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.

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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.

Development != Overdevelopment

On a recent trip to the Farmer’s Market at Brewer Park, I had occasion to walk the streets of Sunnyside, a lovely neighbourhood that I never really see very much. That day I was walking down Aylmer Avenue, and I happened to notice protest signs on two houses next to each other. Both signs decried the scourge of “overdevelopment” in “our neighbourhood”.

Interestingly, on my walk, I saw very little development at all. There were some renovations, and clearly there had been some infills in the past few decades, but, for the most part, it all fit with the rest of the neighbourhood size-wise, if not aesthetically. There was very little mixed-use development and barely any commercial enterprises (and those that existed are well-established as part of the neighbourhood).

Sure, there were a couple of sets of row houses and a retirement residence, but if this is what was considered “overdevelopment”, then the word has ceased to have much meaning at all.

I assume, of course, that it these signs were an oblique reference to the development at Lansdowne, which is certainly an expansive interpretation of the concept of neighbourhood (but good for them for wanting to be in community with so many other city residents!).

But the question remains, is the Lansdowne project actually overdevelopment? For years, the stadium has been falling down; the land has been of little use; and even when it was in use, it was often little more than a parking lot. Lansdowne’s recent history has been a testament to underdevelopment. Perhaps having this asphalt pit in the midst of a growing urban neighbourhood has skewed people’s views as to what overdevelopment actually is.*

Interestingly, the two houses that had these signs were rather large houses. They weren’t on especially large lots, but they were certainly large homes in a rather dense, urban locale. That, I would argue, is its own from of overdevelopment.

*Note: I’m arguing that Lansdowne isn’t really an example of overdevelopment… at least, not an egregious example. That doesn’t mean that it is appropriate development, just that it’s more in line with the appropriate use of the land than the stadium-turned-demolition site was.