Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Deconstructing the latest transit noptions - Intro and Part I: Parkway?"

Earlier in September, CBC covered the latest level of "options" presented to the City, in a story headlined East-west line to be built 1st in Ottawa's rapid transit network. CBC has a PDF of the four options here.

I received an e-mail five days ago saying that consultation on the Transportation Master Plan update at ottawa.ca/ottawatalks would be over today. I had been wanting to do a detailed post about this latest plan, so I figured now would be the best time to do it.

The site Ottawa.Econsultations.ca has a public-consultey forum on Rapid Transit Implementation Scenarios. They don't have a link to the City's documents on the matter (Click on the blue links along the left.). They don't even have the maps, just a "brief description of each scenario", then ask you to choose which one you like best and comment. They describe the differences between the options thusly:

"Scenario 1 (Tunnel & LRT East) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 2 (Tunnel & LRT West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to St. Laurent Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 3 (Tunnel & LRT East & South) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station and from Bayview Station to a station in Riverside South Centre in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 4 (Tunnel & LRT East & West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to Blair Station in the first phase of construction."
As with the last round of "options", most of the comments (which, admittedly, I only glanced at) are focused on the differences between the four options, along the lines of "Option X has component A, while the others don't, so we should choose Option X [which also happens to have components B through H]." However, the parts common to all options are just as important, and I'll get to that in Part II of this analysis, and the differences in Part III if I get the time.

Many of the comments discuss the relative merits and detriment of running rail along the Ottawa River Parkway. Here's my armchair analysis of that question.

Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway: Yes or No?

Under a 'temporary' agreement with the NCC, OC Transpo buses currently use the Ottawa River Parkway to connect between the Transitway segments along Scott Street and South of Carling. The City wants to continue to use this corridor for its rail plan, which would involve putting down tracks between the Parkway's two pairs of lanes, or North or South of them.

The NCC and area residents are pretty strongly opposed to this, because they don't like the idea of rapid transit in or near their neighbourhoods (ironic, since proprety values tend to be higher near rapid transit). They also think that rail in this corridor would reduce visual and physical access to enjoying the greenspace (also a weak argument, as it's much easier to cross two rail tracks when one train passes every three minutes than to cross the current four lanes of constant motor traffic). Europe has many examples of rail lines--even in urban areas--where the rail has grass growing along it, and you can only tell there's a rail line there when the train goes over it. This contrasts with the North American view of rail, where you can't put it up without six-foot fencing to keep pedestrians off. Funny that you don't see such fencing along Hunt Club Road or Baseline!)

Councillor Clive Doucet doesn't like the Parkway corridor option mainly because he thinks rail should go along Carling. One reason for this is that along Carling it would run along multiples neighbourhoods, providing better transit access to more people (a goal I agree with). Another reason is that Clive believes the City will only be able to get provincial and federal funding for new transit corridors, and not for converting existing bus corridors to rail (an argument I don't give much gruff, given the provincial and federal politicians' apparent eagerness for the City to develop a plan for them to throw money at).

Detractors of the Carling option say that transit on Carling would be anything but rapid. I've taken the 85 so I can understand where this comes from, but the Transitway running along Scott street isn't as slow as the 18 on Scott street, which is a good analogy to rebut that criticism.

City Staff, the Mayor, and Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen, on the other hand, say that the Ottawa River Parkway was part of the overall plan "chosen" by Council (despite the fact that the same corridor was in all four "options", and the same trio quashed most discussion on council about anything other than the four "options"), and that the Parkway is the best option.

I suspect the best option would be a variant of using the Byron/Richmond corridor, but the three corridors (Parkway, Byron, and Carling) would have to be studied in greater detail to see which one has the best value for money. I would have loved this growing up just a couple of blocks from Richmond Road. The trainophobic residents of Westboro are strongly against rail transit going anywhere near their residences, and insist that if it were to happen, it would have to be buried underground (making it prohibitively expensive). Their opposition to this and the Parkway corridor means that LRT will be built in other parts of the City first, and they will be stuck with second-class transit access until future phases of the plan (whenever the heck that will be).

The variant I like was informally suggested at a Friends of the O-Train meeting earlier this year. It would involve going straight after leaving the current Dominion bus stop, and traveling along the North edge of the residences (okay, a tricky point there) before crossing to Richmond at Cleary. You'd have to buy and tear down the little strip mall there (back in the day there used to be a Beckers there; I think the 23-hour sign shop might still be there), and/or the (former?) house on the Northwest corner of that T-intersection (which is not a likely option. It would continue along Richmond before turning South toward Lincoln Fields where the Transitway currently goes.

This would allow Transitway traffic to remain uninterrupted on the Parkway while it is being built, and it would give you new Transitway stations near where Dominion is (providing access to Westboro proper), at Woodroffe (providing a close connection for Carlingwood, Our Lady of Fatima church, YMCA, and Park Place retirement condo), and another one further West. Whenever I took the 95 downtown from Baseline, I would always regret the long stretch between Lincoln Fields and Westboro where nobody could connect to the Transitway. I also regretted this every day growing up as I waited at Westboro station to connect with the 18 or the 2, because the five trips per hour among the two routes was timed so that they were always 15-20 minutes apart. (I got much relief when Dominion station was added, as well as with the introduction of Rack & Roll).

But here's my take on the Westboro-Lincoln Fields problem: the City (I think it was Cullen) says that they don't want to study alternatives to the Parkway because it would weaken their bargaining position with the NCC. I think that's just as stupid as the earlier non-decision (among the first set of four "options") to summarily dismiss a rail option out to the suburbs, insisting that it would be prohibitively expensive.

If the City really believes this is the best option, they should (fairly) analyze the alternatives and prove it! Show us the cost projections of each alternative. Show us how fast you can move people, and how many people are served. Don't simply cover your eyes and ears and accuse non-believers of blasphemy!

Coming up: Part II: The commonalities--"noptions"--in the latest choice.

- RG>

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What the hell is at 7am?!?

I've got a couple of longer, more analytical topics to write about (and time to write them this weekend), but I've been particularly tired and cranky lately.

For the last four or five days, no matter what time I get to sleep, I found myself inexplicably awake at 7am, whereupon I try and fail to return to sleep, and only approach restfulness right as I need to get out of bed.

It took me a couple of days to realize that it was the same time each morning, and now I suspect that someone (i.e. a neighbour or delivery person outside) or something (i.e. a computer or fridge or something) makes a noise at 7am which I don't remember hearing because I was trying to get some bloody sleep!

While my sleeping hour varies, I usually aim to get the same number of hours, ending between 8:30 and 9:30am. If I don't get enough sleep, I'm a bitch to be around most of the day unless I spend a lot of energy to act otherwise. This unexplained noise (which was back again today--Saturday) has certainly put the "circa" back in "circadian rhythm".

Grr...morning people...

- RG>

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Your Councillor Cannot Hear You Blog

[Update 10:43am: Councillor Hume responded to say that he can see my blog and he has always been able to. Councillor Jellett responded to my e-mail to councillors saying that he had been able to click on all the links in that message (including a YouTube video) except for http://blogawa.ca. Councillor Chiarelli also responded, though he did not comment on whether he could access the pages. I phoned up Councillor Holmes' office, and while the staff person I spoke with most recently on the issue was not there, another staff person was able to access my blog. While I still believe there is something wrong, I am no longer able to accurately describe it. Since my councillor's staff seems to now be able to access these sites, I'm sufficiently satisfied. - RG>]

I had a generic rant lined up to post this morning, in response to a number of comments that I did not come across as grouchy, but I delayed it to give it a sobre second reflection.

Good thing that I did, because the present topic makes me genuinely livid: My councillor cannot read my blog. Not even if she wanted to.

As part of City Hall's "responsible use of technology" policy, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, blogs (indeed, anything remotely resembling blogs, such as Globe and Mail pages with interactive content) are all blocked by the City's Internet servers. I had long been aware of this, though not to its extent: a number of people I know at City Hall have told me that they can't access blogs and discussion boards--including those where members of their respective professions collaborate on the cutting edge best practises in their fields.

I was even told on one occasion that the website of Citizens for Safe Cycling--a well-established Ottawa community association--was blocked by City servers. Now that is just outrageous.

The reasoning behind this policy likely stems from the fear of City staffpeople running eBay businesses on the City's time. The eBay example was the subject of a recent Auditor General's report and made some appearances in the news a while back, but the general principle has applied for years in the City of Ottawa as well as in many private businesses. But if a staff person misuses a technology, you reprimand that staff person--you don't take away that technology from everybody. Imagine the inane results if one staff person spent the whole day talking to their boyfriend on the phone, and all of a sudden, nobody at the City would be able to dial a phone number starting with the digits 7-2-8!

You don't overcome bad management with bad policy. Yet it seems to be common practise, as I've found myself repeating this statement too many times in the past week.

Now, while I've known about Staff not being able to access the Internet 2.0, I had just sort of assumed that this ban did not extend to Councillors' offices. Based on my understanding of basic democratic principles, it was beyond the realm of possibility.

But I learned tonight that the impossible was possible. I was told tonight that as a "compromise" with Councillors, one computer is available on the second floor of City Hall that is unfiltered--and this one computer must be shared by the 200 or so people who work there. All internet access in Councillors' offices is filtered.

Councillors and their staff are not hired by the City manager; they are hired by the people. Thus, they should not be beholden to the censorship that is used to "protect" taxpayers from unnecessary staff waste. If my Councillor wants to surf the internet for blogs and porn all day, they should damn well have the right to, and it'll be up to me and other voters to decide whether to re-elect them--just like Councillors have the right to only attend 40% of Council votes and win the next election with 30% of the vote because so many people run to oppose them *cough*shawnlittle*cough*.

Much--perhaps even most--of grassroots community organizing these days takes place in blogs, on Facebook, on YouTube and with similar types of interactive websites. Lots of information gets posted on them which is useful to Councillors, their staff and City staff alike.

By allowing this censorship to apply to them and their political staff, Councillors are not only shutting out their internet-savvy (yet community-minded) constituents, but they are setting themselves up for failure in future elections for being out of touch.

I myself have suffered from this draconian policy. I had long been posting photos of the construction of the now-named Corktown Footbridge on a different blog, pedbridge.blogspot.com. In the runup to the opening ceremony, someone from Councillor Holmes' office called me up and said they were making fridge magnets for the opening event, and asked if they could use one of my photos. Naturally I would be granted a stipend for producing the work. I directed them to my blog so they could choose their preferred picture, and when they said they couldn't see the photos there, I directed them to the Picasa album where those photos and more were posted.

At the opening event, I learned that they hadn't been able to access those, either, and someone in the office eventually ran to the bridge and took his own photo which now graced the magnet.

Councillors should have full, uncensored access to the Internet in order to properly, fully, and fairly represent their communities. (Frankly, City management should also stop treating staff like babies, and should remove the ban on their legitimate access to blogs and forums; but I don't elect city staff, so that fight will wait for another day.) It is a democratic atrocity that not only are Councillors' internet connections censored, but that which is and isn't allowed through is decided by the bureaucracy.

I will be forwarding this complaint far and wide--including to Council--and I for one will be grossly disappointed if Council does not respond with outrage and stand up to this backward policy.

If not, well...I'll have no choice but to say nasty things about them on my blog!

- RG>

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'd love to grouch, but the story's too good

For the last few nights, I've had this big report to write. No, not for work (I'm lucky enough to be able to leave my work at work) or school (my sentence at university expired last year). It's one of the many volunteer projects that I tend to take on as part of my fetish for masochistically-mind-numbing committee work. You know, policy review, procedural harmonization. The more bureaucratically complex it sounds, the more I want to dig my fingers in and pick it apart.

Okay, so I can be a little strange. ;D

Anyway, this story actually starts this past Wednesday, the first night this week where I'd have time to work on the report. I have no idea why, but I was absolutely exhausted at the office. When my work day ended, I went to Bridgehead in search of a second wind. That didn't help.

Nor did the Gravol. You can tell someone is wiped when they take Gravol to try to fight fatigue. Eugh.

I got home at six and fell straight into bed. I woke up at midnight, and didn't have a clue how to deal with it: my body was in sleep mode, and didn't want food, even though I hadn't had dinner; meanwhile, I had just woken up from a six-hour slumber, so I couldn't simply go back to sleep. But I also wasn't lucid enough to write that report. I eventually got five more hours of rest before waking up for work.

After work, I finally got a chance to sit down for the final stretch of my report, and I was very disappointed to discover that I couldn't edit the document due to a very nasty read-only bug.

After overcoming that hitch, I was able to edit my document again and resume "report"ing. I worked on it until Bridgehead closed, then went home, heated up some leftovers, and continued until late into the night.

At 3 am, I celebrated the finished report, did a victory dance in my head, then stayed uncontrollably awake for two hours.

My boss had grumbled yesterday that I had been late every day this week, so I really didn't want to be late again today. Constrained by the late hour, I was forced to take an abbreviated night of sleep, and one thing my circadian clock can be said to have in common with--say--English teachers is a distaste for abbreviations.

(As an aside... In case you haven't noticed, sleep deprivation--or "sleep deprivity" as I once accidentally dubbed it in a jet-lagged moment of genius--tends to exacerbate my eccentricity. Despite not consuming alcohol or narcotics, I've managed to freak out quite a few people at late-night parties with this 'talent'.)

I eventually got to sleep, and reluctantly woke up this morning in a vain attempt to get to work on time.

And I would have, had I not lost my freaking wallet!

I searched my apartment high and low. I searched the usual places, I searched the unusual places.

I remembered that the last place I had seen my wallet was last night at Bridgehead, when I stacked it on top of my bags on the patio shortly after sitting down. What few neurons were willing to fire contemplated the possibility that I had left it there.

I might have forgotten it there last night because I was tired, right?

No, wait, I was tired on Wednesday night. I'm tired now because I was awake and alert too long last night.

Wait, last night! Yes, that's it! I'm tired now because of last night; I must therefore have been tired last night!

It is thus perfectly reasonable that I left it there last night in my defatigated stupor! Q.E.D.

I dropped my bike off at work and popped over to Bridgehead to ask if my wallet had turned up. Nope.

Well if it isn't there, then where could it be?

I looked again in my bags, and realized I had lost it. My wallet, too. :P

While it was likely to turn up again, I phoned to cancell my debit and credit cards as a precaution, while simultaneously trying to find ways to be productive as my still-grumbling boss watched on through the eyes the back of her head. While on hold, I thought about what a coincidence it was that I had the great idea just a couple of days ago to write down all the important details on the cards in my wallet in case I might lose it, and how much greater an idea it would have been if I had actually done so.

I was able to recite my card number from memory, having entered it so often on the bank's website. This was a bittersweet accomplishment, as I would have to get a new one. Unfortunately, I was already at work, and I would need two pieces of identification to get a new card from the bank--not the easiest thing to do when your ID is in your missing wallet!

I knew where my passport was at home, and the guy on the phone helped me brainstorm other pieces of ID.

"Would a photo of me in the newpaper work?" No, he replied, to my chagrin. I managed to identify a suitable second piece--but they were both still at home.

Luckily, I had forgotten my wallet at home one day last week, which taught me to stash a bit of lunch money in my office lest it happen again (A second lesson was which of the places I frequent on Elgin street were and weren't willing to take a rare IOU from a loyal customer; in the case of those that weren't, I suppose I should say "frequented"). But it being Friday, the ten dollars in the small manila envelope would not stretch very far as I wait for the banks to re-open on Monday.

Despite being tired, groggy, grouchy and behind in my hours at work, I agreed to my dad's offer to meet for lunch, who covered the bill (thanks again, Dad!). This turned out being a good idea, as the ride out to our meting place gave me time to think, and sitting at the pub helped me relax. Dad and I chatted about various goings-on, and he commented that many of my recent blog entries were not as grouchy as before.

On my way back from lunch, I recontemplated my obstacles, and concluded that stopping by home to get my I.D. and visiting the bank for a new card was the way to go. I was pleased to find my documents where I expected them to be, and there was no line at the bank. The extra trip only added twenty minutes to my lunch break. I'd still have to deal with all my other cards and stuff, but not until I was absolutely sure that I had lost my wallet--I still have one of those old red-and-white OHIP cards that doesn't expire and I'd hate to have to get a new one.

Back at work, I decided to look one more time in my bags, this time actually taking things out to look beneath them, instead of whatever my defatigated doppelganger did this morning. And there was my wallet! What a relief; my frequent customer cards were safe!

Now my only problem was working five more hours at work, trying various things to keep me focused (and remembering to NOT take Gravol this time!).

The main thing on my desk today was preparing a couple of letters of refusal. This was a cathartic exercise, wherein I vigorously researched creative ways to say "no" while maintaining a polite and professional tone.

One was not so much a letter of refusal as one that said "yes, but...". Those ones can be even more fun--if time-consuming to get right.

In the end, I got my work done, clocked out, and went to Bridgehead.

For all the things that could have gone much worse today, everything really turned out pretty well. I'd be hard pressed to grouch about it!



While typing out this blog post at Bridgehead (which is about to close), a pair of young men tried to impress the girls they were with by jumping up and slapping a street sign in an attempt to impress their lady friends. In so doing, they knocked apart the swap box on the post.

They walked away, and I corrected it. Maks did a good job of building this one; the box joints on the top piece mercilessly fell apart, and easily snapped back together with a bit of pressure.

As the patio got quieter (and the crowd on the street rowdier), I moved inside, and overheard a gentleman talk to the server about a bracelet he got from the swap box which gave him some sort of energy or something. It sounded spiritual, so I tuned it out.

But when the man turned around, I noticed that the bracelet in question was one which I had placed in the swap box! I told him of the bracelet's origins, and he told me of its continuing story:

[continued from outside, as Bridgehead has now closed]

Apparently, this gentleman had once been fairly overweight and had done a lot of work to get himself down to his current, average size. About three and a half weeks ago, he was in a slump and knew that it was [then] or never to lose that last bit of weight.

Finding the bracelet in the swap box gave him the extra motivation to start jogging.

Interestingly enough, the bracelet--an orange "livestrong"-style rubber band with the words "i count" on it that I had picked up from a convention (my vulgar attempt to slice out the letter "o" on another copy and paste it back together had failed) was actually an advertising gimmick for some brand of step counters--an exercise tool. The phrase "i count" was a reference to counting one's steps.

It's quite the coincidence that it had this very effect, even though I had planted it in the Swap Box on its own!

Now to go home and sleep.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cool new Wikipedia feature: Unified Login

I was checking out a definition on Wiktionary, one of Wikipedia's sister projects, and I logged in to correct a typo.

After logging in, I was taken to the usual "return to the page you were on before logging in" page, but this page also included a link, saying, "To use this account on other Wikimedia wikis visit Special:MergeAccount. I had never heard of it before, but it looked to be something very useful for people like me: a unified login across all WikiMedia projects (including Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons, as well as Wikipedias in other languages).

Sure enough, it was. And it was quite a painless procedure, so long as your username and e-mail address are the same across the Wikis (the password does not have to be the same on each Wiki).

Since you have just logged in, you merely have to enter your password on your primary wiki. Since most of my edits are on en:Wikipedia, but I was logged in to en:Wiktionary which had a different password, I entered my Wikipedia password.

It then cross-references the different Wikipedia projects and shows you a list of those on which you have an account that matches the given parameters, and with the click of one last button, you can unify your accounts.

And you're done! If I wanted to log in to a Wikimedia project where I haven't been before, I can now use my Unified login and not have to register from scratch. Now that is a useful feature!

It determines your primary account by looking for which project you have the most edits on (or if you are an Admin or Sysop on one of the projects). You can see which projects you have edits on by entering your username at the User Contributions Tool. I have the most of my edits on en:Wikipedia--613 edits!

- RG>