Building a liveable Ottawa

So, on Tuesday night I trotted off to the City’s launch of its OP (official plan) and TMP (Transportation master plan) tweaks.

My, so many fine words. So many nice drawings. Lots of display boards. Mind you, there are some pretty fine words in the last plan too, like the promise that public spaces would be designed for pedestrians first, cyclists, transit, then motorists. To those fine words, every neighbourhood has their own response. Ours is: Bronson Avenue !

Some observations:

  • the traditional traffic analysis uses “level or service”, rated A thru F, for motorists. No measure of pedestrians, cyclists. New measure will include pedestrians in a “level of comfort” measure. Good, but separate does not equal Equal. I’d rather have a pedestrian and cyclist level of service directly comparable to the motorist one, using the same A thru F scale,  and a combined “liveable street index” also rated A thru F.
  • the cyclist presentation made a valiant first attempt at showing that roads of different speeds could have / require? different cycling facilities. This was a big deal in the presentations given by guest speakers we have had for the last few years from cycling nations in Europe. Except, I think they would be appalled at the continued expectation in our standards that cyclists will continue to share the roads with fast moving vehicles. I’d love to see our proposed facilities compared to Dutch facilities for each roadway speed. For example, the Dutch demand that cyclists be on a separated path once road speeds hit 50kmh. So, no bike lanes on Scott. Or Albert. Or Carling.
  • Alas,  the typology of cycling facilities related to road size and speed was not carried over to pedestrians, who are supposed to be satisfied with a 5 or 6′ concrete sidewalk glued to the curb, even if the adjacent road has a speed of 70kmh and is major truck and bus route. Who exactly wants to walk in those conditions? Walls of noise, dirt, pollution  slush and spray … Would you let your 8 year old walk to school in those conditions? Where is the index that says a glued-to-the-curb works for 30kmh residential streets, but a 40, 50, 60, or 70kmh requires a physical setback, buffer zone, or elevation difference or safety wall between the walk and the speeding vehicles? Do any of our Councillors actually walk anywhere? (kudos to Hobbs who continues to be car free).
  • i failed to notice any distinction between “greenfield” new road locations where there is often plenty of room for cycle paths and walks to be set back from fast roads, and existing urban conditions where it is expensive or challenging to achieve that result. Will  future Bronsons be rebuilt with sidewalks, then bike paths, then reduced numbers of traffic lanes, to fit into the available space, or will we continue merrily on with the car-has-already-ruined-this-place-just-carry-on mentality that characterizes Watson’s Ottawa and its 1970’s car-first priorities. In short, the principles need a “shall” statement preceding them.
  • After a lengthy opening address on the evils of car dependent urban form on human health, I didn’t notice any bold measures to curb the car and its unhealthy effects on Ottawa residents. We don’t need advertising campaigns, bus ads, and other proactive feel-good stuff. We need concrete action. Where are bold measures, such as mandating parking charges for all land users (ie, an end to “free” parking)? The City could start today by ending free parking at all its facilities. Get those pay-and-display machines out to Plant Bath and Nepean Sportsplex now! Might even make a profit, too.
  • I did notice and appreciate a semi-promise to avoid double-left-turn lanes at intersections.
  • I did notice and appreciate a higher target level for modal split. At the same time, promises of ever more spending on more roads and more greenfield development following the same models we now use, that increase density but don’t make Barrhaven or Riverside South genuinely walkable. Our new suburban neighborhoods like like a collection of garage doors with backyard-facing housing behind them.
  • I remain unconvinced that density targets alone will increase walking and healthy outcomes and active transportation and complete communities. Density may be a feature of successful neighbourhoods from the first half of the twentieth century, but they are not the only factor. There is urban form, the age and income mix, etc. Will building $700,000 condos on the 30th floor of an infill generate the same happy results as the 1920’s built form?? All evidence I see says NO.
  • Hume insists that within a few years zoning will match the plans. That will be helpful. What does that do to the Centretown plan and the Bayview-Carling plan, both of which have Dark-inspired key features of having the zoning mismatched to the OP and CDP so that Sec 37 monies can be extorted from the builders (and thru them, lest anyone be so naive, from the buyers of those units who have been deliberately excluded in our fair city from buying ground-based housing, supposedly to reduce sprawl but also to protect existing neighbourhood voters from low-rise intensification).
  • Hume also promised a development charge review. I’d like to see those predictable charges replace Sec 37. And the City could appease a lot of neighbourhood opposition to change by promising that the first year or two of additional revenue earned from any development would be spent in the immediate vicinity of the project. Then the city gets to keep the remaining 99 years of revenue all for itself. Yup, I’ll take a bribe today.
  • Ottawa boasts of its urban boundary. And its huge size is supposed to bring all of the surrounding area into one comprehensive urban planning zone. But just as for the greenbelt, the city-boundary has already been jumped by commuters and government road building to permit motorists to commute from ever-farther distances. Drive till you can buy that single family home! We are now exporting the worst forms of low-density suburbia to surrounding towns like Kemptville and Arnprior. The short-term greenfield economics seduces those small towns that every day look more like Barrhaven c1979. The best way for Arnprior or Kemptville to have live-work-play complete communities is to have a $5 or $10 toll on the road to Ottawa at the City boundary. Live in Arnprior if you work there, but not if you are then going to drive all thru my city.
  • the city is going to change the measure by which is provides roads from the current sizing of asphalt lanes to the peak hour (7.30 to 8.30am) to sizing them for the average of the peak period (ie, the three hour window). This will reduce the amount of road by 15%. And I have a bridge for you to buy, cheap. Many urban roads are so over-capacity that I don’t think it will make any change at all. This might have an effect on new roads to Bradley Estates, but for the rest of us, I think this is fine words with no real impact.
  • there was no acknowledgement of the world-wide trend to reducing speed limits (and thus reducing the road widths and geometry required to sustain high speeds) to make cities liveable  So Mr Hume thinks we will all be happy living in denser housing adjacent speeding traffic and or congested traffic (yes, the two do go together)  on narrower roads with minimal standard sidewalks glued to the curb??  Waiter, the reality cheque please !



4 thoughts on “Building a liveable Ottawa

  1. Thanks for the blow-by-blow Eric. Incisive as always. And, as always, you highlight the fine sounding words from the city (Hooray for bikes!), but also the internal Dark City contradictions and laughable ironies (heaven forbid we should consider reducing speed limits or increasing sidewalk widths in high-speed zones!) that are so thick you could cut them with a knife.
    Thanks also for skewering the current mentality at City Hall that density alone (i.e. monoculture plantations of tall, expensive condo towers) is enough to magically create happy, walkable neighborhoods et cetera. That reasoning is as shallow as the 1960/70s myths about suburbs. Remember how those idyllic “garden communities” would bring people closer to nature? Yeah. How’s that working out for you Kanata?

    1. If you look at what did and is happening in Kanata and even Barrheaven yes its out of control but in part its because people did not want to build up in the core but lets build out and that mind set is still going on.

  2. I wish we would do something. We all seem to be so good at analyzing what’s wrong, and we all seem to know what would be the better way. I wish at least some of us would become actual “developers” and buy up some land and DO the things we keep yakking about. And get people who believe in the same thing to put their money into it. Why does this seem to be such an impossible dream? Why do we put most of our energy into pointing out the things wrong with the current model but we don’t build our own model? I am simply a citizen of Ottawa, not an urban planning practitioner, so please don’t jump all over me about my naivete.

Comments are closed.