Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Biking in and around St. Petersburg, Florida

My wife and I went to St. Petersburg in Florida for a week in late February to get out of the snow, do some bird watching, and visit my parents who spend a month there every year. What’s unusual to others is that we camped. Most people think of Florida as condos, beaches, drunk parties and crappy beach stores. But the state parks’ motto is “The Real Florida” and it fits.

The cheapest bike rental place I could find was Trailsport Bikes; $85 for a road bike for me and $60 for my wife’s hybrid. It was a bit out of the way, but they were really nice. I broke a spoke on my way back to the store, and they were okay with that.  I know it makes me a snob, but I really dislike Sora shifters. They’re clicky and stick easily. Renting something better (with 105s) would have been twice the price.

We stayed at Fort De Soto, a county park 5 miles from St. Petersburg with quiet campgrounds and a few beaches. It feels close to nature and far away from the typical Florida junk. I’d say there was about one bike for every two people in the campground.  It has dozens of miles of fantastic bike trails; perfectly paved and separated from the road.

An example of a pleasant trail in Fort De Soto.

An example of a pleasant trail in Fort De Soto.

The road leading to the park has a route that changes between on-road and off-road surfaces. They’re all quite pleasant. Most novice cyclists would feel comfortable here.

Within the city, the highlight of the area is the Pinellas Trail, which runs some 60 miles from Old Tampa Bay to the Gulf. It is wide, smooth and quite empty. Most of it is 5m wide, so there’s enough room for everyone. It has mile markers, fountains and benches. Houses and stores are normally built so the back faces urban rail lines, so there’s nothing like a cafe or ice cream place facing the trail.

 

The Pinellas Trail.

The Pinellas Trail.

The trail starts in downtown St. Petersburg and they had to build the trail on a road that might look like a wider Queen St. They chose to build a bi-directional lane on the south side. It works, there’s lots of signs at intersections.

The Pinellas Trail where it starts in downtown St. Petersburg.

The Pinellas Trail where it starts in downtown St. Petersburg.

Intersections are done differently than in Ottawa and quite well. Wherever the Pinellas Trail crosses a road, there’s distinct crossings that are very well marked. One thing they do is put the signal on a post, so you can ride up and hit the button without having to dismount and reach over.  There are always clearly marked intersections, but in some cases there are lights with push-buttons.

IMG_1907

A typical crossing of a minor road.

Thank the driver!

Thank the driver!

Florida law also allows cyclists to ride on the sidewalk provided they yield to pedestrians. This is incredibly useful as a cyclist, as you can legally get off the  road to pass on the right, or get off to make room when there’s busy traffic. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who think sidewalk biking should be allowed.

The people I saw biking were noticeably different than what I’ve seen in any other North American city. The types of people were:

  • retired couples going for a leisure ride on beach cruisers
  • students, with headphones and riding rusty bikes
  • spandex-clad racers with $5000 carbon frame bikes, most of whom were actually pretty slow

I didn’t see anyone who was commuting to work or out buying groceries. Women biking by themselves was rare. I didn’t notice any families out with their children.

It looks like St. Petersburg and the neighbouring cities are trying to change. There’s a lot more bike facilities coming in, and they are generally very well built. Most of the routes would be very attractive to novices, we should be envious of how they’re building things. But a lot of the connectors are missing, and it’s difficult to go on a really long ride without dealing with busy roads.

In the 300km I biked, not once did I have an irritated driver or someone who passed me unsafely. (This is quite different than Troy, NY, where I got sworn at four times in the first mile.) Even the drivers of jacked-up pickups with truck-nuts and NRA stickers gave me a tip of the baseball cap.

As an amateur urban planner, I feel compelled to point out the connection between food prices and bad urban planning. The city has incredible sprawl and food prices are very high; the cheapest loaf of bread is around $4. Fast food, however, is very cheap. There is a large divide between the rich and poor. To eat healthily, you need the following:

  • a car, or patience with a mediocre transit system
  • money to buy the food
  • the will to pay more for good food than less for easy food

So what happens? The poor continue to be unhealthy in a society with no public healthcare system.

But as a tourist it’s easy to ignore that kind of depressing truth.

The Bronson changes explained

Tonight, there’s going to be an open house at Carleton University to talk about proposed changes to Bronson Ave. If you can’t come, or you want it explained in a different way, look at the diagrams below.

The problem is that cyclists choose to take a route that’s dangerous. Why? Because the alternatives are simply terrible. 

Here’s some details that I expect to see, based on my participation at a few related advisory committee meetings. The response to the situation from the city is remarkable. Read about it at my last post.

Here’s the situation for northbound bicycle traffic today:

This is the routing that people use today. This is in no way a recommendation to do this.

This is the routing that people use today. This is in no way a recommendation to do this.

This is dangerous. The facilities encourage bad behaviour.

The primary problem to deal with is how to separate cyclists from fast motor vehicles. Here’s a summary of the changes proposed:

New facilities for Bronson

New facilities for Bronson

Here’s the routing that will be proposed for cyclists:

Bronson - new routes
When? I think rolled out over the coming years.

 

 

 

 

 

How the city’s attitude about Bronson has changed

Bronson speed limit

(This is part of a series on articles on Bronson. Friday, read about how the posted speed limits are wrong.)

They’ve done a U-turn. The city identified problems on Bronson in 2006 and ignored most of the recommendations in an unreleased report (until now). The changes didn’t do anything to deal with problems like speed. But their response after a recent tragedy is remarkable.

The death of cyclist Krista Johnson in October, 2012 drew attention to the traffic problems on Bronson between the Rideau River and Holmwood. Most of it pertains to speed, but some is also the lack of facilities for cyclists.

In relatively short order, with Councillor Chernushenko’s help, the city put together a group of city engineers, planners and affected community groups (I sit on both the GCA-TC and the board of Citizens for Safe Cycling). This is the only time I’ve been invited to a committee formed as a result of a fatality. The response of the city was phenomenal. Finally, we can see the city doing something progressive which prioritizes sustainable transportation.

In our second meeting a couple of weeks ago we were shown some ideas of what the city is thinking.  I don’t feel right in sharing their draft diagrams, but here’s a taste:

  • cross-rides across Bronson at Brewer Way
  • creation of a bi-directional path on the west side of Bronson
  • signalled crossing across Bronson for cyclists and pedestrians, just south of the Canal bridge
  • removal of turning lanes to make space for separated bike lanes over the bridge
This shows what a cross ride might look like, where the intersection of the pedestrian path from Carleton crosses Bronson to meet up with Brewer Way.

This shows what a cross ride might look like, where the intersection of the pedestrian path from Carleton crosses Bronson to meet up with Brewer Way.

I blogged about some of my own ideas a few months ago.

I have a set of concerns, mostly that the intent is about separation, not about reducing speed. But it’s probably better to wait to see what they present to the public.

Here’s the details of the open house:

Bronson Operational and Safety Review Open House

February 27th, 6:30-8:30pm

4th floor of the University Centre at Carleton University

If you’re interested in cycling safety, I do hope you can come. You might be surprised.

But the history is miserable…

The city knew there were speed problems where the death occurred and studied what to do. They ignored most of the report, and the speed never changed. That report has never been put online, until now.

In 2006, Syntectics Transportation Consultants was retained to prepare an In-Service Road Safety Review (ISSR). They focused on four problems:

  1. Excessive speed
  2. Rear-end collisions at signalized intersections
  3. Pedestrians and cyclists displaying unsafe behaviour
  4. Road configurations for on- and off-ramps of Colonel By Drive

Here’s an overview of the recommendations of the report and what they chose to implement when they were doing construction around 2009:

Title Recommendation Implemented?
Road changes to reduce speed At the north end, create gateway features such as pedestrian refuges or surface treatment to visually highlight any change in conditions No
Complete the curb-and-gutter installation on the east side of Bronson Yes
Reduce lane widths No
Short-term (2006-2009): construct a landscaping barrier on the median No
Long term (beyond 2009): Landscape the corridor boulevards and/or fence lines to provide a more urban atmosphere. No
Pedestrian signals at Brewer Way Short term (2006-2009): Adjust timing of flashers northbound approaching Brewer Way Unclear
Long term (beyond 2009): After speeds are lowered, remove flashers northbound approaching Brewer Way. No
New pedestrian countdown signals Yes, installed in 2008
Relocate northbound transit stop from the south side of Brewer Way to the north side (if consistent with City policy) Staff were to have discussions with OC Transpo with regards to implementing this measure.
Reflective bollards across the entrance near Brewer Way to further convey that access is provided by cyclists/pedestrians only. No
Change posted speed After first round of changes, post 60km/hr speed zone midway of Rideau River Bridge No
After it has been shown that speed has been lowered, post a 50km/h speed sign midpoint of the Rideau River Bridge. No
Pedestrian/Cyclist Education Co-ordinate an ongoing pedestrian/cyclist education campaign with Carleton University No evidence
Request high-profile police enforcement targeting violations by pedestrians/cyclists at Bronson Avenue and Brewer Way No evidence
Pedestrian Facilities Construct paved paths on the west side of Bronson Yes
Construct concrete sidewalks to connect path from Carleton University to other sidewalks. No
Traffic Controls Improve legibility and placement of guide and information signs No
Post a “No Stopping” zone throughout the study area Yes
Improvements to Colonel By ramps Designate the northbound curb lane N of Sunnyside / Campus Ave as right turn lane. Yes
Extend the island between the S-E,W and E,W-N ramps at Colonel By Drive to terminate the curb lane. No
Install “Yield to pedestrians” signs at ramps Yes
Pavement friction Increase pavement friction along the corridor Yes, installed in June 2006

The things I think would have really made a difference are the gateway features, narrowing lanes and landscaping. Instead, they installed a gutter and added a turning lane.

It is sad.

About the report

The report has never been put online, but it is a public document. A staff member scanned the document in and gave it to me and I am posting it here.

It’s too bad that more people didn’t have access to the report. Perhaps there would have been more information when the issue came up at council in May, 2009. The engineers seem to have just ignored most of the report and focused on car-oriented changes.

Ideas on how to allocate space on Bronson to protect cyclists

On October 18th, a cyclist died in a collision with a car on Bronson Ave in Ottawa. The police said she was going the wrong way on Bronson, which is probably true. David Reevely described some of the problems better than I could have. Really, it’s a shitty place to have to bike.

I have some suggestions to make it better:

  • Move the pinchpoint south by 375m, so that the transition from 2×3 lanes to 2×2 lanes is where the Carleton path meets Bronson
  • Use the available space to put a multi-direction mutli-use path on the west side Bronson from the Carleton path to Holmwood
  • Make the Holmwood crossing navigable by bike
  • Get Carleton University to pave the crushed gravel path they have now

Here’s a diagram of the current lane arrangement:

This diagram shows the number of lanes on Bronson between Campus Ave. and Holmwood. The current situation, the pinchpoint is at Bronson and Findlay.

Here’s a diagram that shows how I’d reconfigure the existing space:

This is the new lane arrangement I’d suggest. It still requires a transition from 2×3 down to 2×2 lanes, it just happens further south. This leaves room for a new ped/cycle path.

The sacrifice here is that the on- and offramps to Colonel By Dr. would be shorter. That might mean that traffic would back up during the congestion. But I wonder how often that really happens.

Another downside is that in some parts (particularly between Findlay and Holmwood), the median might have to be moved to make room for a new path. A median is intended to reduce the chance of head-on collisions. But I’d argue that allocating all the space to motor vehicles puts vulnerable road users at risk. And why should drivers be protected, but cyclists not?

These stories normally get a lot of media attention. What’s different is that city appears to be having an immediate reaction to it. I’ve never seen that before. Citizens for Safe Cycling will be at the Carleton Graduate Student Association (GSA) town hall on Nov. 6. Councillor David Chernushenko’s also putting a committee together to talk about this?

It is good that the city’s looking at this. But does this mean there’ll be a change to address this? Not soon, anyway. And then it’ll inconvenience drivers, which is very rare for the city.

 

Biking in Beijing: the freedom of lawlessness.

Beijing is different. Biking in a city with no rules is surprisingly liberating.

I was in Beijing last month for work and managed to squeeze in a couple of hours of actual biking in with a fellow Ottawa cyclist. We’d already been there for a week and were fascinated by the totally different approach to traffic than what I’m used to in North America and Europe.

I don’t know what the traffic rules are in Beijing, but practice matters more than the written laws. I saw pretty much every traffic rule and safety guideline I know of violated: running red lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, double parking on sidewalks, talking on the phone while driving on the shoulder, etc. The violations that make me cringe in Ottawa happen at ever intersection all the time. It’s really quite stressful when you predict certain death for an elderly woman about to get mowed down by an unsympathetic bus driver.

There, nobody expects any rules to be followed, so everyone is responsible for their own safety. Since there’s no rules, there’s quite a bit of freedom in using the roads. Being able to ride on sidewalks, pass traffic on the right, run lights or cut across stopped traffic is actually liberating and maybe even fun. But only if everyone agrees that there are no rules.

Notice how wide this intersection is. Notice how the pedestrians are already halfway through the intersection before their light turns green.

The main boulevards are wide. Most construction has two auxiliary roads (intended for biking and parking) and a two to four lane main road. So they have a lot of space to fill. My recollection from my first trip in 2005 is that the outside lanes used to only be used by bicycles, but they’re now used for parking and driving.

Turning has priority over straight through

The lawlessness has one noticeable effect on pedestrians: on a green, traffic turning right or left effectively has the right of way. This means that you can never cross at a crosswalk and expect you won’t be run over, because you will. There’s no eye contact or pause from the car and they’ll come centimetres away from running over your feet. Once you’re aware that you’re never actually safe, you time the crossing carefully. And you start early in the cycle to give yourself enough time to make it across.

Certain death in Beijing.

Air quality

The city lives up to its reputation of having terrible air quality. Rarely were there any actual sunny periods. Most of it was grey and hard to see through the fog. And the vehicles are mostly two-stroke engines and buses so riding in traffic is pretty gross.

Other forms of transportation

This doesn’t have anything to do with biking, but the taxi drivers are the worst I have ever seen. Remember the scenes in Amazing Race where a team gets thrown because a cab driver gets lost or doesn’t understand a location? That describes all drivers we had in Beijing. There wasn’t a single driver who knew our destination, could speak any English at all , could read or understand a destination written in Chinese or read a map. All the cabbies who passed the special training for the 2008 Olympics have graduated to driving in Ashgabat or Seattle. The ones who failed form the backbone of the Beijing cab industry. The minimum fare is ¥10 ($1.60), but that gets you about 4km.

The subway system’s expanded greatly over the last few years, and you can cross town for ¥2 ($0.28), so that makes it attractive for tourism given the incompetence of taxi drivers.

Requisite Forbidden City photo.

I only saw one accident, a fender bender on the highway back to the airport. Stats indicate that there’s quite a few more accidents in China as a whole (449.6 deaths per 100,000 vehicles compared to our 13). I don’t know what the numbers are for Beijing, but if I was willing to invest $100 I bet I could find out.

I don’t know if I’d describe the experience as really lovely. Next time I might rent a road bike and head out of town to escape the crowds and the smog. But for ¥50 ($7.50) it was an interesting experience.

There’s a certain freedom in biking in a place where nobody follows any rules. You become much more aware and it is liberating to not be constrained by rules.

Parking near the west-end buildings on Laurier – just the facts

Introduction

There’s a lot of controversy about the Laurier segregated bike lane pilot around parking on the western part of the project. There’s a some loud voices who are concerned about the changes in access to parking and pick-up/drop-off areas. I’m not going to argue with that in this article. I’m just laying out the facts. Go draw your own conclusions, maybe I’ll do that in another article.

Executive summary

Here’s some highlights of what I’ve found:

  • The amount of legal on-street parking has been reduced in this two block area from 74 to 68 spaces, a reduction of 8.1%
  • Generally, on-street parking is further from the doors than it was before
  • Pick-up and drop-offs are all the same (and somewhat better with the Gloucester lane gone), and there are no obstaclesthat didn’t exist before.
  • Temporary parking required for deliveries for 570 and 556 Laurier is now further away on Gloucester, which is unsigned. Deliveries at the other addresses is unchanged.
  • Pick-up and drop-offs can no longer happen on Laurier unless they’re in the designated loading areas.
  • All 828 units on theses blocks has its own private spot.

The following are two summary maps that explain the parking situation before and after. This might make it easier to visualize what’s changed.

Map of parking spots around the west end part of Laurier Ave. before the introduction of the segregated bicycle lanes.

Map of parking spots around the west end part of Laurier Ave. after the introduction of the segregated bicycle lanes.

I’ll explain below a bit about how I collected this data.

1. On-street parking

This parking would be used primarily for guests of the residents. It has different constraints; some are limited by 2 hours, some are intended for overnight parking. There’s also seasonal access.

Here’s how spots were relocated. There’s a total of 6 fewer spots now; the total loss is 8.1%.

Location Before After Notes
Laurier, Bronson to Percy, both sides 13 0 Removed to make room for lanes.
Laurier, Percy to Bay, both sides 33 0 Removed to make room for lanes.
Gloucester, Bronson to Percy 10* 17* It seems these spots could have been added regardless of this project.
Gloucester, Percy to Bay 7* 20* Added by removing the bicycle lane on the north side. Also, the school drop-off zone makes it difficult to count spots.
Nepean, Bronson to Percy 6* 13* It seems these could have been added anyway.
Nepean, West of Percy 0 0 This is just a short dead-end street.
Bay between Laurier and Gloucester 0 3 These additions were not part of the original plan.
Percy, Laurier to Nepean 5 5 These are on the east side.
Ottawa Tech HS lot 0 10 These spots are closer to Slater than Laurier, and they are covered.
Total 74 68

* Both Nepean and Gloucester are hard to count as the spots aren’t always marked nor were there absolute numbers recorded before. So the estimates are based on how many cars we saw parked plus estimated available spots.

**Nepean deserves a special mention. We went onsite on Friday, June 22 and counted 17 cars parked between Bronson and Percy.  There’s a few reasons for this: it could be that some were parked illegally (particularly east of Percy), the space actually installed was larger than actually planned, and that more cars were able to be squeezed into the space available. However, to be conservative, I’ve stuck with the 13 spots planned. See how this isn’t so simple?

Nepean St. looking eastwards to the dead end east of Percy St.

But numbers aren’t everything, location matters also. For instance, the Ottawa Tech Highscool spots are particularly far. I haven’t done the numerical analysis of the distribution of walking distances. I suppose you could create two charts showing before and after scenarios, but I haven’t. But eyeballing it, I draw the following conclusions.

For addresses on Laurier, parking is now further from their front entrances. Many visitors will want to park close to the front entrance of the building. They might need to be buzzed in or don’t know how to access the building from other parts of the block. The ten spots on the Ottawa Tech HS property offset this a little.

For addresses on Laurier, parking at the back entrances is now closer. For 175 Bronson, 570 Laurier and 556 Laurier getting to the back doors on Gloucester might mean walking outdoors. Removing the old bike lane on Gloucester and replacing it with parking spots means 13 more spots right by the back entrance to 500/530 Laurier.

For addresses on Gloucester, there’s seven new spots at the front entrance.

Sources:

2. Access for pick-up, drop-off and deliveries

Here, I consider two use cases:
  • dropping someone off or picking someone up; you never need to leave your vehicle so you can use a stopping zone
  • making a delivery, which would require parking, being buzzed in, delivering the pizza/bouquet/whatever, then going down and driving away
There’s no address that has no pick-up or drop-off location at the front entrance. For 556 and 570 Laurier, temporary parking for deliveries is significantly further away.
These buildings all have secondary entrances. None of these have facilities so guests can be buzzed in, so the only entrances useful for visitors entering are the front ones which all face Laurier. However, it is conceivable that visitors could use a door closer to their parked car on exiting. That’d require signage, but it might be possible.
Really, the easiest way to understand these is to look at the photos taken. Click on them for a larger version. I consider these to be authoritative sources.
175 Bronson
There’s always been a parkade here. It has several parking spots, presumably those are temporary and could be used for deliveries.

This is the parkade in front of 175 Bronson. It has several temporary parking spots.

The only thing that’s changed is that you can’t use the Laurier stretch as a loading zone, but it probably wasn’t used that way anyway given the distance and elevation difference to the front door.
There’s never been anything on Gloucester here; too much space along the road is taken up by entrance ways.
570 Laurier
This building is awkwardly placed, as it borders only on Gloucester and Laurier and has no parkade.
The pick-up/drop-off area is directly at the front door on Laurier. You couldn’t legally park there before either, since the City of Ottawa bylaw says you can’t park within 3m of a hydrant (viewable in the photo).

This is the entrance directly in front of 570 Laurier. It has a smooth surface going directly from the street to the sidewalk.

If you wanted to do deliveries to this address, you’d have to park at one of the spots out back on Gloucester and walk to the front. I didn’t see any signage that explains how to do that.
556 Laurier
There’s a pick-up/drop-off zone directly in front of the front door here too. Again, you can’t leave your vehicle to buzz up and deliver the bouquet.

This is the drop-off/pick-up area in front of 556 Laurier. The lane has been raised so that there’s no drop off the sidewalk. But there is a drop-off now between the lane and the street (on the left).

The length of Percy is only somewhat useful here. There’s a side entrance and a dumpster that makes it impossible to park. There’s some confusion on whether it is okay to actually stop here, that seems to happen often.
If you wanted to make a delivery, you’d have to park on Gloucester and walk around to the front. Again, there’s no signage to explain that.
500/530 Laurier
There’s a delivery parkade that’s built into the building. Unfortunately, it is under construction this summer (between mid-April and mid-September 2012) which makes on-street loading zones more important. If it were running, there’d be the same facilities as there was before. It isn’t clear how many temporary spots there are (if any).

On the east side on Bay, there’s a small area that could be used as a loading zone. There’s a sign there that says “CAR WASH & MOVING AREA ONLY”. It seems to have a spot or two. I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a loading zone and if anyone could use it for deliveries. Note that it is also a significant distance to the front entrance, but presumably close to a side entrance.

This is the car wash/moving area on Bay for 500/530 Laurier. The car parked on the left doesn’t seem to be being washed. It seems impractical to use that vehicle for moving. The pink pavers probably aren’t really a spot.

There’s also a back entrance on Gloucester that didn’t exist before (as there was a bike lane on the north side of Gloucester). It seems to be used as a temporary entrance while the parkade is being built and is signed.  I don’t have a photo of this location.

3. Onsite, private parking

Each of the buildings has some form of private on-site parking that’s purchased with the units. So if you own a condo, you’re likely to own a spot. They’re not configured to be pooled. So if you own a spot and don’t use it, it ends up being wasted space.

It is also important to consider what private parking is available. This would generally be used by property owners or renters. It is worth noting that the average number of vehicles per household is more than 1.0; it could be that some residents normally use on-street parking for their vehicles.

Building Units Private parking spots
175 Bronson 129 373
570 Laurier 132
556 Laurier 112
530 Laurier 217 477
500 Laurier 238
Total 828 850

It would be interesting to know how many spots per resident there really are, but that’s hard to figure out. The average number of dwellers per unit in Ottawa is 2.4 in Centretown, but I don’t know if that’s for these residences.

Sources:

Summary

In all of this I’m only considering legal parking spots. Anecdotally, people are parking all the time on the northern parts of Percy and Bay, in the street and on the bike lane. And I’m pretty sure you’d find people making deliveries using the stopping-only spots, etc.

You can use these to counter some things that have been brought up. A summary of what’s been said is up at Citizen Cycle here. Clearly not all of it is true.

I genuinely want to make sure that I have the facts straight and I want to hear if I’m not stating them properly. But be sure to bring some sort of evidence and site sources.

(Photos by Alex deVries and Lana Stewart used with permission. Others contributed to this content.)

Updates and comments on feedback (August 31, 2012)

This section was added on August 31, 2012. I went through comments both emailed to me from Janine Hutt (chair of BBRAGFAR)  and in this pages comments section. This is a list of changes I made based on that feedback, plus some comments on what I’m not going to change and why. The document they sent me was about 9 pages; I’m not going to publish it here as it was sent to me directly. But I would if they said it was okay.

Absolute numbers of parking spots

BBRAGFAR had different numbers than me. Their counts differ from mine in the following ways:

  • they didn’t include the Ottawa Tech highschool spots because they said they weren’t yet available and quite far way
  • they disagreed with the numbers on Gloucester and Nepean; I’d said there was an increase of 27 spots, and they said an increase of 18. So we’re off by 9.
  • they didn’t include the new spots on Bay

I chose not to update my numbers above as there wasn’t any actual sourced reason for their numbers. I really need to see some sort of actual reference (some photos, a diagram showing position of spots, maybe a pointer to someone else’s map). I stand by my numbers until someone can provide a trustworthy reference to show how they’re wrong.

So if I calculate it properly, they count a loss from 74 to 46 spots, where as mine are a drop from 74 to 68.

Interpretation of portion of parking loss

I heard back from  BBRAGFAR that they thought my drop of 8% parking availability was in fact 61%. Of course, they’re using their above numbers of 46 current spots.

I’ll use my numbers to explain their method. They’re comparing number of new spots to number of spots lost, essentially only counting the moved spots. With my numbers, 46 spots were removed and 40 were added. Using their method, the loss is then (46-40)/46, so 15%.

They’re not counting the original number of spots, 28. I don’t think their interpretation of the numbers makes any sense. If I’m driving around looking for a spot, I don’t care (or know) if I’m using a spot that’s always been there or one that’s new. Parking contention is only going to come up when all 68 spots are full.

It took me awhile to explain the different interpretations of the numbers, I thought this chart might help:

This chart shows the number of spots before and after the installation of the Laurier bike lane. It also shows two different ways of interpreting the change. The first interpretation shows a loss of 6 of 74 spots (an 8% loss). The approach used by BBRAGFAR doesn’t include the 28 spots that haven’t moved, so a loss of 6 of 46 spots, so 13%. The method of calculation is used against my numbers, not theirs.

If we use the BBRAGFAR numbers (a loss of 46 spots, a gain of 28), then they come up with a 61% loss. But as I said, I don’t think their numbers are right.

Pick-up and Drop-off locations on Laurier

I maintain there’s three spots for the four addresses on Laurier that can be used for legal pick-ups, drop-offs or deliveries. I have photos of each of them on the blog.

The BBRAGFAR response is: “Legal pick-up and drop offs on Laurier are now non-existant between Bronson and Lyon since the SBL except in front of 556 and 570”. The two addresses they say are missing are 500/530 Laurier, which has always had a parkade.

I cannot understand their statement. There’s always been a parkade there that’s been used as for pick-ups and drop-offs. That’s what it was built for. There’s a photo above that shows it. Perhaps they see the lack of access because of the parkade’s construction this summer, but that’s not a result of the bike lane. I think there’s an expectation that the public street could be used for the 4-5 month construction of the condominium property.

Is the city responsible for providing room for pick-up/drop-off space during a private construction project? I don’t think so, but clearly others disagree.

Acceptable distance

One thing that came out is that there’s no definition of an acceptable distance to walk to a parking spot. That might seem obvious, but seems to be part of the problem in describing what should be counted or not.

Other changes

Based on feedback, I made the following smaller changes:

  • emphasized how hard it is to count spots on Gloucester and Nepean
  • explained that the Ottawa Tech spots are far away
  • explained that secondary entrances might not be helpful
  • made it clearer how private parking is allocated.

 

That’s it folks

I think I’m done with this topic. Unless something drastic happens, I’m unlikely to update this blog entry. I encourage readers to think for themselves based  on information they find, hopefully that’s here and my references are sufficient to make it reliable. If you use this information, I’d appreciate a reference.

Oh, and blogs are free. If you don’t like what’s here, go publish your own. Or just comment below.

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.

My weekend of biking on the Oregon coast

When I travel for work, I try to do something apart from the usual pattern of sitting in meetings talking to people about work, going to dinner to talk about work, going back to the hotel to get done all the work I should have done. I often try to take an extra day to go biking, it is a great way to see the world. I’ve managed semi-work-sponsored bike trips up Alpe d’Huez, in Munich and in Tokyo (surprisingly bad). I’ve been around the San Francisco Bay area half a dozen times. Last year I managed Red Rock near Vegas and around Portland (OR).

A few weekends ago I squeezed in a weekend in Oregon. I had meetings in Portland on the Friday, then went off to Las Vegas on the Monday morning. So it was easier to stay on the west coast than go back to Ottawa. I’d been around Portland a few times; up to Boring, up to that place by Bridal Falls, and a memorable trip around Mt. Hood. But I’d never been to the Oregon coast.

My original plan was to pick up the rental bike on my way out of Portland at Veloce Bicycles, the cleanest little bike shop I’ve ever seen. But they’d changed their opening hours and were closed before I got there. But I had a hotel reservation in Cannon Beach, so I drove a couple of rainy hours out to the coast with no bike.

By chance, there was a place called Mike’s Bike Shop in town that had a rental that fit me just fine. Rental bikes can be pretty crappy; they’re usually spotless with too much emphasis on looking flashy and being light. Few of them are actually solid and comfortable. But the shop owner understood touring, and the aluminum Specialized had a rear pannier and a handlebar bag. This is my kind of bike, plus it was $30 less than in Portland.

Cannon Beach is a nice place and not just a junky tourist town. There’s bits of surfing around and beach walking, but it’s empty on a rainy January weekend. I stayed at the Inn at Cannon Beach, which was just fine by me until I noticed breakfast was served on plastic plates that’d be thrown out. I only see this in American hotels, it is disgusting.

route

My somewhat failed attempt to use scribblemaps.

 

On the Saturday, I biked south along the coast on Highway 101 to Nehalem, then inland on Highway 53, and back to Cannon Beach. The coast is a popular touring route, and Oregon recognizes this as a designated bike route. There isn’t always room on the road to have a bike lane on both sides, so they prioritize the southbound route which has the nicest views of the coast.

One problem they have is that there’s a few tunnels that were built narrow by today’s standards. An example is the Arch Cape Tunnel, which is 400m long and slightly uphill. It can be daunting to compete for space on the road with 55mph traffic, so here’s what they came up with. Over the entrances to the tunnel, there’s a big, lit sign that says “bicycles in tunnel” and warns of a 30mph speed limit. Cyclists approaching the tunnel press a button, then that starts the flashing lights over the sign on both sides. It is innovative and progressive, two things you see a lot of in Oregon.

Down in Nehalem, I stopped at this mom-and-pop diner for a late breakfast. The locals there were worried about the layoffs just announced at a cheese factory nearby. The union had gotten them some form of compensation, and they’d be paid comparatively all over the years. So it was a bit strange having a pro-union discussion in staunchly libertarian and republican rural Oregon.

After that, I turned inland on the very calm highway 53. The traffic was almost entirely pickup trucks, some with the hoofs of hunted deer sticking out the back. Most ditches had beer cans in them, and there’s the tell-tale sign of rednecks: the road sign with bullet holes.

I was after something a bit hillier on the Sunday, so went to Ecola State Park on a small road between huge trees. There’s some great lookouts over the ocean. I was trying to get up to Seaside, and was trying to avoid having to compete with traffic on 101. But I noticed on Google maps that there was a small trail that would let me do a cut through. The entrance to the trail was unsigned, and there were fresh footprints on the trail. I thought it’d be like this all the way through. At some point, the trail turns into a gravel path, some of it is too thick to ride on. So I walk; then the road turns to a road under construction, and I have to carry my bike up these hills. For a couple of hours, I cover maybe 3 miles like this and twist my ankle partway. I get close to the highway and figure I can just bushwhack the last 50m, but it is too thick and I end up going around. This was not the adventure I signed up for! And at the end of this? I notice the road’s actually the entrance to a quarry, and visitors are not allowed. Ah well.

On the Sunday evening when the tide was low, people walk out to the haystacks on the beach to see the tidal pools. My choices of footwear were my black leather shoes for work or my bike shoes. Sometimes in travel, biking’s got to take precedence over work.

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.

The 2012 Alex Bikes all-season Dreamcycle

Here’s my current equipment dilemma: I’m switching from my comfortable summer bike to my somewhat cheaper winter bike (sort of like this, but with a different Marin frame as the first one cracked. Oh, so did the second, so this one has a welded aluminum frame). Like most people out, I’m biking around on a $100 frame with $150 of studded tires. I count on everything rusting out.

Here’s a typical conversation:

Me: “For my winter bike, I don’t want to have to bike on studs all season, as they slow me down 25% on my 23km commute. I want replacement wheel I can just swap out depending on the weather.

Other bike geek:  “Yeah? I have a spare 7-speed wheel you can have.”

Me: “Yeah, but the OD doesn’t match, and the indexing is off by 0.2mm then”

Other bike geek: “Why not just buy a wheel with an 8-speed hub?”

Me: “I can’t find anything online under $120, and it’ll just get salted out anyway.”

Other bike geek: “Plus, the index alignment won’t match so you’ll need new friction shifters, and there’s the brake pads might need realignment so you’ll have no rear brakes. You could get an identical rear wheel…”

 I know maybe one person who would have a similiar conversation about a car. This is not the kind of thing that popularizes cycling.  Here’s an ad of the bike I would sell if I could:

The Alex Bikes 2012 Dreamcycle: a bike for people who are not cyclists. This is not just a rebranded Trek 2012 Soho Deluxe Commuter Bike. Click on the image for a larger version.

Finally, a bike that’ll work year-round, easier to service than a car, and cheaper than driving or transit. No more worries about biking; just grab your helmet and enjoy the segregated lanes that cover our city.

And for everyone wondering about how we’ll bike on snowy paths; more on the White Route in another entry.