Sunday, July 20, 2014

The War on the Care (of Cycling Infrastructure)

"The War on the Car" was one of the most memorable slogans of the Rob Ford mayoral campaign of 2010.  At the time, it raised incredulity among cycling enthusiasts who didn't feel that they were in a war (and if they were, they felt that they were on the side that was bearing the causalities from each skirmish). But despite the protests of the bike-riding pinkos that there was no war being waged, the campaign slogan appeared to be resonant with the car-commuting electorate. If we consider that the act of removing the bike lanes from Jarvis cost much more than their installation, it suggests that Ford considered "The war on the bicycle" a more potent political credo than his "Respect for taxpayers" and 'Stop the Gravy Train' campaign slogans.

I mention this as a way to explain why I'm guessing that at this moment, it feels politically risky for some politicians to be explicitly endorse a cycling infrastructure.

At the last City Council meeting for the City of Windsor, the motion to develop separate a bike lane on Cabana Road was deferred on account that the improvement had not received suitable public consultation.

The problem, however, is that the improved bicycling option for the 5.2-km stretch of Cabana between Walker Road and the new Herb Gray Parkway would gobble up a sizable portion of the $6.8 million city council has allotted for completion of the “Windsor Loop” bike path circling the city and connecting existing bike lanes.

Council originally approved $1.8 million for the Cabana bike paths in 2013, with an additional $5 million added in the 2014 budget to complete the remaining 12.4 kilometres of the 42.5-kilometre Windsor Loop and 17.8 kilometres of connecting bike trails.

The estimated cost for segregated bike paths along Cabana — including one-metre additional pavement width and half-metre buffers on each side of the road — is estimated at $4.29 million plus HST. (Schmidt, Doug, "Segregated bike paths envisioned for Cabana", Windsor Star, July 7th, 2014)

(To put these numbers in perspective: we've just invested almost 2 billion dollars on the new Detroit River Crossing. There is no war on the car in Windsor, Ontario.)

It's difficult to argue against proper public consultation but the delay is unfortunate because now the initiative must delayed until a new City Council is elected in October. It might just be poor timing, but one wonders if the city didn't want to risk the initiative in front of councilors that might be wary of spending money on cycling infrastructure before an election.  

It's important to be aware of the political climate when being an activist or an advocate. There are certain environments that allows political change to take place. For example, we sometimes like to think that the Dutch have their amazing cycling infrastructure because they are an inherently progressive population. But as this short post and video suggests, the transformation of Amsterdam from a city filled with gridlock and parking lots to a city of public squares and cycling infrastructure, was more of an accident of political activism and good timing.  The tragedy of 400 child deaths from cars in 1971 led to mass protests which was then followed by an global oil crisis which forced the entire population to understand what car dependency meant on a personal level.

The car has shaped our cities and our sense of own personal mobility and agency that it's hard to comprehend a life without riding in a car. Indeed, to choose a life without the use of a motorized vehicle is an extraordinary one.

And yet, the climate is changing.

The baby boomers are getting older and they are starting to lose their licenses. And young people - well, young people aren't buying cars anymore

We need to let our city councilors know that now the time to invest in cycling infrastructure and that they can vote on this measure with clear support. And we can do so this Thursday, June 24th, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at the Roseland Golf and Curling Club, 455 Kennedy Drive West, Windsor.

A second public Information Centre (PIC) is scheduled for Thursday, July 24, 2014 to present the recommended option to the public.All interested stakeholders are invited to attend this drop-in style open house to meet the Project Team, become informed about the recommended alternative and provide comments.

(An aside: Why are the details of this meeting hidden in a pdf file embedded on the City of Windsor's Windsor Loop page?  Is it just a simple oversight or is this what Dave Meslin would describe as a deliberate design choice?)

There is a certain irony that I'm planning to drive there to let them know that I personally endorse separated bicycle lanes because I'm so terrified of the dreaded Cabana underpass that is the very reason for this initiative.

Let me know if you need a ride!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An X for a 123

The provincial election has just passed and after a brief respite, the municipal election will begin to simmer until the deadline for nominations on September 12th passes and then talk of local politics promises to boil steadily until October 27th.  Well, that's only for a minority who might listen at all.  Despite being the site of a highly contested seat, only 43.3% of voters in Windsor-West cast a ballot in the provincial election [source].

Voters are a largely disenchanted lot. And the reasons why are numerous. People are turned off by partisan bickering and attack ads.  People want to vote with their principles but are told that if they do so, they are 'splitting the vote' and they should instead vote for someone else.  And the parties themselves rarely change between elections and the faces that represent them don't change that much either, especially when you only glace at them from a distance.

There are those who chide people for not voting. They pronounce that people will 'lose their right to complain' if they don't vote.  They pronounce that young people 'just don't care' about politics. And that's wrong because the problem isn't with the people of Ontario.
The problem is with the first past-the-post voting system, as beautifully illustrated in this video:

People want to vote 'for something' and if that's not there, they are not going to vote.

This Ontario election, I voted *for something*.  I voted for the party that promised to bring ranked ballots to municipal elections

Ranked ballots:

It even works wonders in the Animal Kingdom. And the United States.

If all goes well, there will be ranked ballot elections in Toronto in 2018.  Already, similar campaigns to bring ranked ballots to the voters in Barrie, Ottawa, Vancouver, and London have begun.

Is it time to bring a 123Campaign to Windsor?  I really don't know.  To find out, I'm going to ask the candidates for Mayor and City Council come September 12th, to help me decide how I'm going to vote in October.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's next after Windsor-Essex ChangeCamp?

Windsor has already had its very own Talk20 event.
And the Windsor-Essex ChangeCamp has just passed.

I find it fascinating that not only are there are so many small-scale and local events out there (such as speaking series like The Treehouse Group and Trampoline Hall) but there are now several of these types of events that explicitly lend themselves as a template for others to adopt and bring to their own community - events like Ignite, Jane's Walk, TEDx, GiveCamps, and Podcamps.

I'm wondering what will be next.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Fear of a Tallgrass Planet

Another day, another piece in the Windsor Star decrying the weed-riddled parks that have flourished during the City of Windsor's outside workers 'work-stoppage'. Personally, I think that the emergence of prairie birds in our city parks has been the only positive outcome that has come out of this unfortunate situation that we've found ourselves in. (Actually, that and grass-braiding)

But I know that here where once was a sea of tallgrass prairie - that I'm in the minority. Most people in Windsor love routinely-mowed grass. In fact most people in the Western world love the lawn and the history of this love affair has been wonderfully captured in Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article "Turf War".

While Kolbert history of the lawn largely equates short-grass with material wealth, there is credible evidence that our love of short-grass is genetically hard-wired into our species:

As a reflection on what lawns mean to people, Gordon H. Orians, a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, took photographs of a wide variety of vegetation habitats and asked people around the world to rate them. African savannas were preferred by a large margin. We evolved in a habitat where short green grass provided evidence of abundant grazing mammals; pruned shrubs similarly evidenced lots of browsers; and open spaces meant we could see the dangerous lions, hyenas, and other predators.

So how can we - those of us who are actively working to increase the amount of naturalized land in the Windsor and Essex County to sustainable levels - work around this tendency and keep some of the tallgrass in our public places?

I think I've found an answer in the book, With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature by Rachel Kaplan, Stephen Kaplan and Robert L. Ryan. This 1998 work distills decades of research into the design of natural spaces into an easily understandable frame work that designers, public officials and citizens can use to design or evaluate local open space.

I'm currently reading the Leddy Library copy of this book and the good news is that there are strategies that can employed to create public spaces that incorporate natural space while addressing people's fears and preferences to outdoor space.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Jane's Walk in Walkerville

The Jane's Walk that we had in Walkerville went over really well. We had around forty people enjoying the warmth of the sun, of the company around them and of the stories they told of their neighbourhood.

These folks were there and they describe the walk better than I can:


One of the reasons why I love the Jane's Walk event is because it is one of the few events I've come across that embodies the ideas it celebrates: community, conversation, walking, neighbourhoods, sharing, accessibility, stories, and activism.

On that note, is anyone interested in a Jane Jacobs book club?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Join us tomorrow for a Jane's Walk in Walkerville

“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at ... suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You've got to get out and walk.”

Jane's Walk in Walkerville
Saturday, May 2, 11 am
starts & ends at Taloola Café

Jane’s Walk is a neighbourhood tour that celebrates the work of activist and urbanist Jane Jacobs and the city life she loved.

Please join our tour guides from as we look at the way Walkerville's historical buildings have been creatively re-used to meet the needs of today's residents. We will also imagine improvements to the neighbourhood and discuss ways to take the best of Walkerville into the future. The walk is on, rain or shine.

For more info, see or

No news is good news from the Windsor Star

Ok, I understand that Chysler's bankruptcy is going to dominate today's news coverage, but why is it that I only learned from Alan Halberstadt's blog that,

Getting back to my alleged subservience to the mayor, I can use last night as a good example to refute such charges. I cast opposing votes on two of the mayor's pet infrastructure stimulus projects that will be forwarded to the federal government -- $30 million to service urban sprawl greenfields in the old Sandwich South, and some $44 million for Eddie's west waterfront marina-canal. One third of the projects cleared last night will be funded by city taxpayers if approved by the senior governments. I was the lone dissenter on the urban sprawl project.

The canal-marina was defeated on a 6-4 vote. I couldn't, in good conscience, vote for a project without seeing any details or a business plan. Dave Cooke turned over the documents to the mayor a number of weeks ago, but the plan has yet to be seen or vetted by Council or the public.

This dodgy voting process occurred two nights ago and there is not a single word mentioned in the Windsor Star about this?

Why do I subscribe to this paper again?