The Scar

Middle has a scar on his cheek. He got it in the spring, when he had a fall biking home one evening from soccer. Sometimes when I look at it I find myself back on the road, biking with the spouse and Little in front of me, and Middle behind me. Then I hear a crash and a scream, and I brake my bike swiftly, and look around to see him lying on the road. I get off my bike, but my limbs seem to be moving through water and it takes seemingly hours to disentangle them. I run back to him, still lying next to his bike, and as I run, I see a car approaching him from behind. My heart leaps in my throat. The car has time and room to pass, and I lift my boy and carry him to the sidewalk. The spouse runs to get the bike. Middle sobs on the sidewalk. There is blood on his cheek and his leg, and he is clutching his arm.

We get into coping-parent mode, and decide I will take him to the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for X-rays, in the car-share car. Luckily there is a Vrtucar parked about 200 m from the accident. I stop off at home, for snacks and drinks and books and a blanket, because I am experienced in the ways of CHEO and know what I will need in the emergency room. We get to the hospital, he is registered, and finally I can sit with my arms around my boy and the blanket around both of us. Then the images come back, and I am seeing him on the road again, with the car bearing down on us, and I’m trying not to cry. What if? What if that car had been right behind him when he fell?

His arm was not broken and neither was his cheekbone. The scrape on his cheek didn’t look deep at the time, but still it left a scar. The doctor who examined him asked me several times whether he was wearing his helmet. Yes, yes, of course, but that is not the question, I kept thinking. The question you need to ask is, what sort of infrastructure was he biking on? That would yield you some useful data. But I didn’t say any of this.

He was biking on North River Road south of Montreal Road. There was little traffic and there was no collision with another vehicle. His wheel hit something in the road a bit askew and suddenly he was off his bike. There is no painted or segregated bike lane there. Usually on the way home from soccer we would all be biking on the Rideau River Eastern Pathway, a National Capital Commission multi-user path. It’s a lovely safe route right along the river, well away from the road over most of its length, and the children have been cycling there since they learned to ride. It’s our route to the wider world spring, summer and fall.

It was a very wet spring in Ottawa, and the path was closed because of flooding. Earlier that day I had seen lots of bike traffic on that stretch of road, including our very own city councillor biking to work. I thought to myself then that it might be a good idea to put out some pylons to make a temporary separate path for the cyclists on the road. All over Ottawa this spring, while the MUPs were flooded, so many cyclists were forced onto roads. I don’t think temporary segregated lanes were provided on any of those roads.

I recently read that a (segregated, protected) cycle track along a road is one ninth as dangerous for cyclists as a road with no marked cycle lane at all. That statistic is one good reason to keep asking for safe transportation infrastructure for all, including children. A lot of my motivation for bike advocacy is based on statistics. There is a good solid evidence-based case for why safe cities are better, and cheaper, for us all. But now, in addition, I remember that feeling, the feeling as I looked up and saw 2 tons of metal bearing down on my own child.

I didn’t cry at the hospital. I held it together and took my boy home and was in bed by 1 a.m. Then I cried. I wept my fear and terror into the spouse’s shoulder. I know now that I did not weep it all out that night. Every time I see the scar on Middle’s cheek, the fear is back. Please make the city safe for all. Please.

Peace and porches

Peace and porches

Or, stop cutting illegally through other people’s neighbourhoods.

I spend a lot of time working in my garden. Planting, weeding, pruning, dead-heading — there’s always a great deal to do. Recently, though, I’ve been trying to go into the garden and just be. I have made the garden in order to be a refuge and a place of peace, and I’m attempting to find that peace there. I look closely at each individual blossom and leaf to appreciate the complexity and beauty of even the smallest thing. I pay attention to the butterflies and bees and other winged insects that work so busily there.

Lately I’ve been especially enjoying all the birds in the front garden from the vantage point of our new porch. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve planted six trees in the front and side gardens in order to provide us and the sidewalk with shade, and to provide the birds with habitat. Until our porch was built, I hadn’t realized how successful that bird-focused project had been. Now, there is always “a melodious noise of birds among the spreading branches” (Wisdom of Solomon, 17:19): goldfinches, robins, cardinals, sparrows, cedar waxwings…we can just sit quietly and gaze as they fly about.

The front porch also gives us a lot more contact with neighbours. Most Overbrook front gardens are fairly shallow, and the sidewalk (or road, for those streets without sidewalks) is not far away. People frequently bike or walk past our house, and if we’re sitting on the porch we often exchange friendly greetings. Sometimes it’s no more than a “hello”, but often people stop to introduce themselves and their dogs, to chat about the new porch or the garden, and to talk about how they’re going to the lovely park by the river and how much they love the neighbourhood.

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Both these vehicles are making illegal turns at around 4:30 pm

The porch is a place for us to enjoy the peace of the garden and has also become a place for us to enjoy the fellowship of the neighbourhood among the trees and flowers. It is difficult for us to enjoy these chats against the frequent noise of the traffic that comes down our street. We have to pause in our chat until the racket has gone away. Some of the cars drive sedately, but others roar past. I have even seen an enormous car-carrier truck on our street waiting at the light at the end of the road.

As far as I can tell, no part of Overbrook is protected from commuter and commercial traffic cutting through the neighbourhood. Some signs forbidding turns at certain time of day serve as acknowledgement of the disruption this causes, but have little to no effect in reducing the volume of traffic. I have noticed that other neighbourhoods, like Kingsview Park, are protected from through traffic. Overbrook is almost entirely a residential neighbourhood. I wish we had more front porches here, so that chats between neighbours could turn into conversations between friends. I wish that Overbrook were protected better from traffic, so that we could all find peace and quiet in our gardens

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Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

Screaming bloody murder about the Ottawa Carleton District School Board

The OCDSB has, in two recent decisions, decided to sentence all high school age children in Overbrook and Vanier to a bus commute to a suburban school, Gloucester High School. On March 7, the board voted to close Rideau High School, after vigourous opposition from the community. This decision ensures that all children in the English stream in Overbrook and Vanier would be sent to Gloucester High School. I wrote a letter after their initial vote and attended the meeting at which the final vote was taken. An excerpt from my letter:

I am writing to you to express my disagreement with your vote to close Rideau High School, and to urge you to change your vote the next time around.
Rideau High School serves a very special community within Ottawa. It has a high number of indigenous and Inuit students, as well as a high proportion of new Canadians. The programs that are in place there work well and there is no compelling argument that setting them up again at a school that is further away will provide any improvement. 
There is significant evidence to suggest that students in need do better at smaller schools. A growing body of research shows that it is particularly important for students in high school to have physical activity built into their day. Walking or cycling to Rideau High currently provides at least part of that. Gloucester High School is not at all a pleasant place to cycle to, and putting high school students on buses will not improve their mental or physical health. 
I understand the point that Rideau High School is underpopulated at the moment. I have seen no evidence of creative problem-solving on the part of the board to deal with this issue. Closing the school seems to be a very blunt instrument; in recent years, Viscount Alexander was also under threat of closure and has seen something of a Renaissance once a French immersion program was introduced there. 
Last night saw me again at the headquarters of the OCDSB on Greenbank Road. (I booked a Vrtucar; because I got home at 10, the spouse returned it so I wouldn’t have to walk home in the dark. How jolly it will be to book a car every time I need to get the children’s high school: read on).

Our school trustee made the following motion:

Trustee Ellis has given notice that he intends to move as follows at the Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for 21 March 2017:

Therefore be it resolved:

A. THAT starting in the school year 2017-2018, grade nine students residing in the York Street Public School grade 7 to 8 English attendance boundary east of the Rideau River, and south of Beechwood and Hemlock be directed to LisgarCollegiate Institute (see attached map);

B. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, grade nine students residing in the Manor Park English attendance boundary (see attached map) be directed to Lisgar Collegiate Institute; and

C. THAT starting in the school year 2017-18, Lisgar Collegiate Institute will accept grade nine students to the Gifted Congregated program if Lisgar Collegiate Institute is the closest high school offering that program to where the student resides. (This will create space for students from the above areas.)

I spoke in favour of the motion, noting that we live in Overbrook, 2.4 km from Lisgar, a safe and pleasant walk or bike ride for our grade 9 student.  Sending the children of Overbrook and Vanier to Gloucester would take them away from this reasonable commute and send them on to a very unsafe bike lane on Ogilvie, or more likely, the bus. We have no interest in sending our children to a suburban school, 5 km from our house, along an appallingly unsafe bike route, unprotected from vehicular traffic.  Here is some video of the bike lane on Ogilvie. The OCTranspo quick planner tells me that the route from my house to Gloucester High School involves 3 buses and would take 45 minutes (on good days when the connections work, of course).  There is also a two bus option taking 56 minutes. Friends in Vanier, living over 7 km from Gloucester High School, have a number of options, ranging from 38 to 56 minutes and two of those options involve 3 buses. My child can ride his bike to Lisgar in 10 minutes.
Several delegations spoke at last night’s meeting, and all were in favour of the motion. The board then voted against the motion. I am appalled that the board did so and now proposes to send all students from some of the poorest areas in Ottawa to a suburban school. Two other high schools are closer to my house than Gloucester: Glebe and Hillcrest.
Study after study has shown that the best outcomes for children occur when active transportation is built into their day. Further studies have shown that walkable neighbourhoods have more social capital. The school board seems to be disregarding recent social studies research in its decisions, to say the least. I thought the Prime Minister said when he was sworn in that we were in a new age of evidence-based decision making. The PM has no sway at the OCDSB, of course, although if his children went to high school in that board they would be going to Lisgar.
We bought a house about 3 km from Parliament Hill so that we could raise our children in an urban environment. We have endured the bussing during elementary school from our house to Manor Park PS with the expectation that there would be light at the end of the tunnel come high school. The board’s decision ensures that no child in French Immersion living in Ottawa or Vanier can walk or bike to school DURING THEIR ENTIRE SCHOOL CAREER FROM JK TO GRADE 12. I am enraged. Please excuse the yelling.
My fury is not abated by the fact that a neighbourhood significantly further away from Lisgar than ours, Lindenlea-New Edinburgh-Rockcliffe Park, continues to be able to send its children to Lisgar. Lisgar is much more my neighbourhood high school than it is theirs. If I lived in Lindenlea, my house would be about 4.8 km from Lisgar and an 18-minute bike ride. I can only conclude that the school board continues to draw its boundaries along class lines.
I turned to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study for more information. Their website notes: We are a team that brings together the University of Ottawa, the City of Ottawa, local Community Health & Resource Centres, Ottawa Public Health, United Way/Centraide Ottawa, The Champlain Local Health Integration Network, and other community-based partners. Our goal is to better understand the neighbourhoods in which we live, work and play in order to offer evidence about the dimensions that are important for community health and well-being. We also provide the City of Ottawa, health service providers, social service agencies, community organizations and residents with information on 107 neighbourhoods in Ottawa in order to help them to identify what is working well, and where community development is needed.
The survey provides the following information. The percentage of the population in the bottom half of the Canadian income distribution is 61.9 % for Overbrook-McArthur; 53.9% for Vanier North; 22.4% for Rockcliffe Park; and 25.6 % for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh, according to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The average percentage for Ottawa is 35.3%. Furthermore, median income after taxes is $25117 for Overbrook-McArthur; $28848 for Vanier North; $43788 for Rockcliffe Park; and $46050 for Lindenlea-New Edinburgh. The average median income for all of Ottawa is $35554.90.
I am not arguing that the residents of Rockcliffe Park etc. should stop sending their children to Lisgar. The bus routes from those neighbourhoods to Gloucester High School are similarly daft. I am pointing out the injustice that the children of  Overbrook and Vanier,who live much closer to Lisgar, and whose families are much less able to weather the extra expense and strain of having children attending a school much further away, are being shifted before those in wealthy neighbourhoods who live further away from Lisgar.
The school board is using the French Immersion children of Overbrook and Vanier in order to bolster an already bad decision to close Rideau High School. The board needs to show high levels of enrolment at Gloucester for next year in order to be able to pronounce the closure a success. This is a face-saving, self-serving exercise and is bad for the children of my neighbourhood.
Overbrook and Vanier children need to be able to use active transportation to get to school, and would benefit immensely from the Lisgar environment. The school board appears to be set on a series of policies (the closure of Rideau High School and now this) that would hollow out an up-and-coming urban neighbourhood that needs all the help it can get. This is not the way to plan for a successful future for our community.
The reason that the board is drawing the boundary this way is that residents of wealthier neighbourhoods have better contacts, more social capital, more time to spend on activism and are more adroit at navigating administrative systems. The poor cannot do this so well. The OCDSB does not want a posse of Lindenlea parents screaming bloody murder. I am an Overbrook resident with a lot of social capital myself, so watch me: BLOODY MURDER.

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

Car-free Family: Party like it’s 1928

It’s a chilly day in February and about a year since we adopted a life without owning a car. This morning Little and Middle put on snowsuits, boots, ski mitts and balaclavas and went off to catch the schoolbus, chatting. The spouse and I walked together as far as the Rideau Canal (a bit over 2 km) and then I kissed him and walked home again. As we were walking, the teenager passed us, cycling on the winter bike, on his way to high school. Just another normal winter day.

Last week the wind chill was -28 and on Sunday 28 cm of snow fell here in Ottawa.It was this part of the year that most made us hesitate when we were considering giving up the car. It can be brutal.

But it turns out that it really is not difficult at all, and we love having no car.I am delighted every time I see the empty driveway and realize once again that oil changes have no power over me any longer.

Just because we have no car doesn’t mean we never drive. It’s just that driving is now for special occasions and there is a faintly festive air to it. We joined a car-sharing service about a year ago and if I need to do errands that take me far away or to places that are dangerous to bike to, I book a car and walk to the car-sharing station to pick it up. This is the first part of the new normal that makes me think of 1928; novels of that vintage are always having the manservant garaging the car, often in a rented space in a mewsnearby, and then getting it out again when the master wants the motor. Bunter did it for Lord Peter Wimsey, for example. The difference for us is the sad lack of servants in the slow lane.

The closest car-share station is about 1 km away, which initially I found a bit far to go to get a car. It’s about a fifteen minute walk. I got used to it quickly and now I love that there are two walks built into every car journey. The children are quite accustomed to the walk as well and recently Little remarked that we were lucky that the car was so close. Our nearest car is a Toyota Yaris; it’s a very nimble little car and reminds me of our late lamented Tercel. I can park in the tiniest space and the trunk space seems enormous, especially in comparison to a pair of panniers, my usual cargo solution. We booked an SUV for the trek out to the countryside before Christmas to cut down the tree. Now that was luxury, and the tree farm was gorgeous.

tree-farm

Friends and family sometimes offer us their cars when they go on holiday, to our mutual benefit. Their car gets driven occasionally, keeping the battery topped up in our vicious winters, and I am spared the chilly walk to the carshare.

For camping holidays  and to visit family in Toronto we rent a car. The first time we rented we had our eyes opened by the incredible luxury of modern car design. USB plugs! Heated seats! Backup cameras! Back when we bought out last car in 2007, such things were not available, or at least not in the Mazda5.  The best van for camping was a Chrysler Town and Country; we got three tents and associated junk into it without much effort. Note to self: the Ford Flex is a reverse Tardis. It looks huge on the outside and is a beast to park, and the interior has strangely little useable space. When we rent a vehicle, we enjoy the treat of the tons of room and millions of cupholders and return it with thanks at the end of the holiday. camping

The other solution that involves driving is to have things delivered, instead of us running errands in the car. Our pharmacy, in Old Ottawa East, makes deliveries. We get our vegetables from a local supplier and those too are delivered. This is an especial blessing in the winter when lettuce fetched on foot is liable to freeze. Online grocery-shopping in Ottawa is not that useful yet. It tends to be expensive and to offer foods that I never actually buy. Having food and medicine delivered seems delightfully old-fashioned and reminds me of accounts in novels, again, of the butcher’s boy coming on his bicycle or the milk float arriving early in the morning. Remember Father Christmas encountering the milkman in the Raymond Briggs book? Of course all these literary references to a less car-dependent time are grounded in actual fact.

A sort of delivery that in no way is reminiscent of 1928 is e-commerce. More and more I am liable to order things online. Instead of making the trek out to Westboro I can get Mountain Equipment Co-op to deliver for free if the order is over $50. I just save up the order until it’s that much. I try to buy local as much as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t work, as with the recent hanky purchase.

Now to the nitty-gritty. Even with all this renting and car-sharing, we spend less than we would if we owned a car. The total cost of car-share last year was $878.39. Gas is included in the per kilometre charge we pay. Insurance is covered by our credit card insurance. That was with me not skimping, getting a car whenever I thought I needed one, and frequent drives on orthodontist days out to Orleans (about a 40 km round trip). The amount spent on rental cars and gas last year was $1,382.25. All that driving occurred on vacation. Along with the car-share that means auto costs for 2016 were $2260.64. The amount spent on the car, car insurance  and fuel in 2015 was $4136.06. That is a difference of $1875.42. This year I am more used to being car-free and aim to reduce my use of the car-share. Mercifully the orthodontist visits are over for now.

Of course, one of the reasons that had us giving up owning a car was that the Mazda 5 was starting to show its age. Expensive work on the suspension was looming. Buying a new car was just around the corner. If we had bought another Mazda 5 GT in January 2017, and we did like it as a car, that would have cost us about $28, 000. Another car loan — no thanks.

Often we feel like we are cheating and not really doing the genuine car-free thing since our access to a car when we need one is so easy. If we were really hard-core we would never drive anywhere. That’s not quite possible for us in Ottawa yet. More on that later….