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.

Parking and Driving, Driving and Parking

Kathryn Hunt does a great job of writing about biking and infrastructure matters in Ottawa. She’s thoughtful and she knows what she’s talking about. For these reasons, I was a little surprised by her recent column:

Recently, someone asked me if I thought motorists would drive through parks, over lawns and on sidewalks if there were no dedicated space for cars (as cyclists do, at times). At the time, I didn’t know what to say. Since cars need flat surfaces and a lot of room, it was hard to imagine. There just isn’t room on a sidewalk for a car.

Luckily, the current mess that is Lansdowne set her straight.

But even without Lansdowne, it’s obvious that Ottawa drivers will go wherever they please. I see cars driving and parking on the sidewalk with great regularity. It probably happens at least once a week on my street. And this past Victory Day, we got some lovely evidence that drivers will take over parks if they feel so inclined:

Capture

So, yes, drivers will drive anywhere.

It’s not quite car-free, but it’s a start

There’s a vacant lot sitting at the northeast corner of Cumberland Street and York Street. It’s quite a shame. What should be a prominent intersection is sadly underdeveloped, Mr. Mozzarella’s valiant attempts to hold things together aside. But now we have a new proposal for the lot. EcoCorner Inc. wants to build a  mix-use tower with retail at ground level and small residential units above (approximately 400 square feet).

It’s interesting. It’ll need a variance. And the community is already skeptical of the proposed height.

What the community isn’t questioning, however, is this building’s most unique feature: it will be car-free. Underneath there will be parking, yes, but it will be bike parking. The building will offer no parking to residents.

Well, let’s back-up a bit. It will offer no on-site parking to residents. There is chatter that they could provide off-site parking with a shuttle service to and from the lot. So that’s not exactly car-free; it’s more car-remote. I don’t like the rhetorical sleight-of-hand (we haven’t always had good experiences in Ottawa with developers who don’t actually mean what they say), but I do like the initiative.

There is very little reason that a building must provide parking to residents, especially a building in an area like the market. It’s a walkable neighbourhood (though it does need some infrastructure improvements…and it needs King Edward fixed) with a plethora of shops, restaurants and other amenities nearby. There’s transit that links to other central neighbourhoods, as well as the transitway and, eventually, the LRT. You don’t need a car to live downtown.

Of course, you might want a car. That’s the big objection (especially if you read comments at The Sun), but that’s a red herring. No one will be forced to move into this building. No one will be forced to sell their car and live there. Every other new build in Ottawa offers parking. Almost all of our residential buildings offer parking. There is no shortage of options for people who want to buy or rent a home for their car (there are also parking garages in the Market).

The big worry would be residents appropriating street parking for their cars. This does not seem like an insurmountable issue. The city doesn’t have to issue parking passes to residents (I’m not even sure if they do that for the Market…and I’m too lazy to really look into it right now). If you live in the core, you are not eligible for an on-street parking pass; the Market can be the same.

The off-site parking could be a concern. It’s not exactly eco-friendly to constantly drive people to their cars, and I have a bit of a worry that if the city changes the bylaws to allow “car-free” buildings, they’ll make remote parking a requirement.

(I don’t think this will happen. I think city officials are starting to understand that you don’t have to have parking absolutely everywhere, but the city still loves cars and parking, so you can never be sure.)

A more immediate concern is the suggestion that the car-free parking could just be shuffled onto the city:

One possible solution to the visitor parking issue would be for the developer and the city to reach an agreement that would designate some spaces in the city-owned lot at Dalhousie and Clarence for the building’s exclusive use, Fleury said.

This would not present a step forward in our city planning. We already provide businesses and residences with too much parking, a lot of it free. We need to move away from this dependence on parking cars. If the city wants to help, it would be much better for them to find a way to help Vrtucar (and any similar services *cough*Uber*cough*) expand. We can rid ourselves of car ownership without ridding ourselves of cars.

The project still has a few hurdles. Aside from getting a parking variance, the proposed height also violates the secondary plan for the neighbourhood. I am loathe to start tinkering with secondary plans too much (because then why have them at all?). If this tower is going to be built, it needs to find a way to keep the spirit of the secondary plan even if it can’t adhere to the letter of the plan.

(Or it could be a little shorter.)

Regardless of the height issue, this could be a major victory for bringing a little more parking sanity to a city drunk on cars.

What is Bob Monette thinking?

The other day, we were treated to an update on Lansdowne transportation. We were told that the transit plans for RedBlacks games were a resounding success. Yes, there were fewer people biking than was anticipated (though some people would park off-site and walk a block or two to the game) and the shuttles weren’t as popular as intended, but lots and lots of people used OC Transpo, so it’s kind of a wash.

So, we learned, special event transportation worked as well as could have been hoped (and, from what I observed, this is generally true…though with relaxed parking restrictions late in the RedBlacks season, a lot more people started driving…and drinking and driving).

What we didn’t get (at least not from the city or OSEG) was an update on the day-to-day traffic issues, and there are a few. There’s no doubt that Lansdowne has caused traffic problems in the Glebe, and I can only assume Old Ottawa South, too (in the past few years, traffic in Old Ottawa South always seemed worse than the Glebe, at least in my journeys).

Orleans councillor Bob Monette had an… interesting… idea:

During a transportation committee meeting Monday, Orléans Coun. Bob Monette suggested transit use to Lansdowne in the winter might not be as high simply because people don’t like walking. Allowing parking in the stadium could reduce the traffic congestion on Bank St., Monette said.

This is, obviously, ridiculous (and not just because the idea of turning your professional sports field into a parking lot is ludicrous).

First of all, creating an inducement to driving (more parking) will just result in more traffic, not less. I imagine Monette might be thinking that it will keep traffic flowing as people don’t stop to park on the street. But this assumes a finite number of people driving to Lansdowne. There’s no reason to think that’s the case (or that we’re at that limit). We’re Ottawa; we’ll always find more cars if we need to.

Under this proposal, we’ll have people driving to TD Place to park, driving around to park on neighbourhood streets, and, soon, driving to the parking garage mobility hub they’re building down the street.

Further, Monette’s argument has an internal contradiction. He is suggesting that people don’t take the bus in the winter because they don’t want to walk a few blocks. If that’s actually the case, then they wouldn’t be parking throughout the neighbourhood in order to walk a few blocks to Lansdowne. But this is exactly what is happening.

Monette’s solution to the traffic problem is predicated on the notion that the exact cause of the traffic problem doesn’t exist.

This is why we’re in our current traffic mess. All of our solutions–more roads! more lanes! more parking!–exacerbate the problem.

Why does the Glebe want more cars?

852 Bank Street Rendering.PNG_img-250x250-INNER-852 Bank Street RenderingI don’t get it.

Listening to reports from the media and from local councillor David Chernushenko, apparently all my neighbours want more cars driving through our community. At least, that’s I how I interpret this story.

For those not paying attention to minor neighbourhood squabbles (hey, I get that), the lot at the Southwest corner of Bank and Fifth has been, essentially, vacant for quite some time now. There is a defunct service centre, but mostly it’s just used for parking. Finally, we have a proposal for a new development. It’s two storeys with a part of the second storey being a patio. It’s not perfect (I would like a bigger setback, personally), but it’s good, and we’re never going to get “perfect”, anyway.

Outgoing councillor Peter Hume criticized it for not being tall enough. He wondered why we wouldn’t have a building go up to four storeys there. It’s a valid question. The land is zoned for more than two storeys. The rest of the block is two storeys, so going a bit higher wouldn’t be a drastic change, and it would add a bit more density without adding a monstrous tower. In the end, though, it was a compromise. The developer isn’t providing any parking spaces, and it was felt that a higher building would require more parking.

This is a wonderful compromise. We block out less sky and we don’t waste prime land on a parking lot. Kudos, developer people.

But residents aren’t happy. They want parking spots on that lot.

I get their worry; they don’t want all the surrounding streets getting jammed up with cars, but creating an incentive for more people to drive to the area is not going to help that. As it stands, we will have this new development, but there will be a clear statement (just like with Lansdowne and the most of the rest of the shops on Bank Street). Don’t drive. We don’t want to create a neighbourhood to which people are regularly inclined to drive rather than bus, walk or bike. We should be removing car infrastructure rather than adding to it.

And, let’s not forget, there is not a shortage of parking in the Glebe. Bank Street is never completely full. Rarely is an entire block even full. Add to that all the side streets, and you’ll see that we already give way too much space for cars (and, don’t forget, we’re planning to build a four storey parking garage at Bank and Second).

This new development is within a block or so from my home. I’m glad the lot will finally be used for something other than a monument to urban decay. And I am very thankful that we won’t be wasting the space housing cars. We do enough of that already.

Re-re-visiting Lansdowne: Credit to OSEG

The transportation plan for the first RedBlacks game went off quite smoothly (at least in the Glebe), which is why it was so absurd when an OSEG representative said that, based on the previous success, they were thinking of opening up more streets for on-street parking.

It seems they may have reconsidered, as this morning city workers were out putting up No Parking signs along Bank Street (no parking between 3:30 to 11:30, the brunch crowd is still safe). This is good news. I haven’t finished my morning coffee, yet, so I haven’t been out and I don’t know if I they have restricted parking on any other streets.

Re-visiting Lansdowne

It’s been two weeks since the inaugural RedBlacks home game, and with the second home game coming up tomorrow, I thought I’d go through my impressions of transit to and from the game. I had planned to give an elegant little review, but that never happened, so let’s just go through this bullet-point style. And to warn you, this will be focused the Glebe, since that’s where I live.

Pre-Game:

  • Things worked well. Bank Street wasn’t plugged up, and cars, vehicles and bikes were able to move along pretty freely. I got home form work around 5:00 pm, taking Fifth Avenue to Bank (and then quickly turning left off of Bank). It was easy to turn onto Bank, change lanes and turn at left without the aid of stop light.
  • Buses were running smoothly. They didn’t seem to be blocking other traffic at all.
  • This is primarily because there was no parking, so no need to make non-stop lane changes. Sadly, it seems like we’ll be saddled with parking tomorrow.
  • It was loud, but not too loud along Bank, though the KISS FM tent was obnoxiously loud. Pedestrians moved along quickly, and generally didn’t get in the way.
  • Some pedestrians would cross the street willy-nilly without looking or caring that they were cutting people off.
  • It really was a marvelous carnival atmosphere. This is the sort of thing we need to do more of in the city.
  • Bank Street emptied quickly right before kick-off. There was no mad rush, honking or anything. All of a sudden, there just wasn’t anyone there. This would be a testament to the planning of OSEG.
  • Apparently, they ticketed 51 cars and towed 8. I only saw one person get a ticket, it was around 8:00 and she had popped into Kardish to pick up a few things.
  • There bike cops everywhere, seemingly.

Post-Game:

  • After the game, I quickly headed to a local bar. Lansdowne emptied relatively quickly, and for a brief while it got a little loud. Still, it wasn’t that bad. Really, it was about what you’d expect for a central neighbourhood during a special event.
  • Within about 20 to 40 minutes, everyone seemed to have left or arrived at their destination, as Bank became relatively empty again (though bars were quite busy).
  • The bike cops were still patrolling.
  • There was an ice cream truck that parked illegally (with some irritating music playing). The cops told him to move. He got huffy, but moved anyway… to another illegal spot. They made him move again and he seemed to just give up and leave.
  • I didn’t see a ton of trash on the streets. There was some, sure, but again, downtown event; what would you expect?

So that’s about it. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. It’s a weekend, so that may altar travel patterns. It might rain, so that might put a damper on things. The biggest worry, though, is the parking situation. The city and OSEG admitted there was ample parking for the game, but, still, they want more for tomorrow. If enough people hear that and think it means oh, I can drive to this game, they’ll have screwed themselves and the neighbourhood.

This is why we can’t have nice streets

I’ve been meaning to write about the inaugural RedBlacks game at Lansdowne. As prep, I’ve been reading a number of different reports to try to get as complete a picture as I can. Reading this report in the Ottawa Citizen, I was just floored by this passage:

OSEG’s plan calls for 2,500 vehicles to park and walk, representing 6,200 “person trips.” Landry said while there were many cars parked around Lansdowne, there was lots of availability further north and east of Bank, as well as south of the stadium. That means the heavy no-parking restrictions the city introduced on various streets in the Glebe for Friday’s game might be relaxed in the future.

Greg Best, chair of the Glebe BIA, had similar findings. “I didn’t get the sense people were circling around trying to find spots,” he said. “I looked at Glebe, First, Second, I looked at them all. … The traffic wasn’t really an issue. I was surprised.”

This is just mindboggling. The traffic plan worked. The parking restrictions allowed for an easy flow of buses, bikes and pedestrians. People really listened to OSEG and left their cars at home. Some people drove and parked, but so few that even with a lot of parking restrictions there was still “lots of availability” for parking. Which mean, we don’t need more parking capacity!

There may be no better representation of the myopic idiocy of car-centric urban planning than to look at a successful transportation plan with ample excess parking and respond, “More parking!”

For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with the positive reports about transportation (speaking, at least, for the north side of Lansdowne), but part of what made the whole experience so great was the lack of parked cars (and drivers looking to park) gumming up the major streets, Bank and First.

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.

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.