Posts Tagged ‘Ottawa politics



29
Apr
09

City staff releases route for Downtown Transit Tunnel

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a route.

dottThe map I threw together if you want to see it.

And the Citizen article I used as a source.

It looks like we’ll have stations at Lebreton (aboveground), between Bay and Lyon, between O’Connor and Metcalfe, around Rideau and Sussex and at Campus. The tunnel will go under Albert until Kent, where it will turn north to Rideau\Sussex and then swing south to go underneath Nicholas to the University of Ottawa. The official release of the plans takes place tomorrow, so we should have a more official-looking map tomorrow, I hope.

A couple of things I wanted to note. First, I find it interesting that there’s no station closer to Bank Street. I was certain they’d try to put one there, given that if the City ever wants to build a north\south rapid transit line through the core someday, Bank is the most logical alignment. I guess the logic was that a station between Bank and O’Connor would be too close to the one between Bay and Lyon. Second, I wonder if the City is hoping they might be able to use the old train station again. Take a look at a detail of where the line should go, if it runs in a straight line between Rideau and Sussex and Albert and Kent:

union-stationIf the city can get the federal government to sell them Union Station back, then perhaps it can be reopened to trains; albeit a very different kind from what once went through there. That appears to be all that’s out there for now, but I’ll try to find more official-looking documentation tomorrow.

(Full disclosure: I am going to be starting a summer position with OC Transpo on Monday.)

17
Feb
09

Weighing in on atheist bus ads

“There probably is no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Twelve words that have caused a lot of controversy, and not just in Ottawa. They’re the text of a series of ads placed on buses in a number of cities around the world, including London (UK) and Toronto. In Ottawa, meanwhile, the ads were flatly rejected by OC Transpo, citing an advertising policy that states: “Religious advertising which promotes a specific ideology, ethic, point of view, policy or action, which in the opinion of the City might be deemed prejudicial to other religious groups or offensive to users of the transit system is not permitted. Religious advertising will be permitted if the information is designed to promote a specific meeting, gathering or event and the location, date and time of said event.”

That’s all well and good, and I can understand that policy perfectly, if it weren’t for this, from another article: “In 2007, OC Transpo approved ads for Bus Stop Bible Studies, a campaign on panels inside buses quoting scripture and asking life’s big questions. Roughly 2,400 ads have run in Calgary, Burlington and Toronto, but the sponsor has not yet raised enough money to place the ads on Ottawa buses.”

Regardless of the fact that these ads have not yet run, they were approved in principle well over a year ago. Based on the description, they seem to promote a clear religious ideology, but without being overly pushy or blatent, much like the proposed atheist ads. Of course, the subtext here is that qualifer on the first part of the policy, where the officials can deem something offensive. By extension, then, OC Transpo has basically just gone ahead and called atheism offensive.

Now, I’m an atheist, so I have a clear bias here. I’ve always felt fairly lucky to live when and where I do, because I’ve never really felt discriminated against for my beliefs, but this is a slap in the face. Based on the precedent of approving the Bus Stop Bible Studies campaign, there is absolutely no reason why the atheist campaign should be rejected. Really, it just makes the city look very close-minded and conservative, which is certainly not the image we should be projecting as Canada’s fourth largest urban area and national capital. In short, the decision is ridiculous, discriminatory, and borderline offensive.

The larger question, of course, is whether or not religious ads should be allowed at all in the public realm, to which I would say no. Religious debate is a tricky thing, and by wading into it—as seen in this case—officials risk being seen as taking sides and causing conflict. In private publications and the like is one thing, but with government-owned organizations like OC Transpo, there probably is a line that should be drawn.

All of that aside, though, I will be following this debate and how it turns out very closely. With any luck, a solution that is equitable to all will be found soon.

15
Feb
09

Some links

A few interesting links\reads I’ve found over the past couple of days.

First, a discussion over on Spacing Toronto about the urbanization of Mississauga. We don’t have anything even close to this phenomenon going on in Ottawa right now due to the way the development patterns of this city currently stand, but there’s a chance it could be in our future if we begin setting serious targets about creating a denser city. After all, Westboro is already home to the third-tallest building in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Next, over at Greater Ottawa, David Reevely gives a rundown on how Scotiabank Place came to be built where it is. It’s interesting for me, as someone who was not in Ottawa at the time (nor was I old enough to pay attention to the news, if I was), and in a weird sort of way it almost makes sense. Of course, it’s now even more obvious that the overall plan for the area has been a failure, even though the Senators have managed to do well for themselves. As the debate over whether we should invest in an MLS stadium in Kanata or a revitalized CFL stadium at Lansdowne Park heats back up, it becomes even more important for us to look at what went into the decision to develop out in Kanata in the first place and critically analyze its impact on the city. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly has probably picked up on my opinion by now, and I’m glad that Ottawans seem to be coming out much more in favour of refurbished Frank Clair Stadium rather than a white elephant in the suburbs.

Finally, there’s a new blog over at the Ottawa Citizen called Designing Ottawa by Maria Cook. It looks to be all about urban design within the city, both building interiors and exteriors, as well as our streetscapes and landscapes. There are already a number of interesting posts up about the new Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building on Sussex and the Sir John Carling Building at the Central Experimental Farm. The latter I find particularly interesting, as she creates a fairly impassioned argument for the building to be saved from demolition and given heritage status. A tough position to take, considering the building is not exactly beautifuly in the conventional sense, but it certainly has its merits.

12
Feb
09

*shakes head*

I try to be an advocate for this city as much as possible, but it’s difficult, sometimes.

City revises bus rider incentives (after canceling them altogether, at one point)

Council meeting spirals out of control

As far as the bus incentives are concered, their decision is basically the worst of both worlds. Discounted bus fars won’t be anywhere near as effective at luring people back onto buses, but at the same time the transit budget will still be way out of balance. On top of that, I’m that transit riders are probably going to end up confused by all the changes and back and forth.

On a positive note, at least the Lower Duck Island bridge proposal seems to have been quashed, and hopefully for good. Of course, the fact that they’ve left it open to reconsideration means that it will probably be put back on the table and then dropped again at least two or three more times.

In short, it’s a wonder that this Council gets anything done sometimes. Reading the Citizen’s coverage of the meeting makes it sound as if it routinely dissolved into petty squabling and sniping across the room. And you know what, guys? That isn’t the way to run a city. City Council should be all about working together, and finding solutions that work for everyone (or at least as many people as possible). It’s time for City Councilors to start taking a holistic view, and working out what’s best for the city as a whole, not just for the constituents of their ward. I realize that it’s a political balancing act, but something obviously needs to be done, as I think it’s fairly self-evident that the confidence most Ottawans have in their city’s government is starting to slip.

04
Feb
09

Ontario wants to help Ottawa curb sprawl

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ontario is ready to help step in and grant Ottawa an exception to rules that force it to set aside land on the fringes of the city for suburban development. Some choice quotes:

As part of the land-use planning process, the city intends to set aside 850 hectares for new development. Construction on the land is expected to consist of a number of single-family homes in low-density subdivisions.

At the same time, the municipality is attempting to boost population density as a means of stemming sprawl and improving the efficiency of the public-transit system. Several provisions in the plan, and an associated transportation plan that emphasizes light rail, aim to promote intensification in areas that have already been developed. Some councillors, however, have said an 850-hectare expansion of the city’s growth boundaries will undermine that end.

But Councillor Peter Hume, the chair of the planning committee, said Monday that space for low-density projects is required by the “provincial policy statement,” a declaration under Ontario’s Planning Act that sets the ground rules for local land-use plans.

André Sorensen, a professor at the University of Toronto, says the city doesn’t have to banish suburban development to become more densely populated.

“You can’t entirely change the trajectory of how cities get developed,” Mr. Sorensen said in an interview. “What we want to do is shift to a higher and higher percentage of new housing units being built as intensification.”

This last quote is something I particularly wanted to point out. I’m obviously something of a booster when it comes to densifying cities and changing the way we develop urban areas, but at the same time I know that it’s not something we can change instantly. We’re fighting against about a hundred years of inertia, where the ideal life has always been seen as owning a house in the suburbs with a big yard and white picket fence. It’s not easy to tell people that everything they wanted is wrong and that they would, in fact, be much better off doing something completely different. Really, it’s not something that we can do.

So the trick will have to be to change attitudes slowly. We can’t just sit down and eliminate suburban development entirely, in fact, I don’t think we should. As Sorensen mentions, suburbs won’t just go away, and we’re going to have to work with them if we want to densify cities. They’re already built, what we need to look at when it comes to suburban areas is making them more like urban ones: for instance, how can we combine living spaces with working and shopping spaces better, rather than having them as separated clumps, like they are in so many existing suburbs? I don’t have the answer to that, but I think it’s questions like that that we’ll need to be answering in the future.

Going back to the original article, I’d like to see Ottawa have minimum density targets set, like municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area. Basically this requires existing developed areas to hit a certain target for population density, while new development is also held to higher-density standards. This forces developers to change their strategy for new proposals, and seems to be working so far in the GTA, albeit slowly. It would be at least worth looking into in Ottawa, if you ask me.

29
Jan
09

Breaking news: Strike over!

From CFRA:

“Three reliable and independent sources inside city hall tell CFRA news that negotiators representing the striking drivers, mechanics and dispatchers have agreed to end the strike and to send all matters to binding arbitration.

It is believed the resolution could pre-emp the need for an emergency debate in the House of Commons, and the need for back-to-work legislation forcing an end to the 51-day walkout.”

All I can really say about this is it’s about time. I can’t wait to see buses back on the road, especially with Winterlude and President Obama’s visit just around the corner.

EDIT: CTV is also saying it’s over. The Citizen’s David Reevely, says “close but not settled” on Twitter.

24
Jan
09

Kettles versus Ducks

I’m sure if you’ve been keeping an eye on local news at all, you’ve noticed the storm brewing around the latest round of debates over where to build a new bridge across the Ottawa River. If you haven’t, though, here’s a quick primer:

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is looking to build a new bridge across the Ottawa River, with the intent of removing trucks from downtown Ottawa, which currently cross the river using the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. This means that they usually exit the 417 at Nicholas Avenue, and take it up to Rideau Street on to King Edward Avenue, which leads to the bridge. Needless to say, this has a fairly detrimental effect on those streets, with noise, pollution and congestion all unfortunately prevelant.

With this in mind, the NCC commissioned a study which, last September, recommended Kettle Island as the best site for a new bridge. Naturally, this led to a fight between east end residents, with those living near the site coming out against the plan, suggesting Lower Duck Island as an alternative.

Now, I’m not an expert on bridge construction, but I am a geographer, and when I look at these two sites, I can see some clear advantages in favour of Kettle Island, which I’d like to break down here. (Full disclosure, first of all: I used to live near the Lower Duck site, so I do have some bias, here)

Infrastructure

Kettle Island, as it stands, has a solid link with the 417, the Aviation Parkway. The Parkway has a full on\off ramp system at the highway, and is a four-lane, semi-grade separated roadway running almost all the way to the river. It will require some re-working near it’s end point to avoid the Ottawa-Rockcliffe Airport, but overall few changes will likely need to be made.

Lower Duck Island has no such connection. For one thing, it is past the “split”, where highway 174 heads east after the 417’s turn towards the south, an area known for its congestion (though admittedly, there are plans to widen this highway). There is an exit at Montreal Road, but no clear link to the north.  Shefford  Road, not far away, does run towards the river, but is fairly low-capacity and directly abuts a residential area. Light industrial and commercial development, meanwhile, prevents the easy construction of a road from the Montreal Road exit north to the river.

Community Impact

When it comes to Kettle Island, personally, I think a lot of the negative reaction is overblown. The Aviation Parkway is, as mentioned previously, partly seperated from nearby neighborhoods, and is a large enough road to be able to deal with an increase in traffic. Residents near the Parkway, though, will see some increase in traffic noise, and the road will become more congested, but probably not unmanagable so. Care would also need to be taken to ensure that the Aviation Museum was not adversely affected.

Lower Duck, meanwhile, could have a very low impact, I will grant, if the bridge is built to the east of the Rockcliffe Parkway. However, this would require the construction of a new exit from the 174, meaning significant reconstruction would be needed on the highway—likely a prohibitively expensive gesture. As mentioned above, the only other possibility would be a Montreal\Shefford link, which would easily have a much worse impact than the Aviation Parkway. And finally, the increased congestion this bridge would cause on the 174 can’t be ignored, as congestion is already a significant concern for residents of the area.

Environmental Impact

It does almost go without saying that any new bridge will have an environmental affect, but they would likely be markably different between the two sites. At the Kettle Island site, there is, essentially a clear corridor to and from major roadways on either side of the river. The main concern here would be Kettle Island itself, a low-lying, environmental sensitive alluvial island (made up of sediments deposited by the river, in other words). According to Ottawa Riverkeeper, the island is home to a highly unique swamp ecosystem, one which we should definitely make an effort to preserve. From an evironmental perspective, Kettle Island is not ideal, but it is almost certainly better than Lower Duck.

First, should the Montreal\Shefford approach I mentioned be taken, Lower Duck Island would cause similar environmental concerns as Kettle Island. Furthermore, though, even if the bridge were built further east, then the northern end of Grant’s Creek Conservation Area becomes an issue, as it would need to be protected from heavy traffic flows across the river. The final nail in the coffin is the Quebec side of the river, where we find Parc de Baie-McLaurin, a large, marshy bay along the banks of the river. Having a bridge touch down here would be disasterous, to say the least.

I think that these three categories represent the  most important factors in deciding where this new bridge should go. Kettle Island obviously isn’t the perfect choice, but then, no choice is. Rather, I think that Kettle Island is simply the best choice of the available alternatives.




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