on street safety on Beechwood.

Not everyone can ride a bike.

You don’t say.

Obviously, not everyone can ride a bike, and, obviously, not every trip is conducive to bicycling. And if anyone was advocating the complete removal of all transportation infrastructure except bike lanes, then that statement might actually mean something.

Because in all our discussions about bike lanes, Complete Streets, sustainable transit, wider sidewalks, pedestrian space and so on, no one is talking about getting rid of car infrastructure. On Beechwood, cars will still be able to drive wherever the hell they please, if the proposed plan is implemented. (In fact, with that plan, there will be even more parking spaces for them.)

Do you know what else is true, yet actually pertains to these discussions? Not everyone can drive a car. Age, income, physical impairment–these are all impediments to driving, and they can, in some cases, be addressed with a bike.

And not everyone can ride a bike or drive a car. That’s why we need transit and proper pedestrian infrastructure. That’s the whole point of things like Complete Streets. Done properly, this philosophy seeks to ensure that everyone is accommodated, not just drivers. It balances needs and vulnerabilities, establishing priorities for street design.

In very few situations does anyone need to drive a car. You want to get downtown? Take the bus. You don’t live near a bus route? Park-n-Ride. Rack-n-Roll. You don’t have to be able to drive all the way to your preferred destination. You just need to get there.

So, no, not everyone can ride a bike. Not everyone can drive a car. Not everyone can take a bus. If you’re going to spout one as a necessary consideration for street design, you need to follow up with the other two, otherwise no one should ever take you seriously, ever again.

Advertisements

Signs of failure

slow down for usRecently, the city launched a new campaign to help make our streets safer. I’m not sure what you’d call it. It’s not really a safety campaign, and it’s not really an awareness campaign. Truly, it’s just an admission of guilt. The city has built horribly dangerous roads, but are willing to make nothing but the most facile gestures towards fixing them.

The project is called Slow down for us! It appears to consist of putting up lawn signs that read “Slow down for us!” and show kids playing. It’s a worthwhile message: let’s not kill children.

First, the good news; councillors are getting behind this project. Many councillors have been out putting up these signs, distributing them to residents and advertising the initiative. It’s good to see councillors getting on board with safety initiatives (however, any councillor who is willing to hand out these signs, but isn’t willing to do anything to actually curb traffic speed and volumes is a hypocrite).

That’s it. There’s nothing else good about this project. The only reason we resort to asking residents to put up signs exhorting motorists to slow the fuck down and stop running over kids is because we over-build our roads, rely on car-centric neighbourhood design and do next to nothing to stop or punish dangerous drivers.

Above, you see a picture of Rideau-Rockliffe’s councillor Tobi Nussbaum helping launch this initiative. It so happens that I bike through his ward every day. On Queen Mary Street between Quill and Edith there are five Slow Down signs on one side of the street. The other side of the is a park, and there is another sign posted. Between Quill and Vera, there are twelve of these signs.

This isn’t an awareness campaign; it’s desperation. Queen Mary is a residential street. But it’s a wide residential street with, mostly, long sight lines. It is a street designed for speed at the expense of safety. The popularity of these signs on Queen Mary isn’t and indication of a successful safety campaign. It’s an indictment of a city that doesn’t care about safety.

Now, I believe that Nussbaum is a councillor who actually cares about street safety, but not every councillor does…not really. And so I would implore any councillor who has backed the Slow down for us! campaign to also back measures that will make our streets substantively safer.

Here’s what needs to be done: road diets, narrower lanes, wider sidewalks, raised crosswalks or intersections, bike lanes, speed bumps, bulb outs, tree cover, lower speed limits, traffic lights programmed to favour walking and bicycling…the list goes on.

However, if you value three minutes of commuting time over the safety children, handing out these signs is little more than a lie.

Narrowing Woodroffe, or, Urban Wisdom Comes to the Suburbs

An interesting thing is happening in Ottawa South/Outer Barrhaven. Development and expansion continues, but Woodroffe Avenue, a major road for the developed and developing areas, is being reduced. The Citizen‘s David Reevely has the details:

I treated this in a brief story on a busy day but Greater Ottawa reader won’t want to miss the impending closure of the south end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales, in Barrhaven. Not only that, but a couple of hundred metres of Woodroffe are to be narrowed. A lane, pretty much, just closed. Grassed over or something. Sold to Minto.

It’s the second time this has happened in Hearts Desire, which has apparently had a sort of provisional road network, reworked and adjusted as bigger roads have been built.

Now, it’s not like people are driving less. If you’re a critic of roads, the reason Woodroffe is being trimmed is that we’ve built a beast of a road in Strandherd Drive and now it’s a bigger traffic sewer and so on. But at a minimum, the city is acknowledging that drivers accustomed to using that stretch of Woodroffe are just going to have to drive farther. It’ll eliminate a sometimes tricky intersection with Prince of Wales, make the remaining part of Woodroffe less busy, and make Hearts Desire more pleasant, so it’s worth it.

The city’s obligated to effect this closure thanks to an old Nepean plan and an agreement with Minto dating back a decade. I wonder what it would take to make something similar happen on, say, Bronson Avenue or Montreal Road.

(I stole his entire blog post to quote here, so be a dear and click on his links so that he doesn’t get mad at me.)

This reminds me of the Complete Streets debate in regards to the re-development of Main St. (which I have written about). The argument against the initiative for Main St. was that such a reduction in car-privileged road design would hurt the commuters from farther out (by prolonging their commute by three minutes). The argument in defence of commuters boiled down to treating the neighbourhood around Main St. as a mere corridor for suburban residents trekking into work. But, now, we can see that such an argument doesn’t hold much water. The residents of Hearts Desire will benefit significantly from the narrowing of Woodroffe Ave., and it will not put much of a burden upon those travelling from parts afar. Continue reading