Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Making your own path

A while back, I participated in a transportation audit of my neighbourhood, along with some people from ACORN and the Healthy Transportation Coalition. We walked around the streets and noted things that needed fixing to make it easier to get around by bike, on foot, or with public transit. Things like cracked pavement, unsafe intersections, areas with bad lighting, places where there should be bike paths.

This spring, I got together with a bunch of people over at the mosque around the corner from my place to form a working group, organized by the Healthy Transportation Coalition. We talked things over and eventually ended up voting to tackle a couple of key spots.

The stone dust path through the park. Not pretty. 
One of those spots: Sandalwood Park. It's right behind my apartment building in the densely packed Herongate complex. Somewhere around 5,000 people live in Herongate, and they all cut through Sandalwood Park to get to the grocery store, drug store, and mall that is rapidly being rebuilt on the other side. (Long story: the old Herongate Mall was torn down a couple of years ago because it was falling apart. Now there is a series of retail clusters going in, including a drug store, a couple of fast food outlets, a Petsmart, and the FoodBasics grocery store.)

The complex has a lot of extended families living in it: households with parents, young children and grandparents. Maybe partly because it's a low-income neighbourhood, there are also a lot of people with baby strollers, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.

It is universally agreed that this path is a nightmare in the winter. It's paved with stone dust, and it turns into a pitted, slurry-coated mess when it rains. In the winter, it's not cleared, so people have to pick their way through the snow, eventually creating an uneven, tamped-down ice road that glasses over every time the temperature drops, making it treacherous even for me, a generally able-bodied and physically fit person.

Add to that, it's not lit at night. Neither is the basketball court, or the soccer pitch, even though evenings are the most vibrant times in this neighbourhood. Everyone, it seems, comes outside on cool summer evenings. The kids play soccer and basketball and play on the play structure, and the parents bring out thermoses of tea and sit on the grass to talk.

So, we figured we could organize a sort of pop-up action to point these problems out, and show the city (and the neighbourhood) what was possible.

Checking out the cycle track that never
happened with Councillor Cloutier. 
Over a couple of months, we talked to the local city councillor, Jean Cloutier, and tried to get some sense of what we might be allowed to do. I went with Trevor Hathaway from the HTC to meet Cloutier in his office, and he seemed keen. (He seemed less keen as time went on.)

We had also had some notion of trying to turn the paved kill strips on either side of Heron Road into temporary cycle tracks, but that proved to be a step too far for the City engineers, who couldn't sign off on it for "safety reasons."

Anyway, we at least got the go ahead to do a temporary "paving" of the pathway, and to string up lights in the park, on August 20, the same day as a "FunFest" being put on by Timbercreek, the property management company that runs Herongate.

So, last Saturday, I met up with Trevor at the park to - ahem - forge our own path.

He'd been to Canadian Tire (the Bank and Heron location), who gave us a discount on all the materials (shout out), and had a van full of 50 industrial rubber mats, 30 solar lawn lights, a ton of bike lights and clip-on lights, three strings of LED Christmas lights, and a solar-powered security light.

Job one: get the mats laid out and create a "paved" path. We dropped them off ten at a time along the path, then laid them all out end to end, overlapping slightly, and started working on taping them to each other. (The tape was a City requirement. We couldn't create a "tripping hazard.")



Once we had them all laid out, we could start trying to tape them down. The tape was actually a bit of a battle: turns out even duct tape doesn't really want to adhere to industrial foam mats. But we were undeterred! 


Eventually we resorted to stamping down all the tape with our feet to try and get it to stick. Mostly, it did. Mostly. 


Anyway, when we finally had all the mats down, and had gone through more than 120 yards of duct tape, we had something that looked amazingly - almost surreally - like a paved path. It was kind of beautiful. 

 

With the path set up, we set to work talking to people about it. There were crowds starting to gather for the festival, so I went out walking through the crowd talking to people and seeing if they wanted to fill in a short survey, basically just expressing support for the path being paved. 


I was amazed at the response. I once worked for a telemarketing company. I remember how hard it was to get people to answer a survey. This? Not hard. I would say, "Have you got a couple of minutes to answer a couple of questions about this pathway? We're trying to get it paved and cleared in the winter and lit at night," and people jumped at the chance. I had all of one refusal, and that was because he said he never used the park. Everyone else said, more or less, "hand me the clipboard, where do I sign?" From a bunch of lanky teenage boys who said, "You want to light the basketball court? Aw yeah!" to the graphic designer walking with a cane who said, "Oh, thank you for doing this, you're my new best friend, where do I sign up to know more about this?"


I think the telling bit was when Councillor Cloutier showed up. Someone came to get me to be in a group photo on the "pavement" with him. There was a photographer from the Ottawa South News there. As we were figuring out where to stand, she jokingly said to Cloutier, "But you know, if you're in this photo, you have to pave the path." 

He walked away. Just turned and walked away. The reporter even chased after him: he'd spotted the Gloucester-Southgate Green Party candidate and was walking with him toward the barbecue. She asked if he wanted to come back for the photo. "Not that photo," he said. And kept walking. 

(The Ottawa South News article about the event gives you a pretty discouraging sense of his attitude toward the project.)

But we walked around getting signatures. By the end of the festival, we had 110 completed surveys and had run out of copies in English. 

As the festival started to wrap up and the wind picked up, bits of the "path" started lifting in the wind and blowing away. 

Sic transit gloria mundi.
Finally we stopped trying to just clean up the bits that were actively flying off, and picked up all the mats, loading them back into the van. But it was time now to start setting up the lights! 

We had a 100-foot measuring tape, and the HTC's summer student, Mariema, helped me spool it out to mark off 20-foot intervals and make preliminary holes for all the ground lights. The thing we hadn't counted on was the large numbers of children in the park who would think the idea of a 100-foot measuring tape was great fun. One little dude, about two years old, I think, got hold of the end of the tape as I was reeling it in, and wound up being pulled in like a fish. He was pretty darn cute, but I kind of figured we might be in for some trouble. 
Yeah. Eventually a whole crowd of kids had clued in to the existence of 100 feet of measuring tape, spooled out. It got to be kind of chaotic. 


Eventually, though, we got the path measured out and the holes started, all ready for the solar lights. 

The last thing I did before I had to head out for the evening was to clamber up our 20-foot ladder to attach a solar powered security light to a light standard, using the high-tech method known as "zip ties."  We couldn't also put up the solar panel that charged it, but then it was only going to stay up until 10:00 pm, after which the City - who apparently have a problem with lights in parks - said we had to take it all back down. 
And then I headed out. Trevor and another volunteer stayed on to set up the path lights. 


I came away from the day with a sunburn, a sense of discouragement about City Hall's support for this, and a sense of encouragement about my neighbours and their support. I got to meet a lot more of my neighbours than I had before, the "paved" path looked awesome, and the lights were beautiful. And I got to help improvise a bunch of solutions on the fly as the day went on, which is always satisfying. 

Will our councillor do anything about this path? It doesn't seem likely. But on the survey we handed out, the last question asked what actions you were likely to take in the next year to fix an infrastructure problem in your neighbourhood. One of the teenaged bike-riding boys I got a survey from had answered, "I'd do something about it on my own with my friends."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

You know this means war. #MegsBike

The story of Meg's bike just keeps snowballing.

By now you probably know the back story, and if you don't, most of it is in the link above. Anyway, I have started keeping an eye on the corner of Riverside and Bank, and keeping a box of Crayola sidewalk chalk in my bike panniers. After it rained, I'd stop, usually on my way home from work, and chalk the bike back up. I got a bit creative at times, mixed it up a bit with bike styles, even with the direction the bike was facing (although I found I could only competently draw a bike facing left).

The idea was that I'd keep the chalk bike there, as much as I could, until something was done about the dangerous intersection. To date, three whole years after Meg was killed, nothing has been done to fix the infrastructure problems that led to her death.

But then the bike started disappearing with disturbing regularity. When it hadn't rained.

It poured last Wednesday night. I got caught in it, and drenched crossing the bridge. It was intense. But, I have chalk. So I put the bike back up Thursday night, on my way home from work.

On Friday morning, I rode past it on the way to work. But when I went by Friday evening, it was gone. It hadn't rained. Clearly, someone had come by and washed it off. But, I have chalk.

On Saturday - July 30 - around noon, I headed downtown to meet a friend, and was stopped in my tracks. The bike I had drawn about fourteen hours earlier had been washed away, at some point in the night. But what was in its place brought tears to my eyes.







That last one? It's a little washed out by the sunlight, but it says, "Bless whoever draws the bike." 

So yes. I cried on a street corner. Meg's family came to put the chalk bike back up, on the third anniversary of her death, and they thanked me. No: they blessed me.

So guess how I felt this morning when I saw this. 

Go ahead and guess.

Only the bike has been washed away. Not the hearts, not the other tributes written on the wall. Even the plea, "P. L.On," is still there. Meg's photo is still duct-taped to the wall. It's just the bike. This is the work of someone who, for whatever reason, specifically objects to memorials for people on bikes. Someone so threatened by a drawing of a bike done in white chalk that they find a watering can, fill it full of water, lug it all the way to the bridge, and sluice the chalk off in a fit of self-important rage.

Don't even get me started on the utter insult to Meg's family that this represents. On the eve of the anniversary of their loved one's death, this troglodyte marched down there and washed away the chalk bike. They went down there and drew it again, on the day she died, and actually asked him to leave it up. And the day after the anniversary of the death of their friend, daughter, wife, sister, aunt. . . he went back down there with his pathetic little watering can and his sense of entitlement.

This is someone who feels foot-stampingly righteous about removing even the chalk ghosts of the ghost bike that was once there; this is someone who thinks he "won" some kind of "battle" when the City came and cut the locks on the white bike that had been locked to that rail since August of 2013.

This is someone, in short, up with whom I will not put.



Chalk is cheap, bro. I can do this all day.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can we talk (again) about Billings Bridge?

Billings Bridge is rotten, although it's far from the biggest trouble spot on my commute (that honour will forever belong to Heron Road). Really, as long as I can take the lane sometime before I cross Riverside on my way north, and have the guts to hold it until I can duck onto Riverdale, it's just about tolerable. But it's precisely that lane-taking that led me to a realization.

There are sharrows painted on both outer lanes on that bridge. I don't know, maybe they give drivers some notice that bikes are allowed to take up space. It could happen. (Though, today's news that OC Transpo is investigating a bus driver who crowded a cyclist, opened his door, and said, "You got your one metre, now get out of the middle of the road," is not really encouraging on that point.)


In my experience, though, as I defiantly take the lane across this bridge, I can't just ride along where the sharrows are. If you ride, as I suppose you're expected to, through the middle of the "sharrow space," there is still just enough room for a driver to try to squeeze past you without crossing the dotted line.

And they will try. It happens all the time.

So, I actually ride even further to the left of the sharrows, right down the middle of the lane, because it's the only way to stop some idiot driver trying to squeeze between me and a car in the inside lane.

And that's when I realized. If there is room for me to ride along the outside of the "sharrow space" and still have there be enough space that a driver thinks they can pull off a pass, then there is more than enough room to hack a foot - or maybe a little less - of width off each of those lanes, and carve out an actual, painted bike lane. It would slow traffic to a (legal) 50 kmh instead of the 70 most cars are doing. It would give cyclists a little more breathing room across an unavoidable bridge. It wouldn't require any major reconstruction of a "heritage" structure.

Do this, and you'd be making a bridge many cyclists outright avoid (meaning they don't cross the river to Billings Bridge Mall or points south, opting for their safety over, say, shopping) a bridge that would actually feel less suicidal to cross. It would extend the established bike lane on Bank in front of the mall to connect with a popular downtown-bound bike route (Riverdale, leading to Echo and the Canal). It only makes sense. Why hasn't anyone done this yet?

Oh, right. This city thinks sharrows are adequate infrastructure.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement

So, a while back, the City of Ottawa decided that there needed to be a time limit on so-called "spontaneous memorials" (in response to about seven complaints). By that they meant ghost bikes. And down the ghost bikes came, including Meg Dussault's much-loved bike at Bank and Riverside. 

In late June, I noticed that someone had drawn a bike back on the wall where Meg's bike had been: something I'd been wanting to do. 



But rain and the elements being what they are, it was gone again some time after that. Or, possibly, the city washed it away. We don't know. 

I said at the time that I wanted to get some chalk and go put it back up, but then got overwhelmed by Canada Day and a fairly busy couple of weeks. But never fear: Darlene McLeod (otherwise known as @UrbanSlowLife) was on the job. 






By the time I saw her tweet, the rain had washed it out again. But I said I'd grab some chalk and stop by on the way home. So I did. And we agreed, over Twitter, to keep an eye on the place and keep putting the bike back up as long as we can.

I pulled over on my way home, broke out the sidewalk chalk, knelt down by the concrete wall, and started drawing. Personally, I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Apparently when I draw a bike, it's a stepthrough cruiser. 


The next morning, I told someone at work about it, and she said, "Oh, that was you? I saw that chalk bike this morning when I went by there!"

This weekend, it bucketed down rain. So, on Sunday, on my way home from a proofreading meeting, I stopped and put the washed-out bike back up. This time I gave it fenders, and added Meg's name in red behind the back wheel. 


I said, on Twitter, that I thought people should just adopt a site where a ghost bike once was, and do the same. Just chalk it back up every time it washed out, until something was done about the infrastructure that had resulted in there being a ghost bike there. Because there ain't no bylaw against drawing things with sidewalk chalk. Yet. 


I mean, if THREE people do it? Can you imagine three people walkin' in, drawin' a chalk bike and walkin' out? They might think it's an organization! And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . . walkin' in, drawin' a chalk bike and walkin' out? Friends, they may think it's a MOVEMENT, and that's what it is! The Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement!

Well. We've got at least three. At least an organization. 

Tonight, I was on my way home late, and as I rolled over the Billings Bridge, I glanced over to see how the bike was doing. And stopped, and went back. Because someone had been by, and embellished the bike, and left a neatly lined up set of sidewalk chalk on the rail beside it. 



I don't know who it was. But it made me really happy. 

Cause that's what it is, friends - the Chalk Bike Anti-Massacree Movement! And all you gotta do. . . is join in the next time it comes around on the guitar. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Putting the ghost bikes back

This morning, on my way to work, I saw that someone had finally done something I'd wanted to do. They'd gone and put Meg Dussault's ghost bike (at Bank and Riverside) back, in some form at least. 


Hail to this person. When I heard the city was going to start taking down ghost bikes, I was saddened and I was angry. Particularly on the first day I rode past Meg's bike's spot and it was no longer there. It had been the best-kept ghost bike in the city: flowers replaced regularly, decorated for holidays, kept clean and spruced by her husband Paddy, who didn't put it there, but went regularly to maintain it once he discovered its existence. I saw him there one morning, sweeping around it and changing the pots of hardy mums placed under the frame. Every time I went by that intersection, on my bike or in my car, I gave it a little salute. Meg was remembered. 

She was killed at that intersection by a truck on July 30, 2013. The ghost bike went up soon after, with laminated news articles and a copy of her obituary in the basket, so people would know who she was. Later, a laminated picture and a brief bio was wheat-pasted to the concrete next to the bike. It never got cluttered with faded tributes, it didn't rust or fall apart. It was clean and bright. I started to think of it almost as a silent friend. More cyclists than just me grew attached to it. My friend Ania said, "I pass there on my way to and from work...got used to seeing it there...On top of being what I think is a very lovely and appropriate memorial, I think it reminded drivers and cyclists to be mindful of that intersection."

There have only been a handful of complaints to the city about ghost bikes - seven over nearly two years, according to an access to information request filed by Ottawa Metro. But last fall the City decided to bring in a bylaw stating that "spontaneous memorials" needed to come down after 90 days, because of "public safety." It was fought over, and eventually extended to six months. And then they took them all down, a month or so ago.

At that point, Meg's bike had been there for nearly three years. 

In those three years, nothing was done about the intersection. The bridge over the river is as narrow and frightening as ever, and the only concession to bikes is still the sharrows that were painted shortly before Meg was killed, which are still generally ignored. I am often crowded to the right, toward the iron girders at the side of the lane, by aggressive drivers. Heavy trucks are still frequent. The bike path still crosses Bank. Cars still turn right across the path of cyclists crossing Riverside. The signals are the same. Nothing. Has. Changed. 

And now the City has decided we've remembered Meg for long enough, and ghost bikes are too depressing. They bring people down when all they want to do is have a nice drive around the city. Also, they're a visual distraction and they clutter up the sidewalk. It's a matter of public safety.

Spot the oh-so-distracting ghost bike.

For all those reasons, when I went by this morning and I saw that chalk bike drawn on the wall, with its small pink heart on the back wheel, I was happy. And when I posted the picture on Twitter, it was retweeted and favorited 57 times in a day - way more than anything I've ever posted before. 

That chalk bike isn't "erecting a monument on public property." It isn't "taking up space on the sidewalk." It would be a joke to suggest it was "a visual distraction." And it says, silently, that people loved that bike. That it was important to the people who passed it every day and gave it a little mental wave, like I did. It had become part of our community. And that we aren't just going to stand for having our reminders of the danger of car-centric design being just swept away after an appropriate six-month mourning period. That bike stood there as a silent accusation to the city, as the years went on and Paddy Dussault kept tending to it, and nothing - nothing - was done about the bridge or the intersection. And after it was cleared away, someone went and got some chalk and put it right back where it belongs. Maybe it was a family member: apparently they didn't know anything about ghost bikes until it appeared, but they certainly took it into their hearts and found comfort in it. Maybe it was just another cyclist or another member of the community who had loved the bike and missed it.

I think I'm going to get some sidewalk chalk and have it ready. I think we need to keep refreshing that ghost of a ghost. They can't tell us it's in the way. They can't tell us not to use chalk on concrete. We should do this all over the city. We should just put the ghost bikes back. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tactical urbanism, and the cycle track we didn't know was there

Allow me to wax enthusiastic for a moment.

I live in one of the city's "rough" neighbourhoods. When I tell people I live in Herongate, I get that raised-eyebrow look and an "ohhh. . . yeah. . ." Sometimes, in certain company, I say I live at "Bank and Heron" or "Heron and Alta Vista" instead, because of the "H-bomb" effect.

Allow me to dispel some of that. Yes, the landlords have been sketchy and the buildings have their problems and the pavement is cracked and falling apart. Yes, the police Guns and Gangs unit gets called out here more often than many neighbourhoods. But this neighbourhood is full of young, extended families and good people. Lots - really, most - of them are new immigrants. You can't be certain your neighbour in the elevator with you will speak English - or French. People in my building come from all over the world. A lot of them are from northern Africa and the Middle East, but you'll also hear Russian and African-accented French and Creole.

Sandalwood Park is busy in the evenings.
Summer evenings around here are great. People come outside in the evening and find places all over the neighbourhood to sit together in the cool air and talk. The kids play in Sandalwood Park till they can't see the ball anymore. Groups of men bring out folding chairs and card tables and play backgammon by the disused baseball diamond: groups of women bring out thermoses of tea and sit on the grass to talk while they keep an eye on the kids in the play structures. When it gets too dark, they go back inside. There aren't a lot of raucous parties around here.

I like this neighbourhood. The only thing I don't like is that it is shit to get around in without a car. Walking and biking and busing are awkward and uncomfortable. Herongate is hemmed in by Walkley and Heron Roads on the north and south, and Bank Street to the west. They're big, fast, four-lane streets with few crosswalks and narrow, unpleasant, cracked and uneven sidewalks. Biking is brutal: walking is no fun. Bus stops don't have shelters. Add to that the fact that many people here are living on lower incomes and car ownership is expensive. Busing is getting to be too expensive for many.

Enter the Healthy Transportation Coalition and their working group project. The HTC is running a program which coordinates local working groups in specific neighbourhoods to plan "pop-up projects" aimed at improving walking, biking and busing. The idea is that a temporary installation or event would give people in the neighbourhood a chance to see what's possible, and demonstrate to the city where there is a need for something permanent. I participated in a walkability audit of the area as part of the leadup to this last summer, and there have been a couple of local "sharing circle" meetings. I found out that there was a working group being put together for Herongate and came out to the first, priority-setting "dotmocracy" meeting a month ago.

Dotmocracy in action.
One thing about having these kinds of community meetings in Herongate is you need someone there who can do simultaneous translation in Arabic: half of the participants in that initial meeting didn't speak English very well. They were there in part because the president of Imam Ali (AS) Masjid, the mosque around the corner from me,  had volunteered the space in the mosque that we've been using for meetings, and had been encouraging members of the congregation to get involved. That did mean that things moved a little slower, as everything that was being explained in English had to then be translated into Arabic, but we managed, thanks to one member who volunteered to translate.

So we picked some priorities, and tonight we got together to think about what we could actually do (with limited budget and peoplepower). The start of the meeting was a little confused, what with some translation issues and a number of people who had to come late. But eventually a little band of us set off to check out Sandalwood Park, just east of Herongate, and see what we might be able to do.

The pathway through the park is one issue. It's not paved and it's not cleared in winter. It's muddy in the rain and downright dangerous when it's icy, and it's the main route through the park between the apartment buildings and the nearest grocery store.

It's also unlit, and the path ends at Sandalwood Drive, where it just runs to the curb. There's no curb cut to let people with strollers or wheelchairs access the path. There are also no signs to warn drivers that there are kids crossing the street from the apartment complex to the park.

Ideas we jotted down: we could put down some rubber matting to demonstrate where the pavement should go. We could get warning signs put up to alert drivers to the fact there are children crossing the road to the park from the driveway of the apartment buildings. (We can't put in a crosswalk because you're not allowed to construct a crosswalk within a certain distance of a bend in the road, and Sandalwood curves.)

We could also buy some cheap solar LEDs to light the path, and mount them on the baseball net and other fencing along the path. We noted a few big lights on poles, aimed at where the skating rink is set up in the winter: I went by later that night and discovered that those lights don't come on in the summer. In a community where so many kids play soccer and basketball, and so few play hockey, it seems like those lights should be on in the summer too. Not to mention they'd make the park feel a lot safer at night.

The path really needs paving. And winter maintenance.
Then we walked over to Heron Road, thinking about how we might be able to host a weekend evening in the park to unveil the solar lights and the "pseudopaving," and then we started looking at the road and got pretty excited about the possibilities.

Heron Road is big and fast, but it has these inexplicable paved strips right beside the road, separated from the sidewalk by a strip of grass. I'm not really sure what these "kill strips" are for. But as we looked at them. . . well . . .

That's basically a cycle track. Pre-made and ready to go. All it needs is a lick of paint and a couple of bike symbols. And there's one on each side of Heron, between about Baycrest and the point where Heron and Walkley converge - a couple of big blocks. Beyond that the hydro poles start to encroach and get in the way but, right next to the Herongate complex, Heron Road is flanked by two unobstructed, segregated cycle tracks that just aren't official.

As we started picturing it painted green, we started getting practically gleeful. It was just too perfect - at least for those few blocks - and, to me at least, the image of a raised, protected cycle track along a high-speed car corridor in this scrappy, low-income neighbourhood was just beautiful.


Next steps: we try to figure out what kind of paint would be allowable. We price it out. We try to set up a meeting with Councillor Cloutier. We check into costs on solar lights we can rig up on the fences and light posts that already exist in the park, and what kind of rubber matting we could get to mock up pavement on the path.

Gonna be fun. 









Sunday, May 15, 2016

How do you solve a problem like Bank Street?

Rode home from dinner with friends tonight from the Gabriel's Pizza at Bank and Hunt Club. It went like this:

Coming out of Gabriel's, kicking a leg over the bike, getting the last bit of chatting in with my friends, I watched a guy lean on the horn for something like 10 seconds behind another driver who was waiting at a red light to exit the parking lot. My friends and I looked at each other, baffled. The cars were both in a separate lane which only had the option of going straight through, or left. The light was clearly and obviously red. The driver in back was clearly very, very angry that the driver ahead of him wasn't turning left through the red light.

This is an encouraging thing to watch, when you're about to head out of the parking lot, across six lanes of road, and turn left to head down Bank with a right-turn lane on your right. On a bicycle.

Once I'd left the parking lot, I continued on Bank, past South Keys Mall on my left. At this point, Bank is two or three lanes wide, depending on the turn lanes, which come and go. The posted speed limit is 50 km/h.

The posted speed limit is a joke. This road was, until 18 years ago, Ontario Highway 31.

Past Johnston, I get to take the bridge over the train tracks. Fun! These train tracks cut across the north end of Gloucester-Southgate Ward, slashing a line of blankness through the roadmaps, cutting off one community from the other and leaving a wasteland between them of abandoned ravine, unused "park," empty lots, a drainage lagoon, hydro towers, and some industrial buildings. Oh, and the paved desolation of the Greenboro Park-n-Ride.


You see that one road, just about in the middle of the image? You see how it goes right up to the tracks, stops, then starts again just south of the tracks? That's Albion. That road is the sign and emblem of the whole severed, truncated, isolated neighbourhood. Mon pays, c'est that road.

The bridge has lousy pavement and the added spice of knowing that cars might come flying over the crest without seeing - or expecting - a cyclist. Is my taillight working? Is it bright enough? Should I have more taillights? Can they even see me? Speeds here, as further south on Bank, are usually much higher than the posted 50 km/h limit.

On the other side of the bridge, I can duck right on Kitchener Ave, and after that things are pretty calm. And then I'm home.

Traveling north/south in this city, by bike, is orders of magnitude nastier than traveling east/west. The city's mostly strung east to west along the Ottawa River: that might be it. There's also the uncomfortable truth that the south end of Ottawa - particularly Herongate/Alta Vista/Ledbury, the neighbourhood I'm getting increasingly militant about calling mine - is economically disadvantaged, with a high proportion of minorities and new immigrants. But Bank Street is the major north/south road in the city of Ottawa. And sooner or later, if you live near it, you have to deal with it. In my area, that means if you want to go to South Keys Mall, or the Greenboro Community Centre, or to visit a friend in the South Keys neighbourhood, there is no reasonable way to get there without taking Bank Street, whether you're in a car, on a bike, or on foot. Ditto if you want to go north, toward downtown.

And Bank Street is a highway. It's Ottawa Route 31. Formerly (until 1998) Ontario Highway 31. You can dress it up with 50 km/h speed limit signs but face it: it was designed for 70-80 km/h and it feels downright silly to try and drive down this sweeping, six-lane thoroughfare at 50 or even 60 km/h. You really can't expect people to go that speed on a wide, multilane road past big-box stores, sound barrier walls, car dealerships, and park-n-rides.

So what do you do? You take bikes (and pedestrians) off it. If you can't make your main north-south artery - for the whole city - reasonably safe for cyclists and pedestrians, then they shouldn't be forced to use it. Nothing that comes with a little shield with a number on it on the road maps should be considered acceptable for bicycles. Build a parallel bike track.

Or, if your bike track is too hard to build onto your train bridges and overpasses, find other routes nearby that connect the same key nodes. In this case, Albion. (Remember Albion? Up there in the image? Hi, Albion!)

What we need is a pedestrian and bike bridge connecting the north and south stubs of Albion Road. This is my route to a friend's place in South Keys, as it stands:

That huge diversion over to the west, onto a former highway, and then back (via a left-hand turn across three lanes that puts my heart in my mouth, by the way) could be cut out entirely by a pedestrian/bike bridge on Albion, over the tracks. 

I'd be able to just go straight across on Albion, without that big U-bend in my trip. I wouldn't be trying to "share the road" with 80 km/h cars. Pedestrians could get from one side of the tracks to the other without walking the laughably narrow sidewalks over the bridge with trucks thundering past. The parkland on either side of Albion might actually get developed into something other than an overgrown and underused ravine full of vines and blown-in garbage. 

And one more connection between neighbourhoods, in an area sadly full of isolated and cut-off neighbourhoods with roaring car-dominated streets between them, would be made.