Thursday, April 30, 2009

MAYDAY 2009: Public Space Under Attack

Here's a poster that I got from Andrew Nellis on a recent visit to Exile:

On the eve of May Day 2008, Nellis was arrested for cutting the lock on the fence under the Terry Fox bridge on Rideau (fence pictured below). I blogged about it here and here. He also got a lot of media coverage and managed to get the conditions cleaned up at the Ottawa Regional Detention Centre in the process. The charges were later dropped.

Anyway, according to Nellis, who also coordinates the CopWatch program, the goal of MAYDAY 2009 is to start a Black Ribbon campaign. Starting May 1, black ribbons will be tied in places where public space has been lost.

Nellis was also involved with the Ticket Defense Program, which is no longer able to defend panhandlers from illegitimate charges. This development is explained by Reuel S. Amdur in his article, "Do Poor People Have Rights?" in the January/February 2009 issue of the Access Now newspaper, which represents people with disabilities. Click the image below to zoom in to read the article:

I don't agree with him on a number of issues, but you can't argue that he works awfully hard playing defence on the front lines of the war on poverty.

- RG>

City reveals what we knew all along

So I attended the City's media events on the Downtown Ottawa Transit Tunnel study, where they "revealed" their recommended alignment.

I got there late for the photo op under the Plaza bridge, but I wasn't too concerned because that's mostly politicians giving a glossy version of what Staff would be explaining in much better detail later on back at City Hall.

Surprise, surprise, Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen was behind the microphone. Mayor Larry O'Brien is standing aside. I'm sure he gave some awkward platitudes earlier in the session.

Also on hand were Planning and Environment Committee Chair Peter Hume and Transportation Committee Chair Maria McRae, who kept calling for Councillor Cullen to stop talking so everyone could move on to the next part of the event back at City Hall.

She almost got her wish, until Councillor Jacques Legendre asked from the scrum why the event was held here. Cullen replied, "right here will be an entrance to one of the stations--the Rideau station."

This inspired members of the media to ask other questions. One interesting response from Councillor Cullen was that the tunnel is coming in "under budget", at $600 million, far less than the $1 billion projected. By former Regional Reeve Andrew Haydon. In the 1980's. This is selective memory on Cullen's part. Consider that the City's 2003 Transportation Master Plan called for 120 kilometres of light rail on existing track, and the first two phases, going from Orleans to Kanata to Riverside South, would cost about $3 billion total.

Anyway, the session resumed at 1:45 in the Colonel By room, where Vivi Chi went through the slideshow (pdf) on the recommended alignment.

I was really quite surprised. Not at what it recommended, but that they bothered announcing it. Aside from an extra 700 metres of tunnel from Laurier to Mann, this is exactly what City Staff have been saying is their preference all along. It makes you wonder why we even bothered to go through public consultation.

This "public consultation" process reminds me of my high school essays. To prove we had spent time on it, we had to submit rough drafts of our essays. Frequently, we would simply write our essays the night before, then introduce spelling errors into alternate versions, which we submitted as "rough drafts." It was clear from the previous public consultation that City Staff wanted the cross-country alignment, that they wanted the centre platform station design, and that they wanted to have the O-Train line merge with the East-West line.

I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that they decided against building temporary bus infrastructure for LeBreton station, but I'm not the least bit surprised that they found no way to keep Transitway buses from using Scott and Albert to get between Westboro/Tunneys and Bayview/LeBreton once Phase I is finished and Phase II isn't yet started.

When I asked Vivi Chi about this after the briefing, she said that they need to look at ways of mitigating it, and there's lots of work to be done. Translated to English: Scott/Albert is convenient for them, so they're not going to seriously consider alternatives to save the neighbourhoods along these roads from having a surface Transitway on their doorstep for the next ten or more years.

It was also a surprise that the tunnel would be extended by about a third beyond the previously-suggested East entrance at Campus station to just south of Mann Avenue. Apparently, this would minimize disruption at Laurier and Waller when the East end of the tunnel is built, which I'm skeptical is worth the price of 700 metres of cut-and-cover tunnel. It certainly would require more consultant time to design!

Councillors raised some interesting points (disguised as questions). Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges Bédard mentioned the Rideau Centre's concern that the tunnel station will be immediately below Rideau Street. They prefer the regional transit to be on one end of the Rideau Centre and the local transit to be on the other (i.e. the Transitway is currently on the Mackenzie-King Bridge and local buses are on Rideau), so that people are forced to walk through the Rideau Centre to transfer, and shop along the way. Bédard noted that the Rideau Centre's sales dropped by 30% during the bus strike.

Since it's clear the tunnel station will be on Rideau, Bédard wants to cripple transit transfers by forcing local buses to go down to Mackenzie-King Bridge, purely so that people will be forced to walk through the Rideau Centre.

Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson was angry that Staff had done an about-face on bus traffic coming in from the West. She recalls (as did I and the person sitting next to me) that in the last round of discussions, Council was told that express buses coming in from the West would be able to continue to go through downtown until the train line is extended to Baseline, since transferring at Tunney's or LeBreton would make for a very short train ride. Vivi Chi denied that Staff had ever said this, and Councillor Cullen used his Jedi skills to deny it as well. I remember that they had said this, because I have railed (pun unintended) against this terrible decision at every occasion I've had.

I'm a bit torn: I don't like the revisionism on Staff's part, but I also don't like the idea of express buses continuing to go downtown until after 2017, after whenever the next phase is finished. Whatever the case, Council needs to make a concrete decision so that Staff and Councillors are both aware of whether express buses will turn around or continue to downtown.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Jacques Legendre raised the insightful point about working with downtown landowners:
"A few years ago, when we were talking about the Chiarelli system... [Downtown business owners] were a bit taken aback [when asked to come to the table], and came back and said 'we're ready to come to the table.' We never talked to them. Let's not repeat that error. Please."
After the event broke up, I spoke with Vivi Chi about some lingering questions.

During the presentation, Chi said, "we still have residual comments on Surface vs. Tunnel, but we've been through that discussion and that debate at Council has been very firm." I had submitted a number of comments that the surface option had not been considered at any point in the process. They did not have the debate at council, and the rationale to discount surface rail in the Transportation Master Plan was restricted to an 81-word paragraph buried in one of the consultant reports. But setting my tunnel grudge aside, Chi said in her presentation that the tunnel would allow the City to "return the surface to the public."

When I asked her how many lanes of Albert and Slater are going to be converted to public parks, she said something about sidewalks and public art in Philadelphia. So in this case, "returning the surface to the public" means returning it to cars. I hope I'm proved wrong on this.

Oh, and did you know that the City will be converting the O-Train line to electric Light Rail? Yeah, that project that was cancelled in 2006 is getting built anyway. Double-tracking the O-Train line, converting to electric. No? Didn't hear about that? Well that's because it's not part of the DOTT study. It is part of the Transportation Master Plan.

Because of lower demand, they'll be running two-car trains along the North-South route, compared with six-car trains on the East-West line. Staff are recommending that these North-South trains be able to turn at Bayview so they can continue downtown.

The problem, as Transport 2000's David Jeanes pointed out on previous occasions, is that with only a handful of stations downtown, and with only one train being able to be at a station at any given time, running a two-car train through downtown to continue down South from Bayview means that you can't run a six-car train through downtown to continue West to Tunney's, and once it is built, Baseline. Capacity is lost.

One way to alleviate this problem is with more stations downtown. Instead of few six-car trains, have more frequent four-car trains, stopping at more stations. This also reduces pedestrian congestion as six train cars' worth of passengers all try to leave the station at once.

From centre-of-platform to centre-of-platform, the proposed stations are 650 metres apart, compared with 400-500 metres between urban core stations in Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal (according to Jeanes). Staff respond that Ottawa's stations will be 180 meres long, with entrances on both ends, so it's effectively like having twice as many. But newer stations in other cities have entrances on both ends, and Ottawa's trains won't have six cars for some time to come. Furthermore, they'll be 30 metres below the surface. Combined, this means a lot more walking to add to your commute time.

Staff also respond that the stations cost a lot of money--as much as $150 million. Jeanes has explained that it costs this much (as opposed to Toronto's Sheperd station, which cost a third that amount) because Staff are recommending stations with huge, cavernous interiors like those in Washington, D.C.

Connecting this all back with Bayview, the problem with Bayview's merging alignment is that rush-hour trains coming from the South won't be able to go to and through downtown, because there won't be capacity for them.

The problem with City Staff, meanwhile, is that they keep dismissing these problems, saying "those are operating questions that we have not gotten into. Right now we're looking at facilities."

I got a more straightforward version from the consultant Hopper:
"Well, that's an operational decision; there may be times when you're running six-car trains East-West in the crush of rush hour where you don't want to slip in a two-car train from North-South, and other times you may, so operationally you'd have the option to turn the train or run it all the way through."
Essentially, what he's saying is that under Staff's recommended solution, people coming in from Riverside South (and potentially Barrhaven, if Light Rail is extended that far in the future) will likely have to transfer from their two-car train on Bayview's lower platform to the six-car train on the upper platform. This is exactly what Councillor Wilkinson was incensed about for her express bus users until Phase II is built, except that this would be a permanent situation for Riverside South.

If you're going to require people coming from the south to transfer at Bayview anyway, it begs the question: why bother electrifying and converting the O-Train at all? Why build the more expensive and complex station at Bayview with the tracks merging? And why don't you just leave it the way it is and extend it across the Prince of Wales rail bridge to Gatineau?

The best answer to many of these questions (à la Occam's Razor) is, as Friend of the O-Train Tim Lane likes to sarcastically say, "it's not expensive enough."

- RG>

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When life closes a Swap Box... opens a give-and-take box.

The swap box outside Bridgehead on Elgin (previously discussed here and here) has met an unfortunate end.

Which is a pity, because as these photos indicate, it was an attraction:

Towards the last days, someone put little flower stickers on it:

Inside was...okay, nothing too fancy. A tootsie roll, plastic spoon, wetnap, and a piece of cardboard something.

On the 24th of April, when I went to unload some of my accumulated swap box stash, I discovered it gone! Travesty! I guess the people on the balcony of the Fox and Feather won't be able to entertain themselves by watching curious passers-by anymore.

But by a total fluke, I took a different route home last night and found that someone had put up a Give & Take box at Elgin and McLeod! For those who aren't tall enough to look in the top, it has a convenient front-hole.

It only had a tampon and a toonie in it, so I dropped in one of my collected doodads, in hopes of seeding the beast. It's also bigger than the last one, increasing the possibilities...

Help keep street art alive--support your local swap box!

- RG>

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Photos of Tamil Tuesday

No time to embed them into a blog post.

I took some photos of the Tamil-Canadian protests, added captions, and uploaded them to my Picasa account.

View the album here:

From Tamil protests 2009 on Parliament Hill

- RG>

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Where the fire of bigotry burns hottest

I made the terrible mistake today of purchasing a copy of the Sun, for entirely narcissistic reasons.

I made the further mistake of reading beyond what I sought from it.

The very dregs of bigotry drip like tar from its pages. You discover its xenophobic reflection on your hands as the black print stamps itself on your fingertips.

I'm talking, this time, about this call to arms by anti-immigration commentator Pat MacAdam.

Typical fear-mongering claptrap, it recalls specific cases where immigrants "abuse" immigration, and concludes that "the time has come to return to our traditional sources of immigration - Europe and the British Isles," so that Mr. MacAdam, an agèd Caucasian male, may be free of such terrors as:
"when I shop at Food Basics or Produce Depot, I am very much a visible minority and it makes me feel uneasy."
A curmudgeon and a miser; what an unfortunate combination. Pray he never discovers how it feels to experience true racism.

MacAdam's inspiration for these neurocidal ramblings is the continuing Tamil protests outside Parliament Hill. He compares their peaceful protest--literally--with a different protest in Berlin, where "hundreds of squatters, demanding housing, trashed a city block just off the Kurfurstendamm." The worst words MacAdam could muster to describe the effects of the Tamils' Ottawa demonstration was "traffic disruptions," juxtaposed against descriptions of the violent and orthogonal Berlin protests: "plate glass store windows not smashed by protesters were taken out by water cannons. Police drove the mob back with wooden batons."

MacAdam says that Ottawa's police are handling the peaceful Tamil protesters with "tact and diplomacy, and Chief Vern White may be proud of them." To how low a standard does MacAdam hold our police if they deserve commendation for letting peaceful protesters be? True, Ottawa's Police does deserve credit for putting themselves in harm's way by confronting those fearsome hunger strikers.

But MacAdam's beef is not with the hunger strikers, not even with the Tamil cause (and even he has the good sense not to falsely relate this group with the Tamil Tigers terrorist group). No, it is with his precious pavement.

Calling it an "occupation," MacAdam says
"the Tamil protesters should know they are encroaching on our streets, sidewalks and patience.... As taxpaying residents, we demand unimpeded access 24/7... Police permits to stage parades and demonstrations should be compulsory."
Who is this "our" MacAdam suggests these streets belong to, to the exclusion of the Tamils? These streets and sidewalks are public property. And foot and motor traffic flowed freely when I visited last Wednesday:

These Tamils, whether they are Canadian citizens or not (and I suspect most are) have every right to use them. If they are Canadian citizens, MacAdam laments that, too. He demands reform to restrict immigrants to "Europe and the British Isles" (the British Isles aren't in Europe?!?), and that any others surrender their former citizenships when they come to Canada:
"Immigrants to Canada must understand that acquiring landed immigrant status or Canadian citizenship is not a carte blanche to fire salvos back at their former countries from a safe lifeboat. They came to Canada to seek a better life or as part of the "fifth basket" family reunification program... Immigrants must fish or cut bait. If they want Canadian citizenship they should be required to renounce any other citizenship... The experience in rescuing Lebanese-Canadian citizens from a war zone should have been an object lesson."
Yes, because renouncing their citizenship would somehow prevent them from still having family in their former home country that they may visit.

Whatever Utopia MacAdam seems to think Canada is to those who wish to come here--or which he thinks it would be without them--simply would not exist in the police state he envisions. If he doesn't like living in a country with freedoms of speech and assembly, he should consider emigrating to one where he won't be bothered by them.

- RG>

Postscript: I was directed to the site

Friday, April 17, 2009

Proof that god doesn't exist

Posted by vitamin_oc on the OC Transpo Livejournal page:

I also like last month's editorial cartoon in the Centretown News, which depicts a bus ad reading "Think", to which an onlooker remarks "How offensive!"

- RG>

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Street Art News & Swap Box Video

Man, my internet has been on the fritz for about a week and a half now, and it's been a total bitch. The worst part is that it's sorta-working, so I've been spending a lot of time and energy (and lack of sleep) trying to get it working smoothly. Having to deal with the ISP hasn't exactly been smooth either.

Anyway, my internet seems to be about 80% stable, so I can finally get back to getting stuff done.

High up on the list was checking out Slashdot, and running into this article on tweenbots.

Tweenbots are a little artistic experiment by New Yorker Kacie Kinzer. It's a little robot that travels in a straight line, which depends on strangers orienting it in the proper direction to get to the destination on a flag it carries. Surprisingly the Tweenbot survived each test, despite NYC's notoriety for traffic, crime, and other natural Tweenbot predators.

Naturally, I took the opportunity to post a comment about Ottawa's Swap boxes on the Slashdot article, and in looking for the best URL to link, discovered some news on El Maks' Swap Box Project Blog. For one, he's responded to my question about what to do with the Annoying Protester Kit (namely, he doesn't have any good ideas either and is also looking for suggestions).

But more importantly, he posted a link to Jadis' Swap Box mini-documentary, which is awesome. (ProTip: pause at the fast montages and double-click the pause/play button to advance a few frames forward to see the photos)

Toward the end of the video, you can see El Maks make the swap box currently on Elgin. I first posted about this one at the end of my post Street Art Rescue #3 - Elgin Flower Box Rebuild.

Not visible in the photo on that post is the adorable little Mayor Larry Cupid on the left side of the box:

As always, I try to keep interesting stuff in my pocket to leave in swap boxes to exchange for other people's garbage. But despite El Maks mentioning the word "accessible" in the voiceover when this box is displayed in the video, I've noticed that you have to be quite tall to use this particular box (an unintentional irony, I'm sure). That, combined with it being on Elgin Street, leaves it frequently filled with condoms (unopened, thankfully)...

Or freaky April snow:

As for the flower box, it has disappeared. Making way for something new and better, perhaps!

Help keep street art alive--support your local swap box!

- RG>

Thursday, April 02, 2009

SCANning the flames of open-mindedness

[Edit: On June 3, 2009, I retracted part of my comments below in the following blog post:]

Recently, I responded to the previous months' minutes of a local community association, which included a mention of the recent panel discussion held by People Against SCAN, an event I blogged about shortly thereafter (as did zoom!).

The minutes included the following review of the SCAN meeting:
From the minutes: "[Person] reported on the anti-SCAN meeting at the library where an NDP MPP from Toronto made disparaging remarks about SCAN and neighbourhood watch groups."
Now, I don't know what was said at the community association meeting, as I had a prior commitment the previous month, so I have no way of telling whether the summary accurately reflected the discussion on the SCAN event. But I do know that this one-sentence summary does not come close to reflecting the concerns raised by the anti-SCAN people. It would have been just as useful(less) to say 'There was an event about SCAN, but it was organized by people who don't like SCAN, so it's not important.'

So I responded:
From RG: "I'm quite concerned at this summary of the SCAN meeting. Whatever 'disparaging remarks' might have been made by an MPP from Toronto (boo hoo), there were legitimate concerns raised by the organizers of the meeting about the negative consequences of SCAN legislation which do not seem to have been raised in this report.

"I was at the [anti-SCAN] meeting and frankly I think that SCAN legislation is both unnecessary for Ottawa's environment and highly excessive for what it proposes to do. It was unfortunate that Mr. Naqvi had to leave the meeting right at the beginning of the question session, leaving nobody to respond to the concerns raised by members of the audience.

"I suggest that Board members have a glance at the website of People Against SCAN, who organized the meeting, and have a look at the summaries of that meeting that are referenced on their front page:

This drew a response from the [person] mentioned in the minutes. Among her other comments, with which I disagree but nonetheless are reasonable (I've commented them out in the HTML code of the message if you really want to see them), was this final line:
From [Person]: "Moreover, I resent the use of this format [i.e. e-mail] for bullying and inflamatory and unproductive comments not unlike the ones made at the anti-SCAN meeting."
I can't figure out what in my comment was "bullying" (nor of whom), and why it's "inflammatory" to call someone out for an ad-hominem attack. Maybe "inflammatory" is to debates as "safer" is to legislation, where if someone applies the label, it must be true.

I'm also trying to figure out how a piece of legislation can have feelings, and why this person feels that it's relevant to the community association when an NDP MPP from Toronto hurts those feelings. [Edit 2009-06-03: As clarified in my partial retraction of my comments, she was referring to "disparaging remarks about ... neighbourhood watch groups," specifically a comment where NDP MPP Cheri Di Novo compared such groups to Stasi. Not "disparaging remarks about SCAN [full stop]".]

And when I point out further resources on the legislation, it's "unproductive", whereas the irrelevant comments made by [person] somehow are not.

I didn't bother to elaborate these points by e-mail. Instead, the substantive part of my subsequent response was thus:
From RG: "The onus is on the proposer of legislation to prove that it will not have negative consequences, and it is the responsibility of all concerned to raise concerns about such legislation. Dismissing such criticism is harmful to democracy."
And I left it at that.

The complaints made by [person] are very similar to the common accusation of not being "open-minded". I fully admit that this person did NOT say anything to that effect.

But imagine my delight tonight when I stumble upon Dan Gardner's blog, Katzenjammer, wherein he's posted this delightful video explaining what it really means to be open-minded.

While, again, [person] didn't accuse me of being close-minded, she seems to use the very same arguments and techniques explained in the video:

In fact, after watching that video, I can confidently claim that [person] is being close-minded, and I'd love to see her prove otherwise.

[Edit 2009-06-03: she did prove otherwise, as she and I had differing interpretations of the draft minutes, as discussed in my partial retraction of my comments. Spoiler: her interpretation was more complete than mine.]

- RG>