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.

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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.

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.

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.