Taxis, politics and the time for Jim Watson to fight

Ottawa’s taxi disputes are ramping up. The cabbies’ union, Unifor, are fighting battles on multiple fronts, while trying to maintain cohesion between multiple factions within the taxi union. Cabbies are “taking” fares* from each other. Some drivers are calling others scabs. And drivers are attacking each other. During all this infighting, the union still has a labour dispute with Coventry Connections (or is the airport authority? or the city? or the mayor? The messaging isn’t particularly coherent), and they’re still going after Uber.

This week, though, they’ve stepped things up. Unifor honcho Jerry Dias led a demonstration against Uber downtown yesterday. He seems displeased with Mayor Watson’s actions on the matter, and threatens that cabbies will “take back City Hall” if they don’t get what they want. It’s the petulant whining of a rent-seeking cartel when faced with the fact that their favoured status can’t continue forever. It’s also absolutely ridiculous.

Jim Watson has been many things during his most recent tenure as mayor, but hostile to the taxi cartel, he is not. He has repeatedly defended their privileged status and lashed out against Uber. It is only when some of the cabbies have revealed their true nature through repeated acts of violence and unreasonable demands of the city that the shine has come off the official relationship between Watson and the taxi drivers.

Further, this and last council has been especially protective of the taxi status quo. Current deputy mayor found himself in a bit of controversy a few years ago. As The Citizen‘s Joanne Chianello wrote:

At the time, council fought to make those plates non-tradeable, arguing that it was the first, albeit minuscule, step to one day phasing out those tradeable plates. The city would steadily, if slowly, issue new, non-tradable plates over the years and eventually the tradeable plates would lose their value.

Except that in 2012, Coun. Mark Taylor — with the full support of Watson, but not of veteran councillors — moved to make these newer plates tradeable. It’s worth noting that the city’s taxi union gave Taylor a $750 campaign donation after he became chair of the committee that presides over the city’s taxi bylaw. (Taylor has called taking the donation “a rookie mistake” during this campaign season.)

Now, there’s nothing to say that Taylor was on the take. I fully believe that he wasn’t. This seems a situation of people who are inclined to collaborate collaborating. But even if money doesn’t buy council, it does buy access; it is a manifestation of power and power coalesces. A politician doesn’t have to be dirty to be corrupted, and money has a tendency to corrupt.

So if the union is looking for a taxi cartel-friendly council, there’s no reason to think they don’t already have it. At least for now.

One of the mayor’s faults is his inability to take criticism (it’s a fault that most of us share, to one degree or another). A critique of a city initiative is taken as an attack on the city and council and him. The reaction is (to borrow a word from the opening paragraphs) petulant.

But you know what, it’s time for this flaw to finally do some good for the city. Mayor Watson, the taxi union is calling you out. They’re lying about you. They’re threatening you. You would not suffer such an offensive from anyone else; it’s time to stick up for the city and end the power of the taxi cartel.

Council has a taxi review going on. It’ll be useful to hear the results and determine how to transition out of the current messed up system, but, Mr. Mayor, here’s what needs to happen:

  • Uber is here to stay (until a new competitor comes in and knocks them off their perch). Embrace it. It’s a dispatch service that works and that your citizens seem to love.
  • Get rid of the plate system. I know some cabbies have put a lot of money into their plates, and that’s rough, but the city can’t protect everyone from poor business decisions. Uber has been around for a year, now. Notify cabbies that existing Uber drivers are allowed to keep operating and give the cabbies about six months before we take all limits off the number of taxis, Ubers or whatever are on the road. Anyone who wants to be a cabbie, can…in six months. This gives plate holders close to two years from the introduction of Uber into the Ottawa market to wring whatever inflated profits they can out of their black market plates.
  • License all cabbies, using an expansive definition. This means that all Uber drivers have to have the proper safety checks and emissions tests completed (and don’t give any driver or company a lower standard than the rest of us; if anything, give them a higher standard). Drivers need to be cleared for safety and must have proper insurance.
  • Get out of the pricing game. Cabbies can charge what they want or need.
  • Get rid of airport plates.
  • Have the airport sell access to individual drivers or on a per-fare basis. No more friggin’ cartels. At all. Ensure the airport understands that they rely on the benevolence of the city to operate.
  • Get protests off the Airport Parkway. Job action is valid. That’s not what that was.
  • Run more buses to the airport and give all priority to transit.
  • Get LRT out to the airport.

(We shouldn’t expand the Airport Parkway, either, but that’s a different discussion.)

Mr. Watson, this is your challenge. You need drag us into a modern and thoughtful transit system. Unifor threw down the glove. Make them regret it.

 

*The use of the terms “fares” instead of customers is pretty revealing, no?

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.

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.

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.

Mike Maguire Responds (but not to me)

Mayoral hopeful Mike Maguire has responded to a criticism by former Ottawa Citizen columnist Ken Gray. Gray critiqued the claim by Maguire that his vision of light rail would ease congestion in Ottawa, which is one of the critiques I had of Maguire’s plan.

To reiterate: mass transit does not ease congestion in the long run. It has the same effect as expanding roads. There may be a short term reduction in traffic, but soon the cars will be back. There is, essentially, a critical mass that transit always wants to meet.

Gray was actually receptive to Maguire’s plan, thinking it would be better than the current LRT plan.

Regardless, Gray understands that light rail isn’t going to solve congestion it just (hopefully) “gets transit users past those jams inexpensively.”

Maguire, though, just won’t let his erroneous claim go. He wrote to the Gray:

As to the assertion that a successful introduction of commuter rail will create an incentive for former drivers to get back on the road and try their luck with the traffic again … you could be right – do you propose that we ignore a simple, inexpensive solution to traffic congestion because some folks might want to drive again? Surely that’s a questionable trade-off?

And, again, here’s the problem. Light rail is not a solution for congestion. It is a solution for mass transit (perhaps). If Maguire is unwilling to accept this fairly straightforward concept, he is unfit to be mayor.

Don’t Vote For Mike Maguire For Mayor

Ottawa’s mayoral campaign is now officially a two-horse race. Mike Maguire, who finished fifth last time around, launched his campaign on Thursday. So far, he is the only challenger to incumbent Jim Watson.

Maguire has built his campaign on four pillars: debt and taxes, traffic, trash and hydro. These are probably wise topics to focus on (though politicians fetish for ever-cheaper hydro and an increasingly polluted environment irks me), but–despite being intrigued by his candidacy four years ago–his platform would be bad for the city. His impulses may be wise (control spending! ease congestion!), but his actual proposals would be harmful, and his overall platform is incoherent, lacking in vision and self-contradictory. There is also a clear demonstration that he doesn’t fully understand some of the issues upon which he is commenting (plus, perhaps, a tad bit of convenient dishonesty).

Overall, he has a general goal, but he seems to be applying a high-level political philosophy that works well on talk radio (and, to be frank, blogs) but doesn’t translate neatly to the intricacies of municipal governance. It was never my intention to do a point-by-point fisking of his platform, but, well, here we are.

Taxes
This appears to be his fiscal discipline pillar (his main concern, from interviews and reports, appears to be the city’s debt, but he doesn’t have a plank titled “debt”, so everything goes here). Maguire wants to “rein in spending and lower taxes to foster growth”. It’s a nice idea, and maybe it’s workable. At this point, his site doesn’t have any further specifics, so we don’t know what will get cut.

He has stated that he’s not going to give a specific promise in terms of how much he’ll lower taxes. I respect that. Larry O’Brien got scorched for his “zero means zero”. These sorts of things always lead to a “read my lips” scenario that’s open for easy mockery during and after a campaign (*cough*MillionJobsPlan*cough*).

Unfortunately, he also has an odd definition of taxes:

The City directly taxes residents through property taxes. However, the current City Council has increased indirect taxes by increasing the cost of parking, public transportation and electricity.

Parking prices, transit fares and electricity rates aren’t taxes. They’re prices.

I’m willing to hold off on judgement on this part of his platform until further details arise. All things being equal, lower taxes and more growth would be nice.

Transit
This is a pretty big issue right now, with the LRT, bike infrastructure, Lansdowne and sprawl, there’s a lot to deal with. Unfortunately, despite his (quite true) opening statement, “[g]ridlock in Ottawa has a huge negative impact on our quality of life,” he doesn’t have any sound suggestions for easing congestion.

Further, the very second statement is either dishonest or ignorant. He states:

The Complete Streets Approach to transit, favoured by the current administration, favours pedestrians and cyclists at the expense of cars and drivers.

While it is true that the Complete Streets model purports to favour pedestrians over cyclists and cyclists over cars, the implementation of this model has done no such thing. Ottawa is just in the process of unveiling our first Complete Street, Churchill Avenue. It is a raised cycle track adjacent to the sidewalk with no buffer from the road. Driveways and pseudo-parking lots still intersect the raised cycle track, and there are clearly instances where everyone just has to learn to get along.

In reality, the Complete Streets approach does not favour pedestrians and bikes over cars (even though we should, as these are both the more vulnerable users of the road, and the ones more likely to be using the surrounding neighbourhood as more than just a cut-through). Ottawa’s Complete Streets seek to favour no one. It’s about creating balance between bikes, walkers, cars and buses.

Further, if he is so worried about economic growth, he should acquaint himself with the literature detailing how walkable neighbourhoods help businesses.

Even though Maguire will claim to not be pro-car, he has this to say about transportation infrastructure:

Mike Maguire will focus on relieving congestion for the average commuter in Ottawa, the car driver with common sense solutions. [sic]

That’s pretty blatantly “pro-car”.

Maguire claims that the Laurier bike lanes have created congestion in the downtown core. This is patently absurd. Expanding Laurier back into a four-lane road will do nothing for congestion. Road expansion just leads to traffic increases. This is pretty basic city planning. Only die-hard conservatives with a culture war axe to grind make claims to contrary. Maguire can increase traffic lanes downtown all he wants, it won’t solve congestion (well, until he makes downtown so undesirable that no one will actually go there).

You see, this is where he demonstrates that he does not have the proper knowledge of municipal governance to be mayor.

Maguire seems a little more bullish on OC Transpo than he does on cycling (even though he likes to bike, he swears!). He doesn’t like the current system, and argues for a “hub-and-spoke” system. I’m ambivalent. Generally, I haven’t been swayed by arguments for hub-and-spoke, but I’m open to being persuaded.

Another suggestion, which is a little worse than hub-and-spoke, is cutting away at our sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Oh, he doesn’t say that, but he wants to create more bus lane “pull-ins”, so that buses aren’t stopping on the street blocking traffic, ie cars. As someone who walks, bikes and buses to work at various times, street stopping for buses isn’t a big deal. It slows Bank Street a tad, but not much. It has no effect on Albert or Slater, because those have dedicated bus lanes. Carling has ample space to get around, as do roads like Innes and Merivale. And, really, the further you get from downtown, the less of an issue this becomes.

I don’t think this is a serious policy; I think it’s a statement: Cars come first, buses second. No need to worry much past that.

However, the absolute worst suggestion Maguire has is to open up bus routes to competition–because having one bus line filling our streets isn’t enough. We need multiple bus companies running amok. I get where Maguire is coming from. Generally, competition is good and the government should get out of the way as much as possible, but the infrastructure demands (not to mention the barriers to entry) in the mass transit industry makes it a slightly different beast.

We don’t want multiple transpo garages. We don’t want to worry about multiple fare types, passes and tickets. We don’t want buses getting cute with their routes or their levels of service. As much as OC Transpo should attempt to cover all its costs through fares and advertising (and it should!), there is still a public service aspect to it, and we grant buses a lot of non-monetary subsidies to operate (the transitway, bus lanes, special road laws). The city is a pretty direct stakeholder in the transit system. A wild west isn’t going to help anyone.

Maguire isn’t a big fan of the LRT, and that’s fair. As he says, “[c]urrent projects do not address gridlock on the Queensway or arterial roads, and will not be completed for years.” He’s absolutely right! And, unfortunately, residents regularly get a sold a bill of goods about how improved mass transit will reduce traffic congestion.

It won’t. Additional mass transit will, in the short term, take some cars off the road, but as the roads become clearer, more people will be encouraged to drive (and move to the middle of nowhere while commuting into and through the city). It’s just like adding additional lanes to a road. Build it, and they will drive.

Of course, the ship has kind of sailed. Chewrocka is already underground. Contracts are signed, and the LRT is being built. Throwing up your hands and saying, we’re done! isn’t truth telling, and it isn’t fiscal responsibility. Also, good luck getting council to agree.

Well, even if his promise to scrap the LRT is pretty worthless, at least he understands that expanding mass transit doesn’t actually address congestion issues.

Wrong!

He wants to build light rail, just different light rail. On tracks that are already there. Because somehow this will magically make no one want to drive into the city.

And, though he’s “not for or against cars”, he wants to make it easier for people to drive everywhere. He would roll back the price increases for parking. Free or under-priced parking is good for nobody. It is an incentive for driving, and, therefore, increases congestion. Make no mistake about it, Maguire is pro-car.

And you can’t be pro-car and anti-congestion. It just doesn’t work that way.

One last thing about transit, he promises to do nothing for pedestrians.

Trash
There seem to be two basic elements to Maguire’s trash pillar (which is great imagery for cynics like me), scrapping the Green Bin program and returning to weekly trash pick-up.

Maguire has some interesting slides with a lot of (seemingly sound) back-of-the-envelope math demonstrating that we’re paying a lot for the Green Bin program, and it’s not really achieving what it is intended to achieve (extending the life of our landfills). His arguments are somewhat compelling, but I’m inclined to think that there’s more to it that what he’s presented. Unfortunately, this issue is outside of my wheelhouse (though I recall there being a lot of issues with the roll-out, which meant higher-than-expected up-front costs, so extending the program won’t re-incur those costs).

One thing I will say in favour of the Green Bin program: it’s not just about a cost-efficient prolonging of a landfill’s useful life. There are other environmental benefits to composting and a city-wide program might get more people thinking in terms of not destroying the environment. That’s a good thing… though not necessarily at the cost of the program.

Maguire also claims that we are currently paying as much for bi-weekly garbage pick-up as we paid for weekly garbage pick-up. I find this hard to believe, but if it’s true, then I’m all for weekly pick-up. At this point, Maguire does not have any further details on this on his website, so I can’t judge the veracity of the claim. The site states that more information will come.

Hydro
Maguire wants cheaper hydro. If I combine with his support of driving, his antipathy towards cycling and walking, and his desire to axe the Green Bin program, I’m inclined to think he doesn’t give a whit about the environment.

Maybe that’s unfair. Still, it’s my impression.

Maguire claims that through some really odd accounting (a $200M promissory note from Hydro Ottawa to the City of Ottawa, the sole owner of Hydro Ottawa), Hydro customers are being overcharged. He has a nifty slide show to back that up.

Personally, I’m unconvinced. His argument against the promissory note (which seems to have been issued for no tangible reason) seems thin. I can imagine a perfectly valid reason why the city would demand $200M from Hydro Ottawa (even though it is wholly-owned by the city): getting to be the monopoly provider to Ottawa hydro customers is a damned sweet deal. The promissory note, I would imagine, ensures that Hydro Ottawa pays significant dividends to the city.

This isn’t just a tax grab like he says (though I understand that argument). This is the city selling something of value–the rights to hydro delivery–while maintaining control over an essential service. Maybe it would be better if the government was out of the electricity game, but if that’s the argument, Maguire should make that case. Currently, he’s merely arguing for the city to establish lower costs–and therefore lower rates–for hydro.

Personally, I don’t think hydro is egregiously expensive. I think people who waste hydro (including through heating, cooling and lighting massive homes) are essentially stealing from the rest of us. Their consumption puts an incredible burden on the rest of us in terms of pollution. Lowering hydro rates is merely rewarding environmental degradation. Further, considering how hydro consumption tends to increase with wealth and income, it’s a giveaway to the rich. Conservation is an issue that addresses inequality, and politicians who don’t recognize that are transferring wealth and utility from the poor to the rich.

Contradictions and Summation
Since I’ve wound up at over 2000 words, I think a bit of a TL;DR recap is in order.

Mike Maguire has as his focus a very worthy goal, fiscal discipline. We should concern ourselves with the city’s debt. As much as Jim Watson hasn’t been some crazy-spending liberal, we have embarked on some pretty expensive projects in the past four years. Now, Maguire doesn’t offer convincing arguments against those projects, but having someone hammer on the fiscal discipline bell is useful.

Unfortunately, for Maguire, his campaign doesn’t actually represent fiscal discipline.

He wants to lower taxes and lower spending. OK, if you lower spending more than taxes, you should be able to get your house in order. However, he’s not just talking about lowering property taxes.

Maguire wants to lower hydro rates and erase the dividend the city receives from Hydro Ottawa. He wants to cut the price of parking, selling this precious city asset at a below-the-market rate. He also thinks the city needs to lower bus fare. That’s a wealth transfer to the rich and a way to increase city spending!

At his campaign launch, Maguire noted the very stale anecdote of an Ontario businessman losing a city contract to someone from Quebec (xenophobia is ugly, even just inter-provincially), so he wants to make sure city contracts go to good ol’ Ontario residents, regardless of price. Protectionism is bad enough, but when you’re running on your fiscal responsibility bona fides, it really undercuts your campaign.

Maguire also rails against congestion and gridlock, but he offers no actual solutions. Do you want to get rid of congestion? You’ve got to attack driving; make it expensive. That means road tolls. It means aggressively pricing parking… that is, when you’re not eliminating parking. The carrot of good public transit (or bike lanes) is all well and good, but you really need a stick.

You also need to abandon the suburban bedroom community dream. You need to create real Garden Cities that are self-sufficient. You need mix-use zoning and intensification to make it work. Not only do you need to deter people from driving, you need to make sure that you have the necessary amenities nearby so that they don’t have to drive.

Maguire does none of that. He just wants different transit expansion.

Make no mistake, Maguire’s platform is bad. His heart may be in the right place (and he certainly seems sincere) but his policies are scattershot. There’s no continuity and there’s no clear method as to how his policies would actually get to his goal. Of all the critiques one can make of Jim Watson, he has displayed a competency that just isn’t present in Maguire.

It would not be good should he become mayor.

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.

Light Rail and Development Charges

There were a few interesting things to come out of today’s council meeting, and, with a bit of grace, I’ll actually get around to writing about them. For now, I want to focus on one measure that was defeated.

The city has implemented new development charges (or DCs, which I wrote about a week or two ago). DCs are the charges the cities levies against builders when they want to, you know, develop stuff. The charges vary depending on location (greater charges in the ‘burbs outside than greenbelt than inside, lesser charges for rural lands, especially ones without much certain services), and the purpose is to fund all the infrastructure that the new developments will demand (as a side benefit, which I imagine is intentional, DCs discourage sprawl, as they put upward pressure on home prices, especially the outer suburbs). They are, in many ways, a darn good thing (especially as the OMB has usurped much of Ottawa’s ability to control sprawl these past few years).

Today, there was a motion before council to halve the development charges for all new builds around the soon-to-be-constructed LRT stations. The argument is sound. The city wants dense hubs around these stations to make the LRT more attractive to more residents. It’s also a great way to make housing within the greenbelt more affordable (more units = downward pressure on price). I have not done–and will not do–any study into the incidence of DCs, but I imagine most, but not all, of the cost of the DCs are passed on to buyers/renters (this is generally what happens when government imposes fees, levies, tariffs or taxes–businesses will pass on as much of the added cost as they can, but demand elasticity will prevent them from passing on 100%).

As a result, the DCs will prove to be a discouragement (to an extent) to developers and to potential residents (again, to an extent).

If council were to pass such a measure, I really wouldn’t have too much of a beef. It is the city’s plan to intensify around these hubs, they allow developers to build higher and denser (which developers tend to like to do), and they really want a lot of people living there. Cutting these developers on consumers a break on DCs would work towards the city’s stated (and demonstrated) goal.

But the city didn’t, and, in the end, this is the right decision. First, the city is already cutting developers a break. Zoning restrictions are relaxed around these hubs, so more and higher development can occur. As we’ve seen with some recent planning committee fights, developers generally want to build out and build high. We don’t really need to additional incentives to achieve our goals.

As well, there will still be demands on city infrastructure by these new residents. As much as we’re trying to induce people to live near the LRT, we’re also build light rail that these eventual residents will get to use. You could argue that we’re already cutting them a break by allowing more of them easy access to the LRT.

In the end, the pros and cons are pretty much a wash. Neither side is wholly right and neither side is completely wrong. In fact, each argument in favour of one side can be turned around to actually be an argument against it, and vice versa. Consequently, it appears the city did the right thing. They have decided a fair charge for new development and they’re sticking to it. In the absence of especially special circumstances, the city should stick by the decision, otherwise there was little point in making the decision in the first place.

A reduction in the increase of additional buses on Scott Street

On Friday, the city released a statement titled, Transitway volume to be reduce on transitway detour. Sadly, this heading is a lie. What the city has done is reduce the planned increase of buses that will be diverted onto Scott Street during LRT construction (which I wrote about here). But a smaller increase is an increase, nonetheless.

Here’s what they said:

OC Transpo will reduce the number of buses operating along the Scott/Albert Transitway detour by up to 18% during peak periods when the detour is in effect from 2016-2018. This detour is required as part of the Confederation Line light rail transit (LRT) project.

The City of Ottawa has analyzed ideas submitted by the community on how to reduce the number of bus trips that need to run along the detour route. These suggestions have helped shape a number of service changes that will see a significant reduction of the total transit volumes along this corridor.

As part of the mitigation measures, OC Transpo will, pending approval from the National Capital Commission, divert out-of-service buses onto the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway. Also, some express routes will end at Bay Street in the morning peak period, rather than at LeBreton Station. These two service adjustments will result in daily peak period reductions of:

  • 267 fewer buses west of City Centre Avenue (14% reduction during peak periods);
  • 348 fewer buses between City Centre Avenue and Preston Street (18% reduction during peak periods); and,
  • 133 fewer buses east of Preston Street (7% reduction during peak periods).

It’s also rather less-than-honest to list only the reduction of the amount of buses that will be added to the street during construction. It’s all an attempt at appeasement rather than education.

Since I don’t have a breakdown of the initial numbers here, I’m going to do a little ‘rithmetic to figure out what those bullet points actually say:

  • 1907 buses west of City Centre Avenure
  • 1933 buses between City Centre Avenue and Preston Street
  • 1900 buses east of Preston Street.

I don’t know if these numbers mean an additional 1900 buses on the street (during peak periods), or if it means the additional buses will bring the numbers up to 1900 buses. I’m inclined to assume the former, as the increase is the cause of public demonstrations, the press release and the preceding sentence frame it in terms of a reduction of  the additional buses, and this would give the city a smaller denominator, plumping up the percentages they offer for each bullet point.

(But, all that being said, I’m not sure it’s much of a difference.)

This is still far more than that road can or should handle, and residents have solid grounds for continued grumbling. Unfortunately, the very need for LRT comes from our over-reliance on transit and commuting. What we really need to do is reduce our overall commuting times and distances. But that would be an even more difficult change.