Courtesy Seats

At the front of the public buses here in Ottawa and in many cities, there is an area of seating designated as courtesy, co-operative, or priority seating. The idea is that if someone who cannot stand in a moving vehicle boards the bus, they have a place near the door to take a seat. Typically, the area is marked with decals on the windows above the designated seats and the decals have illustrations that vary, city-to-city, but can represent wheelchairs, pregnant women, people with strollers, and people with mobility aids.

I’ve always avoided sitting in this area because I’m able-bodied and can easily move towards the back of the bus, even while the vehicle is moving. However, I’ve made an observation that really irks me…and apparently it irks a lot of other people too!

Now, I’m not one to judge whether someone is able-bodied or not. There are invisible issues that some people face and I’m very cognizant of this. For this reason, I won’t ask anyone in particular to move out of their seat. I expect that etiquette will take care of this. BUT I have noticed so many people acting oblivious to the older gentleman who boards the bus with his walker or the toddler who comes on with their guardian. I’ve seen people sitting in the designated area who are engrossed by their phone and never look up, people who all of a sudden become super occupied by their phone once they notice someone who should occupy a designated seat board the bus, and people who just don’t get up to offer their seat. Sometimes people don’t even move for a wheelchair. Until the bus driver requests that space be made for a wheelchair, at which point, sometimes it becomes a staring contest between the people occupying the two bench seating areas, one across from the other, that can be converted to a wheelchair seating area: Who will move first!

Perhaps some people are utterly oblivious…but some people just don’t seem to care! Siiiiiiigh.

Shaping the future Ottawa: Open House Jan 29

If you’re interested in city and community planning, the City of Ottawa has an open house and presentation in the evening on Tuesday January 29 for its Building a Liveable Ottawa Plan. This is the start of their strategic review of planning, development, and transportation policies and priorities. Straight from their website, the city has identified 12 planning issues:

  1. Intensification: smart development
  2. Urban Land Issues: building in or building out
  3. Rural Components: protecting and preserving Ottawa’s countryside – most of the city of Ottawa is actual rural land use
  4. Urban Design: creating people-friendly environments
  5. Transit Oriented Development: living and working around transit stations
  6. Employment Land Review: protecting and diversifying the economy
  7. Infrastructure Needs: providing the services required for growth
  8. Public Transit: moving people when and where they need to go
  9. Complete Streets: making room for all transportation choices
  10. Active Transportation: promoting healthy lifestyles
  11. Sustainable Transportation: developing travel options to reduce car dependency
  12. Affordability: realizing development within our financial means

I like what I’m seeing so far, with a decreasing emphasis on cars and more thought being put to how to make it easier for people on foot, bikes, and public transportation to get from point A to B in an efficient, safe manner. So far, so good.

Rounding off train travel for 2012: Quebec City

This is unofficially my year of the train. After travelling up the west coast from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle to Vancouver with Amtrak, then taking VIA Rail’s Canadian from Vancouver to Winnipeg to Ottawa, I’ve found that train travel is awesome as long as you have some time to spare. Or perhaps you view the travel time from point A to point B as part of the adventure, in which case the train is fabulous; the scenery is much more interesting by train than by plane.

We took the train from Ottawa to Quebec City via Montreal, which is about 6 hours in total of travel time. For comparison, it would take a comparable amount of time to drive (when driving at the speed limit) and the plane would take less than two hours of travel time (but let’s not forget the hours required to get to the airport, go through security, wait to board and take-off, etc.). There was a transfer at Montreal station, which is located in the heart of downtown. The station is the nicest one I’ve been in so far and I saw my fair share this past year. There is also an extensive food court with a fair amount of variety in offerings and seems to be frequented by folks working downtown.

Inside la Gare de Montreal (or Montreal station)
Inside la Gare de Montreal (or Montreal station)

The trains between Ottawa and Montreal and Montreal and Quebec city are quite comfortable, even in Economy class. I actually thought we were accidentally walking into the business class car because the seats looked so nice and there was so much leg space but nope, we were reassured that this is Economy. Makes me wonder what Business class is like.

A seat on the train. This particular train car had single seats down one side and double seats down the other side, with a wide aisle in between.
A seat on the train. This particular train car had single seats down one side and double seats down the other side, with a wide aisle in between.

Gare du Palais (train station) in Quebec city is beautiful and resembles a chateau, much like the nearby Chateau Frontenac.

One side of the Fairmont le Chateau Frontenac.
One side of the Fairmont le Chateau Frontenac.
Not the best photo of the entrance to la Gare du Palais but it gives you an idea of the style of the building.
Not the best photo of the entrance to la Gare du Palais but it gives you an idea of the style of the building.

The inside of the station is fairly small and although it has some charm to it, it is fairly dark inside.

Rotunda inside la Gare du Palais in Quebec city.
Rotunda inside la Gare du Palais in Quebec city.
Inside la Gare du Palais in Quebec city
Inside la Gare du Palais in Quebec city

This is the last train trip for this year but after travelling well over 5000km in Canada by train, not to mention a good portion of the US west coast, I have to say I am now a fan of North American train travel. I still have to ride The Ocean, which is the VIA Rail train that travels between Montreal and Halifax, to complete my transcontinental train ride…perhaps next year!

Public Transportation Planning here or there

Once a Vancouverite, always a Vancouverite, right? I like keeping up with city planning in metro Vancouver and really enjoy browsing through the blog, Price Tags. He recently wrote a post on a new SkyTrain platform that Vancouver will have to alleviate the congestion at Broadway-Commercial during rush hour (and it really is crazy busy with loads and loads of people at peak times); he mentions that this new platform will require partial demolition of the Safeway grocery store that is adjacent to the current station and then brings up the grand hub-bub that happened in Vancouver back before the World Expo 1986 came to Vancouver, when they were discussing building the SkyTrain.

This reminded me of the grand hub-bub that is happening right now about Ottawa’s proposed light rail train system (which is severely overdue in this city, in my personal opinion). 20+ years since Expo ’86, Vancouver is doing really well with a growing and strengthening public transportation system. It’s getting more and more convenient for more and more people living in and around Vancouver city proper to take the bus, SkyTrain, or Seabus to get around. Ottawa is moving in the right direction to have faster, more efficient public transportation east-west and hopefully eventually north-south. I’m sure if the best route for the LRT is chosen, Ottawa will also look back 20 years from now and know that it made a good decision.

Moving many people more effectively

When I was moving to Ottawa, I asked a few folks that had previously lived in the city what it was like (since the first time I’d set foot in Ottawa would be when I made the big move). After the magnificent Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal, a common source of pride was the Transitway, which is as close as Ottawa has gotten to a intracity train. It’s a dedicated roadway for transit buses and it mostly transports people East-West.

Having lived in Vancouver for many years, where there is a Skytrain (beautiful views from the elevated tracks outside of the downtown core, where there are tunnels) as well as near Tokyo, where the trains will take you near and far and most places in between, and having visited many a city where intracity travel is heavily facilitated by trains, it boggles my mind why Ottawa has not optimized their transit system by incorporating a rail system.

If you visit the downtown core of Ottawa or Tunney’s Pasture (federal government compound just west of downtown) during rush hour, you will likely see bus after bus after bus clogging the Transitway. It can take well over half an hour to traverse the six or so downtown blocks as a result. Why so many buses? Because there are many bus routes that rely on traveling the Transitway, not just a few dedicated Transitway buses; the latter would actually be one way of optimizing travel efficiency without building rail infrastructure.

In all fairness, when I moved to Ottawa and complained to colleagues about the lack of light rail trains (LRTs), I was informed that the city had actually had a contract to build a LRT system…but had walked away from it, ending up having to pay a penalty and leaving Ottawa with no LRT once again. The city has decided to incorporate a LRT system into its transit plan but the debate currently is the physical route for this system.

I’m not too familiar with the internal workings of the city here but I feel like Ottawa, as the nation’s capital, should be leading the rest of Canada by example through the embodiment of lifestyles and philosophies of Canada’s future…which I don’t feel like it currently is. It seems as though the city gets mired in poor contracts or procedures on big, very public projects (resulting in more negative press) and struggles with striking a balance between forward-thinking (thinking with a vision of the future 10-25 years from now) and conservatism (maintaining status quo).

Some folks call Ottawa a small town with a big city mentality while others would easily argue to reverse that order. Either way, I can’t wait until Ottawa builds its LRT line!

Three perspectives on food through three films

I visited a library branch that I’d never previously been to; I love randomly combing through the DVD section and I love it even more when I find things I want to watch! At this new-to-me branch, I found 3 documentaries.

Ingredients: the local food movement takes root (a film directed by Robert Bates in 2009)

Pay the doctor or pay the farmer. Simplicity, flavour and quality are the most important. Pay now or pay later (some may say, suffer later). Growing food more naturally makes more sense. As a farmer, you’re producing food, not fuel. Vibrant healthy ecosystem = better colour, better flavour, better quality, better nutritional values. Taste and how the producer takes care of the land are important. We have been taught through the industrial food system that cheap food is better because it is more convenient and cooking is time-consuming drudgery. This is a well-made film featuring chefs, including Alice Waters, and farmers/ranchers that I’d definitely recommend watching.

Escape from Suburbia: Beyond the American Dream (directed by Gregory Greene in 2007)

The film is centered around the concept of peak oil, which is when oil extraction rates peak; after this point, production would decline and what happens thereafter is somewhat speculative.

The timing of when we’ll reach peak oil, or if we’ve already reached it, is also debated, but the one thing that is for sure it that oil is a finite resource that we will not rebuild within our lifetime (let alone many lifetimes). This core concept is simple but the implications are incredibly vast. You can’t have a discussion on peak oil without getting into politics, community dynamics, societal lifestyles and culture, lobbyists and corporations, environment, ownership and stewardship, personal responsibilities, and much more.

As the name of the film implies, connected to the concept of peak oil is the reliance on vehicular transportation based on the suburbia model. The premise isn’t necessarily to decry suburbs but to make suburban developments more self-contained, with services and food sources available within walking distance, and at the same time really considering the environmental toll that development takes, particularly when agricultural land is under consideration. Once the land is paved over, it will be incredibly difficult reclaiming the land for agricultural use. If our reliance on oil continues in the same way, then presumably, demand will surpass supply, costs will rise (prohibitively, I’d guess), and we won’t be able to transport ourselves in the same way that many of us do now: in our own personal cars. At that time, we’d probably want to have food sources nearby…but if we used up agricultural land for housing or other development, how can we supply ourselves with enough food to sustain communities? There are also many food deserts already throughout North America and this would become more apparent if access to cars was limited. Location, location, location!

Those are a few of the issues discussed by the film; you can see the trailer here:

Food Stamped: Is it possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget? (A film by Shira and Yoav Potash in 2011)

Accessibility of healthy food options can be a barrier for people, particularly if there are socioeconomic factors at play. The film doesn’t get detailed with respect to the issues affecting accessibility but the filmmakers were interested in spending a week living on a food stamp budget (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP). The filmmakers are a young couple living together who had time to pre-plan a weeks’ worth of meals, have access to a supermarket, do not usually live on a fixed income, have no children, and are familiar with how to cook foods. Although I’m wary of projects like this where folks take on a fixed income lifestyle for a very short period of time, I think they’re good if they increase awareness of food accessibility issues (eg. food deserts) and help us examine how our lifestyle choices affect people of all different backgrounds. I recall some Ottawa councillors taking part in a similar endeavour as part of the Living Wage Campaign a few years ago…but I’m not certain how much of an influence the experience had on affecting food policy in the city.

Rebecca’s Wild Farm and Seeds of Freedom: 2 films

I just got wind of the two films that will be screened at the fall Reel Food Film Festival at the Ottawa Main Public Library on Thursday October 18. You can check out the trailers for Rebecca’s Wild Farm and Seeds of Freedom, both from the UK, on the film fest’s website. They both speak to becoming more conscious about food production but from different angles. Looking forward to seeing these. The spring film fest was great!


Bus Relationships

I ride the bus to work if I don’t cycle (which is more often the case than it should be…but anyhow) and I’ve lived in the same neighborhood long enough to recognize quite a few of the regular riders. Unlike a large part of the bus riding population, I prefer to enjoy the sights and sounds of bus riding and do not wear ear buds or tap-tap-tap away on my mobile device. Because I’m actually being present while riding the bus, I also know which stops people get on and off at. It sounds a bit creepy, I know, but I also know that I’m not alone in admitting this. Sometimes we acknowledge each other with a smile or a hello but other times there’s no recognition.

What is awkward is seeing these fellow bus riders elsewhere in life…outside the bus setting. I see them every day in their commute but is it weird saying hello to them? Sometimes I feel a slight urge to have a conversation with them, maybe even introduce myself…but I don’t because I don’t want to come off as being invasive. So I just smile if they see me. And most times they smile back, but I’m not sure if they smile to be polite or because they’re acknowledging recognition.

Tunney’s: Microcosm of the Future?

While I was preparing 20+ peaches for freezing today, I was listening to the radio and was so ecstatic to hear that John Baird (Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada) announced the redevelopment of Tunney’s Pasture, a big expansive government complex in Ottawa that looks extremely bleak and dreary.

When I first moved to Ottawa, I had high hopes of this place called “Tunney’s Pasture”. After all, doesn’t it sound idyllic? Sadly when I first stepped foot on the Pasture, I looked around to see buildings that were so far apart from one another, wide wide roads, grayish brown buildings galore (of the 70’s/80’s style…bunker-style), and nothing at all spectacular. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Shouldn’t the federal government complex serve as an example of city planning for the rest of Canada? Why was it the exact opposite? The embodiment of sprawl.

…which is why I’m so excited that the federal government is going to create a plan for redeveloping the land (it’s a 25 year plan…but nonetheless it’s a plan). So much potential!! Will it be mixed use? Will it provide low income housing? Will it be the next hub of activity? Will it actually happen or will this end up a dud of a project? I sure hope the government steps up and sees this project through. It’ll be extensive and expensive but it’ll be well worth it if they do it correctly. That means that they’ll need to heavily consult Ottawans and in particular, the citizens in the surrounding neighbourhoods and the users of the land. They’ll need to think progressively and hopefully create a microcosm of what they hope the rest of urban Canada will strive to look like.

First public information session: Sept. 17 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Jean-Talon building, 170 Tunney’s Pasture Drive.

Update on August 21: Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) has some info related to this project on their Tunney’s Pasture Master Plan website.

Ride along on VIA Rail’s The Canadian: Winnipeg to Ottawa

After travelling from Vancouver to Winnipeg aboard VIA Rail’s The Canadian then hopping off in Winnipeg for a few days of sightseeing, it was back onto the train for the rest of the trip back to Ottawa.

Just stepped into the main hall at the Winnipeg station
Waiting area at the Winnipeg station…dim lighting and old-fashioned furniture
Forest fire remnants?
Lunch: Quinoa salad with feta cheese and cranberries
Old telephone poles, left to rot
Another small town beside a huge lake that we passed through
The Canadian Shield!
A stop at Hornepayne, a small town that used to be a booming CN Rail town…but is now just a small town. This used to the old train station.
Dinner: Chicken soup with wild rice. Sound familiar? It’s usually served as an appetizer but I wasn’t all that hungry so opted to have it as my entree.
But of course I had room for dessert after dinner! Chocolate caramel torte.
Interesting stand of trees in the background

And then it was off to shower and then to bed (early)!

The sunrise (before 6am)
Starting to enter Toronto
A bridge crossing over the Don Valley Parkway
Union Station in Toronto is located near the foot of the CN Tower!

And then we arrived in Toronto! A great view of downtown as we pulled into Union Station. The ride onto Ottawa from here is on a typical commuter-style train. The scenery is mostly farmland all the way in, which I had seen plenty of through the Prairies…so I didn’t take many photos.

A view of Hurdman Station, a hub in Ottawa’s public transportation system.
Ramp leading up to the main lobby at Ottawa’s VIA Rail station

Back to hot humid Ottawa!