Thursday, July 26, 2007
THE ROADS OF OTTAWA:
Besides the comparison of Ottawa's and Winnipeg's drinking water quality (referred to previously on this blog) which came out all in favour of Ottawa Molly noticed another aspect of life in Canada's capital that is far better than that in Winnipeg. Here as well it may be natural advantage rather than deliberate public policy that accounts for some of the difference. The contrast between the amount of road repair going on at any given time when the ground is not frozen in Winnipeg as opposed to Ottawa is astounding. Not that Ottawa lacks "road work", but it generally appears to be construction rather than playing "catch-up" in repair of streets that rapidly deteriorate. There was one long term closed-for-contruction road, Bank St., that Molly had to negotiate around. I assume that this was some sort of upgrade as the parts that were open seemed much better than the average Winnipeg street. But, like Winnipeg, there often seemed to be no obvious plan to what the City of Ottawa was doing there. Molly saw none of the tearing apart of entire streets for repair that is a common site in Winnipeg. The City of Ottawa also seemed to have planned some repairs to one major thoroughfare to happen in the dead of night even though Molly could see nothing wrong with the road as it was. Perhaps this was good planning of a proactive nature, and the defects they were to repair were below the level of detectability of someone from a prairie city.
Now, Molly is not a city planner, and perhaps this is the reason why she cannot see the rationale for the common City of Winnipeg practice of chipping out a series of two foot deep pits on a street and then seemingly losing interest for a period varying from days to months. There are hundreds of these pits across the city. I have little clue as to what the plan for them is. Is it sewer and water line repair ? Is it some wierd way of resurfacing a road ? Whatever it is for why dig a hole and then walk away ? Why not finish a job once started ? Parts of the Bank St. project looked like this. Holes dug and then nothing happens. No obvious work going on. I admit that we were only in Ottawa for a little over a week, and it's entirely possible that the next crew for the next stage could show up faster than is the custom in parts of Winnipeg. Molly is hardly the only Winnipeg citizen who has complaints about this bad habit on the part of the City. Perhaps it is an argument for the sort of workers' control over regular maintenance that anarchists advocate. Proper coordination between different work crews is very likely to be better achieved by communication amongst the workers themselves rather than by adherance to some sort of overarching "plan" that makes no sense if looked at from anything but a bureaucratic perspective.
But Ottawa undoubtably has a natural advantage being as bedrock down there is a lot closer to the surface than it is out here. All prairie cities suffer from the plague of potholes that grow under the snow and blossom forth with the coming of spring. The two worst items are undoubtably Winnipeg and Regina, both of which are built on land that in part should be natural swamp-thereby benefitting water conservation. As an ex-inmate of Regina I am willing to testify that Winnipeg is far worse in this regard. The potholes range from tiny little 1 inch dips to gigantic street collapses that go six feet down and stretch 50 feet. Winnipeg has far more of the latter than Regina does. So much so that it's a wonder that more cats, small dogs and children don't go forever missing here. Unlike Regina Winnipeg did have, and still has to a lesser extent, a real reason for existing other than government and the corruption involved in same. Regina was chosen as the capital of the then NWT as a result of competition between rival gangs of land speculators. The thugs around then Leftenant Governor Dewdney and the more powerful thugs around the CPR gave Regina its present form. The capital was declared out west on what is now "Dewdney Ave." on waste land picked up for a song, but downtown was declared miles away on land held by the CPR.
Winnipeg's natural situation at the confluence of two rivers that were navigable is a much more intelligent place for a city, even if flooding is an ever present danger. But it still suffers from the fact that it is built on prairie gumbo. Things sink here, just as they do in Regina, and an eternal cycle of repair becomes inevitable. Ottawa lacks this beautiful natural attraction so it is no wonder that driving on its roads takes nowhere near the presense of mind that it does out here on the prairies. What it lacks in "awareness traps", however, it may make up for in the twisting, turning, curving total irrationality of the layouts of its streets. Now, any city that grows naturally rather than according to "plan" may share this little driving obstacle. Molly's difficulty in driving in Ottawa was compounded by the fact that, unlike out here on the prairies, they seem to have little regard for natural directions in Ottawa. Streets cross streets rather than avenues. Streets can run both east and west as well as the western customary way of north and south. That is understating the case. Winnipeg, being as it is built on a river is quite different from the "grid-plan" of prairie towns, but with a little adjustment you can get used to the idea that say "going north on Henderson" is really going north north east and going north on McPhillips is really going north west. Molly is still frustrated by people who grew up in this city who have NO conception of natural directions- even when she tries to get through to them that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and that south is towards the USA and north is towards the North Pole. Molly has immense difficulty in getting through to some people that their only references of "right and left" are totally dependent on what direction you are coming from in the first place. Pretty simple to me, but quite imcomprehensible to a large number of people who live here. But...there is at least some hope here. In Ottawa there is no such hope. Like a cat in British Common Law "a street will wander where it will" down there.
But Ottawa has one other gigantic advantage over Winnipeg in terms of road planning. They actualy have real bicycle paths, real fucking bicycle paths that even go across bridges. Unlike in Winnipeg where the existing bicycle paths are almost solely amusement parks built on waste land and going nowhere- a sop to the granola crunchers without any benefit for the majority of the population who might want cheap transportation. You have no idea of how pleasant this is unless, like Molly, you have spent almost a quarter century at a job where driving is a major part of each day. The taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the truck drivers, the couriers and Molly of this city have never ending complaints about the idiots who ride bikes in this city, particularily in winter. Fine if you want to challenge fate and a double loaded semi, but leave us out of your suicidal tendencies or your arrogance. We actually really, sincerely, truly, absolutely don't want to kill you. What seriously pisses Molly off is when the granola crunchers venture out of "hippy heaven" (the Wolseley area where good hippies go when they die) and put their fashionable politics ahead of the safety of their children by tooling (tools indeed !) around on very dangerous streets with their kids in either baskets or kid trolleys. People are frequently run down here in the car theft capital of Canada for sheer fun, and the people who drive their own cars are often little better. Once more consult the truck,bus,courier drivers and not just Molly. Molly's only act of aggression towards the bike riders is deliberately hogging the curve so they can't speed past and blindside either me or the people in front of me. Bike riders aren't supposed to do this, but they often think it is their right to do this. Lots of agro from them to poor little Molly. Less agro however than when I hog two lanes and drive slow to pass them, thereby aggravating the speed demons behind me. Those drivers are really pissed off. Now, Molly would never admit to having ever broken a law in her life. She always obeys the speed limits to the letter. But many, many professional drivers less restricted by the law see a 60km/hr zone and know they can go 70 without ever being stopped by the police unless there is a campaign on. Similarily for red light cameras with different numbers. But suppose Molly was one of these bad, bad people who are 500% better than the "average driver" in this city, and some idiot was tailgating her because 10kms over the speed limit was too "slow" for them. When Molly would do the "car equivalent" of hogging the curb by deliberately slowing down to the speed limit these people are just as pissed off as the bike riders are. Hey fucks, I'm helping to preserve your life. Show a little gratitude. Left wing bicycle aggression and right wing SUV aggression: it's all the same to those of us who make their living by driving. Your politics and intentions don't count.
Molly is actually of the opinion that it should be legal to ride your bicycle on the sidewalk. She is unaware of any incident in human history when anyone was ever killed by being run down by a bicycle. Perhaps she is just ignorant. She is,however, very aware of the frequent serious injuries and often deaths when idiot drivers run down bicycle riders in this city. It may be better in places that are not car theft capitals, but not by much. Molly noticed that the drivers in Ottawa were much more polite than here in Winnipeg, and they were quite tolerant when she did indeed, really, truly, absolutely, without a doubt drive the speed limit because she had no idea of where she was going. They also used signal lights, an action which, by popular convention, is frowned upon in Winnipeg and is usually an invitation to speed up so that "you don't get my lane you son of a bitch". Actually most of the drivers there really, truly, absolutely, without a doubt obeyed the speed limit. Molly was the fastest item on the 417 out to the Diefenbunker. How I love divided highways and a clear path ahead.
But...the bicycle paths. Both Molly's jaw and the jaw of the wife were agape. Jesus Christ, you could fit a small car in the width that the bicycle riders were allowed. No sweating bullets and checking what you can hit on the left behind you if some dumb bugger(drunk or sober) weaves out of his one foot of pedalling space. And how many paths, how many paths. it eliminates at least one major stress from driving. Christ, I've died and gone to civilization. Especially across the bridges that are one of the major sweat events here in Winnipeg if a bicycle rider is either stupid or arrogant enough to challenge traffic here.
Now, Molly is totally aware that residents of Ottawa may think that there should be more bicycle routes, but they should be aware of just how advanced they are in comparison to most other Canadian cities. It's something to be proud of. Molly is all in favour of both better bicycle routes and-much more importantly- better public transit like she has seen in European cities. Molly makes her living by driving,however, and any decent city will still have cars. Molly,however, "hates" driving when she is not working. She's getting a bit on in years, and she knows the elitism of trendy lefties who concentrate on bicycle issues while ignoring public transport for those who can barely walk let alone peddle. Let alone people down in the economic scale who don't have time to waste. Ottawa has a LRT system, but it pretty much serves the bureaucratic elite. Molly has blogged before about how much she loved the subways of Prague, and she thinks that this is an example that larger Canadian cities should follow. Ottawa, as a very spread out city, would be a great location for a real subway system. It presently is a shining example of how to accomodate bicycles on public streets, as least in comparison to other Canadian cities. It could do more, but it is still many steps ahead of Winnipeg.