Free advice, worth every penny

On Tuesday I spoke to Planning Committee about the 801 Albert project. Here is what I said:

 My name is Eric Darwin and I am here on behalf of the local Dalhousie Community Association.

I want to draw your attention to how we access the building.

In the past, most tall buildings were downtown; pedestrians used the existing sidewalks; motorists used the existing roads.

Outside the downtown, new developments had a traffic impact study that focused on road traffic, as most people came and went by car. This traffic impact study looked at accessing the site and at impacts several blocks away at other intersections.

But now we are encouraging large buildings, outside the core, focused on LRT and transit stations. These new Transit Oriented Developments generate large amounts of pedestrian traffic.

Yet look at the the transportation impact study for this complex at 801 Albert.  Six thousand people will work here every day. There are just 250 or so parking spaces, so there will be over 5500 pedestrians walking in and out of the complex.

Yet look at the traffic study and site plan: the developer is being required to provide turn and queuing lanes, and a signalized intersection, for motorists, off of his own property but at his own expense, on the Albert Street right of way.

For 250 cars.

And what is he being obliged to do to handle the 5500 civil servants arriving every morning and 5500 people departing every afternoon?  Is he widening the sidewalk? No, it remains a princely 5’ wide along Albert Street. 

He will be connecting his building to the city’s multiuser path along the OTrain. But this connection is not at his direct expense, it is at the community’s expense since the city has decided to use the Sec 37 community benefit monies for this connection.

Why do motorists get facilities as part of a transportation plan but pedestrians only get them from sec 37 “benefits”?  And where are the studies that show how wide the sidewalks should be to handle the crowds of people? We don’t even know if the new MUP will be wide enough to handle these 5000 people AND cyclists at the rush hour !

Yet we have the means to do so, just as we have tables in the manuals that show how many feet of lane are required for the cars, we have them for the pedestrians. Yet we aren’t using them.

And what if there weren’t any sec 37 benefits from a building,  that is the rare occasion when a building actually fits within 125% of its zoning? Are those thousands of pedestrians just going to be stuffed onto the existing narrow sidewalks on Albert, on Parkdale, on Carling?

So, my request to council is this:

a)     Send this proposal back to the planning dept and tell them to provide adequate pedestrian facilities to access the site, for 5500 pedestrians, just as they are doing now for the 250 cars that took all their attention, at the developers expense, both on and off site, using the vehicular and pedestrian tables that  they already have. They’ll have to dust off the pedestrian tables since they don’t get used much, but if this city is to have more buildings, more density, more high rises (as the mayor and Mr Hume promised at the Planning Summit this spring) then its time for the planning dept to treat pedestrians equitably.  Tell your planners to use the tables and demonstrate that these new transit-oriented buildings will work and that sufficient walkways will be there.

b)    Secondly, what pedestrian improvements that are in this plan are being funded out of sec 37 monies. This is wrong. We don’t fund the traffic signals out front for motorists out of Sec 37 funds, nor should we fund the ordinary pedestrian access to the building. As a community assoc we have a prepared list of what we see as sec 37 priorities, but there was no consultation. Just one week before this meeting today, we receive a letter saying the dept has decided what to spend our money on, and has negotiated it with the developer. Is Sec 37 just supposed to be a slush fund for the planning dept to play with as it sees fit? That’s what it seems to be now.

The time to fix these sloppy practices is now, before they are further ingrained. And I suggest to Council that they write them down as expectations for future proposals and write them into the new OP and OTP.

Get it straight: determine the amount of walkway space, and provide it, as a necessary condition of approval for this and other intensification projects.


What was council’s response? 


I did get a few heads up looks when I said “slush fund”. My spiel did earn some coverage in The Citizen.

11 thoughts on “Free advice, worth every penny

  1. So that well reasoned account gets a “next”. It really surprised me, though it shouldn’t, that the city seems to be going in the right direction for cycling and pedestrian issues (like Diane Holmes pedestrian group) yet there appears to be be another segment that is completely unaware of all this. The classic right hand not knowing what the left is doing. No attempt at integrating everything into proper design to include all elements. The more I know the less I have hope.

  2. Well done Eric. Heartened that this important point is being made so passionately and articulately, but maddened that the members of Planning committee didn’t see fit to discuss, adjust, or even ask difficult questions – of you, the City planners, or the developers. Sadly, the development approval process is the only thing about this city that is both pedestrian and mass-transit oriented – that is, “pedestrian” as in flat, unimaginative, and can’t imagine being truly creative about forcing developers to build real community benefits into their plans. “Mass transit” because right now, proposals are on friction-less rails from application to approval, flying efficiently through the a Planning Committee that is sleeping at the switch.
    No wonder the rest of us feel railroaded!

  3. I don’t know whether to just throw in the towel and go back to knitting and writing about food. This city is making me depressed. Maybe if I buy a car, I’ll feel better.

    1. Never give up. Consider it like training / teaching a two year old. Lesson; repeat. Lesson; repeat. And repeat again. Eventually your two year old modifies his or her behaviour, so will council. After all, the DOMO study is using ped Level Of Service; and we will be pushing it for the carling-bayview design too. Repeat. Repeat again.

  4. Great work, Eric.
    How much of the lack of interest may be attributed that the Ottawa “city” includes large numbers of semi-rural car dependent wards? It seems there is a metro urban area with one set of needs and priorities and then a much larger ex-urban area which does not understand those needs or share in those priorities.

    1. I hear more and more positive comments from suburban councillors that traffic is a major issue for them, not congestion >> make road wider; but noisy, inefficient, intrusive traffic >>>, make it go away. That’s why for things like the AVC I think we should be pushing that there are two ends of the expressway, and it will dump tons of traffic into suburban neighborhoods too. But the alternatives in the post-60’s neighborhoods are harder, since they are built around the car.

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