Community Newspaper Columns

Ottawa’s service organizations benefit us all

August 2014

I recently attended the re-opening of Heartwood House (heartwoodhouse.ca) at its new McArthur Ave. location in Overbrook. Heartwood House may be unfamiliar to many residents — the former Rideau St. site was best known as OC Transpo's lost-and-found facility — yet it is home to a remarkable array of valuable service organizations. These small non-profits benefit from the reduced costs and shared amenities that come from being under the same roof.

While touring the facility and meeting volunteers and employees of the groups located there, it struck me that more people need to know about this gem. We all benefit from the work of groups at Heartwood House, whether we step inside or not.

Here is a sample of what you will find there:

 

  • ACORN Canada champions the interests of low-income and moderate-income Ottawa citizens on critical issues of social and economic justice.
  • Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario (ADAO) offers anxiety management workshops.
  • Alternative Learning Styles & Outlooks (ALSO) offers free literacy services, including upgrading classes for adults in ASL and English, family literacy programs, and free, part-time childcare.
  • Community Laundry Co-operative (CLC) provides affordable laundry services, a chance to develop job skills and a network of support for low-income residents.
  • Cooperation Integration Canada – French (CICAN) helps French-speaking immigrants overcome challenges in daily life, obtain independence and integrate into Canadian society.
  • EcoEquitable Inc. provides a bridge for immigrant and underemployed women to attain sustainable fiscal independence while reducing harmful waste in our communities.
  • English Language Tutoring for the Ottawa Community (ELTOC) coordinates volunteers to offer one-on-one, at-home English lessons to adult newcomers who cannot go to school.
  • Families Matter Co-operative Inc. is a grassroots family network empowering families and individuals with disabilities.
  • Hopewell Eating Disorder Support Centre offers information and support for individuals affected by eating disorders, their families and friends.
  • Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) provides and promotes safe and affordable housing for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • People, Words & Change (PWC) offers one-on-one adult literacy and essential skills tutoring.

Cycling project consultations
Initial public meetings have taken place for two projects aiming to make cycling to and through the Glebe more attractive and safer. Although feedback from residents has been mostly positive, two areas of concern arose from the Glebe Cycling Plan consultations:

  1. Potential for conflict between users of a proposed multi-use path through Sylvia Holden Park connecting the O'Connor/Fifth intersection with Holmwood and Lansdowne Park.
  2. The potential impact of changes proposed for Fifth Ave. on existing traffic calming measures, including alternative-sides parking placement and the possible loss of a stop sign.

We are taking residents' concerns very seriously and want to ensure that any proposed changes don't result in a street environment that favours faster driving. Our goal is the opposite: speed reduction and lower risk to all.

At this point in the Glebe Cycling Plan, no specific outcomes have been predetermined. The initial proposals stem from a first meeting of a Public Advisory Committee, and a review of earlier GCA recommendations.

The earlier we can make improvements, the better, but we have plenty of time to get it right. The City set a July 10 deadline for comments to keep the process moving. Also, keep in mind there is a two-month blackout period before the Oct. 27 election. I am currently working with project manager Heidi Cousineau to review all feedback, with the goal of communicating directly with all who comment.

Lansdowne traffic: An initial analysis
As dangerous as it is to draw conclusions from only a few major events at Lansdowne Park and with the retail, residential and public park activities not yet open, here goes.

Thanks in part to a heavy publicity blitz promoting alternatives to driving and parking in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South, patrons of the RedBlacks and the Fury FC have shown a surprising willingness to use public transit, take special shuttle buses and walk or cycle to TD Place. Initial reports indicate more than 7000 patrons took a bus of some description, over 500 road a bike and the remainder of the 24,000 RedBlacks patrons walked or drove part of the way and then walked. That is pretty remarkable. And it helps explain the lack of congestion and parking chaos that the more pessimistic among us have been predicting.

It is still early days, and people have not yet fully settled into their game day patterns, so plenty can still change. But there is cause for optimism.

On the other hand, measures for the initial events leaned towards overkill, in the sense that extreme measures were taken to remove parking along Bank Street in the Glebe and OOS on both sides for long periods before and after the games. Local businesses outside of some pubs and restaurants report a drop in sales on game days, and there is likely a correlation between availability of on-street parking, predicted congestion and the willingness of non-football customers to stop and shop along Bank on a game day. A better balance will have to be achieved if the feared negative impact on existing businesses is to be avoided.

Similarly, the decision to use Lakeside Avenue, a residential street in the Glebe, as part of the Queen Elizabeth Drive shuttle route (as opposed to a purely arterial route along Preston, Carling and Bronson) was based on efficiency. The logic being that habitual drivers would only take a shuttle bus from a more distant parking lot (as opposed to driving much closer to Lansdowne in search of on-street parking) if that shuttle was short and quick. Hence the obvious choice of Lakeside as the most direct route. But this sort of efficiency comes at a cost. Who would want upwards of 450 shuttles using their residential street? That's what has been the reality on Lakeside. The solution will not be to simply choose another street, such as the alternative route along Sunnyside to Bank to Fifth Avenue. This just moves the pain from one residential street to another. Instead, a number of changes will be tested during August game days which should reduce the shuttle bus count along Lakeside by more than 65% by shifting some buses onto arterial roads such as Prince of Wales and Heron, and by ensuring all empty buses and post-game buses take a less-direct arterial route.

There is a lot to be tweaked, but at least we are working from a reasonably good start, rather than the disaster many of us feared.

Construction traffic
Residents near Lees Ave. have been dealing with a series of major construction projects lately, and I have been working closely with them and City staff to reduce the impacts of necessary traffic diversions.

This is a taste of things to come over the next two years of Main Street reconstruction, which will require major detours over a number of months. I will work with the project managers and affected community members to identify the least intrusive routes and implement measures to reduce speeds and to encourage safe driving practices. Signage and public communications campaigns will aim to redirect any traffic that has no reason to be traversing Old Ottawa East.

In the end, though, we must prepare for two full seasons of major construction and traffic rerouting, keeping in mind that this work is overdue and the end result is something to look forward to. Details will be worked out and shared with residents as we move into late fall.

Green bin support
In the wake of the Auditor General's damning report on the City of Ottawa's contract with Orgaworld, I want to stress that diverting organic waste to an appropriate facility remains the right way to go, as does weekly green bin collection and biweekly collection of waste that cannot be composted or recycled.

The real problems lay in the unsupported, overly ambitious initial tonnage targets and other aspects of the poorly negotiated contract, compounded by the unwillingness of Council at that time to switch immediately to weekly green bin and biweekly residual waste collection. This left us with an unrealistic compostable waste target, no ramp-up period, limited ability to renegotiate targets, and little incentive for residents to switch to green bins that sat for two weeks while the "garbage" still went out weekly.

I support implementation of all the Auditor General's recommendations. I support renegotiating or cancelling the existing contract, whichever brings greatest benefit and least cost to citizens. And I will continue to advocate for greater adoption and expansion of the green bin program as the most sensible, efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sound approach to dealing with residential waste.