Towards Effective Light Rail Transit in Ottawa

Ottawa’s LRT – D. Deby photo

I admit to being excited when Ottawa’s LRT launched. By its second day of operation, I found an excuse opportunity to try it out, and marveled at the efficient ride, gleaming new stations and impressive scenery en route.

There were a few gaps—not least accessibility challenges, minimal space for bikes, and the problem that the switch to LRT didn’t benefit everyone (for many residents, including me, it means longer commuting times and fewer bus options). Still, the LRT marks an important shift to more environmentally sustainable transit in Ottawa. We were offered a big-city, world class system that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, fossil fuel consumption and road salt use, and increase connections to healthy transportation options (biking, walking).

Now, like many other residents, I’m frustrated.

Daily delays and breakdowns, in conjunction with the elimination or adjustment of many bus routes, have eroded confidence in the transit system. Residents are calling for solutions, improved accountability and transparency, and better public communication.

Obviously, Ottawa needs a public transit system that works and is equitable and accessible to everyone—which means not putting all our eggs in one (LRT) basket.

We could draw on (eco-)systems thinking here. Systems thinking is about seeing all the parts of the system and the relationships among them as an integrated, dynamic whole, rather than just the individual parts. Integrating (eco-)systems thinking into design can improve a system’s capacity to handle pressures and disruptions. Fundamental to complex systems is the existence of alternatives, so the system is maintained even when something goes wrong somewhere. Redundancy, diversity and resilience are features of systems approaches.

That means a problem with one train car door doesn’t shut down the entire train/transit system. It means that bus options remain, so people have alternatives to get to where they need to go, at least through a period of transition from buses/transitway to LRT if not beyond. It means investing in improving ParaTranspo, and cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, as seamless parts of an integrated system.

It’s good that the City has announced some attention to and investment in solutions. Let’s make sure they’re comprehensive ones.

All Roads Lead to Tunney’s Pasture – D. Deby photo

Making Cycling Safe in Ottawa

Chalk tributes and calls for action for safe cycling, Ottawa City Hall, May 22 2019 – D. Deby photo

Update:Rolling for Justice Bike Ride and Gathering will take place on Wednesday, May 22 at 7:45 a.m. to show respect for the person who lost their life and to press for safe cycling in Ottawa. Everyone is welcome to cycle, roll or walk together, starting at the southwest corner of Nicholas and Laurier at 7:45 a.m. and ending at City Hall. Organizers encourage people to wear black and to ride silently. Further details on the Facebook event page, and/or follow #ottbike and #ottbikeaction on Twitter.

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Sorrow, anger, fear.

These are some of the feelings prompted by yet another death of an Ottawa resident, while he was cycling on one of Ottawa’s designated bike routes.

Sorrow—for the person who was killed, his family and friends and their loss.

Anger—that infrastructure- and driver-caused injuries and deaths are normalized in our city and that prevention of those injuries and deaths is not treated as a priority.

Fear—that while I’m cycling to and from work or errands my life is at risk. My own routes often take me on the Laurier Bike Lane, or through the Parkdale-Ruskin intersection. While the city has made some welcome improvements in cycling infrastructure, cycling in Ottawa is still unacceptably dangerous.

Improving it requires collective action and investments in better infrastructure, including changes in the way we think about and value those who use non-vehicle modes of transportation. As a cyclist, I try to bike safely and defensively, but all the helmets, lights, reflectors and bright orange vests I personally invest in are not going to keep me safe.

What was heartening yesterday was the groundswell of people, including city councillors, who spoke up, gathered outside City Hall, and left tributes to the cyclist. Hopefully this will be a turning point in our tolerance for cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths.

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Vote for a Sustainable Ottawa on October 22 2018

What’s the most important thing you can do for the environment on Monday, October 22? Vote.

Our municipal government is responsible for many of the systems that affect our ecological footprint as citizens and determine the city’s environmental health.

The people we elect need to lead the creation of sustainable, equitable and safe systems in many areas: planning and management of our built urban and rural environment (including development, infill, and affordable housing); action on climate change (including renewable energy); protection of our environment (including greenspace, trees, flora and fauna, water sources and quality); transportation (prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users); a strong local food system; and waste and recycling. They need to prioritize these in funding decisions. They need to value and support community engagement, local action, and accountability to residents as essential dimensions of our city’s governance. They need to work toward a different and better relationship with the Indigenous peoples on whose land we have built this city.

Some of the candidates for mayor and councillor have clear platforms on these issues (some may have even written the book on them). Others have positions or track records that indicate that these are not among their priorities.

If you need more information on the candidates for mayor, city councillors and school trustees before you vote:

  • Ecology Ottawa has done a survey of all candidates about their positions on local environmental issues.
  • The Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital has posted the results of a survey of municipal candidates on environmental issues.
  • The Ottawa Food Policy Council’s survey of candidates covers food issues.
  • OttawaStart has published a list of links to municipal candidate Q&As and debates.
  • The City of Ottawa website has lists of all candidates, including their websites, as well as information for voters about how and where to vote.

See you at the polls on Monday, October 22.

 

Ottawa Election 2018

The municipal election is still a couple of months away (Oct. 22), but it’s time to be hearing from candidates about their plans for a greener Ottawa.

Ecology Ottawa has a useful tool to help understand candidates’ positions on environmental issues. They’re doing a survey of mayoral and councillor candidates about their plans for climate change action and an active and green city, and are posting the answers.

So far more than 50 candidates have answered the questionnaire, but more than 60 have yet to reply. You can help by contacting the candidates to ask them to make their views known by Friday Aug. 10.

There are additional questions that candidates need to be asked—about plans for cleaner rivers, and for restoring Chaudiere Falls and the islands, for example—but the survey covers a wide range of important issues.

“For example, in the last budget round, the city committed only $500,000 in new money for Energy Evolution while committing over 80 times that amount – $43 million – on new road building and expansion. …Environmental leadership is needed at City Hall. Ottawa needs a greener city council and the 2018 election on Oct. 22 is an important opportunity to make it happen.” – Robb Barnes, Executive Director, Ecology Ottawa in the Ottawa Citizen

See more about Ecology Ottawa’s municipal election campaign on their website.

Jane’s Walk Ottawa 2018

Get to know your city and your neighbours; explore a new corner of Ottawa, or see a familiar, well-trodden area in a new light. You can do all of that and more at Jane’s Walk Ottawa, taking place on Saturday, May 5 and Sunday, May 6, 2018.

Jane’s Walk is one of my favourite events every year. It offers free walking tours, led by knowledgeable and engaging residents, to explore different areas of the city.

For more on Jane’s Walk Ottawa, what it’s all about and what’s on offer this year, check out this guest post.

Jane’s Walk Ottawa always includes numerous walks that explore Ottawa’s green spaces; consider how we as residents live in nature; cast a sharp eye on our land use and built environment choices; and look at what could be, as well as what has been. Here are some examples from this year’s schedule:

These are just a sample of the many historic, scenic and intriguing walks taking place during Jane’s Walk Ottawa weekend. Check out the full schedule and interactive map. Don’t forget the after-parties!