Prevention is cheaper and more effective than a cure

September 2013

In addition to serving on the Transportation and Environment committees, I am a member of the Board of Health and Crime Prevention Ottawa. I see firsthand how a preventive approach is more effective and less expensive than responding to problems that have already occurred.

This applies equally to traffic accidents, environmental damage, emerging diseases or local crime. In that vein, I want to share important information on several fronts.

First, an update on safety at Billings Bridge and Riverside, where a cyclist was hit by a cement truck on July 30. Many people want to know what we can do to prevent future accidents in the notoriously complicated and dangerous area around that intersection.

The City began by examining the condition of the road surface, with the goal of repairing potholes and cracks as soon as possible. This will allow cyclists to keep a straighter line, and remove the need for sudden veering out further into the roadway. We also launched an Operation Safety Review, standard procedure after a fatal accident of any kind.

I’ve asked City staff to evaluate whether advanced signals for cyclists and pedestrians might reduce the risks from motor vehicles turning right. I’m also calling for increased funding from all levels of government for the education of cyclists and motorists alike.

Finally, I’m looking at the timetable for major road reconstruction and bridge repairs to see if we can advance some critical infrastructure work. This might include widening the waiting area for pedestrians and cyclists at several corners, improving sight lines for all road users, and ultimately redesigning the Billings Bridge area with proper, separate sidewalks and bike lanes.

Canal footbridge one step closer to reality

August 2013

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has announced that a request from a local resident to “bump up” the Rideau Canal footbridge for a higher level of environmental assessment has been dismissed. This means City staff can proceed with the detailed design phase of the bridge.

Throughout this process, the majority of local residents and businesses have voiced support for this new connection between the communities of the Glebe and Old Ottawa East. Planners expect the bridge to be used for approximately 2,500 trips per day, which will result in fewer motorized vehicles crossing the Bank Street and Pretoria bridges.

When combined with the new Complete Street design for Main Street recently approved by City Council, the footbridge will provide cyclists and pedestrians in Capital Ward with a safer and more attractive route across the Canal and onward to destinations in eastern and southern parts of the city.

Now that the design phase is underway, there will be frequent updates posted at rideaucanalbridge.ca. Funding for the project has not yet been approved, so that is the next important hurdle. But I am sensing that most members of City Council have come to understand and support this important improvement to Ottawa’s transportation network.

Whose streets are these anyway?

July 2013

If an active group of Capital Ward residents with strong support from City staff are successful, Ottawa could be enjoying its first “Complete Street” by late 2015. Will citizens and city council welcome this effort to turn the once-aptly named Main Street into a more livable, economically viable road? Or is a war between urban and suburban residents inevitable, as some pundits predict?

I think this city is less divided than we are led to believe, and its residents more astute than they are given credit for. What the debate really comes down to is whether Ottawa’s existing arterial roads and traditional main streets (whether in urban, suburban or rural village locations) should be rebuilt as the incomplete streets they are today, or replaced, when the time comes, by far more desirable Complete Streets.

We need informed discussion based on a better understanding of what Complete Streets are, and why they benefit everyone.

As Ottawa evolves, we face fundamental decisions about how best to move people and goods within the city. Do we want to continue prioritizing vehicle flow over the needs of people who want to live on or do business along major streets? Since the end of the Second World War, North America has been obsessed with building roads for rush hour. Isn’t it time to start designing roads for the other 21 hours of the day?

Ottawa has several dozen arterial roads built or rebuilt to maximize volume and speed of travel for the traditional morning and afternoon peak. The rest of the day, these are substandard places for everyone, characterized by excessive speeds, noise and brutally unfriendly streetscapes. The infrastructure (or lack thereof) as well as the atmosphere discourage strolling, cycling and even waiting for a bus. These are places you want to get through as quickly as possible, not linger, hence the steady decline of Bronson, Main Street and certain stretches of Bank, among others.

Better bike infrastructure is better for everyone

June 2013

Being a poet, my predecessor on City Council, Clive Doucet, often introduced his columns with a little poetry. Not being a poet, I don’t.

I am, however, a filmmaker, or at least I was until elected into this 60-plus-hours-a-week job. Back in 2010, I had just released my film Powerful: Energy for Everyone. When asked if I planned to make more films while serving as councillor, I truthfully said no, as I couldn’t imagine finding the time and energy.

Predictably, the creative itch set in before too long. I often carry a camera to record things I see in the course of my day. A helmet-mounted camera lets me (safely) film attributes of the Glebe and other parts of our city to highlight the good or draw attention to needed improvements.

By the summer of 2012, I knew there would be a next film, about the joys, challenges and benefits of urban cycling. Cycling vacations in New York and Montreal produced lots of material on what those cities are doing to promote active transportation and complete streets, with a particular emphasis on building better cycling infrastructure.

Back home, I captured more footage and interviewed people with different perspectives on urban cycling — families, women, business owners, etc. I also consulted the City of Ottawa’s Integrity Commissioner to ensure that my film wouldn’t pose any ethical problems. His advice was to find an independent person or group to handle fundraising and payments for editing and other expenses, and to have that person/group publicly release the final report on the film’s financing. Both are being done.

Keeping an eye on apartment conversions

May 2013

The impending conversion of 167 Aylmer Ave. in Old Ottawa South from a single-family home to apartments has sparked an intense discussion about what kind of redevelopments are allowed on residential streets. Some projects in the Glebe have raised similar concerns — think of 192 Fifth Ave., a single-family home recently turned into apartments, or the 47-unit retirement home proposed for 174 Glebe.

I have been working to clarify what rules govern these types of conversions. In all these cases, the redevelopment plans comply with current zoning, so there’s no way to block them. Still, I have been working on multiple fronts to prevent an epidemic of yard-filling conversions, some of which will become student housing.

But rather than focus on specific properties, I want to consider the fundamental issues at play and prompt some reflection and feedback from readers. For this to happen, we must first consider the context. After two decades raising my family in Capital Ward, and over two years listening to all manner of views as your councillor, I see it this way:

  1. Infill is happening throughout our community. Most residents support it in principle, but with the important caveat that not all infill is good. Where, how big, and what type are legitimate concerns.
  2. People — everyone, not just Glebe residents — are naturally suspicious of change.
  3. Increased population density supports improved public transit, spreads the cost of road repair and snow removal, and triggers investment in community amenities. But it also places greater stress on water, sewer and road infrastructure, and increases demand for parking, community programs and recreational spaces.
  4. Students are a fact of life near universities. Most are respectful and law-abiding, but it only takes one “party house” on the block to spoil the calm. Students, however, are us — either literally us, or our children and our neighbours’ children.
  5. Some areas of Capital Ward can be expensive places to live and lack affordable, smaller housing options for students, seniors, young adults and those on low or fixed incomes.
  6. Many people choose to live in central, walkable neighbourhoods because they do not wish to own a car, or at least a second car. Per capita parking demand is dropping.

So how do we reconcile this reality with our vision for the community? We can start by asking these basic questions: