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:

Ottawa River Action Plan a bit short on action

April 2013

Ottawa’s history and identity are closely associated with the Ottawa River and the Rideau River, as well as the Rideau Canal. If these waterways are a source of pride for our city, then their pollution with E. coli bacteria and other contaminants should be a source of embarrassment.

The City of Ottawa has put much effort into cleaning up local waterways over the past few decades. Unlike 50 years ago, most of our sanitary waste is now treated before it’s pumped into the Ottawa River. The health of the river in this area was rated “Good” in 2006, at least by the standards of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

But “Good” isn’t really good enough, not when sewage spills measured in millions of litres continue to close beaches, pollute the local shoreline and contaminate habitats.

In 2009, the City began developing the Ottawa River Action Plan (ORAP), a long-term strategy plus a set of 17 shorter-term projects to comply with environmental regulations and improve the health of Ottawa’s water environment, especially as it relates to sewer discharge.

There are several types of sewer systems in Ottawa. Wastewater sewers transport domestic and industrial waste through a network of pipes and pumping stations directly to a treatment centre, where it’s treated before being discharged into the Ottawa River. Stormwater sewers carry rainfall and other surface runoff, including debris and various contaminants, directly to the nearest creek, stream or river.

The major problems are with combined sewers, common in older parts of the city like the Glebe. These collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe and, in theory, transport it to the treatment plant. Unfortunately, heavy rainfall and snowmelt regularly overwhelm the system’s capacity, and the excess gets diverted straight to the Ottawa and Rideau rivers.

Progress on Bronson safety review

March 2013

Over the last few months, I have been working closely with the Bronson Operational and Safety Review Group to make Bronson Avenue between Brewer Way and Holmwood Ave. safer for everyone. Members include motorists, cyclists and pedestrians representing Carleton University (students and staff), Old Ottawa South, the Glebe and neighbouring residential communities, as well as City staff.

In addition, more than 600 residents provided comments and filled out a survey, and we organized an open house at Carleton University on Feb. 27 to review the complete list of recommendations before City staff delivers the report to the Transportation Committee in late April.

For residents unable to attend the open house to view and comment on the proposed recommendations, City staff has agreed to display the design plans at the Old Fire Hall (260 Sunnyside Ave.) and the Glebe Community Centre (175 Third Ave.). I’m also making plans and recommendations available on my website at, and I welcome your feedback as we continue working together to improve safety on Bronson.

Among the options on the table are a new traffic signal on the south side of the Rideau Canal, bigger signage, better paint markings at the Brewer Way intersection, and creating a buffer zone between cyclists and motorists.

In the meantime, cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk on the bridge. Some pedestrians were concerned about this change, but most feedback has been positive and cyclists appreciate being able to navigate the bridge without first crossing Bronson, at least until there's a safer way to do it.

Urban residents need to more room to play

February 2013

An important argument in favour of urban intensification — increased population density in central neighbourhoods — is that it generates higher demand for amenities and services, and more people to pay for them. Intensification should, in theory, bring improved transit and public health services, better-equipped community centres, and new sports and recreation facilities like arenas, pools, playing fields, and tennis and basketball courts.

But Capital Ward residents know we can’t count on population density to leverage more or better recreational amenities. Rather, we’re losing many traditional spaces to development and more people are competing to use what remains of existing facilities in increasingly space-challenged neighbourhoods.

In the past decade, instead of getting new, larger community centres, Old Ottawa South, the Glebe and Old Ottawa East have had to fight to hang on to and/or renovate old ones. Creative design generated more room in the modernized Old Firehall, but it’s not enough to meet demand. Heron Park, in the south end of our ward, continues to scrape by with a field house better described as a 50-year-old concrete bunker. This lack of functional space severely limits the possibilities for the programming and community meetings that are essential to a healthy neighbourhood.

As for open green space for organized games of ultimate, spontaneous soccer matches and community picnics, Old Ottawa South is reasonably well served. But Glebe residents have very limited options, and those in Old Ottawa East are about to see part of the heavily used open space at 160 Lees (actually part of the proposed Alta Vista Transportation Corridor) turned into a temporary parking lot to accommodate LRT construction.