The Virtues of Six-storey Height Limits

2014/02/18

The following was sent today, to oppose the proposal for a 16-storey tower on a site 90 metres from our house on a street which had in 2005, a community design plan approved which called for increases in height to a 6-storey limit:

= = = = =

Mr. Doug James, City of Ottawa (Comments on 541-545 Rideau Street: File D02-02-13-0129)

Please accept my comments so late.

We live within the 120 metres of this proposal’s site, in a single-family home, living car-lite and relying on the Vrtucars parked on this site, and on the five bus routes that run within one block of our home.  When we bought here in 2006, we knew of the Richcraft OMB ruling across the street from this site, which allowed for 9 storeys on Rideau and four storeys on Besserer.  We also knew of the recently-approved Community Design Plan’s failure to hold the community supported six-storey height limit, a recognition that this street has a more important role than Besserer’s (although we sustained five months of carrying most of Rideau Street’s east-bound traffic during last fall’s construction shut-down).

Since that time, things have been mostly quiet, except that Cobourg-Rideau, with a restaurant on  each corner, is now mostly empty.  And two of the four corners is changing hands to parties expecting to make a good return from breaching the vision of the street.   These proposals don’t reflect the changing times that have resuscitated the currency of traditional main streets: it status of being the first residential-location choice for those in two age-cohorts: 18-40 and 50-75, leaving the side streets for the slight, but growing numbers of those in the other cohorts to live nearby.

The street provides the basis for a life of full involvement, regardless of income or mode of transportation.  Six stories is a natural height, one that cities around the world have discovered allows all occupants of a building to be part of a street’s life, rather than a perch from which to vicariously observe it (cf, Jonathan Rabin’s dichotomy of “air people” and “street people” in his sketch of New York City (Hunting Mr. Heartbreak).  In those buildings, value declines from the ground up, rather than do the opposite in high-rise buildings.   In a main street, value comes from being connected to the street, and there is a limit in how far the human voice — competing with other noises — can be relied on to carry for a short exchange of information, or for unmagnified eyesight to allow recognition of a someone walking.

Part of the push upward is caused by the car, both the distancing of perspective that its insulating structure induces, and the need to park growing numbers of privately owned vehicles in the same building site, the result of one of the abominations of our the last age: ancillary parking. Oh, yes, I have written the applicant that the Vrtucar parking spaces must survive his wrecker’s ball, and asked why the entire car-access needs of the future residents can’t be accommodated by tomorrow’s thinking, rather than by yesterday’s.  [See the many articles about the decline in young people's interest in getting a licence or buying a car, and all age groups' reduction in driving; These structures' parking facilities are unlikely to be converted to other uses, when demand for them subsides.].

So, despite the several taller buildings existing along the north side of Rideau in this stretch that exceed the six storeys, all were built before the plan’s approval and by public authorities (including 160 Chapel, that was originally the Ontario government’s Pestalozzi College), the street can still belatedly become a true main street.

I hear that theme every two weeks at discussion sessions of our group, Friends of Uptown Rideau, which meets at the Econolodge’s breakfast room (formerly a real restaurant before the street declined).  I hear it at the Sandy Hill Seniors network sessions.  I hear it when I meet neighbours while doing my duties as a block captain for Action Sandy Hill.  The street needs change, but not to be scarred by an act that will be with us for decades.  We even have some doubts that the retail that these owners are forced to build as part of their project will add much to the walking commerce of the street, vs. capitalize on the street’s heavy motor traffic, which will require yet more parking (all if which, because it is on private land, won’t be shared).

Mr. Sinha is more environmental than most infill builders.  That is good, but he is constrained by the same system as us, and feels justified in asking for more density than will be good for the street or for the existing residents.  And the current owner, Robert Jutras, I know, as well; he was the long-time chair of the Uptown Rideau Business Association (URBA), but health issues have led to his decision to act now to realize a dream he had when he first bought on the street many years ago, when he thought the street was ready for resuscitation.  Both are fine people.

Don’t just slot us neighbours into the NIMBY/BANANA camp; we know how streets work.  I lead the annual Jane’s Walk of the street, too, focusing on its changing commercial climate.  I have read Ms, Jacobs’ seminal work twice, and her other books as well.  She has provided the runaway urban development community a slap on the face, that your generation has the freedom to appreciate and implement, unlike my generation.

Chris Bradshaw

p.s., Am I correct in assessing that the City’s notice procedure as resulting in Action Sandy Hill NOT receiving a timely notice of this development, despite their “territory” falling with the same 120 metres as our house?

cc. Councillor Fleury
Friends of Uptown Rideau
Action Sandy Hill
Lowertown Community Association

No Need for Feds to Deliver Mail; Any Kid Could Do It

2013/12/16

It has finally happened.  The federal government in Canada has dropped the other shoe; after decades of installing “superboxes” in all rural and newly-built suburban areas, instead of providing personal home delivery, it has just announced that it will soon install them in the “grandfathered” area: those built areas constructed before the 1980s.

I sensed this would happen when I wrote my “Walk ‘n’ Roll City” vision for cities (elsewhere on this site), and I saw it as an opportunity.  I still do.  Cities are part of a “scalar hierarchy” in which the individual is the most basic, then the others are layered over it (or “nested” around it): 2) family/household, 3) block, 4) neighbourhood, 5) city-region, 6) nation, and 7) globe (see Creating and Using . . .).   My “Walkability” chapter in Beyond the Car (also posted here) described how the loss of corner stores meant that both households and neighbourhood food distribution scales had to compensate; how the former had taken on more food-storage chores (basement areas and larger kitchens) and how bedrooms of teenagers had grown larger to accommodate microwaves and small fridges.  The corner store had once been the block’s refrigerator and close-proximity source for last-minute food orders.  Of course all homes eventually got refrigerators, and last-minute food needs were a good use for the cars every adult now has.  The neighbourhood, except in older areas, is not equipped with food stores; these are now at the hybrid scale of district, half-way between neighbourhood and city-region, well beyond walking distance.

The mail service has lost some of its localness over the decades.  The multiple deliveries each day that were common ended when postal codes were introduced so that machines could read and sort them.  They were fast, but they required transporting all the mail across an entire city to where the expensive machinery was located.  No longer would the mail dropped in nearby boxes be taken to a local substation and sorted by hand, a necessity to allow several deliveries a day possible.  These were the days — before computer typesetting — when daily newspapers had several editions each day.

We got used to reduced deliveries and longer in-transit times, which, after all, could not equitably be matched in the suburbs and rural area, anyway.   This was the cue to private couriers to provide, for a price, what was missing, first to business-to-business deliveries, and now to the deluge of stuff ordinary people order on-line.  Canada Post, though, would not allow its letter carries and the residents’ mailboxes to be used for that “last kilometre.”  The bifurcation of home delivery was set: Canada Post was a monopoly and the other stuff was left to an ordinary competitive market.  Canada Post seems to have understood, as they bought one of the competitors: Purolator.

In any case, the lack of a functioning block scale of life was something I was trying to re-invent in 1992, and I came up with a re-conceived corner store, the “DePoT,” or Delivery and Point of Transfer.  It would provide a place for the Canada Post to drop off its daily deliveries, much like a superbox, a rural post office, or an apartment mail room.  But it would be indoors, encouraging people to meet and chat.  But it would also also be accessible to all the other delivery services, including neighbours wanting to distribute notices for a community event.  Those wanting things delivered to their home could contract with a young person to do that on a daily basis.  This would solve the problem of shut-ins being discriminated by the dropping of home-delivery.

But it would also do other things, so that it could become a real business, perhaps run out of a ground floor of a house (as most corner stores were) or, in the suburbs, a converted double-car garage: it would be where you brought your various “unusables”: garbage, recyclables, and workable items that could be sold, traded, left for anyone to take away for free.  It would allow for more careful sorting than hundreds of thousands of citizens could be trained to do correctly.  The same young people who do delivery work would also do the secondary sorting of trash, etc.  Adults, with kids as apprentices, would also sift through it for items they could repair and rehabilitate for resale.  Instead of City trucks stopping at each house for each of four different streams of stuff each week, they could have specialized trucks, provide by the companies buying the material doing it, and doing it only when the DePoT staff called for it.

These places would also provide meals for latchkey kids whose parents could not get home in time.  They might rent a room or to two a visitor, a la co-housing’s model.  They could also rent things needed infrequently, such as ladders and tree-trimming gear.  The rest of the revenue would come from things that corner stores now provide to a minority without cars, which will grow in the future, as carsharing spreads.  Heck, DePoTs are perfect places for these cars to be located — and they could be used by the DePoT owner who will need some wheels for picking up material for sale and for food preparation.

So Canada Post, you have provided an opportunity.  Will neighbourhood community associations see it that way, and start planning, or will they dig in for a fight?

 

Ottawa’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) Needs Reorientation next time it’s reviewed

2013/11/15

Presentation to Transportation Committee on the Transportation Master Plan
Chris Bradshaw, November 15, 2013

My comments are comprehensive and more appropriately apply to the next review of these various plans, although I offer seven suggested changes to the current Master Plan.  I am not addressing the pedestrian or cycling plans, despite my strong support for those two modes.  Today, I am concentrating on driving, and mostly car-ownership.

Since 1978, I have had two passions: 1) bringing political awareness and stature to pedestrians and 2) reducing the footprint of cars.  Since that time, I have practised using all modes by what I call the “green transportation hierarchy.”  I can also count time at a U.S. college that forbid students from having a car and most professors walked to the campus, and my employment soon afterwards with General Motors in Canada.  My wife and I live in Sandy Hill; we have been “car-lite” since 1995.

What I have come to conclude, and share with you today is that “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”  My fascination with transportation has resulted in much published writing and speeches.  In one of them, I created a way of measuring transportation by any mode so all trips could be compared.  The result was the Neighbourhood-Radius Foot-Unit of Transportation, NRFUT (or “Enerfoot”), shows the following “footprint” of the different modes:
= = = = = =
NRFUT Hierarchy of Modes:
Mode Used             #2      #3      #4     #5     #6        #7
Drive owned car    30         5       1.2    120     10      1250
Drive shared car    30         3       1.33      7     10        670
Rideshare                30         5       2.5     60    15         900
Taxi or ride-share  30         4       1.2*    96     5         480
Use Transit            100         3.5  20*     17.5 13.7     240
Ride a bike                 3          2        1         6      4          24
Walk                            1           1         1        1       1.2         1.2
Notes: Column #2: space occupied; #3 SPAM factor (1-5); #4: Avg. no. of travelers; #5:Total Footprint; #6: Avg trip length; #7: Total NRFUT score.  NRFUT=neighbourhood-radius foot-unit of travel; SPAM= Storage (parking), Pollution, Anxiety (caused to others), Manufacturing/Morbidity; * Not counting driver, who is tied to the vehicle
= = = = = = =

The ratio from the largest to smallest NRFUT count is roughly 1:1000.  The great differences have to do with the vehicle size, the longer distances “enabled” by vehicles, the low occupancy “enabled” by private ownership.  Private ownership also ensures the vehicles are used often and are large and “amenitied” enough for not average trip but the few most demanding ones.

It is accepted around this table that people are free to pick whatever mode they want.  But many over here would suggest there is much favouritism granted the private car:

1)    It supposed benefits to “the economy,” although not so much the local economy.”

2)    Federal housing policies that promote home-ownership in new houses and provide energy subsidies.

3)    Provincial policies that tax property on its retail value, not its and its occupants’ demand for services.  Note that local roads are not supported by gas taxes or provincial fees.

4)     Zoning that requires oversupplies parking, making it “free” (which is a subsidy “buried” in prices, wages, rents/mortgages).

5)    Auto and housing advertising that ties ownership to “freedom” and “status”

6)    Car owners, in a sense “subsidize their own cars by ignoring 80% of car costs that are fixed, some of which the CAA also ignores (owner time costs, parking at home), in costing trips.  [I have campaigned with the Envirocentre to do household transportation audits, to overcome this.]

But there is a rising tide of concern:

1)     Environmental concerns have reached an “immovable” object: Climate Change

2)    Health has focused on inactivity and its contribution to many conditions.

3)    Oil is used as leverage by “rogue” states

4)     “Peak Car”has arrived: the decline of auto use, auto-ownership, and delays for young people in getting licensed has occurred since 2006, before the financial melt-down.  Part of this decline is the increasing reality that driving in cities is no longer fun; while walking always is, especially when it means always being connected to one’s social network.

Think of the automobile’s historic century of ubiquity as a pendulum: the first 50 years were downhill, the last fifty has been uphill, to the point of it coming to a stop and reversing direction.

What is the focus of this Master Plan?  It is peak-hour travel, a product of jobs times geographic scale of the “commutershed”: the territory within which the car has made daily commuting possible.  Car ownership and jobs have conspired to create a problem that we never solve, plan after plan: too many cars carrying too few people going to jobs too far from where the people live.  How can roads be congested, when the cars causing the congestion aren’t near to being full?  Why doesn’t the Plan consider more options than two pages describing “ridesharing” to get more people in those cars to reduce the number of cars using the roads at the same time.  The current problem is the treating private car ownership as sacred, in which driving is good and “passengership” is bad.

A couple years ago, I had a private audience of PGM (Planning & Growth Management) staff, including Ms. Scheppers, to pitch a concept, which I called “Trans-Seat,” a hybrid of carsharing and ridesharing, which would overcome all the problems of ridesharing as well as the problems of transit: greater flexibility for ridesharing, and overcoming the reality that people who use either one are deprived of car access for half the week.  Trans-seat uses carshare vehicles with two stations each, one in a residential suburb and the other in a suburban employment area.  The cars are stationed at the former on evenings and weekends (to replace second-cars), and at workplaces on weekdays to provide a vehicle for personal or business trips, even including some ridesharing (lunch, going to the same remote meeting).  The car is driven between the two as part of a ridesharing plan each weekday morning and evening.

Even though it is too late to start this review over, I have a few changes to suggest for the next one in 5-7 years.

1)    Commit the city to reducing car-ownership, downsizing democratically the car “population” to fit the road capacity, not the other way around.  This should be done through shared fleets in private hands.  Note how many carsharing companies have been bought by car-rental firms (for example, Discount has just started its Student Carshare, now at three campuses in Ottawa).

2)    Second, make transit service better at off-peak times, getting more use out of buses that sit idle for most of the service week.  This would draw “transit-choice” riders to use it for trips other than commuting, and improve life for the so-called “transit-captive” half of the population that don’t have cars or aren’t allowed to or aren’t supposed to drive, the “PED-CIVS”: Poor, Elderly, Disabled, Children, Ill &Infirm, Visitors, and what I call Simplicists, those who actually choose to live without a car.

3)    Adopt the Affordable, Low-NRFUT Transportation Hierarchy – Walking, Cycling, Transit & Trucking, Shared cars, with private (and usually single-occupant) vehicles at the bottom.  This will require each report to Council for a transportation expenditure, including transit, will include a statement of how many NRFUTs (“enerfeet”?)will be saved.

4)    Exert more control over subdivision design and the location and scale of retailing.  This is needed to make the 150 or so local communities “complete.”  Parking requirements – except setting maximums– should be eliminated, leaving parking to be a market of its own.  Saying “mixed-use” is not specific enough.  Make the neighbourhood associations more relevant by giving them a role and letting them tax their residents and businesses to have the resources for full participation in their planning.

5)     Start telling commuters that they can only use so many NRFUT for their peak-hour commute, and any excess will be charged for through some form of road pricing.  Tax all off-street parking as well [see University of Ottawa’s Sustainable Prosperity’s The Costs of Sprawl].  And tell them that their affordability model should consist of tracking housing and transportation together, and that living close to work and “conveniences” translates into saving fixed car costs as well as variable ones.

6)    Abandon any further “rapid transit” projects until you have done all upgrades to walking and cycling infrastructure and to bring in streetcars to all main street spines feeding the core (which were once part of the City’s plan, but were dropped several years ago, another example of the myopic focus on having transit compete with subsidized car-commuting).

7)    Finally, require that the next review include two additional plans: a) A transit plan that will finally have clear numbers for costs by km and time of day and data from PRESTO on how the resources are used. B) A car plan to ensure that the car “population” is reduced by a target amount.

NOTE: on terminology: “Complete Streets” conjures up a characterization of our current arterial roads as “compete streets” (e.g., road rage, etc.)   The “master” plan seems like a plan prepared by the “masters” of our automobile-dependent complex (congestion at rush hour – like freedom to cross streets anywhere, anytime – is seen as an impediment to higher car-ownership rates).  After seeing the films, “The Human Scale” and David Chernushenko’s “Bike City, Great City” at the Mayfair Theatre in the last week, I am reminded of my little ditties: “Car-Full, Careful; Car-Free, Carefree” and “Cars scar; parks spark.”

Ottawa’s Official Plan’s Fatal Flaw

2013/11/08

“The Plans’ Fatal Flaw,” A presentation to the City of Ottawa Planning Committee on the issue of adopting a revised Official Plan

by Chris Bradshaw, resident of Sandy Hill, November 8, 2013

I retired from planning almost 20 years ago.  I have used a good part of my retirement to scratch an itch that was already bothering me.  I wanted to solve the car problem.  Four of the five plans going to Council see it don’t see any car problem; instead they see a peak-hour road-congestion problem.  They see the limited roadway space and think the solution is to build more roads and getting a few people to shift to other modes, a drop in the driver share from 55% to 50%.   I see it as there being too many cars and having a roads that don’t work for any of the other quality of life metrics of the plan.

Cars were invented for rural folk and for those wanting to visit rural areas from cities, not to be used in cities.  But it grew, as any market does, to fill needs that it itself invented.  Using them to drive to work each day took several more decades.  From the device to escape the city, it became more: the all-purpose family car, and now the indispensable personal car.  Everyone is assumed to either own a car or to yearn to own one.  Municipal councils’ role, historically, has been to widen and otherwise improve roads; you are a handmaiden to its growth, and more importantly your every action is a promise to car owners that you place their interests foremost, despite all the window-dressing about walking, cycling, and transit.

We as a society don’t understand cars.  They are essentially personal possessions, but designed to be used only on public rights of way, and too large to keep in a bag or purse.  They essentially convert public space into private space.  Used in large numbers – as private ownership induces and enables – they degrade the places where citizens meet and do commerce, into corridors to be traversed as quickly as possible.  Why did cars become personal possessions in the first place?  Cars, like buses, as we see in car-rental, taxi, and carsharing, can be a shared community resource, like buses.  Technology has arrived that can make it happen, both that used by taxi-like services like Uber to match owner with user, and the self-driving technology on the horizon make it possible.

Ironically, the City has a plan for walking, and another for cycling, but not one for either transit or for cars (which could address private and fleet/communal uses, although perhaps that could (and should) be part of the transit plan.  I consider these communal uses MASC, or Metered Access to Shared Cars (in some ways they are more metered than transit, which does not base fares on distance driven).

By using MASC to replace OPOCO (the one-person, one-car orientation), Ottawa will no longer have a car population big enough to create congestion, and will reduce parking demand significantly, for 6-8 times as many cars in the population, thanks to the car’s mobility and its 22.5 hours a day of “inactivity.”  Not only are there too many cars, each car is too big, as its owner chooses a model that meets the the most demanding (but usually rare) trips over 4-5 years, despite most trips being able to by done via a bike.

Planners accept the problem as being theirs because they assume that each person who owns one, freely chose it to meet their transportation needs, and that it is up to government to help them reap value from their annual outlays of $10,000 or so in insurance, gasoline, depreciation, maintenance, finance costs, and license fees, which doesn’t include the owner’s labour and his cost of off-street parking at his residence.  Sustainable Prosperity’s Costs of Sprawl documents otherwise.

I’m here to say there really is no problem.  How can roads be congested if the cars on it are mostly empty?  How can a road ever be “efficient” and “safe” but be full of inefficiently used cars and drivers are moving at a legal speed ensures death if there is a minor error in judgement by either the driver or a vulnerable road user?

What can we do here?  Perhaps it is inappropriate that I raise my deep concerns during the brief public consultation exercise of what is a “refresh” of these documents.  But I can suggest a few changes to you, so that the next review will dig deeper and start earlier.  First note that 95% of the capital budget for the next 18 years is being focused on the rush-hour problem, and the continued commitment to bedroom communities. [Sustainable Prosperity, based at the U. of Ottawa, says in its recent Costs of Sprawl report that rapid transit is actually a sprawl-inducing expenditure].  This plan is, as the introductory sections worry, unaffordable, not just to the City, but to its citizens, who have to own a car and buy monthly unlimited-use bus passes it they behave as planners hope.

What I recommend when you start your debate of this plan, is:

First, put back into the plan the statement that your first priority is to create a city in which one does not need to own a car or drive in order to live a full life (“car-optional” lifestyles, if you will).  And focus the plan on the core metric of reducing car-ownership, through alternatives to private car-ownership, MASC as a transition from “car-lite” to “car-free”.

Second, drop all parking requirements in zoning bylaws, except setting maximums, with the expectation that off-street parking should be a privately provided commodity, and that with a properly controlled car population, on-street parking might be all that is needed.

Third, petition the province to revamp the property taxes and development charges to bear no hidden persuasions to opt for low-density, isolated suburban bedroom communities, including allowing cities to tax all off-street parking and require landlords to recover such costs solely from the parties that use the parking – including MASC users.

Fourth, formalize the hierarchy of travel modes (walking, cycling, and transit, followed, by MASC, ahead of OPOCO-SOVs).  The upper modes are ranked in order of the space they occupy, the embedded energy & pollution of the vehicles they use, and their impact on affordability, health, social, and environmental “goods.”  When reports come to Council for each transportation-infrastructure project, each needs to be required to justify itself in terms of inducing further shifting UP that modal hierarchy and to reduce average trip lengths.

Fifth, get a grip on the scale and location of retailing and other public-serving institutions.  Bring back the old retail dichotomy – “Convenience” and “DSTM” (department-store type merchandise) — that belong, respectively, in each “complete community” (neighbourhood) and “complete” district (including the downtown core).  Then look to bringing back the corner store to serve the sub-neighbourhood level.  It needs to be studied first, and I would recommend going to my website, http://www.hearthhealth.wordpress.com, to see more details of what I call “DePoTs (delivery and points of transfer, which include functions to mail delivery and a higher grade of recycling, in the “Walk ‘n’ Roll City” essay).

 

Ottawa Needs a Transit Plan

2013/11/04

To: Members of the Ottawa Transit Commission

Topic: Comments on the Master Plans [in draft form: Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan, Pedestrian Plan, Cycling Plan, Infrastructure Plan]I have attended a good many commission meetings.  I have been trying to understand the transit “biz,” and to influence the development of better transit, which included addressing the commission both as a representative of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee — of which I am still an active member — and as an individual.  In submitting comments here, I act in the latter capacity.

My wife and I live in Sandy Hill.  We are retired with three grandchildren, two living in Ottawa.  We do not own a car, using Vrtucar a bit, but mostly walking, cycling, and transit.  This combination meets our needs for frugality and health.

I know that most of the delegations to  the Commission over the current  term have addressed service and fares of both the “fixed-route” and Para services.  The master plans are not something these groups and their “publics” easily relate to, and I suspect, you will not get that many comments on them.

But I suspect part of the fault of that is the lack of a specific “transit” master plan, as the two modes of cycling and walking get.  The gap leaves many matter untouched.  That goes for the two modes of driving cars and being a passenger in cars, plus freight transportation.  The TMP only addresses matters that are, in fact, not the domain of the commission: building infrastructure to speed up transit-passenger movement, and development around transit stations (ignoring the failure to put transit where people live and shop, which calls for streetcar service, that was in a previous plan but was not even mentioned here).

The TMP allocates $3 billion to transit infrastructure and almost $1 billion to “roads,” while beggaring walking and cycling.  And yet, the TMP, OP, and of course, the Cycling and Pedestrian plans clearly recognize the superiority for Equity, Efficiency, Affordability, and Environment/Energy factors, not to mention road congestion, to having major shifts away from car use.

I am asking, therefore, one simple thing: That the Commission request that Council, in time for the next review, prepare a master plan for transit.  I would suggest that plan would address the following matters:

1. Examine car-ownership rationale.  Why are cars purchased, and what mix of improvements to the other modes would make it possible for households to not purchase a car, including the availability of car-sharing across the whole urban area, which makes it possible to get access to cars without ownership?

2.  Revisit the business plan that is common to all public-transit agencies in North America, which is wholly based, as the draft TMP admits, on making a small dent in the modal share for drive-alone commuting at peak-hour.  That results in a certain “respect” for the residents with cars — considered “transit-choice” people — who can use their cars as a threat at rush-hour, vs. those without cars (the “transit-captive”) who must accept whatever off-peak service that is offered them.  As I’ve pointed out during previous presentations, it is most easily summed up as “walking twice as far; waiting twice as long, for a trip less than 20% as long, and still paying as much (or for seniors, about 75% as much) as “AAAs” (active, affluent adults) pay.  The current poor off-peak service will never attract those who can buy cars, even if challenges their household’s affordability standards.  So most households face the most inefficient arrangement of all: bus passes for all members over 13, and a car for each person over 16 for the rest of their trips.

3.  The TMP gives figures for the length of the average transit ride and the average car ride.  I have to suspect the figures come from the O-D Survey, which is done once every five or so years, and for a small sample of households based on one adult member’s knowledge and memory of what travel they and the others in the household did the previous day.  Thanks to the Presto system, OC Transpo can now get more data.  But here’s the question: Why has the Presto system been implemented without any way to find out where Presto users disembark?  Vrtucar and Bixi know that information, even if they have to hide identities of users to share with others; and Metrolinx’s system allows for “tapping” when disembarking, since many systems in the GTA have “zone” fares that are a crude, old-technology way of charging by distance.

4. Related to the previous question, could the Transit Master Plan examine a fare system that charges by distance?  All other modes charge some or all of their costs by distance (e.g., gas for cars, km charges for carsharing, time for bikesharing), but a 20-km cross-city commute on the transitway at peak period — when buses are in short supply and extra drivers cost a premium for split-shift work — costs the same as a senior riding at midday to go five stops to a shopping centre or health/recreation complex.  Remember the latter user has a longer walk and wait (and the probably most of the total travel time is spent on those ancillary two activities rather than sitting on a transit vehicle).

The focus on the decision of households to buy a car — or a second or third car — is going to require a great deal of research: focus groups, review of psychological and economics research to understand what choices people face, what they value most, and how they plan for their futures.  It will mean exercising leadership, rather than being happy with “peer reviews.”  Ottawa was a leader when it created the bus-based transitway system (now called BRT internationally), but now it is following again.

I want to ask for one other thing: Restore and expand that is part of the 2008 TMP: “In 2031, the ability of residents to access essential opportunities will not depend on their ownership of a car. Urban residents will be able to meet daily needs by walking, cycling, taking transit or ridesharing. . . . .”  (p. 2 of Section 3.1)  This should be carried over in this new Transit Master Plan, as a core goal of transit: to focus on reducing private car-ownership, not just on increasing ridership at peak-hours, which will not be successful if car-ownership is not tackled head-on.  The TMP does include a statement critical of “automobile dependence,” but no plan to really reduce it, including improving off-peak service, a better fare system, and making further improvements in Presto (or replace with another system).  [The lack of capacity for Para is also something that should be addressed.]   The non-transit components of these plans also need to help: by understanding that roads for cars can never by “efficient” if the owners of cars refuse to use them efficiently (most cars at rush hour carry no more than can easily be carried by cycling or walking), partly because they are not charged for most of the public costs (remember that cars are used only in public places — and much of their storage occurs there as well, and the rest requires removal of street-parking spaces for access).  The TMP recognizes the recent downward trend in car-ownership and use but doesn’t seem to understand how profound this is, since the “driver” of the trends are young people who will be around a much longer time than my generation.

In closing, let me say that the way the public consultation program for these documents has been handled has been poor.  Staff missed announced deadlines (the documents were to have been released in June, giving the public the summer to read, mull, and discuss their contents and implications).  The “slippage” has not been accommodated by extending the date by which Council wants the documents adopted by Council, which has chosen not to waive its rules to allow delegations to address the whole of them, which cannot be done at the fractured committee stage.  My decision to speak as an individual is related to this problem: groups of citizens, the executive of which usually meet once a month (and thus have only one chance to meet after the documents’ release), and their memberships meet much less frequently.  I attended the one open house in my part of Ottawa, and stayed the entire four-hour duration, but still have felt the need to ask more of them as I pore over the documents.  To all this, I have to ask, “What’s the rush? It’s a 28-year plan, FGS!”

Chris Bradshaw
494 Besserer Street, Ottawa
hearth@ties.ottawa.on.ca

The Car’s “Way”

2013/02/22

Peter Norton’s recent book, Fighting Traffic (2010), clearly describes the historical process of putting the car first in the life of cities public rights-of-way.  The period from about 1915 to 1935 saw the transition of streets as, well, what today’s progressive generation would call “complete.”  Trips were short and slow, and therefore walking predominated.  Goods moved by horse and buggy, which made streets dirty and required sidewalks to be slightly elevated.  The streetcar was the main conveyance for people going further, and it stopped frequently for boardings and didn’t get up to much more than 10 mph between the stops and the need to avoid collisions (consider this a time when traffic signals didn’t exist).

When the car entered this miasma of urban life and movement, it was immediately seen as a significant danger — to people.  The force of a pedestrian-car contretemps was between the impulsiveness of human foot traffic and the yearnings of car owners to realize the advantages their investment provided: status and speed.   The first was to buy admiration and deference from other road users.  That deference — expressed as standing aside to let the car have its “way” — was translated into speed.  And speed was the enforcer of the “right” to a “way” for drivers.

The speed soon became a lethal force, especially to people who weren’t paying attention to this new order of things and stepped into the “way” of the driver.  This drew the attention of local safety organizations, which had been successful in gaining housing codes and labour codes to protect people in buildings from fire, collapse, and health problems.  The car was cast, appropriately, as an endangerer and those who were behind the car’s steering wheel when it collided with a pedestrian or cyclist (organized before motorists into a road lobby, the League of American Wheelmen), they were castigated.

The driver’s constant effort to pick up speed was foiled not just by the constant flow of pedestrians crossing the street whenever, however, but also by the need to slow down at every “conflict” with other vehicles, including other cars accessing on or off-street parking, or streetcars, which in the emerging road culture of “might makes right” were clearly superior.  This brought about the engineer’s solution: the right-of-way, officially allocated by traffic police at first, and later by traffic signals.

In a campaign eerily similar to the National Rifle Association’s current campaign against gun controls, the automobile interests wrested control of the road-safety agenda from local safety organizations’ hands and concertedly promoted the idea that it was not any inherent nature of the “beast” that caused deaths (children were all too often its victims) but a small number of bad road users.  They also worked hard at devising a “system for sharing” the roads that, surprise-surprise, favoured the automobile operating at speed.  During this period of time speed limits rose from 10 mph to 30 mph, from being able to inflict recoverable injuries to inflicting death.

Getting in the driver’s way was a no-no.  And the driver soon learned that the amount of “way” he owned was directly related to his speed, a nicely circular logic.  By this standard, pedestrians and cyclists had no “way” as they were not only slow by comparison, but they had little mass with which to inflict harm on other road users (although a cyclist who can keep up with motor traffic can become a serious threat to pedestrians and other cyclists).

Traffic signals provided a switch that alternated the “way” between two competing flows of traffic, allowing one flow the freedom to proceed apace through the intersection, while the opposing flow faced the obligation to stop and wait.  The allocation of the total time of free-flow was eventually unevenly allocated by relative traffic flows (only motor vehicles were counted for this purpose) and the sequencing of  signals of the dominant flow was eventually mastered to allow speedy progress.   Speed clearly favoured not only the car’s status, but conformed to what the manufacturers considered a level that provided the value their advertisements implied would make the each vehicle’s price a worthy investment.  Speed buys its driver a private good, while privatizing a precious public good.  But the private advantage is fleeting, as time-journal studies show car-owners use higher speeds to travel further, rather an reallocate the time-savings to other activities.

Today, city planning departments are looking this heritage of road culture in the eye and making bold statements about how it has created streets that put “through-ness” ahead of “place-ness” (my words), long trips over short ones.  The result has not only been a loss of enjoyment each moment of a journey that only pedestrians can enjoy, but a drain on a limited resource: road space.   A person traveling by car takes 30 times the amount of public space when stopped (and more when moving) than a pedestrian.  The smaller amount of space a car takes when stopped is really no advantage, since parking supply, due to the combinations and permutations of demand and restrictive zoning rules, must exceed local car population by a factor of four to eight.

Ottawa’s planners are at the early stages of doing what they are terming a “refresh” of five important documents: the Official Plan, the Transportation Master Plan, the Infrastructure Master Plan, the Pedestrian Plan, and finally, the Cycling Plan.  The theme this time is, appropriately to me, “affordability” (their word).   Planners seem ready to finally blow the whistle and say, “sorry” to those who own, manufacture, sell, insure, service, and fuel cars that we are running out of space, space that, frankly, we want to put to another use: people and commerce and culture, which an increasing number of urbanists and economists point out attract the “creative” classes that make cities vibrant and successful.  This point-of-view is being complemented by the that from the leaders of the most powerful of the “soft” services: health, who say that the present mix of danger, pollution, and personal cost have created a pathological stew of death-disability, obesity, stress, and, for the equality crowd over in the social service sector, unequal mobility.   Affordability refers not just to what the taxpayers can afford collectively, but to the amount of income needed to live a minimal quality of life.

This focus is good, but it reflects past plan reviews that have made nice motherhood statements that rarely get implemented.   One that I especially liked from the last TMP was, “In 2031, the ability of residents to access essential opportunities will not depend on their ownership of a car. ”  When I went to the microphone to comment on the launch of the current 5-year review, I asked for assurance that such a committment would be in the new TMP.  I was told, “yes.”

However, the preliminary documents again set a fairly low goal for shifts in trip modes: it reports that walking, in the last five years, dropped from a share of 9.6 percent to 9.3, but offers no comment.  Then it forecasts this share will go only up to 10 percent during the twenty-year period. when the planners should expect to rise to at least 20 percent (walking is counted only when the trip is made completely on foot).   The car is forecast to still be the standard by which residents will judge the efficiency of their time and the success of their life.  That means children will be deemed unfit to travel independently and seniors facing declining abilities, will face the contradiction of both becoming more dependent on door-to-door motor transport and having their driving abilities closely scrutinized.  There is no recognition that seniors deserve such a service without having to drive or own a car.

The five documents being revised need a reasonably complete vision of what will replace car-dependency, not just in the downtown core that has the least space for road widenings and parking augmentation, but in all areas that are centrally serviced.   That vision needs to make bold steps to, first, creating a finer-grained distribution of shops and services that are within walking, or easy-to-access and frequent, transit service, rather than malls or the big-box “power centres” available only by “district” rather than neighbourhood.  If successful in this, most non-commute trips will be considerably shorter.  Second, commute trips would be shortened if  planners and official stop telling them that they have a right to drive themselves to these destinations, instead of putting their intellect to arranging their lives to live within a reasonable distance for an efficient travel-mode-of-choice.  Fourth, “road-pricing” should also be utilized to ensure a scarce resource is well used.   Fourth, the use of the roads needs to clearly be restructured to favour the less-land-intensive “active” modes, rather than the “improvements” of the last 75 years that reflected our collective fear of delaying any driver.   The fastest way to convey this shift in priorities from a car-first to a foot-first culture is to lower speed limits to half their present levels.   The “complete streets” concept is nice, but is based on further separation of the modes (which lower speeds will make less necessary), will apply only to main streets, and will take a long time and many hundreds of millions of dollars to effect.  Easier and more effective is to remove turn lanes (making crosswalks shorter), move transit stops back nearer to intersections (making walking distances at transfer points shorter and safer), and stop synchronizing lights for car-driver time-efficiencies.   Lower speeds means that narrow streets don’t need segregated cycling lanes, as cars and bicycles will travel at much the same speed.

We can’t afford to give the car as much “way” as it has been granted in its heyday.  Today’s younger generation has found communications and information technology (and related devices) to fascinate them more than cars, the piloting of which prohibits using such devices.   Transportation needs to measure success in terms of trips completed and the percent of the population — and visitors — that are able to move independently, not in kilometres traveled or in cars sold.   Everyone deserves the same amount of “way,” and there really is not enough to go around unless the car, even if, rarely, it has every seat filled, is given far less.  We’ll all breathe easier as a result.  But we can’t hold our breathes much longer.

What Words Define Seniors

2012/11/23

You sometimes need a spur to get down to writing about something that has slowly been growing in your mind.  Today’s “wonderword” puzzle — which I rarely do — was that spur.  The 15-x-15 matrix of letters each day have “hidden” (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal, either forwards or backwards) words that share a common theme, which today was “senior citizen.”  So what did David Ouellet, the “author,” think were good descriptors of our advanced-age ilk?

Before I share his shallow contribution to the field that I have been studying since before I turned 65, we should look at what is generally though of as our unique qualities in the eyes of those who are younger: needy, slow, old-fashioned, medications, recollections.  These are not flattering, and Mr. Ouellet diplomatically avoided them.  The alphabetical list one works from has “accomplishments” for starters.  That’s positive, but it implies that the only ones ahead of us are the ones we recall.  And that brings up two others, “memories” and “stories.”  We are more likely to talk about our past rather than the trends and issues of the present.  I suppose we are guilty, but this is more true when talking with younger people than with other seniors.  Whose fault is that?
Let’s continue with “eligible,” which implies the needs thing, as it refers to becoming a “pensioner” and getting federal Old Age Security payments as well as many things that seniors qualify for, such as reduce fares on transit, or at cinemas, or on special days at some stores.  In fact, “movies” and “travel”  are in the list.  Do we increase our spending overall when we get discounts?  As far as movies are concerned, I would say no, since so few movies appeal to the older generation, what with cursing, nudity, and gratuitous violence so common. And seeing movies in theatres is not a great experience; even with loud sound, the dialogue is hard to understand  because of the peripheral sounds that are meant to envelope you in concert with the picture.  And the action is so fast (made worse by the wide screen).  And the low light and tight spaces make the experience difficult, especially when you need to get to the bathroom multiple times during the two-hour run.

When we become “elderly,” we need “care” and this is probably what our kids and society in general cringe about.  “Giver” is also in the list, but not specifically attached to “care.”  So maybe there is recognition that, as much as we are income-poor, we are equity-rich and “time”-rich, and are among the more generous “groups” of philanthropists and volunteers.

The largest category, “interests,” reinforces the image of seniors having lots of “time” and having little constructive to use it on.  So, “games,” “singing,” “dancing,” knitting,” along with “chess,” “bridge,” and “bingo” are nicely bunched together at the start of the list.  And when we are ready for exercise, we don’t walk; we “stroll,”  since we aren’t in a hurry and probably have lower stamina, arthritis, and slow reflexes slowing us down.  “Hobbies,” for which there is no verb, is also in the list.

“Nice” starts a list of qualities we add to the general population.  I notice that bus driver rarely look, really look, at my transfer to see whether it has not expired, but that is probably because seniors are “nice” and wouldn’t cheat.  I also notice that younger rider often ask me for tips on using the bus, which relates to their correct assumption that my “age” means that I have spent many “years” using transit, which allows me to “advise” them and that we are “open” to such requests from strangers.   I don’t know if “love” refers to the depth of feeling younger people have for us, or that we are not too old to still make “love,” something that I don’t mind being thought capable of.  (There was a local seniors fair last week on the topic, with the main speaker being the Sex-with-Sue guru — I had a conflict, so I couldn’t attend).

Finally, seniors have a strong a interest in the past, supposedly.  It goes beyond our own “memories” and being able to “remember” how things used to be during our youth, but is real “history,” full of “ancient” “ancestors.”  One thing is for sure: we focus on “change”: abhoring that which has already occurred, and resisting any future changes.  I especially like the word “respect”; but hope that the respect I get is for my “accomplishments” and not just for my “age” and my “giver” reputation.  My activities are still few in numbers as I prefer to form and act through groups to make change for all ages, but especially for the age group that is so subject to — and fascinated by — “change.”

 

 

“Fourth Places”: Thoughts not worked into recent guided walk

2012/07/20

The “Fourth Places” depicted in the Art of  Maxwell Bates and Philip Surrey
Remarks Prepared for the July 14th, 2012 Walking Tour Left on the “Cutting-Room Floor”

Being a guide – or as author E.V. Walter (see reading list) called it,  periegete or ciceroni –  means working with serious limitations other speaker or writers don’t face: you are mobile and you have to compete with sounds and sights that you can’t control.  But those other influences are part of the charm of these walks.  In any case, despite my experience with being a guide, found it hard to work these snippets of wisdom in, putting my limited time into point to things that were tangible.

The art of these two artists of the 1950s and 1960s depicted people in places.  Were these the “third places” described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place? And by Jane Jacobs in the Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Or were they more like the places depicted by Jonathan Raban in Soft City and by Richard Sennett in The Fall of Public Man and by David Engwicht in Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns.  The former are populated by people who know each others and feel a sense of proprietorship of the places, seeing the link between their own health and that of the places they shared; the latter were marked by anonymity.  The setting for Cheers TV comedy is like this.  The latter are more on their own, seeing people as instruments of achieving their own personal ends.

Oldenburg refers to the former as “third places” to distinguish them from the other two main places we spend our time, our homes and our workplaces, which are formally structured to assign roles and responsibilities, while “third places” are informally structured to allow for social “play.”

We come out of our homes to get supplies and services and to make contact with others outside our family and place of work or study. The people depicted in Surrey’s and Bates’ drawings are not at first and second places (although the waiters are at work), but are these places third or fourth place?  Do the people know each other?  It is important because some people enter publoic and semi-public places seeking anonymity – to get away from the people and related responsibilities at home or work – while others live, perhaps because they live alone or work in an isolated setting, enter such places to have meaningful contact with others, whether people they already know, or meet new friends and associates.

Australian David Engwicht, writer and artist, after his first visit to Paris, referred to the activity of sitting alone at sidewalk cafes, facing the passing flows of people, as using the strangers to imagining fanciful tales for each, guessing what each is doing or their life history.  At the same time, Raban emphasizes people`s loneliness or their need for stimulation they gain by experiencing the view of people different from themselves, or their fanciful adventures with seeing how others react to their appearance and speech.  David Reisman (The Lonely Crowd, 1950) talks about “other-directed” people looking to others for guidance on how they should act or dress.

There is also the matter of people whose needs are not considered by the people who build public places.  The two elderly men (“Old Men,” Bates, 1967), although not conversing – they are looking, not at each other, but at something ahead of both – are clearly together, presumably sharing things after meeting at their regular spot.  The probably like to sit silently for periods of time; then compare their “readings” of what they both see.  They likely have limited means for buying food at restaurants, so they need public benches, since patio seating is only for playing customers. Students have similar needs, as do adults with young children.  Being “on the margins” means being in the half of the population that does not make and spend enough money to be among those I call the AAA’s, Active Affluent Adults; they are instead part of the groups that make up what I call the “PED-CIVS” – poor, elderly, disabled, children, ill/infirm, visitors, and “simplicists.” Government and business leaders assume they are provided for by AAAs, either directly or via various “assistance” programs.  Transit agencies talk of the former, who own and drive cars, as being “transit-choice,” while the latter, who have no choice but to travel by transit, as “transit-captive.” with the implication that the latter group need little service and consideration to be drawn to transit, especially since transit is a “natural monopoly.”

Last year, I did a survey in the very walkable Byward Market to look for City-provided seating and found none; there is only the private seating provided by restaurants on city sidewalks that requires payment for a person to sell food, and the National Capital Commission, which has supplied seating in its delightful back lanes and along one side of Sussex Drive, the toniest area for retailing (most of the retail outlets are in NCC buildings).  The city, though, does provide a good deal of bicycle parking.  There are several planters holding trees, but their ledges are too high for seating, except if the person is tall and athletic.

The evolution of retailing since the artists did their work has made the plight of PED-CIVS more difficult.  Shopping now occurs in shopping malls and “power centres” further away and more car-oriented.  The malls discourage loitering and power centres have no places to sit and visit, not to mention sidewalks that provide a segregated area for people moving on foot.  Those who might displease AAAs and shopowners are ushered out of stores and malls.  Although many malls support seniors walking clubs, malls seem to be in decline (no new ones are being built, and some are being revamped to remove the indoor walking/seating areas).  The centres of towns, which have the best transit and where people without cars live, don`t attract this new “format” of retailing, which needs larger parcels of land for the larger stores and even-larger parking lots, on land that is less expensive than central lands.  On the whole, people of all backgrounds are better served by smaller stores, so that a larger variety can fit into a small area.  The website, http://www.walkscore.com, can compute “walkability” for any address in North America, as well as scores for “bikability” and transit access.

The area of the walk has the largest shopping mall in the region, Rideau Centre.  Although it is “anchored” by the last two of four department stores in the area (Caplans and Ogilvy’s have closed), it specializes in fashion, lacking what the Byward Market has: food products, full-service restaurants, and clubs, let alone a “street culture.”  The windows of the department stores lack the elaborate display of time past.  “The windows of the department stores were theatres.  They showed Americans lives as yet unlived in, with vacant possession.  When your nose was pressed hard against the glass, it was almost yours.” [Raban, Hunting Mister Heartbreak, p. 51]  Two bright signs: However, recently, Forever 21 took over two floors next to the main entrance, to which they added windows facing the street.  The site of the Caplan’s store, now a condiminium, now has a two-storey street-facing Urban Outfitters store.

This section of Rideau Street in front of the Centre’s entrance was the subject of an urban design experiment in the 1980s that failed.  The business owners on the street, envious of the climate-controlled environment the newcomer business would be getting in the mall, demanded that city build a structure to cover the sidewalks.  Although it provided climate-control, the fact that it was still a public sidewalk denied the merchants “client-control.”  Predictably, the “street people” used it as their personal space and the merchants, after few years, demand it be removed.  The structure lives on, serving as the “roof” for the farmer’s market in the town of Perth, about 60 kms to our west.

Those who are most left out are the homeless, who can’t manage the accoutrements of the AAAs.  If life in public is a theatre, they are never off stage.  Like many cities, these people are mostly found in the core, thanks, ironically, to popularity of public areas that assure the crowds on sidewalks they need for begging – or getting donations for their“busking”.  Each day they shuffle between the places that provide overnight accommodation and the other places with social and training programs and some individual counselling.  The men and women are segregated, too.  Drug-dealing and prostitution also occur in these areas.  Nearby is Ottawa’s largest concentration of public housing for families (most tenants are new immigrants) and seniors.  The manager of the largest grocery store says that more than 70 percent of his customers arrive by foot or bicycle.

Most merchants in the area are members of self-taxing associations, business improvement areas, that have slowly eliminated public seating and places where the homeless might congregate or sleep, often by putting spikes on ledges, as one does to protect high places on one home from pigeons.   This, according to author and student of urbanism, William Whyte, won’t: “The best way to handle the problem of undesirables is  to make a place attractive to everyone else.” [1980, p.63]

Raban has some choice comments about the lower element of cities (from Hunting Mister Heartbreak):

The current term for these misfortunes was ‘street people’, an expression that had taken over from bag ladies, winos, and bums. . . . The term was too easy by half.  It casually lumped together the criminal and the innocent, the dangerous and the safe.  It included long-term mental patients discharged from hospital under what was called, in a sublime euphemism, the “de-institutionalized program”, along with crack addicts, thieves, alcoholics, hoboes, the temporarily jobless, the alimony defaulters, rent-hike victims and everyone else who’d fallen short of the appallingly high standards that Manhattan set for staying properly housed and fed. . . . ”

“There were the Street People and there were the Air People.  Air People levitated like fakirs.  Large portions of their day were spent waiting for, and travelling in, the elevators that were as fundamental to the middle-class culture of New York as gondolas had been to Venice in the Renaissance.  It was the big distinction — to be able to press a button and take wing to your apartment.  It didn’t matter that you lived in the sixth, the 16th or 60th floor: access to the elevator was proof that your life had the buoyancy that was needed to stay afloat in a city where the ground was seen as the realm of failure and menace. [pp. 65-66]

One of the poems from Larrick’s book, On City Streets (chosen by young people) that I did read to end my walkabout, is worth repeating here:

[Untitled]
Two girls of twelve or so at a table
in the automat, smiling at each other
and the world; eating sedately.
And a tramp, wearing two or three tattered coats,
dark with dirt, mumbling, sat down beside them –
Miss Muffit’s spider.
But, unlike her, they were not frightened away,
and did not shudder as they might if older and look askance.
The did not steal a glance
at their dark companion and were slightly amused:
in their shining innocence seeing
in him another human being.
Charles Reznikoff, p. 90

We Real Cool

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool.  We
left school.  We

Lurk late.  We
Strike straight.  We

Sing sin.  We
thin gin.  We

Jazz June.  We
Die soon.
Gwendolyn Brooks (p. 59)

The depicted encounters in restaurants also suggest of anonymous “fourth places”, the patrons sitting alone at tables or at counters, where people seated adjacently don’t look at each other, so it is not possible to tell whether that are communicating or not.  Only Bates’ two “Tavern” paintings suggest people related to each other, not as couples.  Such places are favourites of Oldenburg.

There are three paintings depicting transportation: a commuter train, a line of taillights of commuting motorists at dusk, and a family near a busstop, presumably going to a common destination.  Commuting, although an activity feely chosen by AAAs, is depicted seen as tedious, whether also lonely (the motorists) or anonymous (those on the commuter train).  The driving commuter faces the delays of congestion, but does so alone, making his delays harder to take.  Jonathan Raban says of this experience, “Who feels love for his fellow man at rush hour?  Not me.”

Here are two poems about commuting on transit from the same collection:

Fatigue

The man in the corner
all slumped over
looks forlorner
than a tired lover,

Forehead dulled
with heavy working,
eyelids lulled
by the train’s jerking;

Head hangs noddy,
limbs go limply,
among a number
he dozes simply;

A dumb slumber,
a dead ending,
a spent body
homeward wending.
Peggy Bacon, p. 62

Subway Rush Hour
Mingled
breath and smell
so close
mingled
black and white
so near
no room for fear.
Langston Hughes, p. 63

The family, if they take the bus together, will generally travel outside rush hour and will avoid being jostled and squashed; instead they parents will be offered comments from other travellers about how nice the children are, especially from seniors.  But such comments usually don’t develop into conversations or even an exchange of names or phone numbers.

Children see many adults on these trips.  Here is a poem of one such experience:

A Lazy Thought

There go the grownups
To the office,
To the store.
Subway rush,
Traffic crush;
Hurry, scurry,
Worry, flurry.

No wonder
Grownups
Don’t grow up
Any more.

It takes a lot
Of slow
To Grow.
Eve Merriam, p. 44

The car has a strange relationship to public places.  Although it has a role to bring people to such places, it is also isolating; and it takes up a lot of public space when parked. Despite the lack of public seating, each parked car has seating that is deemed private and unavailable.  When on the road, it also pollutes: air, noise, grime.  But worse, it is a threat in which the smallest error by a driver or pedestrian can result in tragedy.  As a result, we see few children and elderly in public places in city centres.  Here is my Haiku contribution to the basic principle governing the use of inequitable power in public places:

“In every field, the more you wield, the more you yield; lest others shield.”

Even outside the commuting and the restaurant or sitting-in-parks experiences, there are many others where we are mostly anonymous, from the semi-anonymity of the sales process of questions and answers and the offering of a credit card to complete a sale, or the many faces we see on sidewalks and in crosswalks, or looking back from the seat of a car.

Faces

People that I meet and pass
In the city’s broken roar,
Faces that I lose so soon
And never found before,

Do you know how much you tell
In the meeting of our eyes,
How ashamed I am, and sad
To have pierced your poor disguise?

Secrets rushing without sound
Crying from your hiding places –
Let me go, I cannot bear
The sorrow of the passing faces.

– People in the restless street,
Can it be, oh, can it be
In the meeting of our eyes
That you know as much of me?
Sara Teasdale, p. 69

But this anonymity can produce unique benefits, the the participants as well as to the broader society.  The kinds of encounters in public places, which we don’t see depicted, are what William Whyte called triangulation, in which two people, who are already engaged in conversation, are passed by a third known to one of them.  It is this phenomenon that Whyte says is so important to cities performing their major function of commerce (what Engwicht labels exchange), and how in late financially-strapped 1970s NYC, companies that relocated from Manhattan to the outskirts of Connecticut, New Jersey and Westchester County did significantly worse than those which remained.  Sometimes a window display or a street performer, can also provide the “third leg` of a triangle.  Both writers also play up the importance of joy of street vendors.  I refer to the purpose of cities as, “maximize commerce, minimize commotion.”

Another element of being in public places is the feeling of safety and respect from the others also using it.  Jane Jacobs coined the phrase, “eyes on the street,” to contrast the “organic” what this occurs vs. the modern approach of having more police and more surveillance cameras.  These add nothing by their presence except the increased possibility that a lawbreaker or pest will be prosecuted successfully.  But having a place occupied or watched by a number of people who relate its health and conviviality as important to their own well-being is better.  I composed a talk about this, “Feet Follow Fabric,” for a web conference for World Planning Day, November 1, 2011, which is posted on hearthhealth.  It itemizes the factors that contribute to “eyes” playing a successful role: 1) a sense of “proprietorship” by occupants and neighbours, 2) flanking buildings that face the area, with a clear line separating the public from the private (but storefronts should be “active and flush” to the sidewalk), and 3) lots of people walking and/or sitting.  Obviously, neighbours should also keep windows clear for viewing and, when possible, open so that noises suggesting things happening outside will reach the occupants’ ears.  Children are not very good as “eyes” but they are important in attracting people to public places.  And dogs are a positive influence: Owning a dog helps: they induce their owners to make extra early/late walking trips.  And dogs scare criminals, according to a police friend.

To tie things up, we should ask: do the “street people” we saw at the beginning of our walk people provide ‘eyes’ for the streets they occupy?  I don’t think they do.  Despite the amount of time they spend on the streets, they feel little ownership.  I rarely yield to their open hands, but would, gladly, compensate them for doing work to maintain the street, such as picking up litter.  Even though I have suggested it to a few, there has been no positive response.  Perhaps it is the home/business-ownership thing they lack that would stimulate them into caring about the health of the public areas they use.  It could also be that they feel that they have little to offer or that, being rebuffed in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways each day, they owe nothing to the “greater good.”  I favour the idea that most do not have an upbringing in which they were provided a very elaborate “mental model” of how society works, but rather a capricious one in which whim rules, especially for those with more power and money.

Bike Sharing Needs to be Subsidized?

2012/05/11

[Re: Announcement from New York City: Citibank Paying $41 million for 10,000 shared bikes at 600 stations.  This saves NYC taxpayers, since bike sharing usually is subsidized by local government.  This was posted first to Transportation Nation]

As a former carshare entrepreneur, I find the bikesharing business model strange. First, the subsidies (although I have noted that NYC’s new service is not subsidized). Second the backloading of fees, the opposite of almost any other rental business, including bike rentals. And finally, the confusion over access fees and use fees. The ones in Ottawa have the access fee shown in large type, and the regressive use fees in smaller type.

The recent addition of long-term access fees provide 45-min free use, and short-term (tourist) only 30-minutes, seem to show that tourists are the ones that are paying a lot of the costs: they are the ones that want a bike for a half day (12 hrs), and they think that will pay only $7 (the one-day access fee) for it, not the $7 plus $152.25 usage fee that will appear on their credit card statement when they return home several days later.

The tourist would use this long-term seamless access because they want to enjoy the extensive pathway system, while the bike stations are limited to the core of the national capital (across the Ottawa River in two provinces). The system doesn’t have stations at the two museums further out, so visitors to these cannot “stop the clock” when they are inside.

And finally, the bikes are large and heavy, as has been pointed out (44 lbs vs. 25 for a regular bike). If you want to rent a lighter bike for more reasonable long periods, why is the information on finding these businesses not posted at the rental sites or on-line? These operators also have specialized bikes (tandems, road bikes, mountain bikes), trailers, and helmets. The use fees should be called “over-due fines.”

I suspect that much of the need for subsidies comes from the rate structure and success attracting commuters — a significant selling point to cities trying to reduce car-use at peak hour. The free front-end use period induces commuter use that increases demand for bikes but only at peak periods, and results in mal-distributed fleets requiring special trucks to relocate them. It also creates the problem of users not finding a “docking” space when/where they want to end their trip, causing the user time and grief looking for another nearby station.

And where do these peak-hour commuters really come from? Probably from the ranks of walking, transit, and owned-bike commuters, since the distances the service is practical for are shorter than most owned-car commutes.

[One NYC activist has pointed out that the parking "stations" for these bikes -- the only place to park them, as no locks are provided to park them anywhere else -- are all busy sidewalks.   This not only makes walking harder, but reduces the number of prime vending spaces for street merchants, of which NYC has many thousands.  If bikes are good by taking the PLACE of cars, then they should, when parked, take the SPACE of cars.  And no helmets are provided, since that would not conform to public health practices.]

 

Reducing “Auto” Driving

2011/12/31

I spend a fair amount of time promoting the idea that there are just too many cars, each being used too little to justify its manufacture and parking ‘footprint,’ not to mention the excessive space they occupy while actually being used, usually with 4 seats and the trunk unused.  I usually point to people’s assumption that, to drive a car, requires that they own one.  OPOCO, the One-Person, One-Car Orientation, is the root of all evil.

But more and more, I am coming to the conclusion that insisting on driving oneself is just as much a problem. “Auto” driving is as much a problem as “auto” ownership.

A recent article from Chicago radio station WBEZ, on December 12th, points to the plans of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to require all taxis to install GPS devices that are linked to their dispatchers, and for drivers to be subject to a new regulation to not drive more than 12 hours at a shift.  His ability to police the latter will depend in his ability to get the industry to buy into the GPS regulation. (http://www.wbez.org/story/chicagos-taxi-industry-could-see-big-changes-94840#).

This is an important component of my idea that all cars should be required to have a similar “black box” to allow them to be monitored so that tolls could be charged and so that drivers could be tracked when they speed, run red lights, or make illegal turns — not to mention providing a “smoking gun” when collisions are investigated after the fact.  Even the car’s mechanicals could be monitored.

Although I figured that it would take decades to bring about my MASC (metered access to shared car) dream, it might be much less time to have the tracking system in place for taxis.  It is natural for taxis to lead the way, as they are a heavily regulated industry, since they are a public service that requires regulation.

Look at the bike sharing systems being parachuted into major cities around the globe: the bikes have informatics as good as any that Chicago’s taxis will sport, all for the same purpose: to track them in real time — although cycling lawlessness is less an issue.

But how do we get people to not want to drive as much or at all?  Younger people might have the answer.  As Grist magazine recently said (http://www.grist.org/transportation/2011-12-27-driving-has-lost-its-cool-for-young-americans), “Amidst all the hand-wringing over distracted driving, one critical point is getting lost. The problem isn’t the texting, it’s the driving — and many younger Americans would rather do the former than the latter.”   Yes, thanks to new state/provincial laws forbidding the use of cell phones — or at least hand-held models — while driving, driving has become an either-or proposition.  When you drive, life is on hold.  This is a downer thought.  The article cites a Traffic Injury Prevention article that shows young people are not as interested in getting driver’s licenses today as earlier generations.  Grist also suggested that cell phones are replacing cars as means of keeping in touch with friends.  [Just a week ago the U.S. National Traffic Safety Board called for a complete ban on cell phones, as well as on any electronic devices, with the strange exception of GPS devices.]

Since part of reducing car populations is getting more people not just to share cars consecutively (car-sharing), but simultaneously (ride-sharing), there will be a reduced need to drive. Just find a car going your way– and that can be arranged by using an app soon to be created by some smart person for your smartphone –point to a destination on a map, and a list of available seats, including some on transit vehicles, will appear as options to choose from, complete with ETAs.  Just scroll to the choice and hit “send,” and it will coach you to walk to a point of pick-up.  They will also open the car door when the driver pulls over and make the payment at the trip’s completion as well.  The app will also use social media to provide “reputation-based” security for all participants.

The difference between my idea of  the above MASC service, which I call “trans-seat” (in which people transporting themselves in shared cars can opt to pick up others along the way), on the one hand, and taxis, on the other, is not just the higher cost for the latter and the fact that the latter offers door-to-door service, but the fact that the former uses a “volunteer” driver who is subject to the foibles of all people who drive themselves, while the taxi is driven by a “disengaged,” professional driver.

The “foibles” of voluntary drivers include: being anxious about being late, being subject to “ego” problems that lead to road rage, poorer quality (or  no) insurance; and driver behaviour (including maintenance) that in not as good, since the driver is accountable primarily to himself.  The taxi driver or chauffeur is professional, which means he is always aware that driving is his livelihood and that he is subject to extra scrutiny.  But he also drives more per day and this shows in his knowledge of roads, drivers, etc. to avoid problems and to deal with them more rationally and expeditiously.

There is one advantage for “trans-seat” drivers, vs. people driving themselves in their own car:  they are more likely to choose to drive.  Because trans-seat levels the playing field by making driving more of a chore (finding the car, picking up others along his chosen route) and riding a lot easier and nicer (e.g., always getting a seat, never having to park the car, E.G.), we can assume that those who choose to drive are simply more natural at it; it is less of a chore or trial to be bravely tolerated.

The ultra-rich already know all this.  They avoid driving by having chauffeurs on their payroll to do it for them.  Even before cell phones, they used their rides to do other chores that required undivided attention, knowing that the slightest glitch can cause them to lose time or drop a thought.  In fact, such people have the least romantic idea of driving, knowing that the open, winding road, while exciting, exists today mostly in car ads.

If one admits to thinking of those who drive for a living as being lower than oneself on the soci0-economic status “ladder,” one has to wonder why driving oneself is any more noble.  After all, driving is hardly an exercise in freedom, especially when done at peak hours, when it involves watching the car ahead with one eye, traffic signals and signs with the second, and the GPS/smartphone/stereo/passengers with the third :-).

If one responds with the rationale that a) it is safer to travel in a vehicle and b) the most responsive vehicle arrangement is OPOCO, one has to just hesitate to realize that, if data moved in the same way, we wouldn’t have the Internet or cell phones.  Our conclusion about needing our own car is just too inefficient (coupled to the fact that car costs keep going up, while telecommunication costs keep going down).  Could we not redesign our people-moving system to mimic the way data and parcels move in our society?   The advantage for moving people is that, unlike data and goods, people can move ourselves, and most people like to walk, as long as they don’t have to do it on roads where drivers are multi-tasking while driving.  That simplifies it and reduces its cost.

If the frugal nature of this doesn’t compensate for the chore of walking and managing a smartphone app, there is always a valet-ride service called taxis.  You can ride and have the vehicle all to yourself, just like the rich folks.

Trans-seat is the future.  Ironically, this is not far off in the future.  And what it looks like will not be that different from the urban citizens of 100 years ago had at their disposal, before it was corroded by the introduction of the most worshipped, but problematic consumer device ever (finding one’s car in a large parking lot or garage is one of the more recent wrinkles).   OPOCO has indeed allowed distance to be overcome (as if it were a plague), but it has, at the same time, spread out destinations such that a 10-minute walk of that time allowed one to reach about as many destinations as a 10-minute drive of today.

You say that the mind-numbing sprawl of today will never disappear?  It already is, as “intensification,”  main-street revitalization, transit-oriented development, and new urbanism are all booming, and off-grid “McMansions” are at the heart of the housing collapse.  Add to that the squeezing out of inefficiently-used automobiles and the higher driving standards that come from fewer people doing the driving, and you have the missing element of how to return to vibrant local communities peopled by those who rank walking above driving, and aim to live more locally.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.