Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Category Archives: General

The real problem in changing transportation strategies

You do not have to look far to find research that shows that our current car-oriented investment yields a poorer quality of life with a higher burden on taxpayers. So why does nothing change?

It is too bad that I couldn’t go to the City of Ottawa Planning Summit held today put on by Councillor Peter Hume. It is an easy thing for me to like: the speakers were all able to defend our need for smart intensification with support for sustainable transportation.

There’s also a repetition from Mayor Jim Watson that this time we’ll actually hold true to the Operating Plan, Transportation Master Plan, etc. That’s great to hear! But I doubt that can be true, and here’s why.

You probably think I have it in for Councillor Stephen Blais

Actually, Councillor Blais is just fine; I disagree with him sometimes, but he’s responsive and because of him I’m more likely to spend time drinking beer on a patio. He’s an easy example of people who have been given the power to make really bad and uninformed decisions.

We were chatting on twitter about his recent announcement that the expansion of Highway 174 was accelerated. I don’t know Mr. Bus, but this is a pretty common question from anyone familiar with how road widening is unsustainable.

You’ll notice Councillor Blais’s response has nothing to do with the actual question. It seems like more of an excuse. I’ve never seen him answer this actual question.

Then there’s more concern from people about how it’ll reduce transit use, produce longer commutes in the end, etc. What’s notable is how he finishes it off. To me, this explains everything:

My initial reaction was to interpret this as “I got elected so I don’t need to defend my choices with evidence! <insert Nelson ha-ha here>”. But I think he’s right that this is how democracy operates. How disappointing!

He’s told citizens of Ward 1 they’re going to get to work faster. All research shows we’ll all get a fatter tax bill, transit will be worse, and we’ll have more unsustainable sprawl. Councillor Blais isn’t doing anything to dissuade them, so it is easy for him to get elected and support what’s in fact bad for us.

Fact-based arguments

I’m happy to have a fact-based argument that widening highways is bad, but I’ll only bother if opponents come armed to the knife fight. Too many of them turn into discussions like this.

And then nothing; Mr. Ant just leaves us hanging (despite some prodding). So I waisted several minutes of googling and never got the argument I was hoping for. He asked for evidence and then just walked away.

And the problem is…

The problem is that voters are poorly informed and end up voting for whatever helps them directly and immediately. We’ll always be limited by what the electorate thinks they want. And they’re just not that smart.

If the City does put into place plans that make sense and that they stick to, we’ll be in a good place. But either the councillors will get voted out, or they’ll be scared enough of losing their jobs they’ll back down. I know there’s exceptions, but this sufficiently true that major changes in council will be rare.

A hollow victory on Bronson


The City’s been planning on widening Bronson north of the 417 for awhile, which would further narrow sidewalks and encourage yet more motor vehicle traffic. The city announced on Wednesday that they were abandoning those plans. On the surface, it seems pretty good. But I’m more cynical.

Here’s the stated reason in an email from Deputy City Manager Nancy Schepers on Wednesday to city Councillor Diane Holmes, forwarded widely later:

During design of Bronson Avenue it was realized there would be impacts on existing Hydro plant in moving to a wider pavement width of 14 metres, but the extent of these impacts were not completely known until very recently. Relocation of the plant is challenging and costly for certain portions of the roadway.

Based on this recent information and further consideration of the very constrained corridor, location of adjacent buildings (including stairs, porches and entrances), varying road widths and sidewalk widths at pinch points, it has been determined that maintaining the existing width is acceptable. 

I understand that the existing hydro posts are already too close to the sidewalk. They don’t have to be moved as they’re grandfathered in, but if they widen the street the posts would have to be moved, taking the place of the added width. So the stated reason for cancelling the project is that it violates a technical rule.

I’m a big supporter of my Rescue Bronson friends, but I worry that some community groups and their leaders see this as the victory (like Eric Darwin). And it isn’t. Not completely, anyway. There’s no acknowledgement that the transportation master plan said this would be a bad idea, or the concerns from Councillor Holmes or the community were listened to. Instead, they stuck with the technical. This leaves the community groups in some sort of limbo.

Community hero Charles Akben-Marchand asked me if I thought maybe the community had influence, but they just didn’t acknowledge it. It is probably true. Perhaps that was a big part of the decision, but they didn’t dare acknowledge it. I think everyone’s paranoid about fuelling a cars vs. everyone else battle. They can’t be seen as violating The Golden Rule.

A real victory is if they’d said they’d listened.

What I’ll be hacking on tomorrow


I thought I’d explain here the three things I’ll be hacking on at the Ottawa Hackfest tomorrow (from 1-4pm).


1. Ottawa Pedestrian Problems

This is a port of my Ottawa Biking Problems site for pedestrian purposes. The hope is that this will turn into a tool like OBP that feeds into the city’s Roads and Cycling Advisory Committee, but for pedestrians. The whole Rescue Bronson mess is part of the motivation for this; I’m a supporter but not an organizer.

The discussion and idea for this comes from Charles Akben-Marchand, Lana Stewart (who I have never met face-to-face) and Alex Graham-Hughes, not me. Lana’s registered the domain, and we’re somewhat ready to get started on this. Ideally, I’d do nearly nothing on this after the launch, I’m just too busy with other things.

My goal is to leave City Hall with the app setup in WordPress ready to accept complaints.

That said, I have nothing about pedestrian lobbying, I’m just busy with biking stuff.

2. Chart generation for the Laurier counter

A somewhat silent victory of the city’s Open Data program has been the pseudo-release of daily streaming 15-minute increments of the bike counter on Laurier at Metcalfe. There’s already a daily counter, but the resolution is poor and the UI awful. With the better data, you can create some charts like below.

Right now, the incoming CSV files get transferred once a day from Eco-Counter in France, you can see them here. The idea would be to do cute things with it, like a daily tweet or more complete charts.

3. Bike map generation

I feel a bit bad about this, but the City release full SHP files of all the bike routes in Ottawa. This was under heavy pressure from folks like me, and I haven’t done much with them yet.

The idea would be to figure out a crowd sourcing application so we could update it. I’m much more familiar with Google Maps than I am with Open Map or anything else. And I can’t help but think that an online SHP/KML wiki thing exists. Hopefully someone can offer advice on this.

4. Anything else

I’ll talk to anyone.

I’ll be the guy with the MacBook Pro and probably a blue bike helmet. I know pretty much all languages except Java, and my entire career is in Linux. Say hello.

My open letter to Councillor Blais about bike funding

(I’ll add here that my blog doesn’t necessarily represent the view of Citizens for Safe Cycling)

Councillor Blais,

In a discussion today about why you didn’t support the Laurier Segregated Bike Lanes, you tweeted:

The last sentence warrants a response that I cannot fit in 140 characters. Actually, cyclists pay more than their fair share.

If you look at the 2006 Census, you’ll see that 2% of commuter trips to places of employment are by bicycle. The National Capital Region 2005 Origin Destination Survey backs this up, showing 2% of trips are by bicycle. Anecdotal evidence supports that there are many more cyclists in 2011.

Your implication that cyclists are getting more than their fair share is incorrect. Looking forward at your council term, the draft budget increases cycle-oriented funding to $24M over the next four years. Over the same period of time, the total transportation budget is $1231M. This means that 1.9% of the transportation budget is going to cycling. This allocation matches the cycling modal share from the mid 2000s, not from today.

It is important to point out who pays for municipal infrastructure. This is paid for by local landowners, regardless of their preferred form of transportation. There is no transfer of provincial or federal gas taxes to municipal infrastructure.

Cyclists pay the same tax rate as everyone else, yet their projects get proportionately less funding than they pay. In fact, cyclists are subsidizing infrastructure for other forms of transport, such as for motor vehicles.

I look forward to your response to this note.

Thank you,

– Alex deVries