Reducing Ottawa’s Car and Parking-Space “Populations”

2015/03/08

[Adapted from My Presentation to Transportation Committee of
the City of Ottawa on the Occasion of Considering its Part of
the City’s 2015 Budget, March 3, 2015]

After reading, yesterday, about Ecology Ottawa’s lobbying to get the City to step up its Global Warming planning – and how Councillor Chernushenko made similar points — I realized that I need to do my bit as well. As this is the first budget of a new council, and with several new members of this committee, it is appropriate to look at the big picture.

I have worked for 30 years to promote walking and cycling, and the sharing of cars. I work under the “Green Transportation Hierarchy” framework: “balanced” transportation is replaced by clear favouritism of certain modes based on each’s use of space, externalization of danger, environmental impacts, social equity, support for social and democratic capital, affordability (the city’s and that of its citizens), and contributions to personal health.

Not surprisingly, cars come out last by every measure. However, people and institutions are too dependent on them to talk in terms of getting rid of them, at least in the short term, but rather, by focusing on their impacts, we need to substitute other modes wherever and whenever possible. But at the same time, we can plan to reduce specific numbers each years, as well as a certain amount of their “infrastructure”: kilometres of lanes, width of lanes, and parking spaces, private and public.

Neither the recently revised Official Plan nor Transportation Master Plan talk about the car population, nor of the total amount of car infrastructure, although both documents favour walking-cycling-transit over commuting alone by car. How would it do this? It could find out about the vehicle populations and the number of its citizens who drive from the Province of Ontario. But counting parking spaces requires would require a “census,” not just of parking spots, but of how and how much they are used. The city owns the on-street parking and several parking lots. Land zoned for parking are managed by a few large companies. And it controls the zoning that requires various numbers of “ancillary” parking spaces (spaces that are required to serve each particular land use). The parking literature suggests that a city needs a ratio of between 4 and 8 total parking spaces for each vehicle in its “population” at residences, employment areas, and stores, institutions, and recreation facilities.

You might expect each year’s budget to provide clear evidence of the “dividend” of a reduce emphasis on driving (the share of trips by car during rush hour is supposed to drop from 55% to 50%). But alas, the road-expansion budget is much higher than what is spent on walking and cycling infrastructure, all in the name of “growth.” It is not clear what “growth” means: of the human population, the increase in the length of trips or the frequency of trips, or the increase in the car population? It obviously is not the last one, but if the city did put car-population within its sites, if could count on a reduced rush-hour demand, and more people looking to fill empty seats in the smaller number of cars remaining. After all, why are roads slated for widening and other “improvements” when 90% of the cars causing congestion are only 20% full?

What can be done?

1. Start a social media campaign to support the recent (since 2006) trend, “peak car,” which has brought the developed countries a steady drop in the amount of driving that has increased annually for over 100 years, but which is now dropping. It is mostly due to younger people who apparently don’t find driving as appealing as using their smartphone to stay in touch with friends and associates. Apparently, the car as “the great connector” has been replaced by the internet and mobile phones.

2. A second media campaign is needed to get citizens to favour local destinations over those further away — knowing that shorter trips can be done by the greener modes (and fewer transit transfers) — and to consider relocating their homes or jobs or retail loyalties to allow this to happen. The rise of carsharing (provided in Ottawa by Vrtucar.com) shows that a growing number of people see the virtues of “location efficiency.”

3. Invite the public to identify parts of the car infrastructure that can be downsized or closed because it is not being used that much (just take photos of streets after a new snowfall to see how much of the street is untouched). “Pop-up” projects can be used to re-purpose them as “people places” for a day, week, or month to see if congestion occurs.

4. Create an agency like Transport for London (UK) that oversees the whole of transportation, rather than Ottawa’s separation of transit from taxi from parking (and not much of any interest in ridesharing and car-sharing/car-rental). It should set up an enterprise, “trans-seat” to coordinate all modes, including developing a “going-my-way” hitchhiking app. It should also set up a prototype carshare/rideshare hybrid that is ideal for the suburbs (two-station shared vans that are used for the weekday commutes and for private travel during the workday at the commercial end, and for personal family travel at he neighbourhood end — posted elsewhere on this site.)

5. Get from Ontario the same taxing and municipal powers as the city of Toronto to introduce road-pricing and surcharges on private parking, even free parking. Until road use ceases to be free — unlike garbage/water/sewer and recreation and community facilities — it will be overused. Yes, it is appropriate to charge — in proportion to space used and time of day — multi-user vehicles, but not cyclists or pedestrians.

6. Reduce speed limits on all roads (except limited-access roadways) to the speed of cycling: 20 kms an hour, a speed at which road deaths — and the fear of being killed or maimed — are eliminated and which will open free movement again for children and the elderly.

7. Look for private partners to develop Transit-oriented Development sites the city has planned for light-rail stations, rather than let this concept wither on the vine. And invite neighbourhoods to do their community’s “travel-reducing” plan to mix land-uses, increase employment, and increase housing densities in order to shorten trips and reduce “through traffic.”

8. Adopt a fairer fare system that today, translates into a poorer service at times OC Transpo calls “off-peak.” That service is used by seniors, stay-at-home parents, tourists/visitors, and the unemployed and workers with part-time or non-office-job hours. These are also people with limited means, but with a transit system that only limps along. Fares should be based on distance and time of day, as these factors come closest to reflecting the costs of providing the service. Yes, off-peak has many empty seats, but only because of the fare system and the agency’s bias by referring to off-peak riders as “dependent” or “captive.”

9. Expand the terms of reference for the Parking Stakeholders Consultation Group to include all City and private parking actors.

Municipal Support of Taxi Status Quo — vs. Uber — Ignores Reality (Op-Ed Sent to Ottawa Sun)

2014/12/04

The City and taxi-industry spokespeople have only raised the “safety” issue in the struggle with the growing popularity of Uber X. But they ignore the other side of taxi regulation: limiting the number of taxi plates that are issued. Only in the related domain of transit does the city limit competition.

This limit along with the permitted transferability of taxi plates has created a black market in which such plates are sold privately for several hundreds of thousands of dollars. This investment is realized by charging fares — approved by the City above vehicle and labour costs, something that doesn’t happen with Uber rates.

Further, this situation means that all plates will be used full-time, even though taxi demand varies over the day and week; there are no part-time cabs available at peak periods. Uber acknowledges this reality by having “surge pricing.”

Uber has introduced a number of other improvements that the taxi industry should also get serious about introducing. And some of the City’s controls are redundant in the newly emerging world of the Internet-mediated “sharing economy.”

It is time to do a deep review of not just the taxi industry but of the City’s role in providing seats for transportation in a seamless and safe (and secure and cost-effective) way. That includes hitchhiking, ride-sharing, transit, and car-sharing/car-rental.

I predict that there will soon be a smart-hitchhiking app available so that any car driver on any personal trip will be able to pick any person going his way at the same time and charge only for his car expenses; that is essentially ridesharing, which is totally legal and unregulated (except for the driver needing a license and the basic insurance). That will be a threat to the two City transportation monopolies: taxis and transit.

Let’s not lose focus on the real problem: excessive private car ownership and use. That is the cause of our endemic road congestion, global warming, and the fears associated with walking and cycling. It is why transit, while trying to compete with the private car’s obvious advantages, is dependent for 50% of its revenues on the public purse.

It’s sad to see the City running lockstep with its bedmates, the taxi industry.

Is it this perilous to cross a street of impatient, distracted drivers?

2014/11/20

cf: http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/a-pedestrians-perspective-on-motordom/

Walkability

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.”

 

 


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