Canal crossing signals major shift in active transportation

October 2016

I took a great deal of pleasure in the recent federal government funding announcement that chose to highlight and use as its backdrop the site of a new pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Rideau Canal. Pleasure in knowing this bridge will be of enormous value to Glebe residents and visitors, and in realizing it represents an important shift in priorities from three levels of government supporting it.

The Fifth-Clegg Bridge is proof that the importance of "active transportation" is finally being widely recognized. More and more people are telling us they would walk, cycle and roll more for work, fun or exercise if governments built infrastructure that makes it appealing to do so: safer, convenient and more pleasant. Providing viable alternatives to driving encourages more of us to get around by other means. When large numbers of people do that, society benefits from improved public health, increased public security, reduced pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and more vibrant streets.

The federal government making a big deal out of emphasizing active transportation and public transit as cornerstones of its infrastructure projects is in itself a big deal.

Ottawa feeling the heat, must seize the moment

September 2016

Cities around the world are feeling the heat. Temperature records and extreme weather events continue to increase, and the window of opportunity to act is closing fast. Without decisive action and fundamental changes, the planet will be in a state of ecological collapse in less than a generation — maybe within the decade, if the latest indicators (that you have likely not heard) continue their trend. California has 66 million trees dead or dying from prolonged heat and drought. Global fish stocks are approaching complete collapse. Water supplies for hundreds of millions of people in East Asia are close to depletion. It is truly now or never.

It's hard to make such a statement without being accused of fear mongering, and harder still to acknowledge the truth in it, and commit to doing something about it before it is too late. And it is nearly too late. So I will take that risk, once again, and try to be a leader in the very serious quest to make a transition to 100% renewable energy by or before 2050. The real risk lies not in pushing for such a transition, but in not doing so.

Best way to tackle crime is to invest in prevention

July 2016

Though I no longer sit on the board of Crime Prevention Ottawa — I had to let some responsibilities go when I took on the chairmanship of the city's Environment Committee — I continue to take an interest in the valuable work done by CPO. There is no more effective and cost-efficient way to tackle crime and the trauma that results than by investing in prevention. It won't stop all crime, but it does make a real difference in building a safer city.

CPO regularly organizes workshops, hosts public speakers and publishes short articles, often linked to more in-depth resources. Here are two recent ones on timely issues, and I encourage you to visit for more.

Understanding the dark side of social media:

Social media can play a tragic and life-changing role in sexual violence. Whether it involves teenagers sharing nude photos of a classmate, or posting sexual accusations or gossip online, texting threats to an ex-girlfriend, or recording sexual assault incidents and distributing them electronically, there are very serious consequences to the misuse of social media.

Community will miss The Pantry

June 2016

I had no idea how important The Pantry was in the lives, hearts and stomachs of local residents until the time came for me to sign off on closing the tearoom, which opened in the Glebe Community Centre in 1975. The lease was running out in 2014, and the space was coveted for community and City programming.

But not so fast! Patrons by the hundreds wrote, called me and notified the media to advocate for one last extension to the lease. That would mean delaying other users' plans, tackling the tricky issue of mandatory provincial taxes, and finding solutions to several other obstacles.

All the players came to the table, with the GCA and some prominent community organizers convinced that where there's a will, there's a way. And there was a way to keep the doors open, but only until June 30 of this year. Carolyn Best, David Pritchard and staff got to continue doing what they love for a while longer, patrons got to celebrate The Pantry's 40th anniversary with founder Ilse Kyssa, and I saw how loyal this community is to its institutions.

Ride-sharing innovation needs regulation

May 2016

The debate over how — or even whether — to update Ottawa's Taxi By-law is among the most contentious issues tackled by City Hall in recent memory, thanks to the guerilla actions of ride-sharing company Uber. At the heart of the discussion: The decision to open Ottawa's private transportation sector to "personal transportation companies" (PTCs), and the public's apparent dissatisfaction with various aspects of the taxi industry.

There has been much public pressure to find ways to allow innovators such as Uber to operate legally in Ottawa. Uber, a multinational corporation that first came to Ottawa in 2014, connects riders with freelance drivers at a (usually) lower price than what the City requires registered taxis to charge. As in other cities, the company got its foot in the door by ignoring the existing Taxi By-law — or rather, by claiming that it does not apply because Uber is a technology company, not a transportation company — and by paying the fines racked up by drivers caught violating the by-law.