Councillor Rick Chiarelli was on the radio yesterday, being the only member of planning committee to vote against a “no parking provided” building. He predicted overloaded adjacent streets, complaining neighbours, and suggested there is too much wishful thinking on the part of those approving the project. Of course, he is right.
The project, at Rideau and Besserer is for two twenty-six storey apartment / residence towers, totalling 275 units, marketed specifically for students. Instead of the required 164 resident parking spaces, there would be 14 “guest” spaces.
Will chaos ensue?
Councillor Chiarelli questioned the logic that students don’t have cars. He pointed to Algonquin College in his ward, where lots of students drive cars. And to the under-supply of parking on Monteray Drive where “spillover” parking upsets residents on nearby streets that see a constant turnover of parking motorists. And of course transit in Nepean isn’t able to supply everyone’s needs, so cars will be required on an ongoing basis. They aren’t going away. And while students may have a lower car ownership today, that may not always be the case, and the apartment building on Rideau may have more residents than expected (students? sleepovers? ohhh!) or may even be marketed to non-students with ominous consequences.
I think he is correct on all counts.
And only in Nepean.
The Councillor lives and works in Nepean, the very definition of a car-oriented suburb. Densities are low, most areas are unwalkable. Land uses are vigorously and widely separated. Commercial properties and institutions (like schools) have huge parking lots. Free to the parkers, of course. Nepean grew during the height of the car oriented development craze, and its built form reflects those influences. The same as a streetcar suburb (eg Hintonburg, Westboro) reflects the streetcar craze of its development period.
While Algonquin is on the transitway, much of its clientelle and staff comes from the ‘burbs and finds it convenient and rational to drive there. It can’t be fun to get there from the back end of subdivisions consisting of loopy streets designed to thwart any sort of direct movement. Students living between the college and downtown probably find transit an acceptable option. I have an acquaintance who lives in Kanata (North I think it is, being north of the paladium) and went to Ottawa U. Ninety minutes by bus, each way, twice a day, no way. The residence halls and apartments near colleges increasingly house suburban and exurban refugees.
Of course, if there was second or third parking spaces on Monteray for those houses, then it would be yet another surface lot, and there would be less housing, raising the cost of the remaining housing, and those residents would find it too far to walk to school (or too dangerous, given the totally car-movement-focussed intersections and roads) or to walk to anything other than a corner store, and even if you live near College Square or other centres the walking to and from the stores is unfun. So more people drive. And want parking. Preferably free.
So yes, Chiarelli is correct that after three quarters of a century of car-only land use planning and development, Nepean is largely unwalkable. It cannot be fixed by allowing a building with no parking at all. But there has to be a start somewhere, and new development should be designed to promote walking. I do not see that new developments in the burbs are anything but a bit denser but still car-dominated and still unwalkable. Density alone does not equal “walkable”. The higher density construction around the scattered box stores in furthest Barrhaven fails to promote walking. Even the City’s two buildings (where Chiarelli has his ward office) right at Baseline transit station are car and parking lot focussed and designed to thwart access from the adjacent transit station. Physician, heal thyself.
Rideau Street is another story altogether. Residents there can walk to grocery stores, and they don’t need to buy a car load of groceries at a time as in Nepean where the long travel and cavernous store promotes binge buying that reinforces the “car required” cycle. They can walk to a bar, to a coffee shop, to work, or school, or a job, to shop, to get a tattoo. Parks that don’t need parking lots. Transit is within an easy and direct walk. And if there is any demographic that is most transit oriented and least car oriented, it is students.
And if that building isn’t marketed to students, but to non-students, all will be fine then too. Having a recent university graduate in the family, one who lived in residence for four years, he quite liked having a micro-apartment with food services on the ground floor. Very convenient and sociable. We need lots of additional housing, and due to the way the city has set up the rules of the game, providing housing is expensive, and unaffordable for many, so smaller units is the main response to those conditions. More micro apartments? Bring ’em on.
Like a giant glacier, or the Titanic, the growth pattern of the city cannot be changed over night. It can, however, be chipped away at. And one of those chippings is to stop treating the downtown walkable neighbourhoods as if they are suburban unwalkables. So yeah, less parking, please. And more density in Nepean, please. But we need better planning to ensure walkability remains viable in the core (here’s looking at you, King Edward Avenue at Rideau…) and gets improved in the suburbs.
Right now, the city is doing the worst of both worlds. Restricting parking in Nepean and catering to cars in the downtown.
One good start would be to assess why the city feels it is so important to spend millions of scarce dollars providing free parking on its streets. I am appalled that in the Glebe, or Byron Ave in the near west end, as in Nepean, attempts to provide more complete streets or safe neighbourhoods is thwarted by the “obligation” the city feels to provide free parking everywhere. So there are a bunch of houses with one parking spot each? Let them provide their own parking, at their own expense, or let them have fewer cars.
Let those who want to drive everywhere live where driving is king, and those who want to walk live in walkable neighbourhoods. But we cannot cater to the driver-kings in walkable neighbourhoods as that catering destroys the very things that make the neighbourhood walkable. And transit users or walkers will have to face long, unpleasant walks out the burbs for the foreseeable future. That’s that way we built it, and we have to live with the consequences while we adapt to change over time.
So Chiarelli is right: provide some parking in Nepean. But he is just as wrong to propose driving-centric facilities in downtown as I might be proposing a car free development in Nepean.