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.
 

I have no sword, so I’m fighting with my pen

I have no sword, so I’m fighting with my pen

 

I wrote this letter to the Ontario Minister of Education today:

Dear Minister Hunter,

I am writing in response to recent statements you have made about school boards consulting with municipalities in their decisions to close local schools. These statements have particular relevance to us here in eastern Ontario, as many rural schools are slated to be closed. In addition, the Ottawa District School Board has recently decided to close Rideau High School and to move the boundaries for French Immersion high school students. All students in the areas of Overbrook and Vanier are now expected to take the bus to a suburban school. I have written in more detail on this matter in a recent blog post. https://bigorangebike.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/screaming-bloody-murder-about-the-ottawa-carleton-district-school-board/

I am writing to ask you to reverse the decision made by the OCDSB. The board did not heed any of the input made by the local community and as far as I can tell has made no formal effort to consult with the City of Ottawa. Its actions, however, will hollow out a central neighbourhood, put an at-risk population at further risk, and makes a mockery of all efforts to raise our children in a healthy and environmentally responsible manner.

I don’t know how familiar you are with Ottawa, but Overbrook and Vanier are very close to downtown. Most of the children affected by this decision live within five kilometres of Parliament Hill. The Peace Tower is visible from many parts of the area. I am staggered that it seems that Ontario is now so poor that it cannot afford to send children living centrally, in the capital of Canada, to a walkable, bikeable school. Of course I know that Ontario is not that poor, but the OCDSB is making a short-sighted decision and the children are suffering for it.

I have followed, and participated in, the fight for Rideau HS and access to Lisgar CI, and I have seen no evidence that the school board consulted with the municipality. All the local community associations are against this decision; the previous police chief of Ottawa, Vern White, spoke out against it; the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre, which is on the front lines helping the needy in our neighbourhood is against it; the Wabano Centre, serving our local indigenous population is against it; scores of parents are against it. At the meeting in which the final vote was cost, a delegation of refugee parents came, with an Arabic translator, to tell the board that Rideau High School provided schooling for their teenagers, a preschool for their little ones, and language classes for them. The chair of the board welcomed them to Canada and then presided over a decision that places those services in three different places, making them much more inaccessible.

The local councillors of Rideau-Rockcliffe and Rideau-Vanier wards have been trying in the last years to make our neighbourhoods more vibrant and adapted to active transportation. Consultations have begun on making two local main streets into “complete streets” so that the biking, walking and shopping experience is better suited to the needs of the local population. Indeed, those streets lead directly to Rideau High School and would have made the walk or bike ride there that much more appealing. Our area has the third-lowest car ownership rate in the city, and the third-highest population density (figures taken from the 2011 Origin-Destination Survey: http://www.ncr-trans-rcn.ca/surveys/o-d-survey/o-d-survey-2011/); sending its teenagers to a high school that is easily accessible by car and difficult to access by public transit or bicycle does not seem to be an obvious decision.

The problems I have outlined in my discussion of our local situation are part of a larger issue. In my view, there needs to be much greater coordination between the ministries of health, environment and education to ensure that the children of Ontario grow up in a healthy and safe manner. So many preventive measures can be taken with and for the children when they are young: walking and biking to school improves mental and physical health, resulting in reduced risk of depression, diabetes and cardiac disease; ensures that future adults are not wedded to the car; reduces greenhouse gas emissions from traffic; reduces traffic noise and pollution. There needs to be better coordination on the ground, involving local councillors, Public Health and initiatives from the Ministry of the Environment.

I do most fervently hope that you will intervene to help the children of Overbrook and Vanier.

cc. Glen R. Murray, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care

 

Canada 150 in the garden: celebrate!

Canada 150 in the garden: celebrate!

My latest gardening column (slightly modified) in Nouvelles d’Overbrook News, our community newspaper.

This year’s bulb and seed catalogues are pushing the idea of planting lots of red and white flowers to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.  I like red and white. I like it in Nordic knitting and I like it in the Canadian flag. Unrelieved red and white in the garden seems rather harsh, however. I have an alternative idea for celebratory plantings this year: plant native plants. Indeed, plant native plants that have the word canadensis (from Canada) in their botanical name. Here are some ideas.

Amelanchier canadensis: The serviceberry is in my opinion the best small tree for Ottawa. In Spring it is covered in a mist of white bloom and by early summer the berries are ripening and the birds are feasting. It can reach a height of 5 m and likes sun to part shade. It can be grown as a specimen with a single trunk or as a multistemmed shrub. Both are gorgeous. This plant is native all across Canada and for centuries the people who live here have been enjoying it. Enjoy a pie made from your very own berries on Canada Day.

saskatoon berries
Amelanchier canadensis berries in my garden

Anemone canadensis:  The Canada anemone grows in every province and territory of Canada and will thrive in an Ottawa garden. Starry white flowers come in late spring and it likes sun to part shade. It will reach a height of 30 to 60 cm and provide years of pleasure.

Anemone-canadensis-cuddy-frm-1
Anemone canadensis, http://www.canadaplants.ca

Aquilegia canadensis: the native columbine is a smaller version of the garden columbine and it’s another native that will thrive in the sun. Blossoms resembling red and yellow butterflies rise above a  basal rosette of leaves  in May  and June; the plant has a height of 15-90 cm.

Aquilegia-canadensis-flw-1
Aquilegia canadensis, http://www.canadaplants.ca

Asarum canadense: The wild ginger is not grown for its blooms but rather for its broad and rounded leaves. It makes a lush groundcover in shade and its downy leaves give it a greyish cast, particularly later in the summer. It reaches a height of 10-15 cm and a spread of 15-30 cm. Divide it in the spring after it has established itself for a few years. It grows well but is not invasive.

Asarum-canadense-frm-3
Asarum canadense, http://www.canadaplants.ca

Cornus canadensis: Make a beautiful carpet in a shady corner of your garden with the bunchberry, the smallest dogwood at 5-15 cm. Leaves in the classic dogwood shape form a rosette that supports simple white flowers in spring and clusters of red berries in the fall. This plant is red and white all on its own. It possesses a quiet cheerfulness which never fails to charm. Bunchberry is sometimes difficult to establish; water well and mulch with shredded leaves in the autumn.

Cornus canadensis wk2
Cornus canadensis, http://www.canadaplants.ca

I highly recommend the plant sale at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden in the spring if you are interested in planting more native vegetation in your garden. The sale this year is on Saturday June 3. The garden itself is always worth a visit; various beds are planted with specimens from designated habitats, and birds love the place. So do I.

Car-free Family: O Bus, Where Art Thou?

We’re going to a party this weekend! If the weather is clear we will bike, since there has been a lot of snow melt recently and the roads are no longer choked with snow. The spouse has already told me that there is no way he is taking transit; the vagaries of OCTranspo are somehow compounded when he waits for a bus. It’s as if the bus system knows that he is impatient, and that he is scarred by growing up in the suburbs of Ottawa, reliant on the bus. The bus therefore takes even longer to come than usual when he is waiting for it. 

I was optimistic at the beginning of our car-free year and tried to take the bus everywhere, as I had done when I was growing up in Toronto. Buses in Ottawa are scheduled far too infrequently; the one that goes past our house and carries on 3+ kilometres to Parliament Hill is scheduled every half an hour. My childhood TTC bus was scheduled every 20 minutes on Sundays and that was called infrequent service. Usually the bus at the bottom of my road came every 10 minutes or more often. When I was a teenager, freedom was spelt TTC. Not so in Ottawa.

I joke sometimes that my main role as a SAHM is to be the medical concierge. Medical appointments for the children are pretty frequent. Last summer, we decided to take the bus to a doctor’s appointment. Afterwards, we did some grocery shopping nearby before going to catch the bus home. We had to catch a bus at Elmvale and take it to Hurdman, and then catch the 9 to get home. This is where one waits for the bus at Elmvale.elmvale

The last time we had been there, it was March, and the wind was whipping past the tiny bus shelters. We shivered as we waited. This time, it was hot, and we huddled in the meagre shade offered by those same shelters. Little pointed out that there was no proper shade, “no tree shade, Mum”. The bus failed to come and failed to come and failed to come. We did see seven number 86 buses come by as we waited. Eventually our bus came, and we proceeded to Hurdman. Little sat on my lap the whole way, and our grocery bags and backpack were disported around us. We chatted and laughed and had a great cuddle. That is what I like about the bus; the children and I can pay proper attention to each other because there is nothing else to do. If we meet a friend on the bus, we have time for a good chat, instead of a wave out of a car window.

We arrived at Hurdman with four minutes to spare before the next number 9. Ha bloody ha. After fifteen minutes I was beginning to regret that we hadn’t walked out to the Rideau River Eastern Pathway and walked along the pathway there. The reason that solution hadn’t sprung immediately to mind was that I had fifteen pounds of potatoes and apples on my back and two more heavy bags and a tired child. A murmuring rose around us as we waited; more and more people got off other buses and wanted the 9, but the scheduled bus never arrived. One of those waiting was a disabled young man with a walker. Instead, the next bus came after a wait of 25 minutes. Hurdman is similarly equipped with shade and places to sit as its sister station at Elmvale: pretty much bugger all. To add to its charms, extensive construction was going on right next to it. On the downside, it was noisy and dusty; on the upside, at least we could watch the men play with their sand toys, sorry construction equipment, as we waited. We arrived at home 90 minutes after arriving at Elmvale. Driving home from there would take about 15 minutes.

On that number 9 bus, one woman changed seats so that Little could sit down, and then a couple nearby vacated their seats entirely so that we could sit together. This is another thing I like about the bus. I am always intercepting kind looks directed at the children, and people are always helping others by giving up seats, lifting strollers and helping newbies open the back doors which do not open automatically. This was a group of people who were hot and grumpy after waiting at Hurdman, and still their humanity remained. I contrast this with the aggressive behaviour directed by most drivers at me and the children, yes, the children, as we cycle around. No wonder the children say cars are mean. But buses make people into equals, and they can see that everyone is in the same boat. Roads and cars make people into haves and have-nots and the have-nots, on foot or by bike, are apparently to be despised. The hegemon loathes the people it dominates, and indeed does not see them as people, but as hindrances to the almighty machine, the car.

Now, I can choose not to take the bus to the doctor again. I can get on my bike if the weather is good, or I can take Uber, because I have the flexibility that time and money afford the middle class. I can walk all over the downtown, given enough time. I can use the car-share, and take advantage of the free parking downtown evenings and weekends. OCTranspo is not free during these times. Talk about undermining your public transit system.

OCTranspo insults its customers with its appalling bus shelters, narrow, unshaded, unheated. Those who work, or have to go to school, or to doctor’s appointments, with, God forbid, babies or toddlers, or who have to pick up children from school on a timetable, are at the mercy of a system that is appallingly underfunded. A properly funded transit system involves frequent, predictable, reliable service, and comfortable, safe place to wait. A properly funded transit system might actually be cheap, or even free, instead of subjecting its passengers to frequent and outrageous price increases. A properly funded transit system might get its funds from the proceeds of parking, which would never be free anywhere at any time. A properly funded transit system might actually have a chance of being on time if it was routed through a downtown in which private cars were not allowed and delivery vehicles could only enter at designated times. Those measures would humanize the city and make it all less smelly and loud and horrible. I want to like taking the bus. City of Ottawa, please help me out.

 

 

A Coalition of the Decent

god-protect-us
God Protect You © Hilary Masemann 2017

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing to you to voice my grave concern about how the government is to deal with the administration of Donald Trump. While I understand that it is important for Canada to engage in profitable trading relationships, I do not believe that the foundations of Canadian identity and society should be sacrificed on the altar of commerce.

I know that I am not alone as a Canadian in believing in an open, equal and kind society where everyone has the same rights under the law, where those in trouble are welcome, those who are ill must be healed and those who are poor must be helped. Making this vision a reality is the Canadian project. Everything that President Trump has said or done in his campaign and brief stint in office so far has revealed that he has no respect for any of these pillars of Canadian society and indeed of decent humanity.

I urge you and other members of cabinet to ensure that Canada becomes an active member of a worldwide coalition of the decent. I’m quite sure that Donald Trump would not enjoy a series of conversations with the leaders of such a coalition telling him that his every word and deed is abhorrent. It is your job to tell him that. It is your job to call out this bully.

Yes, our trading relationship with the Americans has historically been important and it would be delightful to continue the same sort of relationship. That, however, is not the reality that we are living in now that the American government is being led by a misogynist, racist, homophobic fascist who does not understand the importance of the fourth estate or of opposition in a modern democracy. It is just possible that we must might have to wrench ourselves away from our economic interdependence with the United States of America. Agreements like CETA are a good way forward, as is increasing reproductive health funding for women worldwide along with the Netherlands and others.

For the sake of Canada and the sake of the world and the sake of your own political survival you must distance yourself from this monster.

Last weekend my parents and my sister were at a party welcoming a new family of Syrian refugees to Canada. As so many other Canadians have done, they formed a committee with others, raised money and now are friends to a new and lovely family settling in with help from Canadians. I am attaching a photo of the piece that my sister, an art teacher, made for them in welcome. It reads “God protect you”. These refugees are people just like us. They are us. I know you know that. I cannot have you dealing on equal terms with a man who does not believe that all humans on Earth are equally people.

I realize that the government must be thinking that a policy that speaks truth to the power of the president of the United States is very risky but I also believe in the long term that doing what is good and right and decent and essentially Canadian cannot go wrong.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Charlotte Masemann

Haircuts

Haircuts

I used to give the occasional haircut to small children who didn’t like going to the hairdresser; indeed for years going to the barber with Middle was an ordeal of screaming. My career as a home barber really began in earnest two years ago when the teenager decided to freelance  with scissors on his own hair. He came home one day from school and took off his hoodie and I, caught completely unawares, screamed.  He had given himself an extremely  ragged haircut with unappealing bits of  scalp showing. I went out and bought a clipper kit on sale for $19.99. When he got home from school the next day I tidied it as best I could. This was challenging since his hair is very thick and curly and almost as difficult  to cut as a slinky. A few weeks later his little brother needed a haircut and I decided to try the clippers on him as well.  It was a hot day. I set up a stool in the backyard but I didn’t use a cape because it was so hot. Big mistake. After a few minutes of using the clippers all the little tiny bits of hair clung to his sweaty skin and made him itchy. I managed to calm him briefly but then  he lurched off the stool, screamed at me,  “You are the worst hairdresser in the world!” and ran around to the front of the house still screaming, clad only in underpants. I coaxed him back, flung a sheet around him and finished the haircut. In my defense I can say that it was not the worst haircut ever given in the world.  I do better ones now but still, it was not bad. He had just enough time to take a bath before soccer. I however did not and got to bike children to soccer and enjoy the prickles of hair on my skin until we got home about 3 hours later and I dashed into the shower.

One might think this would put me off doing haircuts at home but no,  I pressed on. I continued to give haircuts to the boys and trimming Little’s bangs. I was further inspired by a friend of mine whose hair always looks great. She told me she cut it herself with the help of YouTube.

My hair is thick and wavy to curly depending on the relative humidity and the length of my haircut. I have very rarely had a haircut in a salon that I thought was worth it. It ended up being at least $50 for something that no one ever noticed. No one, that is, unless I gave into the blandishments of the stylist  who wanted to blow my hair out. I don’t know what it is about the people who cut hair but the dominant thought is that straight hair is normal and all other hair is weird.   Thus when a stylist gets her hands on wavy hair she is overcome by the urge to make it straight and therefore normal. My hair is not straight, it will never be straight and I think I look peculiar and not normal with straight hair.  Instead of booking an appointment, I did a search on YouTube For how to cut, really just trim, wavy hair. So now every few months I put my hair in a ponytail, flip it over the top of my head then cut the end of the ponytail off. (There, I have ruined the mystique of my coiffure.) My hair looks exactly the same as it always did and cost me no money, and no time having to make conversation in a salon chair. Many of these conversations involved me explaining why I chose to do a Ph.D., or why I was staying home with my children,  or saying again no thank you I don’t want to dye my prematurely gray hair which is in great shape and perhaps not uncoincidentally strangely undamaged by chemicals. Exhausting.

And then just over a year ago I was reading Mr. Money Mustache, a frugality blog I find quite amusing. MMM suggested one might save a lot of money by cutting one’s own hair. He was directing that towards men but I thought we could save money if I cut the spouse’s hair.  His initial reaction was horror but I managed to convince him to let me try it once. By this point I was cutting the boys’ hair  regularly with no incidents so I thought the risk was low. I got out the  clippers one summer day and we haven’t looked back since. I cut it  about every 6 weeks. He has received no comment from people at work other than teasing after a recent promotion that he is now getting new executive haircuts.

I enjoy giving my family haircuts. Perhaps it’s a primal grooming thing, but I enjoy feeling the texture of the hair and seeing the adorable necks of the children. I now know where I have to cut a little closer to avoid sticky-uppy bits when the hair is growing. I also enjoy mastering a new skill. I used to have no clue about barbering and now I am deft enough to do it even one-handed as I did last weekend since I just broke my wrist.

I think it’s worth a try for anyone. Clippers and good scissors are not that expensive and as my mother said when my little sister cut off all her bangs, “Oh well, at least it will grow back.” Results can be much better than that, however. My proudest moment was giving Little a wedge cut last summer that kept her neck cool during hours and hours of soccer. I’m also delighted that our hair cutting budget is $0.

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Hankies

Hankies

Last autumn, I declared an end to buying Kleenex, tissues, what have you. I decided to switch the household over to hankies for two reasons: waste, and the horrible bits of Kleenex that end up in the wash after someone has left it in a pocket, and then you have to put the whole load through the dryer instead of hanging it up. I also like hankies. I like the softness of much-washed cotton against my nose when I have a horrible cold (much softer than paper). I like how they remind me of my dad, and both my grandfathers, hanky-carriers all. I only ever met one man in my generation, more than twenty years ago, who used a hanky. If we all used hankies, the boreal forest and all the little warblers who use it as their nursery would be safer.

A lot of effort in this world goes into manufacturing things that will be used once and then get thrown out. The facial tissue is one of those things. Greenpeace has estimated that North Americans use 22 kg of tissue paper products (facial tissue, paper towel, toilet paper, paper napkins) a year. They issue a green guide to tissue, also available as an app. This is helpful when trying to find recycled paper products in shops. But, in my opinion, no waste is better than less waste, and so I am trying to eliminate the purchase of this sort of product as much as I can. We do have paper towel in the house, but Itry to ignore it and use rags instead. Our everyday napkins are cloth ones, and once I find red linen napkins for Christmas use I won’t be buying festive paper napkins any more either. The spouse lives in constant fear that the very next “improvement” I bring to our lives will be washable toilet paper. I washed dirty cloth diapers for years and I have no desire to embark on that again, so I think he’s safe. Hankies seemed like an easy change to make.

 

I sat down at the computer and ordered three and a half dozen hankies from the UK, somewhat like these. Somehow, British hankies seemed more genuine than the American ones, and the British reviews gave me useful info on how the handkerchiefs would iron up. I had increased our hanky supply a few years ago, but in an incredibly labour-intensive way. I cut up the skirt of an old cotton nightgown, cut out several hankies, hemmed them and monogrammed them. This was a good project for winter evenings, but I didn’t want to make 42 handkerchiefs thus.

20170110_114938Now we have  a box of hankies in the bathroom, and everyone can help themselves whenever they want. One of the nice things about a box of Kleenex is the feeling of abundance, that there are masses of tissues there when you need them. Including the hankies that we owned before, we have about 60 hankies in the house. Our collection includes some really cute children’s hankies sent by relatives in the Netherlands.

20170110_112525The size of the collection means that the hanky box is easy to keep filled and no one needs to stint. The box would be even easier to fill if I did not divert the hankies into the ironing pile on the way. I love an ironed hanky, and I really enjoy ironing, so it’s no hardship. I learned how to iron from my mum and dad, and practiced first on hankies and tea towels. I still iron these items, and I find the task calming. I am teaching the children how to iron in the same way. Life in the slow lane means that tasks like this are possible. I really appreciate the chance to take the time.

And what happened to that lone hanky-user that I encountered all those years ago? Reader, I married him.