NCC Watch

Working to consign the NCC to oblivion

Search string: "bike path"

Matches found: 9

Friday, December 31, 2010

City appeals NCC property assessments

One of the problems running a city where all the land is owned by the federal government is those guys get to set their own taxes:

The National Capital Commission has paid about $24 million to the City of Ottawa over the past three years in payments in lieu of municipal taxes for its properties, but the city believes it is owed more money and will likely appeal to a federal panel for redress.

Higher levels of government aren't required to pay property taxes to the city, but long ago agreed to these "payments-in-lieu" so as to be fair to municipal governments' need for revenue. The catch, though, is that the federal government isn't bound by the assessments of its properties' value, which are determined by the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., a provincial government agency.

[...]Federal law allows the government to do its own property valuation and pay taxes based on that assessment. If the valuation conflicts with that of MPAC, it is often ignored.

"They don't have to pay what we invoice. They pay what they believe they should pay, and then we appeal to the panel," [deputy city treasurer Ken] Hughes said.

[...]Among the several disputed properties are:

550 Albert St., a piece of land MPAC values at $1.4 million, but the NCC says is worth only $530,000 because it's contaminated.

A piece of land on Cassels Street, near the Britannia Yacht Club, which is valued by MPAC at $2.4 million but zero by the NCC.

2010 Moodie Dr., a piece of land MPAC says is worth $132,000 but NCC says has no value because it is a bike path.

The NCC owns more than 1,400 properties in the capital, including office buildings, rental homes and land. The book value of its land holdings, buildings and infrastructure is $522.3 million.

The agency pays "PILTs" on properties it occupies or uses itself. But on those it leases or rents out, where it's acting like a regular commercial landlord, the commission pays full municipal taxes like everybody else, and collects the money from the tenants.

Citizen: NCC and city at loggerheads [31 December 2010]
Citizen: How much is this building worth? [31 December 2010]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pathways to frustration

Much ado about the NCC's bike paths during a slow news week at the Citizen. First, Kelley Egan weighed in; spot the howler:

Much is known about usage on NCC paths, but much is not.

The commission does not keep track of how many accidents occur on its pathways, a spokesman said Tuesday, or injuries. Nor does it know how many electric bikes are wheeling about.

It has a sometimes-posted 20 km/h speed limit for cyclists, but admits this is a rule without legislative force. It does not ticket anyone for speeding. And, frankly, how could the Crown agency expect an accomplished cyclist to go that slow?

The paths are a victim of their own success, with traffic steadily climbing.

According to surveys conducted for the NCC, there were 17 million trips on NCC paths (including a portion of Gatineau Park) in 1998, but 31 million in 2008.

The proportion of pedestrians, meanwhile, is shrinking: from 30 per cent in 1998 to 24 per cent a decade later.

Similarly, the share of cyclists has grown over the decade, from 56 per cent to 64. In other words, almost two-thirds of users are now cyclists. With greening attitudes, more central infill, a broadening path network, that ratio will probably rise.

Two wheels now rule. It is a point worth discussion: Is the safest long-term option to kick everybody but cyclists off the paths?

Houle and Jonah would like to see improved signage about e-bikes on the paths themselves, clear information on the NCC website and perhaps an education campaign. The NCC, meanwhile, has a 2006 strategic plan for pathways. Shared use and courtesy are big concepts. Twin, separated paths are not.

"I think the NCC has a good record of being attuned to what the people in the National Capital region want," said spokesman Jean Wolff.

Not two days later, and NCC CEO Marie Lemay, freshly in tune with the masses, is on the front page explaining how the NCC is open to considering the possibility of twinning paths:

The National Capital Commission is open to twinning some of its recreational pathways to handle the capital's thriving cycling community, says chief executive Marie Lemay.

"I think we have to look at all the options," said Lemay. "Twinning is one we have to consider, where we can."

But let's not be hasty:

Lemay says, however, that the solution to enhancing bicycle use in the capital involves more than the NCC.

"I think there's a bigger picture here than just the pathways."

As the NCC's chief executive, Lemay said she has convened a regular meeting of the 13 municipalities in the national capital region.

One of the first issues to crop up was the need to better co-ordinate cycling paths, she added.

To that end, an "intra-agency" committee involving the NCC and each municipality is to be struck this fall. She expects some progress by the spring.

Citizen: Scooters, cyclists war over right to use NCC trails [12 Aug 2009]
Citizen: NCC open to twinning paths [14 Aug 2009]
Citizen: Pushing the limits [15 Aug 2009]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

NCC planners not demigods

ELgiN StreEt iRReguLars visits Confederation Park and notes how, despite the NCC's fancy park redesign, people still like to walk in straight lines:

What the NCC's control freaks did next, rather than admit its planners are less than demigods, was plant a buncha unsightly shrubs across either end of this straight line, to try to passively force people back onto the sidewalk. Didn't work. Bipeds continued to wear a long, straight path through the shrubs, across the grass. Imagine that. Since that proved unsatisfactory, the NCC planted even more unsightly snow fences in the middle of the two shrub beds to make 'em harder to traverse. From my lurking lair I still see people stomp down snow fences on occasion. Imagine that.

One of the smartest park planners I ever ran across had no fancy planning degree, but a lotta horse sense. Entrusted with a big new park, he seeded it to grass, and left it that way for a summer. In fall, he looked at where walkers had worn the heaviest paths in the grass, and had all his sidewalks put right there, along the lines that people were walking anyway.

The NCC's bike paths are the same way - never a straight line to where you want to go. [Via OttawaStart Blog]

Elgin Street IrreguLars: If dogs run free... [24 Apr 2007]

Saturday, May 7, 2005

Pathway reopens

The bike path behind the Supreme Court, closed since last April, is reopening for the summer.

OttawaStart: NCC Pathway re-opens after over a year of detours [6 May 2005]

Sunday, July 6, 2004

Wait for bike path detour signs over

Path closes April 5, detour signs erected June 26. Not much we can add to this one.

OttawaStart: Wait for bike path detour signs over [6 Jul 2004]

Friday, April 30, 2004

Ottawa River bike path out

NCC erects sign three weeks later.

OttawaStart: The National Capital Commission replies, without answering my question [30 Apr 2004]

Monday, October 20, 2003

Visual continuity on Island Park Drive

Kelly Egan reports on the National Capital Commission's amusing attempts to create "visual continuity" on Island Park Drive:

The first pair, at the gateway to the Parkway, are massive. Made of stacked limestone, they are four metres tall and distinctive for a single carved leaf. It is an elm, apparently, and, to all but boneheaded writers, deeply meaningful.

Between the river and Carling, there are 10 smaller cairns, a metre tall, and all bearing the lone elm leaf, which forms part of a new style of street sign as well. Are you getting this yet?

"Everyone who comes to visit says, 'What are those cement things?'" said Mrs. Cross, who lives on Island Park near the corner of Sunnymede Avenue. "I say people are buried under them."

Part of a $255,000 dressing up of the street, many residents aren't quite in reverential awe of Stonehenge-sur-la-riviere.

"I thought, 'What an atrocious waste of money,'" said Sharon Hickey-Sano, getting ready for a walk with her 10-month-old daughter, Mia. "Why don't they spend the money on more bike paths or something like that?"

Simply put, a pile of rocks is what the residents of Island Park Drive are getting in exchange for turning the once-scenic drive into a freeway. The history of the street, really, is the story of the advancing menace of the automobile. (If you really want to terrify people here, say the words "four-lane.")

[...]In the aftermath of the expansion [of Champlain Bridge], which cost $30 million and took five tortured years to complete, the NCC was looking for ways to calm traffic as it charged off the bridge.

The Crown corporation does not like "aggressive measures" like speed bumps, so it opted for a more passive plan: cairns, 30 new white elms and new street signs, all in an effort to create mellow motoring.

NCC spokesman John Kane says the idea is to "create some visual continuity to give people the idea that they're entering a zone which is part of our parkway system, but, at the same time, has a residential character."

[...]Why not carve a set of dual exhaust pipes on the cairns? They're thriving on Island Park these days.

Expand the bridge, hopelessly clog the street with traffic today, calm traffic tomorrow. This is the story of a man setting his own house on fire, then asking for a medal when he helps put it out.

Occasional readers of NCC Watch will recognize this as vintage NCC, the most famous example being the LeBreton Flats; 40 years after they flattened it, they genuinely expect to be congratulated on their plans for rebuilding it. Considering the general bewilderment and/or disgust on the part of residents interviewed, we suspect the NCC's exercise in visual continuity is also another triumph of their now legendary public consultation process. Did they ask anybody about this plan?

Citizen: 'What are those cement things?' [20 Oct 2003]

Sunday, September 29, 2002

NCC has cyclists on a road to nowhere

Road to nowhereThe Ottawa Cycling Advisory Committee (OCAC), who have been tracking the NCC's performance from a cycling perspective, has some pointed criticisms. From the Citizen:

"The NCC treats bicycles as toys for tourists," Brett Delmage said. "They say they don't have a mandate for transportation, but the decisions they make affect transportation for people all the time. They think about roads, but they don't think about commuters on bicycles."

At the south end of the newly renovated Champlain Bridge, for instance, a bike path runs straight into a traffic sign.

"It's a new project," said John Kane, an NCC spokesman. "There are going to be things that have to be worked out."

Mr. Kane said he didn't know who would have been responsible for painting lines that, if cyclists were to obey them, would cause serious injuries.

When the Champlain Bridge was closed for construction, Mr. Delmage said, the commission suggested cyclists use the next one over -- a six-kilometre detour.

The NCC, he said, considers its pathways recreational and thinks nothing of closing them or creating detours without warning, and doesn't consider the safety of cyclists who might be on the paths after dark.

According to the committee, cyclists have been badly hurt when they've run into barriers the commission has placed to stop cars from running into its paths -- which are painted black.

The OCAC recently got the NCC to change its plans for a proposed biking detour to accommodate the LeBreton Flats construction. The NCC was going to have cyclists crossing Booth Street walk or ride their bikes through crowds of people waiting for buses at the LeBreton Transitway station. OCAC has assembled a list of the NCC's more notable blunders:

  • Leaving marker lines unchanged during construction projects: During a construction project at Britannia in the mid-1990s, a cyclist was led into a snow fence by path lines that didn't change to indicate a detour.
  • Portage Bridge: Closed to cyclists during construction in 1998; reopened with a poorly designed bike path.
  • Champlain Bridge: When the Champlain Bridge was closed for construction, the NCC suggested cyclists use the next one over -- a six-kilometre detour. Cyclists had to use a 1.5-metre-wide, 1.7-kilometre-long sidewalk during a three-year reconstruction. And when finally reopened, it had wide bike paths, but multiple obstacles when exiting the bridge, and a bike path that runs straight into a traffic sign (see photo).
  • Alexandra Bridge: Vendors' booths were placed across the marked bike path during the Francophonie Games in 2001, while the existing bike path leads cyclists onto a pedestrian sidewalk.
  • Wellington Street: During reconstruction of Wellington Street in 1998, the NCC placed a sign to car drivers across a nearby bike path.
  • Ottawa River Parkway: Cyclists ordered off the road during reconstruction in the early 1990s.
  • Black bollards: Low poles to keep car drivers off bike paths are black and nearly invisible in the dark.

Citizen: Advisory committee says NCC is oblivious to city's cyclists [29 Sep 2002]
Ottawa Cycling Advisory Committee
Champlain bridge cycling hazards

Sunday, December 10, 2000

Shortliffe's short shrift

In an editorial today, The Citizen describes just how inadequate consultant Glen Shortliffe's recommendations for reforming the NCC are:

Stripped of its bureaucratic verbiage, consultant Glen Shortliffe's assessment of the National Capital Commission paints a discouraging picture of a defensive and secretive body, out of touch with the people who live and work in the national capital region. Unfortunately, Mr. Shortliffe's recommendations won't do much to improve matters.

Of course, that's not what NCC Chair Marcel Beaudry wants you to think. He prefers to emphasize the positive instead of confronting on the negative. But no amount of positive thinking can mask the issues outlined in Mr. Shortliffe's report.

There's the dysfunctional relationship between the NCC and municipal leaders, where personalities often contribute to the problems. The NCC thinks some unnamed leaders are "short-sighted, subservient to developers and only interested in short-term gains," while some municipal leaders consider the NCC "remote, unilateral and high-handed."

There's the disconnect between area residents who believe the NCC doesn't consult them in advance, and the commission's belief that it is consulting quite adequately, thank you.

And there's the not-so-surprising observation that "the more people know about the NCC, the more negatively they assess it on operational and governance issues." The report also found that municipal leaders -- who presumably know the most about how the NCC works -- were even more critical of it than was the general population.

Before you dismiss this as the result of what the NCC seems to think is a negative media campaign, note that the study's own poll shows 69 per cent of the people it surveyed felt the media treat the NCC fairly or "very" fairly. Only 13 per cent thought it received unfair media coverage.

Mr. Shortliffe's report doesn't draw attention to this aspect of the survey, choosing instead to stress the 55 per cent of respondents with a positive or very positive impression of the NCC, mostly influenced by such things as bike paths, the Rideau Canal and Canada Day. When it comes to complaints about the NCC, such as its delay in developing the LeBreton Flats and the Daly sites, Mr. Shortliffe suggests (unconvincingly) that these problems are perceptual, not real.

But that's not the most disappointing aspect of his report. Mr. Shortliffe was hired "to comment on the NCC in relation to the new local municipal structures," yet for the most part he ignores the new realities created by an amalgamated city of Ottawa.

When he does acknowledge them -- noting that Ottawa will have a single municipal authority with well-developed planning capabilities and a "vision" for the future that might differ from that of the NCC -- he quickly rejects any suggestion that the new city (or the Outaouais Urban Community) should have a seat on the NCC's board of directors, even though such a move was supported by more than 90 per cent of the people he surveyed, as well as by most area politicians.

His recommendation that Ottawa's mayor and the Outaouais regional chairman be part of a "Planning Advisory Committee" falls well short of real consultation or influence. The committee's advice will not be binding on the NCC. Nor will local residents and politicians know how the board reaches its decisions, since it will continue to meet in private.

Messrs. Beaudry and Shortliffe may think an advisory committee and an annual general meeting - this one open to the public - will reduce distrust of the NCC and somehow make it more accountable. We think they're wrong.

No question of that.

Citizen: Shortliffe's short shrift [10 Dec 2000]