Archive for December, 2008

29
Dec
08

Sidewalks

Recently, there’s been some discussion in the OC Transpo community on Livejournal regarding sidewalks, and what kind of job the city does of clearing them.

Now I’m not in Ottawa right now due to the holidays, so I can’t investigate this at all myself, but I know in the past I’ve found that some sidewalks in even heavily trafficked pedestrian areas like the Market and Sandy Hill are not properly cleared until days after a snowstorm.

So how do you find the sidewalks in winter? Does the City of Ottawa do a good job of clearing snow and ice? Poor? Maybe even a hodge-podge depending what street your on? I’m curious to know what everyone’s experiences have been, and especially how Ottawa compares with other major cities that have to deal with snow.

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20
Dec
08

What kind of Ottawa do you want?

The subject of this post is the challenge raised by the Ottawa Citizen‘s Ken Gray in his column today. Others have already posted their remarks on the subject, such as here and here (and, please, let me know if you know of any others) and I decided that I should chime in with my own thoughts.

First of all, I think that the biggest thing I want Ottawa to become is a city that Ottawans are proud of, not one we are merely content with. I want Ottawans to be able to love their city the way Torontonians, Montrealers, New Yorkers and Londoners do. People will say things like, “Sure Ottawa isn’t exciting like Toronto or Montreal, but there’s so much green space and housing is cheap”, but why can’t we be exciting, too?

Let’s create a city that can finally shed that label of being a sleepy government town. Let’s rejuvanate the CBD by building more condos and apartments to replace parking lots,  and encouraging the creation of bigger and better shopping and entertainment districts.  Maybe that way the streets of downtown won’t be virtually abandoned by 7 p.m. every evening.  Let’s make a city where people can live, work and play.

But we can’t end there. We have to dream big, and embrace the fact that we are Canada’s capital and the fourth largest city in the country and that our city should reflect that. Let’s build infrastructure that stands out because of how well it’s made: proposals like Lansdowne Live! and the DOTT are steps in that direction. Both show that we aren’t afraid to dream big, so all we need to do is start making those dreams a reality.

And while we’re at it (and I know this is a tall order) let’s try and cut down on the petty squabling. I’m sick of City Council fighting over the budget every year because they haven’t managed funds properly and threatening to cut programs that are important to the city’s health. Let’s get some real leadership at City Hall, people who aren’t afraid to get things done and know how to respond to the needs of the city.

Lastly, there’s one thing I don’t want to change. I want Ottawans to care about what goes on, like they did when arts funding was threatened during the budget deliberations. A city is meaningless without its citizens, and the more engaged we are in what goes around us, the city will be better for it. We won’t always agree, and some issues may even bitterly divide people between different opinions, but that, too, will just make Ottawa a better place. We have the potential to be—and really should be—a great world city. But unless we work together, it will never happen. And that would be a tragic waste.

18
Dec
08

Mapping neighborhoods

If you’ve taken the time to browse through the links on the sidebar of this blog, you may have stumbled across my ongoing project to map the neighborhoods of Ottawa, a project that’s gotten so big Google Maps split into two pieces on me. What I’m starting to find interesting as I spread out into mapping the suburbs is when I start to debate what these shapes on the map actually mean.

For example, here’s central Ottawa, which still includes a wonky little splinter of a neighborhood because of conflicting Wikipedia descriptions:

Neighborhoods of central Ottawa

Neighborhoods of central Ottawa

Again, I stress that this is a work-in-progress, hence there are gaps and things that need to be fixed. But I digress; what I want to get across with this map is that one only really needs a passing knowledge of Ottawa and the ability to read a map to know what some of these neighborhoods are. Places like the ByWard Market, Lowertown, Sandy Hill, Centertown and the Glebe are all clearly visible and easy to pick out. Now, here’s Kanata:

Neighborhoods of Kanata

Neighborhoods of Kanata

Can you pick out Beaverbrook? No? Howabout Katimavik-Hazeldean? Or Glen Cairn? Chances are—unless you recognize a street name—you can’t. I wonder if people who even live in these neighborhoods can even name them, even though I was able to find reference to them online. Do people living on Knudson Drive really know that just by crossing the street, they can move from Beaverbrook to Marchwood-Lakeside? And do they feel any different, between the two places?

What I’m getting at here is something that I’ve always disliked about suburbs (and if you read this blog regularly, you know I’m no great fan of suburbanism). We lose much of our sense of place when we’re in a suburban area, because it feels just like almost any other suburban area, barring differences of climate and geography. Yet if you plonk down someone who’s never been in Ottawa before and tell them to walk down Bank Street, they can probably tell the difference between the CBD, southern Centertown, the Glebe, Old Ottawa South and Billing’s Bridge. Why? Because they’re all appreciably different places with appreciably different feels to them, wheras one part of Kanata, Orleans or Barrhaven feels much like any other.

Now, the reality is, suburbs exist, and there’s not much we can do now but deal with that fact, but is it too much to ask to try and imbue our newly created neighborhoods with the same sense of individuality that our old ones have? There’s nothing quite like living in a place you can call unique; it tends to improve your relationship with the city and people around you, and increaing your appreciation of the city’s built form. Sure, it may not even by a concious thought for most people, but it still happens whether you’re aware of it or not. As we rethink how to build cities into the future, let’s not forget how important concepts of uniqueness and community can be.

16
Dec
08

The Ottawa Project in Spacing

If anyone’s curious, I’ve been published on Spacing’s blog today. I wrote an overview of the strike, and what’s been happening in the city so far. It’s probably nothing new to most of you, but I’ve always enjoyed Spacing, so I recommend heading over and taking a look around if you’re at all interested in urban issues.

16
Dec
08

City gearing up for public consultation on transit tunnel

In some positive transit-related news, the website for Ottawa’s new transit tunnel has launched under the cutely acronymed name of Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel (DOTT for short). The Citizen also has a short write-up, including a map of one of the proposed routes here.

I like the looks of the route posted in the map, which goes more or less straight across from LeBreton Flats station to Kent Street underneath Albert Street. From there, it angles north somewhat to hit Union Station and archs around to Nicholas Street before rejoining the existing Transitway right-of-way between Desmaris Hall and Taberet Hall at the University of Ottawa. The prospect of having rail transit again running through Union Station is certainly an exciting one. It could easily be connected to OC Transpo and STO bus routes running along Rideau\Wellington, and would make for a great hub for the new system.

As an aside, I’ll try to write about some non-transit related issues sometime soon, but as it’s been dominating the news lately it’s been hard to avoid focusing on transit issues.

12
Dec
08

Transit privatization

I’ve seen some talk around the Internet regarding privatizing OC Transpo, with the thinking being that it would be better able to handle the current dispute. That may very well be so, but overall, privatizing transit in Ottawa would likely be a disastrous move.

For starters, any private company has one basic, overarching goal: to turn a profit. And OC Transpo is anything but profitable. One of the current goals of the City is to recover 50% of OC Tranpo’s operating costs from the farebox. Naturally, that means that the other 50% must come from two sources; advertising and the City budget. I don’t know exactly how much revenue comes from advertising, but I can promise you that it isn’t enough to make up the difference.

So if you’re a company that’s purchased OC Transpo, what do you see? Massive losses, and the need to cut expenses and raise profits. So how do you do that? Well first, you’d probably raise fares, because $3 per ride is practically letting people on for free. Next, you’d probably want to maximize your profit per bus (consquently cutting expenses, as well), so you’d probably cut back on trip frequencies so that buses are full more of the time. It’s at this point that you’d also begin to eliminate non-profitable routes, so say goodbye to local buses during non-peak hours and buses running with any kind of reliable frequency during the evening. You’d probably cap it all off by liquidating your assets, selling off dozens of now-uneeded buses in the fleet.

In short, we’d end up with higher fares and reduced service, overall. Take a look at almost any example of privatized bus transit in the UK, and you’ll see a similar patterm emerge. Intraurban bus transit simply is not a good business proposition, as buses have a high overhead operating cost and a very slim profit margin. Private bus transit simply will not work in Ottawa, and a solution needs to be found within the confines of the system, instead.

EDIT: I just wanted to add in a quick link to Transit Ottawa’s look at media coverage of the strike. As a journalist, it’s pretty interesting to see how the coverage has changed and evolved over the short period that the strike has lasted so far, as well as the contrast between the Sun’s somewhat sensationalist coverage and the Citizen’s more measured coverage.

10
Dec
08

OC Transpo Strike, Day 1

A lone commuter waits for a bus that isn't coming at Bank station.

A lone commuter waits for a bus that isn't coming at Bank station.

Since midnight last night, OC Transpo has been on strike. This combined with a heavy snowstorm and a half-closed Chaudière Bridge led to a pretty terrible combination for Ottawa today. I was in Centretown between about 2:30 and 3:30, and I didn’t notice any excessive chaos, though I did find traffic was noticeably heavier than normal. I don’t really have much else to say about the whole thing at the moment, but here are a few more pictures I took, after the jump.

Continue reading ‘OC Transpo Strike, Day 1’




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