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.

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Two Lanes on Bank Street, an Experiment

If you’ve been paying attention (and you are certainly under no obligation to do so), you know I’d like to see Bank Street reduced to two lanes. I’m not even going to link to the blog post I wrote last year or the year before, or all the tweets I’ve punched out. My opini0n is pretty well-established.

The other day, I was walking north on Bank Street at 4:30 pm, smack dab in the middle of rush hour. I was on the west side of the street, so I was facing traffic, looking up Bank from Fifth. Between Fifth and Fourth, there was a cop car stopped in the curb-side lane, which is, technically, a no parking zone. There are supposed to be two clear southbound lanes for rush hour.

(The cop seemed to be talking to someone. I have no idea why, and don’t mean to imply the cop shouldn’t have been stopped there…regardless, this whole parenthetical is completely beside the point. Aren’t you glad I wrote it?)

The traffic heading south was forced into one lane, and, you know what?, there was no impact on traffic whatsoever as far south as I could see (so, to the crest of the bridge). This is just how it was while Lansdowne was being developed and the road was permanently down to one lane. It was absolutely sufficient for traffic purposes.

For some reason, most of the cars stayed in the one (centre) lane. In fact, the only slow downs happened as drivers decided to switch into the second lane, slowing down to signal, look and change lanes (all good things).

So, yes, there is clear evidence that Bank Street absolutely does not need to be two lanes in our urban areas.

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.

More Cars!

Big news is coming out of City Hall…well, maybe not big news, but news. Let’s just go with “news”. City planners (and an unknown number of councillors) want to expand part of the Airport Parkway from two lanes to four lanes, which should, of course, bring a common refrain to everyone’s mind.

Induced demand. Induced demand. Induced demand.

It’s pretty well-established that road expansions don’t really do anything to combat traffic congestion. More space for more cars, unsurprisingly, leads to more cars, despite the Two Lanes Bad Four Lanes Good mantra. So from all we know about traffic, this measure will be counter-productive (yes, traffic congestion will actually increase).

Worse still, the city is now acting really serious about extending the LRT to the airport, so this new road project will work in direct competition with Ottawa’s biggest and most expensive project in a generation. It really seems like a bad idea all over.

That being said, I sometimes worry that some of us (myself included) can break out the Induced Demand chant a little too reflexively whenever road expansion is suggested. Don’t get me wrong; the phenomenon of induced demand is true, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be true for each and every road. Perhaps a little skepticism is in order here, and maybe there really is a good reason to expand the Airport Parkway, and that it won’t just cause even more traffic headaches.

However, if that’s the case, the city really needs to make its case, and, so far, they just aren’t doing that. The main argument seems to be that people and goods need to get to the airport and not all of them can go by LRT, which is true enough, I guess. Make no mistake, LRT isn’t going to suddenly reduce traffic congestion. Similar to road expansion, the cars that LRT takes off the road will just be replaced by other cars that have more space to re-congest the roads.

But so what? Delivery trucks need to get to the airport, and right now, there’s traffic. But if we expand the road, there’ll just be more traffic. Nothing is solved.

LRT does offer a bit of a solution for delivery traffic, though. Traffic is a cost. You pay for traffic with time (and gas, but mainly time). The point of LRT is to move a lot of people quickly. It’ll be cheaper in terms of time. Since delivery trucks can’t use LRT, delivery trucks don’t have another low-“cost” option. The cost (time) stays the same.

For non-delivery traffic, the relative cost of traffic will go up, because now there is a lower “cost” (time) option. So now driving is a higher cost activity. This means that the demand for the road will shift more towards the side of delivery vehicles rather than passenger vehicles. Restricting the road supply (if you will) is better for deliveries.

There’s a second argument that’s being thrown around in favour of expansion. This project has been on the books for a long time, so we might as well do it. Yes, that is the (horrible) argument. If an idea has been talked about for years, but never acted upon, that’s no reason to think it’s a good idea. If anything, the unwillingness of past councils to do it make it more likely to be a bad idea.

So bad ideas and traffic ignorance may be ruling the day at City Hall. It’s quite unfortunate.

Furyous Drivers

I have a few quick notes about Lansdowne transportation that I haven’t yet mentioned. I’m doing this bullet-style because it would just be too many words about this top, otherwise. Here you go:

  • After the second RedBlacks home game, Bank Street was a little more congested. It wasn’t really bad, and it didn’t last too long, but traffic did not flow as smoothly for this game. I don’t know if it had to do with the additional parking or what, but it’s interesting.
  • The first Fury game was pretty bad for congestion. A lot more people were driving and Bank didn’t seem to be able to handle to post-soccer traffic (as well as the normal traffic and parking). It cleared out fairly quickly, but, again, interesting.
  • Saturday’s Fury game seemed to have no such problem. I imagine attendance might be down a bit from the opener, and traffic might flow smoother on a Saturday night rather than a Sunday evening.

That’s it. I don’t know if I’ll ever write about this stuff again*.

*I probably will.

This would not be a good protest

I’ve been wondering about the effects of Lansdowne traffic on Lakeside Avenue, a tiny little side street that is being used as a route for shuttle buses (about 500 of them). The residents of Lakeside are the one group of people who looked to be really put-out by the transportation plan, and it appears they were.

And they might have started fighting back.

Shuttle bus drivers complained that after the second RedBlacks home game, people on Lakeside were shining flashlights at them. If true, it’s a very stupid, dangerous and likely illegal form of protest.

One Lakeside resident, however, said it didn’t happen:

Gardam said she and some fans were the only people on the sidewalk post-game. Some neighbours were on a porch counting the buses, she said, but the only lighting was from porch and street lights.

Gardam said the street’s incline and speed bumps can cause car headlights to shine a bit higher, which could be the source of the complaint. She said Lakeside residents wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize safety, and in no way want to interfere with fans using the shuttle buses.

I hope that’s correct, but even without the flashlights, residents had some other forms of protest, slowly crossing the street in front of shuttles and parking their cars to force the buses to slow down. These are perfectly acceptable forms of civil disobedience.

The traffic plan will be re-examined at the end of August. Hopefully, the residents will get at least some relief.

Our cops don’t know the rules of the road

As happens on the internet, a bit of a cyber-squirmish broke out today. In response to this petition for Ottawa politicians to “create a safe and protected bicycle lane networks throughout the city“, one resident suggested we tell cyclists to stay on the right hand side of one-way streets. From there, Deputy Jill Skinner stepped in:

Deputy Skinner’s interjection was 100% incorrect. Here’s the actual law, as found on the city’s website:

Cyclists are required to ride as close as practicable (ie no closer than 1.0 metre) to the right curb of the roadway, except when…Preparing to make a left turn, passing another vehicle, or using a one-way street (in which case riding alongside the left curb is permitted)

Perhaps a whole new petition is in order.

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.

A Successful Test

Last week, OSEG had a test-run for RedBlacks fans and TD Place employees. They intent was to welcome the fans, tour the facilities and figure out just how the whole thing was going to work. It was, by all reports, a success. It is clear (and there was never much question) that Jeff Hunt and his cohorts know how to run a sports franchise. It was the development side of things, including transportation, that was a little more worrisome.

Thankfully, the transportation aspect seemed to go smoothly. I wound up on Bank Street at about 5:30 pm. It was noticeably busier–more drivers, more cars parked, more pedestrians–but everything was moving smoothly. Even on my bike, I was able to quickly merge with Bank Street traffic, change lanes and turn onto my street (which has no traffic light).

One interesting development is the effective reduction of Bank Street to one lane. On-street parking is prohibited from 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon, and it doesn’t usually fill up right at 5:30, but last week was different. With all the parking (which, note, won’t be available for Friday’s home opener), cars had to occupy the centre lane, exclusively. This meant that straight-through traffic had to co-exist with left-turners and those lost or hunting for a parking spot.

My takeaway from this is that it would not be much of a problem to reduce Bank Street to one lane, expand the sidewalks and add bike lanes.

This would also address the one real issue with the open house, pedestrian traffic. Bank Street sidewalks are too narrow for the current burden of foot traffic. RedBlacks fans will just make it all the more crowded. Complicating matters is that a lot of fans appear to have little idea as to how to walk down and share a busy urban sidewalk. I’ve often noticed that those who don’t walk very much demonstrate little awareness of the pedestrians around them, and this was reinforced last week. But if that’s the worst of the traffic problems, I’ll take it (and, perhaps, it will be a learning experience for a lot of our residents).

There is, of course, a big caveat to all of this. There were only about 10,000 fans in attendance (according to reports, which are likely to overstate things) and we are expecting 27,000 at Friday’s game. In addition, fans did not all arrive for the 6:00 pm opening; they trickled in for hours. This probably won’t be the case Friday. It could complicate things.

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.