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.

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Fairwinds and an admission of guilt from the city

Glen Gower* has a write-up about a recent meeting between members of the Fairwinds community, Ottawa Police, city planners and councillor Shad Qadri to discuss matters of pedestrian safety. There’s a lot to chew on in the piece, but this one bullet point stuck out for me:

  • In general, the city likes parking on both sides of wide streets like Rosehill and Maple Grove because it creates a funnel effect and slows down traffic.

This is an admission of guilt.

This affinity for a “funnel effect” demonstrates that city planners understand the very basic concept that narrow streets tend to be safer (because cars must go slower) than wide streets (because cars will tend to speed). They know that we would be safer with narrower streets but they refuse to build them.

Surely, they don’t rely on parking to make our streets safer; they make our streets dangerous to accommodate more parking.

Further, I wonder if a street lined with cars sends a message to drivers that the street and the community exist for cars. If you demonstrate that the street is high volume (by packing as many cars, moving or not, onto the street), it says to me that the street is a high volume, high traffic street. This tells me that the car is supreme and that I have to be less careful, because it is place only for cars.

City staff are telling us that they’re intentionally building a dangerous city. Now it’s a question of how many people care.

(H/T: Joe Boughner.)

*Glen writes so much. I have no idea how he does it.

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.

MUPs, accidents and a city that just doesn’t care

On Tuesday, I came across an incident on the multi-use path along the western side of the canal. A woman was hurt. She was on a stretcher about to be loaded into an ambulance. She was sitting upright and it looked like an injury to her arm. (I did not stick around to watch; no one needs or deserves the rubbernecking.)

There was a young man standing on the grass, watching, a bike lying on the grass at his feet. I don’t know what happened and I doubt there will be any coverage of this event, but, naturally, I wonder what happened. The MUP was quite busy, lots of people walking, biking, jogging and rollerblading. It’s easy to guess that there was a collision, possible a bike hitting a pedestrian.

I’ll admit it; I have a selfish reason for not wanting to see a bicyclist hit a pedestrian. The city and much of our community likes to pit bicycles against pedestrians. Incidents between a pedestrian and cyclist tend to gets a disproportionate amount coverage, often with bikes painted as some kind of menace.

(Meanwhile, drivers keep injuring and killing people with alarming frequency, and we give a communal shrug.)

However, I am not going to go out of my way to defend someone on a bike who hits a pedestrian. There are very few accidents on our roads, sidewalks or MUPs (though considering the shape the MUPs are in, it’s certainly possible this was an accident). Negligence isn’t an accident; it’s recklessness.

I don’t actually know who was at fault but I know who is responsible. We are.

It’s the same refrain, over and over again. We do not build safe infrastructure. We do not provide sufficient safe space for all road, sidewalk and path users. We create these situations. We as a city. We as a community.

The MUPs are the NCC’s responsibility. They’re multi-use, but bikes must yield to pedestrians (they also aren’t supposed to go more than 20 km/hr…for all those bikes with speedometers). These paths get a lot of use. A lot. The NCC has not devoted enough space for bikes and pedestrians. They have, however, built a freeway along a national heritage site. They need to realize they are intentionally putting people in harm’s way.

The city shares blame here, too. The city relies on the NCC’s paths as our bike network. These paths are often referred to as bike paths, but they’re not. The city encourages bikes to use them, but they shouldn’t. Congestion and irritation ensues.

Bikes could, of course, hop onto the road. The driveway is right there. I sometimes choose that over the MUP. But it’s dangerous, too. It’s built for speed and its a commuting artery. Drivers don’t seem happy about bikes on the road.

The city has another option; they could build proper bike infrastructure. They’ve promised to do that, but, of course, the city is, as a corporate entity, liars. They proposed a bike route along O’Connor. This is one block over from Colonel By and the MUP. This could help to get bikes off the MUP (especially if they could connect it to Pretoria Bridge).

But the city is in the process of cancelling these plans. The bikelanes will be built, but they’ll Glebe. There will be no bike infrastructure from Glebe to Fifth or to Holmwood. It was right around Glebe (or where Glebe would connect with the MUP) that this incident happened.

Again, I don’t know if it was a bike that caused the injury. However, it is quite easy to see how the city–by not providing proper bike infrastructure in a bike-heavy area–is asking for collisions.

But the city doesn’t care about pedestrian or bike safety. They care about parking and driving really fast.

No bike lanes or how good is no infrastructure?

Recently, I wrote about the proposed bike lanes on O’Connor. It seemed like a worthy endeavour. We’re seeing more and more bikes on our streets and we definitely need more infrastructure, especially north-south infrastructure. Personally, I’d never really envisioned O’Connor as the place for bike infrastructure. There’s not a whole lot there. It’d be far better to have bike lanes on Bank Street, a true main street where there are more places to go.

Though I’m still supportive of this plan, I was worried that it could be used as an argument against any further infrastructure.

The other day, it came out that the city might be having second thoughts about this project. Perhaps the most amusing aspect of this development is that I began getting concern-trolled by a “Cyclist-hating-cyclist” on Twitter (code for a vehicular cyclist who doesn’t want anyone to partake in bicycling unless they do it his way). You see, Ottawa already had enough bike infrastructure, and we should all just shut up about the fact that even the tiniest concession to cyclists (and pedestrians!) might be getting watered down or nixed.

This was a new one. I’ve heard sub-standard development as an argument against new development, but never had I heard cancelling development projects as an argument against new development. Sometimes, Ottawa is really screwed up.

A hero is dead but a city won’t care

Some of the flowers are gone. They were placed at the Northwest corner of City Park and Ogilvie. I don’t know what happened to them; the city doesn’t always like memorials. But in the median, there’s a bouquet taped to the light standard, which is just about where Lise Leblanc was killed on April 14, struck by an SUV as she tried to cross the road.

She wasn’t just a victim, though, she was also a hero, saving a life on that very same road:

He recalled how in late February last year Leblanc was the driver who troubled to stop at 4:45 a.m. and saved a child who’d simply wandered away from his nearby Aviation Parkway home unbeknownst to his mother.

“Other cars drove past, but Lise stopped immediately, wrapped him in her emergency blanket and brought him into the shelter of her car,” Paige said. “She dialed 911 and did her best to warm him up and comfort him until officers arrived. Lise continued to stay by his side for as long as possible.

“Police and paramedics praised her actions, telling her that without her intervention, the boy would not have survived.”

We don’t know yet what happened. Either the driver or Leblanc may have been “at fault”. Leblanc may not have had the right-of-way. She may have been running to be the late or dodging traffic. Of course, none of that allows you to kill a pedestrian, but our community is built with a massive deference to cars and drivers in all situations.

But hers’ something we do know. We know who killed her.

We did. We killed her.

Ogilvie Road is a god-damned freeway. It’s wide and it’s fast. It’s built to link suburbia with the rest of the city. It’s built to get people through Gloucester as fast conceivably possible. The laws, the lights and the intersections are built for cars, and minivans, and SUVs. The road grudgingly accepts that pedestrians will be there, but does nothing to accommodate them or make them safe. This city is built for cars.

We know this kind of development is deadly. We know that we’re killing our citizens. But we don’t care, or we pretend not to know…but that’s just another form of not caring.

In a few months, the police may tell us what happened (or what they think happened, or that, gosh darn it, they’re stumped), but it’s highly unlikely anything will happen. Sometimes, pedestrian deaths are worth a ticket. Often, they’re merely forgotten about.

Because, as a city, we don’t care. We do very little to make our roads, streets and neighbourhoods safe. We keep building bigger and faster roads. Communities have to make repeated genuflections for any safety concessions. Real change never happens.

Other cities are fed up with these deaths. They make transformative changes to their infrastructure. They enforce their laws. They adopt a Vision Zero policy. But not Ottawa. We’re wedded to our cars, and we’ll do just about anything to accommodate more of them.

We killed Lise Leblanc.

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.

New Bridge, Old Cynicism

Yesterday, I rode the new bike/pedestrian bridge at Coventry Road. It opened this week to much fanfare, and it certainly seems well-done (the ramps were a little more snow- and muck-covered than I’d like, but I imagine that, in future years, regular traffic will help keep that down).

I’ll admit, I don’t totally get why so many people would need to get from an often-empty ball park to the train station, but I’m told by people who know the area better that it will be quite useful…and there were a few other people using it as I crossed, so maybe it’ll be quite popular. It connects to a MUP on the train station side, and it’s close to some bike routes on the ball park side, so those are pluses, but here’s where my cynicism arises.

A day after the bridge opened, much of the bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the area was suddenly cleared of snow (not all of it, mind you; the aforementioned MUP is only partially cleared, which is a bit of an…oversight). The ride to, over and from the bridge was much more pleasant than commuting in the area had been all winter.

So here are the questions: is the city actually dedicating itself to better snow-clearing now that the bridge is open? Since a lot of people use the surrounding infrastructure, with or without the bridge, why did it take until February to give much of it a proper clearing? Will communities only get proper winter maintenance if they have a shiny infrastructure bobbles?

Or was this a one-time shot, so this week’s stories and photo-ops wouldn’t be ruined?

Adventures in voter outreach

I’m not trying to pick on mayoral candidate Darren Wood; I promise. But the mayoral campaign is pretty quiet and Wood is not, for good or ill. To his credit, he is very engaged with residents on social media, even if it doesn’t always work out so well.

For instance, on Twitter, he has been claiming to support bike safety and bike infrastructure, but this is a direct contradiction he’s written previously. As happens, people–voters–call him out, and when they do, he doesn’t respond so well:

Here’s what he wrote on his blog:

So how do we handle the debt. Tighten our belts, no new capital spending, cut back the LRT to finish the line we started and use existing tracks in the city and expand as we have the money in the future.

Bike safety does not come from a few cans of paint. Real cycling infrastructure requires capital spending. You can’t honestly claim to be for bike safety but also categorically rule out any new capital projects. Buy, you may wonder, what did Wood have to say specifically about bike infrastructure in that blog post:

Last, but not least by any means, is bikes in Ottawa. Surprisingly the views run the spectrum from let them fend for themselves to make more bike lanes to the need for bike lanes with concrete barriers separating the bikes from the cars. I am all for separate bike lanes and in new construction or total remodels, room permitting concrete separating the bikes and the cars. But we cannot do it over night. Bike lanes are easy, concrete separated bike lanes cost money. When asked of the people who wanted concrete if they were willing to pay for it with a slight tax increase the answer was 100% no from everyone asked without fail. You can’t have it both ways. But no matter how you dice it, bike safety has to be a priority in Ottawa. With more and more people riding due to health concerns, cost of fuel and/or it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do, there are a lot more bikes on Ottawa’s streets then ever before. Their safety is everyone’s concern. But to make any real change when it comes to bikes in our city, it will take an effort on the part of city hall and the bikers to come together and create “realistic” plans and goals.

It is, clearly, one giant hedge. He’s all for bike safety, but we need “realistic” goals. He supports putting in separated bike lanes “room permitting”. What does that mean? Does he value ample free parking over bike safety? Is all for bike safety as long as it doesn’t interfere with his commute down a four-lane road. His suggestion that bike safety would necessarily require a tax increase is facile and dishonest. Surely, a mayoral candidate understands that city funds can be re-allocated. Current spending on bike infrastructure is a pittance compared to the overall budget, as well as current spending on road work. We could spend a tiny bit less on cars and a tiny bit more on bikes.

However, Wood seems to be wedded to the status quo (which is odd for a self-styled maverick and outsider). The money for cars must remain for cars in perpetuity. It’s a simple-minded approach to city budgeting. A new budget is an opportunity to re-prioritize spending.

Further, since Wood is running on a platform of saving millions by eliminating the green bin program and cutting wasteful spending, why would we need a tax increase to pay for a few more cycle tracks? Is Wood admitting that his crusade to curb waste is doomed to failure? If you think Wood learned his lesson about going after residents over twitter, you’d be wrong. Here’s what happened yesterday evening:

Here’s the full quote, from the same blog post as above:

I have sampled almost every ward in Ottawa via Tim Horton’s and various grocery stores and without a doubt, the number one issue in Ottawa is garbage. People want their weekly garbage pick up restored now!

Well, I guess he has a point. He surveyed people at Tim Horton’s and grocery stores.

(And, yes, I’m sure he’ll just chalk it up to his sense of humour.)

Ottawa Police Punish Cyclists During Safety Blitz

I think Ottawa cops have a weird sense of humour. They released the results of a recent “bike safety blitz” that was conducted on June 26th and 27th. “Safety” consisted of stopping and harassing counseling 130 bicycles on appropriate safety procedures. You know, wearing a helmet (which isn’t actually required by law), having the proper reflective tape, not going trough stops signs, having a whistle, wearing the proper clothing, never leaving your drink unattended at the… oh, sorry, that’s the wrong lecture.

What took this from just insulting to downright offensive was that this blitz came one day after the cops declared they’d not be filing charges in the death of Mario Theoret, the cyclist who was right-hooked last year.

And worse still, this hunt for cyclists will continue for the next month.

It shouldn’t take much thought to figure out why the police approach to “safety” is so boneheaded. The lack of a helmet or whistle are not the grand threats to my safety as a cyclist (in fact, the lack of a helmet might even be safer). No, the issues I have are the careless driving of motorists, infrastructure that is built for cars first and no one second, vehicles with massive blindspots and a mentality that all cyclists are scofflaws who are to obviously to blame whenever a car runs them over.

Take this quotation from Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Atallah Sadaka when talking about “bike safety”:

“The safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians is a priority for the Ottawa Police Service and this campaign was an opportunity to educate and conduct enforcement.”

Yes, when dealing with the safety of cyclists (who are far more vulnerable than motorists), this police officer mentions the “safety of drivers” first. It may seem unimportant, but it is telling.

What is particularly odd about this vendetta against cyclists is the city’s move to better accommodate cycling. Just today, the transportation committee approved a plan to build new cycling infrastructure in the east end, and the city unveiled new bike corrals in Hintonburg and the Glebe. (And, let’s not forget, the city is counting on hundreds of cyclists to make RedBlacks games attend-able.) It is absurd that the police–who work for the city and for the betterment of the city–would take this initiative to actively thwart cycling.

The audacity of Ottawa Police Services has had one effect on me, however. It has made me realize that the police do not care at all about my safety. They have no intention to protect me or my rights. They only think about cyclists as a nuisance to harass. So now I know. I can’t play nice expecting the city, the police or motorists to give any thought of me. I’ll take the lane. I’ll block traffic. I’ll do everything I need to do and I won’t play nice. Playing nice will only get me killed.

I also have no inclination to ever help the police, ever. (Granted, talking to the police any more than is necessary is a fools errand, bike or not.) They’ve thrown down the gauntlet. I’m not going to upheld the polite lie that the police officer is my friend.

In a nice twist, the Ottawa Citizen trolled the police last week. Publishing, on June 29th, an op-ed declaring Ottawa is still not safe enough for cyclists:

I heard the collision before I saw it — the thump of a car slamming into something soft, then a howl of anguish from a distraught witness. Biking around the corner, I saw the driver sitting frozen behind the wheel while four frantic pedestrians tried to help the injured cyclist.

Hardly a day goes by in Ottawa without us hearing a report of a cyclist getting hit. There are roughly 300 reported collisions annually between bicycles and motor vehicles in Ottawa, most occurring during the peak cycling months we’re in right now. (A reported collision is one in which the police are called, which means most collisions aren’t counted in this calculation.) And as our urban cycling history continues to be formed by eye-witness anecdotal accounts, news stories, ghost bikes and the annual accumulation of statistics, many feel our city is becoming more dangerous for cycling.

The word “whistle” is not mentioned once.