Making better use of existing infrastructure

As a society, we take it for granted that there is a lot of car infrastructure around. But we built most of it from scratch, at great expense. When that money came in the form of grants from higher levels of government, it was viewed as free money. Politicians can spend that money without regard to long term maintenance costs or the consequences of their actions because they focus on the short term. Their pensions, for example, aren’t tied to consequences.

But not all car infrastructure was built from scratch. Some was converted from other modes. For example, Colonel By Drive replaced railway tracks, as did the Queensway. The Alexandra bridge was a railway bridge “converted” to a road. Downtown access streets were made more hospitable to car drivers by taking away or shrinking the sidewalks, boulevards, and front yards that made the downtown residences previously livable. So as a society we do have a history of converting from one use┬áto another.

As the realization grows in our planning departments that we simply cannot continue adding more roads, or limiting new transit to new right of ways, we should see more conversions from the past-its-peak mode (single occupancy car) to transit, cycling, and pedestrians, simply because they can move more people in less space. The streetscaping projects on Preston, West Wellington, Rideau, and now Main, reflect the initial paring down of over-provided car facilities.

Here is Longfellow Bridge in Boston, with two Red Line subway tracks in the centre, and two lanes of traffic on each side. The impossibly narrow “sidewalks” where peds could only pass by lampposts by turning sideways and squeezing. No overweight senators allowed!:



I had to use those Google Earth photos because I needed “historic” photos, like from last year.

Here is what it looks like last week:



There is the same outside railing, a new wider raised sidewalk for [cyclists and] pedestrians, a single car lane with what might yet be marked as a bike lane, and the transit in the centre.

Back here in Ottawa, I can think of a number of car roads that could be repurposed to new uses. Bronson, of course, should go on a road diet. There isn’t enough parking downtown (so motorists and landlords claim) already, so why have such wide delivery mechanisms? Ditto for Elgin Street. ┬áLaurier and O’Connor have converted car storage spaces to cycle tracks and protected sidewalks.

Of course, not all traffic is going downtown. Much is headed out the lawny suburbs of Gatineau, but why do we need to penalize Ottawa residents for the benefits of those who choose to commute, especially when one reason they commute is the unpleasantness of the current downtown we have created?

Complete streets belong to more than the downtown pre-1940 neighbourhoods. The inner suburbs are the next low-hanging fruit: Richmond /Byron is showing promise as a better environment post-reconstruction. In another decade, we may be looking at complete streets for Jean D’Arc or Longfields …

Alexandra Bridge should be put back to rails too. Start a surface streetcar / LRT that runs from the Rapibus corridor north of the History Museum, over the bridge, along MacKenzie to the service the Market and Rideau Street (transfer point to Confederation Line) and then to Ottawa U Campus Station. If we are really bold, take it along Colonel By Drive to service the Glebe and Lansdowne Park via the new canal bridge, then onwards to join the Trillium Line at Carleton. All of which could be a green corridor of landscaping, trees, pathways and transit with narry a car commuter in sight…

What would be your candidates for converting lanes or even whole roads to other uses? Have you told your councillor that is what you want to see?




One thought on “Making better use of existing infrastructure

  1. I can hardly wait to see what street they destroy in Ottawa next. Narrow streets don’t seem to slow down traffic, they just make cycling uncomfortable. Wide sidewalks lead to wider patios. Have you been on Main Street since it reopened? Nightmarish. Have the planners been reading the complete street instructions upside down or something? If they need a highway style guardrail along the new Booth Street bridge shouldn’t it be protecting the pedestrians from the traffic? Wellington is a disaster, I ride on Armstrong. Churchill is a disaster, I ride on Edison. I certainly do hope they start screwing with the burbs and leave the core alone for awhile.

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