Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Other Side: Hong Kong


The first instalment of our The Other Side series, courtesy of Mel, is an account of public transit in Hong Kong. The system in Hong Kong, and you'll read below, invloves many different transportation types: ferries, buses, trains, taxis, mini-buses, feet, and bicycling.

Here's a quick run-down of the pros and cons of the system:

Pros
: it’s fast, cheap, and generally effective except when it rains and all of Hong Kong fails to operate (kind of like how people from Vancouver react when there’s two centimetres of snow on the ground).

Cons
: I miss driving.

And now, in diary-format, is the story by Melanie, "Five days of Hong Kong transport":

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Monday:

  • 9 a.m.: take the subway (on the infamous MTR, Mass Transit Railway) and doot my way from my apartment to Quarry Bay for Chinese class. “Doot” is not a verb – but the sound that your Octopus card makes as you enter and exit the subway stations.
    The MTR is better than any other subway system I’ve been on, in part because they remind you ever four seconds not to eat or drink, which therefore keeps things clean. Well, not that clean. When I first moved here I was on the train and a man sitting down across from me picked his nose and wiped whatever he found on one of the poles. This is not uncommon.
    The Octopus card is a plastic card you load with money and use primarily for various kinds of public transport, but also for parking, shopping at convenience stores, groceries stores, McDonalds, Starbucks, drug stores and for me, going to the gym.
    If you need a primer (or desire a new addiction) to the MTR and the Octopus card, then I suggest this and what else shows your dedication to Hong Kong public transport than this Facebook group? “"DOOT" through life with that Octopus Card”. There are often displays inside the stations, which many people pause to take photographs. Here’s one from January 2007.
  • 12 p.m.: Two hours of Chinese and I take the MTR from Quarry Bay back to my apartment.
  • 1 p.m. : Hurrah for a day off and the beach. Take the bus (with the Octopus card) up to Sai Kung, on the East coast of Hong Kong. It costs about $1Cdn for the trip; the trip takes about half an hour and then we’re in town, trying to find a small boat (called a san-pan) to one of the outlying islands. After much waiting we find a woman who says she’ll take us to the Pak Sha Chau (white sand island) for $38 return and this is absolutely ridiculous. All of the other Canto kids are paying $5 each return for a boat trip so I ask (in Chinese) where this boat is going. Apparently it’s going to a great island with lots of swimming and a good beach. We sign on and there is more discussion about when this boat is going to come pick us up. Success. But the beach sucks, is totally crowded with people eating instant noodles and listening to Cantopop and the water is polluted. Crafty Chinese and their definition of “great”…
  • 5:30 p.m.: Boat back to Sai Kung village, bus back to my apartment, eat some wonton noodles at the restaurant at the bottom of my building.

Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m.: MTR to work.
  • 7 p.m. : MTR from work to Central station along the Island line (I call it the blue line). There are seven MTR lines and three KCR lines, but the two companies merged last year and so there is one giant subway/train network. Mind the gap! (yes, they say that every time the door closes, first in Cantonese, then in Mandarin, then in English)
  • 9 p.m.: After dinner and drinks, a man comes to my friend and I that a typhoon no. eight signal will be hoisted by 11 p.m. so we’re all going to have clear out early. Signal number eight = ferries cancelled, mass transit significantly reduced. I grab a taxi, take a 7 minute ride (cost: $3) and get on a ferry to my boyfriend’s house in Discovery Bay. The ferry there leaves from the central ferry pier, which a block of nine different piers going to various outlying islands and also includes the very cool Star Ferry. Brief digression: the Star Ferry goes from Central or Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. It is the best thing you can buy for 30 cents…
    The ferry to Discovery Bay (for which you can use your Octopus card or another ferry transit card) takes 25 minutes, usually pleasant and people often buy beers at the convenience store and drink them on the upper deck. Seeing as it’s heavy rain and winds, the journey this time isn’t particularly fun.

Wednesday:

  • Signal number eight still hoisted… School is cancelled (signal no. 8 is equivalent to an Ottawa snow day) but I still need to go to work. Except, I’m stranded on an island and from the living room window there are absolutely no ferries coming and going. False alarm when I misidentify a moored boat for a departing ferry.
  • 12 p.m. : Ferries start
  • 1 p.m. : Ferry from Discovery Bay to Central. MTR from Central to work…
  • 6:30 p.m. : Very short day at work because I have dinner plans. Taxi from work to the ferry pier (total cost $8) which takes about 12 minutes. Taxis here are much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve ever been. In Vancouver a couple of months back, I took a similar 15-minute trip and it cost about $20. At the same time, housing costs here are absolutely ridiculous so cheap public transit is necessary. Some of my friends/acquaintances have cars, but many of them are either wealthy or live beyond the subway lines. On Discovery Bay, if you don’t use public transport or ride a bike (have never seen anyone rollerblade), you can acquire a license for a golf cart. In Canada, you could buy a Maserati for the price of this golf cart license.
    Most things in Hong Kong don’t make sense. You just have to go with it.
    Ferry to Discovery Bay. Bus to a friend’s house for dinner for shepherd’s pie (did anyone else know that shepherd’s pie is supposed to have lamb and if you eat it with beef then it’s actually called cottage pie?)

Thursday:

  • 8 a.m. : Bus, ferry, subway to home and work all using various electronic cards that “doot”.
  • 8 p.m. : Leave work and take the 10-minute subway ride home.

Friday:

  • 7:30 a.m. : MTR to work (I have to call New York at 8 a.m. which is Thursday 8 p.m. New York time)
  • 10:30 a.m. : Take the purple line and then the green line to Kowloon Tong. Then transfer to the KCR (which is mostly above ground and services the New Territories) to Sha Tin, then take a $4 taxi ride to the race course to visit the equine hospital. It’s work – don’t ask.
  • 2 p.m. : Repeat process in reverse and come back to work, but stop off at Club Monaco at the mall in Kowloon Tong. Weigh the pros and cons of Hong Kong public transport.
Transit I didn’t take in these five days, but which I normally would use: the Star Ferry and a mini-bus, which often require you to yell at the driver when you want to get off the bus.

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A huge thank-you to Mel for writing this account of HK transit. If any readers have experienced public transit in another city and can compare it to that in Ottawa, send me an e-mail at info@transitottawa.ca to discuss a submission.

The Other Side: An ongoing series

One thing that really helps citizens determine just how good their city's transit infrastructure is is comparing it to other cities. That's what an upcoming series that the Public Transit in Ottawa Portal, "The Other Side", is hoping to do.

Stories in The Other Side series will take first-hand accounts of the experience individuals have in another city, and compare them to the system in Ottawa. Some of the major questions will be about how easy it is to get where you're going, how quickly you get there, how comfortable the ride is, and, of course, the price. Any other interesting information on the city in question is, of course, grounds for discussion.

The first of the series will be an examination of public transit in Hong Kong, courtesy of good friend Mel, who's been living there for over a year now. Returning readers might remember a post about the world's best transit systems back in April, where Hong Kong was ranked number one. I will post Mel's story, formatted in diary-entry format, within the next 24 hours, so stay tuned.

I hope readers enjoy the series, and I encourage anyone who's been to other cities to contact me at info@transitottawa.ca to discuss a possible submission.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cycling: The other public transit

Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Cycling has the potential to be an incredibly huge role in an automobile-free city. They serve to complement bus or light-rail systems, allowing for commuters to get from their homes to transit corridors without having to resort to automobiles. Fittingly, it has come up in transit discussions a few times recently.

Right here on TransitOttawa, Nick published part of his interview with prominent Ottawa-based environmentalist and former Green Party Deputy Leader David Chernushenko, focussing on the role that bicycles can play in city transit planning. Chernushenko suggests a rent-a-bike program with drop-off points around the city, so bikers could get to the bus, drop off their bike, and then pick up a new one once they're off the bus. First off, though, Ottawa's got to become a bike-friendly city. (Make sure you read the rest of Chernushenko's thoughts on cycling--it's a great read--as well as the rest of the series on public transit in Ottawa.)

As an effort to get Ottawa's transition kick-started, just last week the Ottawa Citizen reported that the city's transit committee suggested that council's cycling plans get underway in five years, rather than ten (as originally planned). The committe also suggested a bike rental system, similar to Chernushenko's proposed rent-a-bike program. The article offers some insight:

The city's $24.6-million plan for cycling includes about $8 million for more bicycle lanes, $9 million for paved shoulders and $6 million for multi-use pathways.

Bay Councillor Alex Cullen proposed spending $5 million a year on cycling, rather than the proposed $2.5 million, as a modest acceleration, given the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on roads each year. Mr. Cullen said the city needs to improve riding conditions for both commuters and recreational cyclists as a safety measure and to encourage more residents to cycle.

Cullen's suggestions are certainly progressive. Cycling is beneficial for the city not only for resident's health reasons, but it's also significantly easier on roads and general transportation infrastructure. Considering we're prepared to accept plans to spend $4B over 30 years (or roughly $133M per year) to convert to a light-rail infrastructure, I think that upping our expenditures to encourage cycling to $5M per year is pretty justifiable.

Finally, Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath has recently introduced a private members bill into Queen's Park amending the Public Vehicles Act to allow buses with bike racks to cross municipal boundaries--which is, apparently, not allowed now. This seems like a pretty straight-forward amendment, although I'm uncertain how Ottawa system (which often has buses moving from Ontario into Quebec and vice-versa) is affected.

Ottawa is already a pretty good city for bikes, the Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bike Days along the Parkway being one prime example, but there is still much that can be done to foster a cycling culture in the city. And there is a lot to gain for doing so.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

No Ottawa Transit Commission, council says

City Council isn't likely to take advice from management consulting firm Oliver Wyman about re-establishing a transit commission to manage OC Transpo, according to a story in the Ottawa Citizen today (read more about the initial advice here).

The firm's reasoning for suggesting a transit commission, according to the story, is as follows:
Wendy Turpin, of Oliver Wyman, said interviews with staff at other transit companies suggest Ottawa would be able to "run transit more like a business" if bus and train services were run by a separate commission. She said having the operation managed by a separate commission would also help in recruiting people with expertise in transit to help manage the service.

Which seems like pretty sound stuff. Of particular note was an emphasis on accountability and transparency, but some councillors felt that it would do the opposite; the Citizen quoted Gloucester-South Nepean Councillor Steve Desroches as saying that it "would be a step that muddies accountability". Other councillors, such as Rideau-Vanier Councillor Georges B├ędard, said that an independent commission composed of experts rather than elected city councillors could be useful.

Previously, Ottawa transit was managed by the OC Transpo Transit Commission, but, as the Citizen story explains, it was transferred over to "the regional government administration in an attempt to cut costs and make the organization more efficient".

Personally, I think this discussion warrants more exploration. Unfortunately, council voted against funding a more detailed report on the possibility of the transit commission, so we won't se much more in the immediate future. I will do what I can to explore the pros and cons of establishing one in a future post, however.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Things fall apart; The centre cannot hold

Could we soon see an Ottawa Transit Commission (or OTC)?

According to a report in the Ottawa Sun, Ottawa transit it not up to par. International management consultant Oliver Wyman, who was hired by the city to review Ottawa's transit services, concluded that "service is poor, not improving and customer satisfaction is plummeting."

The report says there is "deteriorating performance both financially and in the quality of service delivery," that OC Transpo's "cost effectiveness (direct operating costs/passenger trip) is less than the median," and that service and satisfaction levels are below average.

Customer satisfaction with the public transit service has dropped to 45% from 62% in 2004.

To improve the service, the city needs to create a transit commission that would be funded by the city, governed by its policies and "accountable for all aspects of transit services where board members are elected officials."

Somehow, I'm not surprised the service has been falling off. The system seems to have a breaking point, and the process of getting there has been accelerated by the influx of riders avoiding high gas prices by flocking to public transit.

(Title from William Butler Yeats' The Second Coming)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Federal support for LRT in Ottawa

According to an article on Canada.com, federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon is poised to support the recently-approved plan for light-rail transit system overhaul in the City of Ottawa.

Not to undermine the importance of $200M that Cannon has re-pledged--becoming the third minister, after the amount was initially pledged by the Liberals and the re-pledged by John Baird before being withdrawn and, now, re-re-pledged--is the support that Cannon is, by virtue of this announcement, putting in the plan itself.

The $200M is a good start, but the city is going to need much more than that from federal sources if the light-rail plan, estimated to cost $4B or more, is ever going to be finished. With a $33B federal fund in the hands of Cannon and Transport Canada, Ottawa (the city) is naturally hoping the feds pull their weight.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mo' riders, mo' problems?

I recently wrote about how the record-setting increases in public transit throughout North America is making it hard for cities to keep up. According to a story in the Ottawa Citizen, our great city is no exception.

The good news is that Ottawa, according to the story, is poised to hit and surpass the 100,000,000 ride mark for this year.

The bad news OC Transpo is not immune to the same factors that are pushing people to transit--basically, increased fuel costs. Because the fleet of buses uses about 39 million litres of diesel fuel a year, every one-cent increase will then result in $40,000 in increased fuel expenditure. There are also bus and driver shortages, resulting in more buses arriving late, and more buses arriving too full to pick up more passengers. The measure of reliability, according to OC Transpo themselves, was 98.5 per cent, lower than it has been and lower than it should be.

(As an aside, I'm going to question that statistic. I would not say that 98.5 per cent of the rides I try and take are on time. I would like to know how that statistic is calculated.)

The bottom line is that transit use is increasing, but so are problems associated with the system--we're at a breaking point.
For the head of Ottawa's transit committee, Councillor Alex Cullen, this age of rising fuel costs and bursting demand for transit translates into "tonnes of complaints about packed buses" together with the satisfaction of having record ridership. But he says the city moves slowly, even in response to such big changes.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Funding Ottawa's transit plans, part five (cont'd): Privatisation

There was an interesting column in The Globe and Mail by columnist Neil Reynolds a couple of weeks ago about privatising public transit. Citing, specifically, the examples of Taiwan's speed trains and Japan's entirely-private transit sytem, Reynolds simplified the argument into an either/or dichotomy:
The question for Canadians is this: Do we want public transit or fast transit? Do we want public transit or efficient transit? Do we want public transit or innovative transit? The question is important. Many Canadians define public transit as public first, transit second. This makes it hard to know whether one is discussing collectivist ideology or physical mobility.
There are interesting points in Reynolds' column. Especially where he states that Japan's private system moves more people per day than all public transit systems throughout North America. He also correctly mentions that publicly-owned transit systems can stagnate in the face of insufficient funding;
An astute observer of the dynamic differences between private cars versus public trains and public buses, Virginia blogger Jim Bacon concluded an essay the other day with this succinct observation: "Mass transit enterprises are owned by governments or quasi-government agencies. They enjoy monopoly protections. Relying upon public subsidies, they have few resources to invest in innovation - and no one is rewarded for risk taking anyway. Is it any surprise, then, that the mass transit experience of 2008 is pretty much the same as the mass transit experience of 1958?" Compared with the automotive industry, he said, public transit "has the metabolic dynamism of a flatworm."
It is true that cars are able to adapt more quickly than most transit systems. What is not true, however, is that they're not subsidised: auto manufacturers receive many government susbsidies, and cars would have a hard time driving if not for the entirely subsidized road system (with the rare instance of toll roads being the only exception) that they are built for.

It is not true, however, that transit systems are doomed to stagnate. With proactive leadership, a public transit infrastructure can very well keep up with the times. I don't think any rational human being can make an argument that Ottawa's transit system is anywhere near the system that was in place in 1958.

Rather than having to choose between a publicly-owned transit infrastructure or one which is fast, efficient, and innovative, Canadians want both. And they look to municipal, provincial, and federal leaders to provide the vision and the means to do so. According to a CUPE study which was cited in the Exchange Morning Post, a majority of Canadians, 68.6 per cent, believe that public transit should remain public. I'm no pollster, but I would wager that 100 per cent would like it to be fast, efficient, and innovative.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

In the news: Transit use setting records

Higher gas prices are pushing people all over the world out of their cars and onto public transit. I've written about it before, in May and back in April. Now, we're getting to a point where it's not just getting high; we're setting records.

In Oregon, the local transit authority is reporting the highest transit usage rates and fastest growth rates on record, as per a story in The Oregonian:
As gas prices have risen in recent years, Oregonians are driving less and using transit more. In the first quarter, TriMet's ridership grew by 2.6 percent over the first quarter of 2007, the fastest quarterly growth rate in the last four years, not counting periods when ice storms and new rail lines added capacity.
USAToday had a story about record-breaking usage, citing a 28% rise in the South Florida Rail System:
In 2007, [American Public Transportation Minister William Millar] says, "we had higher numbers than we've seen in 50 years, and the trend is continuing in 2008."

[...]

The South Florida rail system, which runs from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, had a 13% increase in riders during the first quarter. In April, travel jumped 28%, says Joe Giulietti of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
And the American Press reported on some transit authorities that are having a hard time keeping up with increasing ridership in the face of historical underfunding:
Among the cities registering big increases in the first quarter were Baltimore, where light rail ridership was up 17 percent from the same period a year ago; Seattle, which saw a 28 percent jump in commuter rail passengers; Boston, where subway ridership rose 9 percent; and San Antonio, where the number of bus riders climbed 11 percent.

[...]

Also, transit agencies' operating costs are going up for the same reason commuters are leaving their cars home — rising gas prices. In response, many transit agencies are looking at fare increases. And some are even cutting service despite the higher demand, said spokeswoman Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the mass transit association.
Letters to the editor of the New York Times, regarding their recent story about rising gas prices, are calling for a drastic change in how we approach transportation:
We need to change our view of transportation and start changing our behavior now. We need to mandate new and higher fuel economy standards now; we need to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles now; we need to plan our trips better now.

But above all, we need to start investing now in new and less polluting energy sources for transportation that do not rely on oil. By this fall we will look back at $4-per-gallon gasoline with nostalgia, wishing for the good old days that price reflected.

Editors at The Denver Post are calling on planners to use this momentum to invest in public transit now, for the sake of the future:

This country has long under-invested in mass transit, mostly because it was a function of supply and demand. Why invest in trains or buses when it's cheaper and more convenient to drive a car? And with RTD [the Regional Transportation District], why invest in more bus routes if some of the current routes are under-used?

But more people are hopping on mass transit across the country and, interestingly enough, the largest spikes in ridership are in areas where cars have traditionally ruled the road, such as Colorado. Cities with long-established transit systems, New York and Boston, have seen 5 percent hikes this year, but the biggest jumps — 10 to 15 percent — are coming in the West and South, according to a piece in last week's Times.

Now would be the ideal time to invest in sustainable, cleaner transit systems.

Finally, Bill Steigerwald of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review thinks that it's about time we take a good, hard look at how mass transit is managed in North America, and maybe make some radical changes:

For an hour, the lone libertarian bit his tongue, praying that someone with a Ph.D. in something or other would say something critical about America's failed mass-transit model.

He waited in vain. No one mentioned a single one of Big Transit's many chronic/congenital defects -- that nearly every major city's system is obscenely expensive, inefficient, mismanaged, over-built, under-used and subsidizes middle-class commuters with costly light-rail lines.

When the lone libertarian finally found the nerve, he did his uncomfortable best to politely shame his fellow salon-goers for their blind acceptance of our obviously third-rate mass-transit industrial complex.

He pointed out that Tokyo's gargantuan transit system -- arguably the world's best -- was about 90 percent private and mostly profitable.

Interesting times.

Edmonton provides light-rail lesson, says Sun

The Ottawa Sun wrote today about Edmonton's experience building a light-rail system over the last three and a half decades. The story was decidedly critical of the Edmonton Transit System's attempts to complete the system as planned.

City councillor Ron Hayter leads the charge, arguing that too much money has been funnelled into construction of a line with uncertain ridership -- 42,000 on weekdays, but apparently much less on weekends. Two tunnels were dug to facilitate the line. Hayter says that one of them, which travels beneath the University of Alberta, was a mistake.

The price tag for Edmonton's light rail is said to be $400 million, so far. The Sun story says that some observers expect costs to exceed $1 billion.

- Edmonton's population is 730,000 and its land area is 9,400 km².
- Ottawa's population is about 850,000 and its land area is 5,300 km².

Ottawa is spending at least four times more than Edmonton to build its light-rail line. Although population and land area don't dictate how much a city should spend on its public transit -- there is so much more to consider -- the difference in cost between the two cities begs a question:

If Edmontonians are upset about paying $1 billion for a transit plan,
why are Ottawans willing to spend $4 billion?

Prince of Wales: better served by better public transit?

A couple of days ago, the Ottawa Citizen reported on the potential expansion of Prince of Wales Drive. Council is predictably split: near-suburban and suburban councillors are on board, while central councillors are opposed.

It would be an expensive project, according to estimates:
The city has already earmarked $15 million just for the property acquisition and design for the project. A smaller project, to widen Limebank Road, cost $44 million.

The two-year, $700,000 environmental assessment for the Prince of Wales project is under way and the road, if approved by council, could be built by 2013.

A few paragraphs into the story, one critic of the widening suggested that public transit might be a better solution to congested roads.
David Jeanes, of Transport 2000, said he is disappointed that the city seems so intent on building more roads for cars when there may be rail and other public transit solutions to get more people around. He said there's no point in getting more cars up to intersections such as Prince of Wales and Hog's Back, where there is "no capacity" for more vehicles.

"Widening Prince of Wales doesn't seem to make sense," said Mr. Jeanes. "Unfortunately, the city's policies are: Build what we can, rather than build what we need. They're all short-term decisions. I'm very frustrated."

Chernushenko, part four: Suburban light rail a long-term project

Suburbs will have to wait their turn to receive light rail, says David Chernushenko, but a sustainable plan can still utilize more traditional modes of public transit.

"You get started by serving certain communities -- yes, some are going to be missed. The others become jealous, and then want theirs. That’s great," he says.

But improved service within Ottawa's outlying communities is key, says Chernushenko.

"We’re going to have to really, really improve the bus service that not only brings people from their suburb or rural home to that transit point where they can finish their trip on the train, but you actually have much better circular bus service that serves that village."

At the end of the process, suburban populations could be spending more time closer to home, although the option would be available to get downtown via a rail link.

"You can have people doing more within their community; not necessarily feeling like they always have to go downtown."

_________________

Part Four of David Chernushenko's Reflections on Ottawa Transit, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Cycling
Part Three: Inside the Greenbelt
Part Four: Serving the suburbs
Part Five: Ottawa's subway

Thursday, June 5, 2008

City transit committee defers route changes

At a meeting of the City's transit committee yesterday, changes were proposed to four of the most popular bus routes in Ottawa: 2, 3, 85, and 98.

While splitting of the 85 and 98 routes was voted through as a means of opening up space on rush-hour-strained buses, the changes to 2 and 3 were deferred for two weeks.

The problem? Some councillors were surprised by the necessity of turning Nicholas Street into a two-way thoroughfare between Laurier Avenue and Rideau Street. They also balked at the proposal because it would reduce on-street parking in the area by eight spaces to facilitate a bus loop for the newly split 2 route (paired with the new 12 route) and 3 route (paired with the new 9 route).

According to the Citizen story, the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Association objected to the proposed changes to Nicholas Street.

Chernushenko, part three: Light rail won't intensify growth

Should Ottawa develop the greenbelt? Has development inside the greenbelt been as intense as initially hoped, or have Ottawa's suburbs simply been pushed away? Is it worth it to extend light rail to the suburbs, or should it remain inside the greenbelt?

David Chernushenko suggests that light rail is only part of the solution to a denser urban core.

"The choice of an approach to rail—an Ottawa rail plan—will not on its own result in densification. That has to come through a series of other decisions, all of which are part of a common approach," he says.

"I can’t come down one way or another about whether extending the line to the suburbs or not doing so beyond the greenbelt is or isn’t going to have an expected result."

Chernushenko did say, however, that more established communities ought to be served by light rail before it is extended to budding developments.

"I’m inclined to say, though, that available money should be spent on taking the rail lines out to existing communities, which are already there," he says. "We may not want them to grow in size, but we would love for them to be able to become denser."

_________________

Part Three of David Chernushenko's Reflections on Ottawa Transit, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Cycling
Part Three: Inside the Greenbelt
Part Four: Serving the suburbs
Part Five: Ottawa's subway

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chernushenko, part two: City should expand cycling infrastructure

Europeans take cycling very seriously, says David Chernushenko. Several cities have integrated their cycling infrastructure not simply into their roads and parks, but also into their vision of public transit.

In Ottawa, suburbanites would balk at the notion of riding their bikes into work -- and justifiably so, according to Chernushenko. But he says that there are a lot of "closet cyclists" that would jump on their bikes if the appropriate system were in place.

"With the right system, we could be doing it much more of the year and we could have way more people doing it," he says, acknowledging that winter months often make it far too difficult to feasibly face the roads.

Referencing existing systems in Paris and Lyon, France, Chernushenko suggested an adopt-a-bike program that would see commuters from outlying suburbs be able to ride their bikes to the nearest train station. Upon stepping off the train somewhere in and around downtown, they could then gain access to rented bikes at locations throughout downtown.

In order for that system to work, however, the proper infrastructure must be built. Chernushenko suggested that if the City commenced work immediately, it would take 10 years to complete Ottawa's transformation into a bike-friendly city.

"We would start by saying every time a street or a sidewalk needs repair, we can seize that opportunity not just to replace the sewer infrastructure and the telecom cables and everything else that’s there. We’re actually going to redesign that street," he says, suggesting that residents from Nepean to Beacon Hill could conceivably cycle to work on a daily basis.

Instead of building infrastructure on the existing roads, Chernushenko recommended finding room on existing sidewalks -- a tough task, he says, because pedestrians are already short on space throughout downtown. The paths would be dedicated to cyclists, though, and it would mean expanding sidewalks at the expense of road width.

"Imagine Bank Street, where the two lanes of traffic right now are going to be half a metre narrower than they are now in order to create a metre-wide bike lane without making the existing sidewalk even narrower," Chernushenko says.

It would be a long-term project, but Chernushenko is fine with that.

"In a way I think that is a good thing. Gradual conversion often allows naysayers to see this isn’t so bad after all. You drop something new on people all at once and you’re going to have a lot of critics who are going to fight it," he says.

Copenhagen, Denmark, is moving even further than integrated cycling paths. Chernushenko says that city is developing "bicycle highways" exclusively for cyclists riding to work.

"Maybe you’ll have to stop once or twice on the entire ride in from the suburbs. Imagine getting on in South Keys or Kanata and not having a stop sign or a red light between there and downtown. What a concept!"

_________________

Part Two of David Chernushenko's Reflections on Ottawa Transit, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Cycling
Part Three: Inside the Greenbelt
Part Four: Serving the suburbs
Part Five: Ottawa's subway

Chernushenko's reflections on Ottawa transit: Part One

David Chernushenko is one of Ottawa's best-known environmentalists. Just last year, he completed a stint as the federal Green Party's deputy leader. In 2004 and 2006, Chernushenko ran in federal elections in Ottawa Centre and, buoyed by support in his neighbourhood of Old Ottawa South, finished a respectable fourth in both campaigns.

Recently, Chernushenko set off on a European odyssey that took him to cities primarily in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden, but also in Italy. His mission was to treat each destination as a case study in successful sustainability policy. He wrote a blog for the Ottawa Citizen's website and is in the process of putting together a film chronicling his findings.

[Chernushenko is also screening a film about sustainable living in Ottawa entitled Be the Change (You Wish to See) at Carleton University's Minto Theatre on June 20.]

Like many Canadians, Chernushenko had heard Cinderella stories of European efforts to live much more sustainability than North Americans.

"(I wanted) to see if these places are all they’re cracked up to be, see if we really can look to Europe for great leadership on a range of environmental and sustainability questions," he says.

This is the first in a series of posts that features Chernushenko reflecting on his observations in Europe and suggesting how Ottawa might benefit from several overseas examples.

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Part One of David Chernushenko's Reflections on Ottawa Transit, a TransitOttawa.ca exclusive:

Part One: Introduction
Part Two: Cycling
Part Three: Inside the Greenbelt
Part Four: Serving the suburbs
Part Five: Ottawa's subway