Shortcuts

Well, we’re here! Now let us never speak of the shortcut again.”Homer,  The Simpsons 

Since my feet are my main source of transportation, I’m a big fan of the shortcut. In movies and TV shows whenever someone takes a shortcut, bad, scary, deadly and/or hilarious things always happen to them. In real life, shortcuts are just a more efficient way to get around a city… most of the time.

Halifax was the best city ever for shortcuts. In my 20-minute walk to and from work, I could go the whole way with only ever having to hit sidewalks for the last couple of minutes.  Halifax has shortcuts bisecting the city in all directions. Some of the shortcuts get so popular that the city paves them and turns them into official walking paths.

Aside from the time-saving aspect of shortcuts, the best thing about them is that you’re away from traffic and get to see some extraordinary parts of the city – the backs of buildings, wooded areas, hidden community gardens, broken-down and abandoned stuff. And, you often meet the most interesting people clambering over railroad ties, under fences, through parks or over and through structures. (Such as Parkour kids [traceurs], which I blogged about in one of my very first blog posts ever, in Halifax, back before I was XUP. I’ve never seen a traceur in Ottawa, though I suppose they must exist — probably downtown where I don’t spend that much time.)

Anyway, Toronto is also a good short-cut (and Parkour) city. Although there’s not a lot of green-space to cut through, there are a lot of good back-streets, city squares, parking lots and other accessible spaces to shorten and enliven your walk.

In fact, the only place I’ve ever lived where shortcuts are few and far between is Ottawa. Ottawa is a very, very car-centered city. Shortcuts are rare. Pedestrians are barely allowed to have sidewalks to walk on. Sometimes a bit of sidewalk gets slapped alongside a road if the road construction guys have some leftover asphalt or something; but the sidewalk never lasts very long and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of traffic with motorists honking and yelling at you.

Ottawa has the much-touted Riverside bicycle paths, which could be considered as sort of city-designated and sanctioned shortcuts. They’re really for bicycles, but pedestrians are tolerated as long as they can figure out which side they’re supposed to walk on – which is not the side facing traffic, interestingly enough. Which means pedestrians that walk on the correct side are constantly being surprised/scared by cyclists whizzing past from behind them. Also, the Riverside paths are actually take longer than just walking on the side of the road, so they’re not much good as shortcuts. They’re probably great for cyclists, but for pedestrians they’re really only good as scenic strolling areas.

Walking through the Experimental Farm is a pretty good shortcut, if you happen to live near it, which I don’t.

I’ve tried a bunch of different routes to work. If there were shortcuts it would only take me about half an hour to walk there. But there are no shortcuts. Ninety percent of the trip is alongside a frantically busy 4-lane street. So it takes 50 minutes at best.  I don’t often walk all the way to work.

 I have found a few parking lots and fields to walk through in the city that cut my walking time. It’s always fun to find and follow a winding footpath through the snow or through a grassy area.

I’ve always wondered why exactly these paths are winding? You’d think if someone was trying to get from point A to point B by the most direct and shortest route, they would forge a straight line. But that’s never the case. Shortcuts always meander. Is there something about humans that disallows them to walk in a straight line?

Maybe they’re walking and then their mind wanders and suddenly they look up and see they’re too far over to the right, so they veer left and lose focus again until they realize they’re too far over to the left, correct themselves again, and so on and so on??? It’s the only thing I can figure.

Anyway, the only time I’ve ever had a zany or hair-raising adventure whilst shortcutting was when I was about 8. I’d gone to town with my mum because she was going to the hairdresser. After a while I got bored and so, while she was under the dryer, I yelled at her that I was going outside. “Do NOT leave this block!” She yelled back.

Being a farm kid, I didn’t know what a block was, so I just wandered through the small town, cutting through shops and playgrounds and back alleys. I was about to turn into one of those alleys when I saw two guys having a knife fight. One was stabbing the other in the arm – not very hard. They were both pretty bloody and there was some blood on the ground, so probably this was not the first stab.

They didn’t notice me, but I decided not to cut through that alley afterall. I just made my way back to the hairdressers. I don’t know if the whole fight thing  didn’t seem real or what, but I forgot all about the knife fight as soon as I left the alley. I didn’t think of it again until later that day when I was home eating supper with the family. “Hey, you guys!” I yelled over the general din, all squirmy with excitement. “Guess what I saw today?”  So I told them my story and, if I know young me (and I think I do), I told it with plenty of gory detail and a with a tad of embellishment. Of course no one believed me.

However! The following Wednesday, when the town’s weekly paper came out, right there on the front page was a story about the very knife fight. “See!” I said, proudly vindicated. 

Then I got big, long heck from both my parents, not only for leaving the block but also for a bunch of other quasi-related stuff.

It wasn’t until I was 12 that I found out what a block was.

Ottawa: The City the Snow Day Fairy Forgot

So, Ottawa had a full day of cold, wet, blowy snow yesterday. It started some time during the night and never stopped.

Leading the radio’s newscast first thing in the morning was the expected announcement that no school buses would be running anywhere in the Ottawa area.

As usual, however, all schools were open and teachers, librarians, custodians and other school staff along with non-bussing students were expected to be at school.

So, the buses are off the road because of unsafe, hazardous road conditions that make travelling risky, but everyone not taking a school bus has to take on that risk?

Why?

Where did this policy come from that Ottawa schools will never close? The policy also seems to extend to workplaces. My workplace has never closed in living memory of anyone I work with.

Is there some sort of bet on with Calgary to see which city is more macho or something?

In Halifax, they closed up the whole town whenever the weather was bad or even threatened to get bad. Schools closed, government offices closed, most businesses closed and the buses stopped running. Halifax city hall’s thinking was to just get as many people as possible off the streets so the roadways could be cleared quickly. They also reckoned that with people staying home, emergency crews could spend their time addressing real emergencies instead of spending all their time digging yet another car or bus out of a snow bank or responding to weather-related traffic accidents.

I was speaking with a teacher today and she said Ottawa’s “we never close” policy was for economic reasons – that if everyone stayed home, the city would lose too much money. I don’t know if she was speculating or had some inside information. Mainly, she was royally pissed at having to spend hours getting to school in the morning when only a handful of kids would be there and no real school work could be conducted anyway. She basically spent the day babysitting. Then she had to stand around for more hours in the afternoon waiting for buses that never came because OC Transpo buses can’t make it up even the slightest grade when the roads are slippery with snow because they have no snow tires.***

Other cities close schools and businesses and even suspend public transportation services when weather conditions get bad. Why not Ottawa? Does anyone know?

I mean, gee willikers, Snow Days are a tradition. An unexpected treat to be anticipated and savoured — a little bonus for living in a climate like this.

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*** Note:  Though there are lots of delays and buses running off the road during winter storms, I must give kudos to the intrepid drivers who manage to handle those big, tractionless vehicles and keep so many of them moving. Especially since they didn’t get a lot of winter driving practice in last year — Zing.

5 Questions

This “cooperative blogging thingy”[1] comes via Nat. It’s kind of a fun interview exercise because fellow bloggers can email you asking to join in and then you have to email them back 5 interview questions – things you’d like to know specifically about them. Then they answer the questions on their blog and invite other bloggers to join in which means they have to come up with 5 questions for those bloggers. Get it? (Complete instructions are at the end of this post).

So anyway, Nat emailed me the following 5 questions to answer.

Q1: You did something that completely baffles me. You left Halifax and moved to Ottawa. All my life, I’ve been trying to leave Ottawa to move to Halifax. Aren’t you going in the wrong direction?

A1: No! I’m originally from southern Ontario and just lived in Halifax for 9 years. Halifax is a great place to visit. Halifax is even a great place to live for a few years. But, unless you’re from there and have generations of roots there, I would advise against trying to live there permanently. But that’s just my opinion. This is really a question that deserves a long conversation over wine, not something I can explain in a few sentences.

Q2: What’s the single oddest thing about Ottawa?

A2: Oh boy. This is tough because there are a few odd things about Ottawa.  Number One would be how Larry O’Brien ever got elected mayor. I find this baffling. Also, I’m always surprised at how spread out this city is. It’s all over the place.  Not just a collection of communities – which is what one would expect – but just everything.  With a collection of communities you would expect to be able to conduct your day-to-day business within your community. But in Ottawa you can’t do that in most communities because the communities aren’t complete.  You might have a grocery store, but you have to go to another community for a post office and another one yet for a good restaurant and somewhere else completely for a natural food store. The entertainment/sports/arts venues, which you would expect to be centrally located are all over the place, too.  This city demands that all its citizens own vehicles. This has really been brought home to me during this transit strike. I don’t think this is a good thing for any city.

Q3: Why aren’t you an urban pedestrian anymore?

A3: A full explanation for this can be found on my “About” page (see tab above)

Q4: What is the single best?

A4: Nat’s a little scattered, so she didn’t quite finish this question. I will assume she wanted to ask about what I find best about Ottawa. I don’t really know where to start. The bloggers, of course, are the best anywhere. I love skating on the canal. After Halifax, the weather in Ottawa is great. The Centretown/Glebe area is a really nice community with lots of stuff going on, great independent shops, restaurants, pubs, music, art. I want to live there. It’s the most complete community I’ve found in Ottawa.

Q5: I was told as constructive criticism that I’m not as nice as I could be. You strike me as someone who knows how to soften the blows. Do you think nice is over-rated?

A5: Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!! Nat’s not only scattered, but also a tad deluded. (You’re so funny, Nat. I have no idea where you got the notion that I would be able to answer a question about niceness. But thanks.) No one has ever called me nice before. I’m on the floor laughing. I can only say that you have to be yourself. Any attempt to fake niceness will only come out as fake niceness and that’s kind of nauseating.

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Here are the rules if you want to participate in 5 Questions.

  1. Send me an email saying:  “Interview Me” to urbanpedestrian@gmail.com
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
  3. You can then answer the questions on your blog.
  4. You should also post these rules along with an offer to interview anyone else who emails you wanting to be interviewed.
  5. Anyone who asks to be interviewed should be sent 5 questions to answer on their blog. I would be nice if the questions were individualized for each blogger.

[1] NO! It’s not a meme. I don’t do memes.