A Disappointing Day for Transportation Safety in Ottawa

 

Even after a cyclist was killed outside of City Hall on May 16, and over 200 gathering outside City Hall a few days later to demand safer streets, it was not enough for councillors to take a stance and adopt Vision Zero policy.

On June 12, City Council discussed the motion brought forward by Councillor Catherine McKenney on May 22 asking for the city to adopt Vision Zero policy and framework for eliminating all traffic fatalities and serious injury while promoting safe, healthy, and equitable transportation. The motion asks staff to report back with recommendations for the Road Safety Action Plan with respect to traffic lights, putting vulnerable road users first,  options to eliminate ‘revert reds’, criteria to eliminate ‘beg buttons’, criteria for the elimination of right turns on red in the presence of bike lanes, identify the floating bike lanes and criteria to turn them into safe segregated bike lanes, and review requirements and costs to impose a city wide 30 km/h speed limit on residential streets.

The push back from some councillors was concerning. Councillor Stephen Blais, also chair of the Transportation Committee, pushed back and moved to refer the motion back to Transportation Committee. The general question surrounded the reason why Ottawa needs Vision Zero if road safety is already on the agenda. John Manconi, General Manager of Transportation Services asked council to refer the motion, reassuring council that staff already supports Vision Zero, and that referral to committee will give staff more time to find funding to implement the measures proposed by the motion. He reiterated that “Vision Zero is just a brand.”

Councillor Leiper reminded his colleague of the death outside City Hall, as well as two more cyclists being struck by cars that morning, and requested a clear direction in what we want to see in the Road Safety Action Plan. Councillor Menard pointed out that if the motion is referred, then it will delay the actions to make streets safer. Both urge council to vote against the referral. In her closing statement, councillor McKenney reminded us that our roads are unsafe, and delaying meaningful action on Vision Zero sends a message to road users and the public that we “normalize deaths on our streets”.

Before Council voted on the referral motion, Mayor Watson pointed to the City’s $80 million investment in cycling infrastructure, reminded his colleagues that “we can’t just get rid of beg buttons”, and urged council to vote to refer the motion to allow the public to have a say.

Council then voted to refer the Vision Zero motion back to transportation committee, with 15 yays and 9 nays. The nays were councillors McKenney, Leiper, Menard, Fleury, Kavanagh, King, Deans, Meehan, and Gower.

A second motion by councillor Leiper to allocate the federal gas tax towards cycling infrastructure was also referred to the City Treasurer to be considered with other competing priorities. Councillor Laura Dudas moved the motion, which passed 19-5. The nays are Leiper, McKenney, Menard, Kavanagh, and King.

City Council also discussed in depth the ramifications of the latest LRT-Stage 1 delay on current OCTranspo services. Councillor Allan Hubley moved to freeze transit fares until the LRT Stage 1 opens, and councillor Diane Deans provided an amendment to reduce fares by 30% from July to September 2019, funding to be taken out of Rideau Transit Group’s contract. In a passionate speech, councillor Deans criticized OCTranspo’s poor and unreliable services and disrespect for transit riders. “The very principle of fairness would suggest that we should not be charging full fares for a partial or unreliable system,” she says to Council. Mayor Jim Watson on the contrary refers to the fare reduction motion as “one of the most ridiculous motions” he has ever seen.

 

Councillors Brockington, Cloutier, Blais, were among those who objected to the fare reduction, citing the financial costs ($29 million lost in fare revenue), the low likelihood of RTG covering the cost of fare reduction, and that it doesn’t help improve service. The vote to reduce transit fare failed 6-18, with councillors Deans, McKenney, Menard, Chiarelli, Kavanagh, and King. The vote to freeze transit fares until LRT opens passed unanimously.

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