Planning in Ottawa, the Clint Eastwood Version

Last week the packed Urban Forum lecture heard and saw Dr David Gordon from Queens expound on planning and urban design in Canada’s Capital, 1800-2000. Note the cut-off year: amalgamation;¬†also removing the necessity to venture views on current plans such as the LRT.

He reviewed planning over the century using professorial wit and hectoring. His theme was drawn from spaghetti westerns, particularly The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. You’ll see the various planning efforts allocated to these categories in the picture below. Indeed, reviewing the outline below will give you a very complete summary of the plot.

Like any short-ish commentary on a complex issue, it was incomplete, selective, and provocative. More than once I winced at his interpretation of things, such as describing the LeBreton project of 1980 (which I once lived, now live beside, and transept daily) as a great success. Maybe I am too close to it and see only the flaws. I must try to be more positive and conciliatory in life.

I was surprised — an I must confess pleased — that he favoured connecting the Vanier Arterial (later remonikered as a Parkway) to the MacdonaldCartier Bridge. While he favoured a bridge over the Rideau River between Porter and Green Islands, I always thought a tunnel made more sense. I regret to say that I was a witness at the OMB hearing that shot down that connection. No doubt I shall be wrong many more times.

He gave kind mention to the mostly forgotten railway relocation programs of the 1948-1970 period, which caused me to dig out my old papers on that subject and these I will inflict on readers in upcoming posts so that we may all be equally edified.

Here is his story line for Clint Does Ottawa:


9 thoughts on “Planning in Ottawa, the Clint Eastwood Version

  1. Just curious, why does everyone seem to think that the Greenbelt is in retrospect, a good idea?

    P.S. I’m over my huffing about 1050 Somerset, at least for now.

    1. I have mixed feelings about the greenbelt. If it wasn’t there, then we would have endless sprawling nepean. Would barrhaven be any better if it was adjacent to knoxdale road rather than fallowfield? Of course, there are the planning versions not taken, such as finger development, new towns, and other models, none of which are perfect either. On the whole, I guess I would prefer it not there as a belt, but there as fingers with special geographic zones protected for recreational uses. Just like crossing the greenbelt renders all those express bus routes into big money losers, it would financially cripple an LRT too.

      1. We have endless sprawling Nepean anyway. Just further out, with attendant higher transportation and infrastructure costs.

      2. The Greenbelt isn’t *that* big that it would cripple LRT. The eastern Greenbelt barely even exists beyond what would be undeveloped anyway (Green’s Creek). There’s maybe an extra kilometre of distance on the Orleans side against what would have been, which is less of a hole than the Experimental Farm. Southwards it’s about 3 km to Barrhaven, but there some of that on the east side of Woodroffe would (or at least damn well ought to) be held back to preserve the sand dunes there. The west end is likely the worst since it is over 6 km from Hwy 416 to March but a good kilometre of that is that ridge which would either be undeveloped or developed at low densities as a kind of west-end version of Rockcliffe.

        Regional and commuter rail systems regularly operate over the kind of distances we have between downtown Ottawa and the suburban fringe. Take the new city of Almere (c.1976) in the Netherlands: it is separated from Amsterdam by the IJmeer (lake) which amounts to the same kind of barrier as the Greenbelt forcing trips between it and Amsterdam that are equivalent to those between Kanata and downtown Ottawa. They just don’t happen to have an 8-lane freeway plus 2 lanes of BRT plus another six lanes of arterial road capacity (4 on Robertson, 2 on Carling): they have six motorway lanes and a railway instead, which is serving a population that is well in excess of twice that of Kanata.

        The Dutch wouldn’t dream of operating an express bus system over that kind of distance, but we do, yet they happily operate all kinds of rail systems – including LRT – over the exact same distances. Even at today’s passenger volumes, it would be a lot cheaper to operate LRT to Kanata than all the express buses that we do operate. I can go through the stats, but just let me say that an LRT from Kanata to Lincoln Fields (never mind the rest of the way) would have passengers/km figures that are better than most LRT systems on the continent.

        What the powers-that-be don’t want to admit around here is that BRT and the Transitway was a really big mistake, one that has no place in “Great Planning Decisions” list and should be found in the “Bad Ideas That Were Implemented Anyway” list.

      3. I grew up in a small village north of Rotterdam. The government allowed development of small villages around the cities. The villages had already lots of infrastructure (plus the village feel that comes with an older core) and they built on that. Although some are overdesigned, I still like the idea of building around older cores. The railway tracks are converted to light rail, that uses the same tracks as the subway in Rotterdam and The Hague so they repurposed the tracks. The secret is that they have to go so regular, that you hardly have to wait or check time tables.

        Although not the main focus of my blog post, I blogged on that somewhat here:

  2. I thought the part of the presentation about the Queensway/boulevard was interesting. Although, I’m sure we would have figured out a way to make a “grand boulevard” a freeway in the end. We’re good at doing that here!

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