The little things: Simple ways to make Ottawa better

Well, it’s been a while, and for that, I apologize. For whatever reason, I just haven’t been getting around to blogging over the past few months, but I’ve decided to make a return to form and start posting content again.

For today, I thought I’d get away from the big issues, quite literally, and look at a couple of little details that could make Ottawa a better place. For starters, there’s this post on the OC Transpo Livejournal community, which talks about how the City is potentially not scheduling its hybrid buses effectively. As the poster notes, there are more than enough buses to cover the downtown and core routes where they’d be most efficient, yet it seems they are not always being used on those runs. To me, it seems like it would be a relatively simple task to prioritize hybrids for those runs, so why isn’t OC Transpo doing so? I certainly don’t have the answer, but it would be nice to know their justification.

My second item for today is an even smaller one, but it could be seen as emblematic of a larger issue. I was crossing Elgin Street recently at Slater, and as I dashed across the last section to beat the sudden onset of the flashing hand, I began to wonder why all the crossings on Elgin from Laurier to the north are so poorly timed for pedestrians? Granted, that part of Elgin is one of the few places in the City with good pedestrian islands, but the crossings are done so that when the “Don’t walk” begins to flash, even a quick walker only has enough time to reach the island before the light changes.

The problem here is that, generally speaking, you should have enough time to fully cross the street when the signal begins to flash. Instead, if you begin crossing at that point on Elgin, you’ll find yourself stuck in the middle of traffic, forcing you to wait for at least one full traffic cycle to finish crossing—more, if you want to cross the perpendicular street, too. I believe it’s something the City should look into changing, or that they should at least consider installing countdown signals there, so that pedestrians won’t be surprised by the quick timing of the change. It would certainly be a big help towards improving one of the most unfortunately pedestrian-unfriendly streets in downtown Ottawa.

My question to you, then, reader, is what little things do you notice that could improve day-to-day life in Ottawa? I’m sure we all encounter them, and I’d love to hear what your ideas are.

10 Responses to “The little things: Simple ways to make Ottawa better”

  1. July 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I hear echoes of “War against the car!” starting up from here in reply to that.

  2. July 23, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I’ve always been annoyed at the signal timings on Elgin, both in that North section and through Centretown. No matter what pace I walk at, I can’t for the life of me get across two consecutive intersections between Queen, Albert and Slater. Cycling is a little bit better, at least downhill.

    One day, I was in a rush to get to City Hall in the morning and took a taxi. To my surprise, he got every single green light from Gladstone to Cooper!

    That goes to show where the priorities are.

    • July 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm

      It would appear so. I’ve seen other problems of like nature at other intersections scattered across town, although will admit to being hard-pressed to nail down exactly which ones at the moment.

    • July 23, 2010 at 10:31 pm

      Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I live on Cooper, just off Elgin, and I find that judging the amount of time you have to get to the next crossing is really, really tough. It’s an exponentially nicer street down here, but it can still be a real pain.

  3. July 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Oh, this is reminding me that I find it next to impossible to get more than one green light in a row on Somerset when cycling westbound between Elgin and Bronson. If I go as fast as I can I can get the tail end of a yellow, which will sometimes let me through the next intersection, but if you get one red, you can never catch up, unless you go really slowly (I tend to accelerate rather quickly). Eastbound on Somerset is pretty similar, and Gilmour (eastbound) is also a series of reds.

    There is a system in other countries–I forget what it’s called, “Green something”–where there’s a series of lights in the pavement or curb that illuminate in a pattern such that if you follow the group of lights as they ‘move’ along the road, you’ll always get a green light. This would relieve so much frustration from riding really hard and getting your heart rate up, only to have to stop at a fresh red light.

    • 6 Chris B
      July 24, 2010 at 7:38 am

      That is actually why I rarely cycle on Somerset – I would rather just have to cross Metcalfe or O’Connor at an unsignalled intersection, than try.

  4. 7 Tyler
    July 27, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Since moving to Ottawa from Vancouver I cannot get over how long the traffic lights are. As a pedestrian I can wait for minutes at mundane intersections before the lights change. Nowhere is this more obvious then on Dalhousie in the market. The light turnover times should be much faster for such a dense neighbourhood.

  5. 9 James
    July 28, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Hi David, the flashing hand means “do not enter the crosswalk” not “you must now stop crossing” or “you must hussle to complete your crossing.” You’re not necessarily meant to be able to complete the crossing on the walk signal, but as long as you enter the crosswalk on the ‘walk’ signal, you should complete your crossing at an “average” speed (no doubt there are wide intersections with short crossing times that cause problems for people who are unable to cross at an “average” speed for any number of reasons).

    With regard to the “Red Waves” in Ottawa, one of the worst I’ve noticed is biking south on Lyon and every time being stopped at Sparks or Queen, then Albert, then Slater and then Laurier (as soon as the light at Albert turns green, the crosswalks at Slater start to flash and you know you will arrive in time for it to turn red no matter how fast you go).

    • 10 David McClelland
      July 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

      This is true, but that still means that if you enter the crosswalk a second before the hand begins flashing, then you should still have enough time to make it all the way across the street. That isn’t the case on Elgin.

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