Elgin Street: after millions of dollars spent, it will still be awful


Crap. Another day, another furious letter to the city about its wilful inability to achieve balance for road users. This one is about a recent report on the proposed reconstruction of Elgin Street. As it is now, (see above), it’s quite unattractive and uninviting. The proposed improvements will do little to change this, I fear.

Dear Transportation Committee members,

I recently read the Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study. It made me sick at heart. The report tells a tale of a project based on the false premise that the city of Ottawa will balance the needs of all modes of traffic in the given corridor. It tells a tale of repeated consultations, resulting in numerous requests for improved cycling infrastructure. One’s hopes are raised, only to read: “The study team received a significant amount of feedback requesting bike lanes on Elgin Street. After thorough analysis, the study team concluded that there is insufficient space within the 18.2m right-of-way to safely accommodate bike lanes while meeting the primary requirement for wider sidewalks and other competing policy directions for the street.” It thus also tells a tale of opportunity squandered and the goodwill of citizens cast to the four winds.
 
These competing policy directions seem, from the rest of the report, to involve parking. The current state of transportation research has shown repeatedly that parking is not a public good. It does not add to the life of a street, its esthetic level, its safety or its financial viability. Those requesting that parking be retained are basing their requests on lore rather than data. I would prefer that the city spend my money on evidence-based plans. Moreover, those defending the parking monolith were in the minority during consultations, unlike those advocating for active transportation.
 
I therefore have two complaints about this new plan for Elgin.
 
First, it makes the road not one bit safer for my teenager at Lisgar CI, or my two younger children. Their safety on the street is apparently going to be safeguarded by a 30 km/h speed limit on a truck route, as they are supposed to take the lane on sharrows. It is not only my children who might want to cycle here; Elgin Street Public School is smack in the middle of the neighbourhood. The only safe way to protect a child from a truck is with segregated lanes, preferably cycle track. The children rightly deride sharrows and know that they do not make the cyclist safer. We live in Overbrook, and have a safe route to downtown via Adawe, Somerset and Corktown. That safety stops at Elgin.
 
The report brings out the old saw that it is fine for cyclists to use another route, and lists several possibilities. Current transportation scholarship holds that balance of modes only occurs when motorized vehicles are encouraged to go around, and that cyclists and pedestrians should have the most direct and most protected routes. If I am actually intending to go to a destination on Elgin Street, should it not be possible for my bicycle to travel safely along Elgin? Are the writers of this report actually ignorant of this scholarship, or are they wilfully ignoring it? Apparently cycling lanes cannot be improved because Elgin is not part of the pre-approved networks and plans. This is a circular argument that justifies an appalling lack of action. The consultation showed above all else that users of this road would like to see the networks extended and the plans improved.
 
My second complaint arises out of my sense that the city has ignored the feedback of its own citizens. Citizens engaged in good faith with the series of consultations laid out by the city. I sat down with my own children and asked for their input on the street. They had been stung by a recent experience in trying to get from the dentist to Daddy’s office for lunch. They could not safely bike on the road, and could not easily push their bikes on the congested sidewalk. They told me afterwards they were never going there again. I included their ideas, namely the cycle tracks they love so much on Main St.,  in my response. (The first time my son rode on those tracks, he laughed and sang with joy the whole way; the sense of simultaneous freedom and safety was that wonderful to him.) The whole family spent time on this project, and many other people similarly spent their time. This report makes a mockery of their contribution.
 
The report shows clearly that the input of citizens was cast aside. Please tell me how we will find a way forward. What is the point of our taking time to engage in future projects? What are the actual reasons that this farrago of a plan is being presented? It certainly is not intended to reflect the will of the people.
 
As you can tell, I am very cross indeed. If you are trying to keep my carfree family out of the downtown, you are doing a very good job.
 
I urge you to reject this report and to implement the cycling infrastructure that your citizens have requested.