It’s happened again. There’s an uproar over the loss of some on-street parking spaces, and the City of Ottawa quickly backs down on a commitment to provide a safe place where people can move about on their bicycles.
Last March the city announced that it would be replacing the aging Harmer Avenue pedestrian/cycling bridge which crosses over the Queensway between the Wellington West and Civic Hospital neighbourhoods. As a result, the bridge is going to be out of commission for two years. Although less than ideal, the city indicated that a temporary bike lane would be establish on nearby Holland Avenue to accommodate the bicycle and pedestrian traffic during this period.
So what happened? You guessed it. People objected to the loss of on-street parking on Holland, and the city backed down on its commitment for a temporary bike lane. It now says it will paint sharrows on Holland and permit some sidewalk cycling. So we went from losing an important pedestrian/cycling link, to a temporary mitigating measure, to almost nothing at all.
Although the city claims it wants to be a cycling haven, a complaint about the loss of just one on-street parking spot is enough to make it backtrack on plans for bicycle infrastructure. Ottawa abandoned its plans for a protected bike lane on Somerset Street when merchants mounted a vigorous, but highly predictable, campaign against the loss of on-street parking spaces. It looked like the city was about to do the same with the Laurier Avenue protected bike lane if it hadn’t been for a strong counter offensive by cyclists. The city even gave up part of the protected bike lane on O’Connor when residents in the Glebe objected to the loss of street parking. At one point people had even concocted a story that the loss of on-street parking would endanger their children.
If you doubt that the loss of just one parking spot is enough to get the city shaking in its boots, consider what happened to a bike corral that was installed in the Westboro area a few years ago. The corral provided place for 12 bicycles, but it took up one parking space for a vehicle. The loss of this spot was too much for one merchant. He took his complain to the media, and shortly afterwards the city dismantled the corral and later moved it to another part of town.
It is important to keep things in perspective about what’s happening. Motorists ask for lots (and I means lots) of space to drive their cars (think of all those multi-lane highways and roads). Then they demand space to park cars in their neighbourhoods and around their homes. But it doesn’t stop there. Of course, they also need plenty of parking space where they work, go shopping, or go out to eat in restaurants, and so on. When you add it all up, the amount of space motorist expect for their vehicles is staggering.
Despite all this, motorists firmly believe that space set aside where people can safely travel by bicycle should never interfere with their ability to store their vehicle when it is not in use. This situation is even more frustrating when you stop to think that bicycles take up much less space on public streets and roads than motor vehicles.
Although the city should honour its commitment to provide a temporary bike lane on Holland Avenue, the real issue is why in the world is it going to take two years to replace a pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Queensway. In an effort to justify the amount of time it’s going to take to replace the bridge, the city has gone into minute detail about the various steps required to complete the project, including the need to do landscaping. But really, two years!!
Governments bend over backwards to keep motor vehicles moving when there’s work to be done on major thoroughfares. They replace bridges on the Queensway in a matter of hours, and the amount of time that detours are in place for other road work can usually be measured in days, or weeks, at the most. But when it comes to cycling infrastructure it’s a two year delay.