comments on proposed Elgin Street redesign

Ottawa Transportation Committee is meeting on May 3, 2017 to consider the staff report including proposed designs.  Here’s what I wrote to the committee:

COMMENT

Dear Councillors Egli and McKenney:

I am writing to you as chair and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee, about the Elgin Street redesign that will come before the committee on May 3, 2017 (ACS2017-TSD-PLN-0007 Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study).  I support the report recommendations, namely (1) that the functional designs in the report be approved as-is and (2) that the speed limit be posted as 30 km/h.

I want to emphasize particularly strong support for the speed limit reduction to 30 km/h, and the language of the report “Designed for lower operating speed” (page 14).  Using design to lower the speed of vehicles in the downtown core is the single most important intervention that council can make to provide a safer and more pleasant experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and to make an even more liveable Ottawa.  This is particularly important given the presence of Elgin Street Public School.

I also want to express my support for the particular design intervention of raised intersections.  I very much hope this means that the crosswalks themselves will be continued across the street at sidewalk level (“continuous sidewalks”) across the side streets (I am using the language from NACTO guide “Pedestrians at Multi-Modal Intersections” http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/pedestrians_multi-modal_intersections_perkins.pdf ).  To me raised intersections and continuous sidewalks are a very significant design improvement that helps ensure lower operating speed.

I hope as well that the committee will recommend careful monitoring of speed and multi-modal level of service after the redesign, to ensure high levels of service are being achieved for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ensure that the design is keeping speeds below the 30km/h target.  If the data indicate that speeds are higher than 30km/h, I expect the city to continue to modify the design until speeds are 30km/h or less.

In my submission to the Elgin Street consultation I had recommended either no parking, or parking on only one side https://manifestomultilinko2.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/rebuilding-elgin-street/

While I am pleased to see some reduction in parking, I will just echo Councillor Chernushenko (page 25):

I am concerned that the proposed 90 spaces, although less than the current parking supply, is a half-measure that will ultimate prove a disservice to the same businesses that are in favour of more parking, as the renewal of Elgin Street will not be as complete as it might have been had fewer such parking spaces on the street itself been included.

I would particularly emphasize the fact that the report states (on page 18) that there are currently 3749 parking spaces within 2 blocks of the area (including 850 underground parking spots at City Hall http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/parking ).  It seems to me the city could be more ambitious than cutting 32 parking spots out of 3749, particularly given the substantial downsides of on-street parking for traffic flow and safety, including circling cars and dooring of cyclists.

I look forward to the Elgin Street redesign.  I am pleased to see the city following Complete Streets design principles and emphasizing streets designed for safety, with improved levels of service for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

CC: Councillors Fleury, Chernushenko and Leiper
ENDCOMMENT

 

As a side note, on the topic of the 850 underground parking spaces at City Hall, here’s how many were free on Sunday April 2, 2017 around 10:30am.

IMG_9284-9284-20170402-6S - Version 2

procrastination, anxiety, and dialogue with your past self

Often procrastination is viewed as a problem of organisation, and a typical approach is to try to provide a system for prioritizing and tracking tasks, in the model of Getting Things Done.  There are all kinds of methodologies related to this kind of organisation and priotization model, and certainly they may help those who really are procrastinating because of a lack of structure in their work planning.

But what is often not addressed is that there are people who are procrastinating because of anxiety, not because of lack of organisation.

Tim Urban did a TED talk in 2016 called Inside the mind of a master procrastinator that really resonated with me.  But what I found even more interesting (since I am more of a text than a video person) is his blog posts exploring procrastination in more detail:

I really admire Tim Urban for being able to be open about this issue, in a society that values productivity perhaps more than anything.

I particularly like The Eisenhower Matrix, which gives a better way to think about task priority

It’s basically four quadrants.

Eisenhower grid

Although this looks like a classic productivity tool, Tim Urban has actually figured out that it has some subtle factors when you take into account how people think and behave when procrastinating.  In general, procrastinators mess up these priorities.  They will do Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent) when a deadline forces them.  Otherwise they will do either Quadrant 3 (Not Important, Urgent) or particularly occupy Quadrant 4 (Not Important, Not Urgent).

If I apply an anxiety perspective, Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent) gets done when the anxiety about the deadline overcomes the anxiety about the task.  Otherwise, aversive strategies move the anxious procrastinator either into Not Important, Urgent or Not Important, Not Urgent.

Disastinators

Procrastinators who are no longer able to use deadlines as motivation Tim Urban describes as “Disastinators”, stuck forever in a corner of useless tasks (e.g. unpleasurable obsessive web surfing or other maladaptive coping strategies) in Quadrant 4.

This is basically being paralysed by anxiety, doing meaningless things.

Eisenhower grid avoid stuck

One of the keys to getting out of Quadrant 4, if stuck there because of anxiety, is to deal with the anxiety itself, rather than the tasks.  In other words, an anxiety-based procrastinator may need emotions management and mental strategies a lot more than time and priority management (and may in fact be acutely and painfully aware of both the exact priorities and the time constraints they are facing).  This is a really important insight.  If it’s anxiety that has you stuck, no amount of productivity techniques will help change the outcomes.  The procrastination is anxiety-driven, the solution is addressing the anxiety itself.

And the highest priority things (Quadrant 1 & 2) may be the most anxiety-generating, which is why anxious procrastinators if they do anything at all, may churn out Not Important but Urgent items, or be stuck in endless Not Important, Not Urgent activities.

You May Be Missing Your Hopes and Dreams in Quadrant 2

Tim Urban makes a second really important observation, which is that even people who are high-functioning may do just the Urgent things (Quadrant 1 and 3) and never make it to the things in Quadrant 2 (Important but Not Urgent).  But Quadrant 2 covers a lot of things that are at the core of improving your life.  Depending on your personality, many things may be in Quadrant 2: relationships, health, new skills – basically all of your aspirations.  And as you busily do Quadrant 1 priority items, you may never find time to do the things that bring meaning to your life.

Tim Urban describes this as “delegating to future you”.  Learning that language, meeting that girl or boy, making that new career… all always safely in the future.

Dialogue Between Past Self and Future Self

Here’s where I would like to add some value to the already-excellent analysis that Tim Urban did.  One thing that happens with procrastination is a really dysfunctional dialogue across time.  It may be across minutes and it may be across decades.  It’s the dialogue between past you and future you.

Procrastinators load a lot of tasks onto their future self.  And whether it’s “I’ll just surf the web for five minutes” or “I’ll do that next month”, eventually the future self becomes the present self, and is basically thinking “I can’t believe Past Me stuck me with this task, there’s so little time left, why didn’t Past Me just do it then?  You suck Past Me.”

And since there is no past you and future you really, just present self, this means procrastinators basically feel angry at themselves a lot.  For some intense procrastinators, all the time.

I think it might be possible to surface this dialogue in a healthier way.  There are two aspects: first, gratitude to your past self, and second, empathy with your future self.  This can start out small, but the key is to verbalise it, either internally or (depending on the people around you) out loud.  Did you put out your clothes the night before so you could get ready quicker?  “Thanks Past Me.”  Did you take some time to sort medication into daily slots so you don’t forget what to take each day?  “Thanks Past Me.”  Did you do the laundry yesterday so you have clean clothes today?  “Thanks Past Me.”

Similarly, when facing a task, you can try (this is hard) to empathize with your future self (who is, after all, you).  Writing that report today is a gift to your future self tomorrow, who will be less anxious and angry, who won’t have to struggle to complete too many piled-up tasks.  Doing even a small important task today means that future you won’t face the same anxiety and won’t have to fight whatever aversive behaviours and compulsions the anxiety may trigger.

This is a way to try to make your internal dialogue kinder across time, rather than (inevitably anxious) future you having to deal with the tasks that (inevitably anxious) past you avoided.

You can also, when necessary, forgive your past self.

Just as importantly, a healthier self-dialogue and addressing anxiety directly may open up the space so that you’re not always either dealing with crisis tasks in Quadrant 1, or obsessively avoiding anxiety-making tasks by huddling in the corner of Quadrant 4 (the “Stuck Here” quadrant).  It may open up the possibility that you actually make time for present you to do things in Quadrant 2, whether it’s learning photography, or going to a party, or whatever it is that will advance your life in important ways.

I hope this is helpful.