The future is not only cleaner cars, but fewer cars

November 2017

There is growing interest in electric and autonomous vehicles in Ottawa. The latter are a little further down the road, so to speak, but electric vehicles (EVs) are here now. They work, owners love them, and they are set to play an increasing role in this and every other city.

Electrifying our vehicles has several benefits: fewer air pollutants produced locally; fewer pollutants produced by Ontario’s grid in generating the electricity, compared with fossil fuels; and less noise from nearly silent moving vehicles that also never idle.

What risks not changing — and this applies to autonomous vehicles too — is the number of vehicles on our roads, and all the space we allocate to moving and parking these vehicles.

That’s why we must take advantage of the potential to reduce the number of vehicles owned by private individuals and as part of corporate or government fleets. If big changes in transportation and transit over the coming decade become as much about reducing the need for vehicles as about the power source, then a very big shift in urban and transportation planning will result. I’m talking about car sharing and mode shifting.

We — and I include my family in this — place a high value on transportation convenience in our society. For nearly a century, that has meant individual vehicle ownership. Recently, we have seen a shift towards “mobility” as the goal, with more people considering how to get to their destination in the most time- and cost-effective fashion. People are asking themselves, what is the best modal choice? For some trips, it’s a walk or a bike ride, for others a bus or train (more of those soon!), and for many it will still be a drive. As long as our needs are best met by having instant access to private vehicles for many trips, we will keep buying, maintaining, storing and driving them.

However, we’re now starting to see a generation who, having grown up in the densest North American cities, have begun rejecting the “must” of car ownership, or even a driver’s licence. They rely instead on walking, cycling, transit, taxis and membership in car sharing organizations (Ottawa was an early adopter with its home-grown Vrtucar). I have known more than a handful of young people with no car of their own, and little desire to take on that cost and hassle. To them, their choice to be car-free has not reduced their mobility. They live where they want to, and they make destination choices — for eating, shopping, travel, drinking, etc. — according to ease of access.

Now into this mix comes the EV. Whether privately owned or shared, an EV enables a new set of choices and behaviours. With the range of several models now exceeding 200 km between charges, almost any destination in the Ottawa region is within reach (longer trips might require a recharge for the return). Many people can drive for an entire week on a single charge and, as the EV charging network continues to expand, the problem of “range anxiety” continues to shrink.

When our family sat down with a map and did the math, we realized just how viable an EV already is. Of our regular trips, only the occasional drive to Toronto would be outside our range; favourite destinations like Montreal or Kingston are rarely a day trip, so we could charge overnight or even en route. A return trip to Gatineau Park for a ski or hike would be a piece of cake. Plus, there are rapid chargers available in Old Chelsea and Wakefield, should someone forget to plug in, or run a lot of errands before the outing.

We’re now on the waiting list for several vehicles, and we’ll see which model is ready first before making that final decision. Because pent-up demand for EVs surpasses available supply, you can’t actually walk into a showroom and take the most popular long-range models for a test drive, let alone roll home in one. Next year, large numbers of new models should be available, along with a better supply of existing ones, but for now, all you can do is get on a waiting list and maybe ask one of Ottawa’s keen EV advocates to let you try theirs.

I think EVs are an important piece of the clean, renewable mobility future. But in the end, our choice to walk, cycle, take transit and share our vehicles — autonomous or not — will be the biggest factor in any energy and mobility (r)evolution. If we can own fewer, cleaner vehicles, we’ll clear the air, tackle climate breakdown and stimulate a new kind of renewable economy, all while creating quieter, less congested streets and cities.

15 Rides for Canada’s 150th – A Capital Cycling Experience

October 2017

This summer I had the pleasure of cycling all over Ottawa. I do mean ALL over. On top of my daily commute, recreational rides and standard errands, I embarked on an ambitious plan (more so than I had bargained) to tackle all 15 of the cycling routes recently developed by the City of Ottawa as suggested bike tourism excursions. My goal was to make a Canada 150 project out of riding each route, and to invite friends and family to join me on occasion, then write and post photos chronicling my two-wheeled travels.

I did it. I completed all 15 rides, totalling close to 700 km and taking a bit longer than planned. Although I originally wanted to complete all the rides by the end of August, I had to do the last four in September, with my final ride on September 15. My excuse is that it was not the best year for riding, as the wet and windy spring weather carried on for much of the summer. Still, with a bit of flexibility in scheduling, I was able to stay dry most of the time.

None of the rides felt like a chore, even when weather was not being friendly. In fact, I enjoyed the venture so much that I feel compelled to share some of what I saw and learned in this column.

First, let me point out that these rides are not designed for expert cyclists. While MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra!) will enjoy most of them, only a few are at the upper end of endurance and technical difficulty. Most of these itineraries are either very gentle and exclusively on paths, or moderately challenging, with some on-road riding mostly confined to quiet urban, suburban or rural roads.

Which brings me to the second point. These Capital Rides are almost an equal blend of urban, suburban and country, and some cover two or all three of these lanscapes — as they should in a city as vast and as geographically diverse as Ottawa.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Ottawa is big. Very big. On numerous occasions, such as while I was sitting at a picnic bench on the Ottawa River at Fitzroy Harbour, I would think, “Really, this is still the City of Ottawa?” It’s a quirk of amalgamation, but hey, make the best of it. And there is a lot to make the best of. We have scenery.
  2. Ottawa has great bakeries, cafés and (cover your ears) pubs in unexpected places.
  3. The cycling infrastructure has improved enormously in the years since I was a young and fit distance rider. There are now so many more routes you can take where you never, or almost never, have to ride on the edge of a road with traffic zooming past you. Until 10 years ago, balancing on that thin white line was the norm. Granted, there are practical, geographical or scheduling reasons that cyclists can’t always choose the quietest routes, and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, and but there are far more options now.
  4. Ottawa has vineyards. Blame it on the changing climate, or credit the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of the wine lovers who pioneered winemaking in the region.
  5. You can carry four bottles of wine in a single pannier, packed carefully. But I recommend bringing two panniers — not so much to carry eight bottles, of course, but to help you keep your balance.
  6. We have great trails along former rail lines. Until taking on this project, I had only heard about the Osgoode Trail in the south, the Prescott-Russell Trail in the east, and the Trans-Canada Trail west to Stittsville and beyond to Ashton. Now I can say that, even on fairly skinny tires, these non-paved paths are a pleasure to ride. That’s true even when riding with young children, like my eight-year-old daughter.
  7. Some Ottawa roads have a lot of potholes, and a few are literally falling apart. Beware the Thomas A. Dolan Parkway in rural Kanata.
  8. The Black Walnut Bakery in Cumberland has an amazing pear spice pie. Trust me.
  9. Anyone can get out and enjoy this city on a bicycle. There really is a route for everyone.

Find out more about the routes and my rides at capitalward.ca/15rides. It may be getting too cold for fair-weather cyclists by the time you read this, but now is the time to start planning for next year!

Footbridge construction plans take shape

September 2017

With construction of the Rideau Canal crossing (a.k.a. the Fifth-Clegg footbridge) expected to begin this month, a number of details are becoming clearer.

Initial construction work will include a clearly signed and paved pathway detour on the west side of the canal along Queen Elizabeth Driveway between Third Ave. and Fifth Ave., and a re-alignment of Colonel By Drive near Clegg on the east side. A clearly signed pathway detour will also be provided on the east side between Clegg St. and Herridge St., with a signalized crossing at Herridge to provide a safe connection to the existing pathway along the Canal.

Construction work is not expected to have any impacts on either the skating or boating seasons.

Some key dates are:

  • Construction start (west side): mid-September 2017
  • Construction start (east side): mid-October 2017
  • Canal drawdown begins: October 10, 2017
  • Pier work in the Canal: October 2017 to March 2018
  • Required tree removal/relocation: November 2017
  • New water main work: Summer 2018
  • Project “substantial completion”: August 30, 2019

Budget 2018

The City of Ottawa has launched its 2018 pre-budget consultation process by bringing back the popular interactive Citizen Budget planning tool at ottawa.citizenbudget.com. This online software, first introduced in 2016, is a great way to express your views on how residential tax dollars should be allocated in the 2018 Budget, to understand where your tax dollars go, and to see the impact of the decisions that City staff and Council face when developing and approving the annual budget.

Citizen Budget lets you play the role of a politician or administrator by deciding how you would prioritize budget funding for each category. You can identify which types of City services and programs you feel require increases, decreases or unchanged funding. The tool then calculates the budget rate that would be required to support those choices.

To see the impact of your decisions on your own tax bill, you can enter your most recent property value assessment to see how changes in municipal spending will change your total. If you do not insert your own property value assessment, a City average is used as the default.

I encourage all residents to give Citizen Budget a try, and to let me know what they think of it. I think it does a great job of demonstrating that the budget planning process is a far more intricate balancing act thans many residents realize.

There are other ways to get involved and provide feedback during the City’s budget public consultation process, in person. I will be joining a number of my “southern” colleagues at a joint public meeting on Thursday, October 12, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Jim Durrell Recreation Centre (Ellwood Hall), 1265 Walkley Rd.

Of course, you can also contact me by phone or email to share your thoughts on the budget.

Project Cold Days

In the middle of September, we're not necessarily thinking ahead to the cold days and nights that winter will bring, but it's a reality for Ottawa’s homeless. A remarkable initiative by a local man to share this reality through film came my way a few months ago.

Stephen Coleman’s Project Cold Days – Homeless not Helpless has been entirely self-funded to date. As a filmmaker myself, I know how hard that is, which is why I am not only supporting this project, I am breaking with my policy of keeping fundraisers out of my columns (there are hundreds of worthy projects) to encourage readers to consider supporting the film through the Project Cold Days Kickstarter campaign at bit.ly/projectcolddays.

Outdoor rink update

Speaking of winter, now is also the time of year when people might start to think about the upcoming winter sport season. For two winters, the Glebe has been without the outdoor, “high board” hockey rink that was once on the school grounds of Corpus Christi. Changes to that field made it unfeasible to keep the rink there.

I have been working with City staff and community members to find another location. In this neighbourhood of small parks and multiple users, this is more difficult than you might expect.

Be that as it may, we are currently working to develop a plan for Sylvia Holden Park, adjacent to Lansdowne. However, this space is not ideal: it’s not as large as a typical outdoor rink, there is currently no water source for flooding, and the park building is neither heated nor insulated.

While some of the problems can be resolved with money and time, neither of these is on my side at this time. I will keep working with City staff to come up with a solution. The Glebe needs and deserves more outdoor hockey facilities.

Southminster redevelopment must balance needs and expectations

August 2017

Every issue of this paper demonstrates the importance many Old Ottawa South residents place on preserving community attributes they deem important, even essential. These can be cultural, aesthetic or practical. Even a view is not just a view for most, but a defining characteristic of where they live, a symbol of the place they call home.

A threat to that symbol is therefore not a trivial matter, and in a city undergoing considerable transition, the preservation of an important landmark such as Southminster United Church becomes important not just in its own right, but as a bulwark against a perceived larger unravelling. This is the context for what is certain to be the biggest debate over heritage, character and community that Capital Ward has seen since Lansdowne Park.

As councillor, I hear many points of view on every project, and this one is no different. Opinions range from “Don’t touch it” on one end of the scale to “I like the proposal just fine” at the other, with a large middle ground of “I can support appropriate redevelopment.” Most people, myself included, are somewhere in the middle — but it’s a somewhat mushy middle. What is appropriate? What is too high, too dense, or too modern?

In this case, there is also the church itself to consider. Southminster United is in the same situation as many Ottawa congregations: shrinking, aging and severely strapped for cash. Just keeping the heat and lights on, let alone making essential repairs, is a constant struggle. This is especially unfortunate when you consider the many important roles the building plays in the community. Daycare, yoga classes, Scouts, addiction recovery meetings, hot suppers for the homeless and, more recently, musical performances — there is a place for everyone at Southminster. The loss of the church as a community venue would be a big blow.

From so many points of view, Southminster must be saved. The thorny question is “how?” The congregation has explored many avenues over the past decade. They have spoken with many potential partners and developers. Ultimately, they found a developer — a green developer at that — interested in a partnership. And yet, any venture of this sort has a bottom line. How much profit must be realized to make this viable, to provide the congregation with enough of a financial legacy to not just keep the doors open, but revive and carry the building far into the future?

There is no easy answer. This is a business arrangement, and few businesses are willing to open their books for all to see. So we are left in a situation where we must accept that, in order to generate sufficient profit, the redevelopment must achieve a certain density and be granted certain height and possibly setback exemptions from existing Institutional zoning. That is where the main controversy lies.

People ask: Why do they have to build so high? Why is rezoning necessary? Can’t they make do with less profit? Can’t they can make plenty of money within the existing zoning and 15-metre height limit?

Ultimately, money is the driver behind any “need” for rezoning, for additional height, for a certain level of density. And because we will never get to see the inner workings of the developer’s financial model, we can only speculate about what is or might be possible besides the current proposal under consideration by the City’s planning department, and likely coming to Council in late autumn.

I have not taken a firm position on this proposal, and I trust that the above context helps explain why. In fact, I rarely take a firm position for or against any project from the outset, because proposals evolve, and I am often able to achieve improvements if I get engaged and try to ensure that all interests are considered. A proposal has to be either outstanding or truly egregious for me to give it my thumbs up or thumbs down at the outset.

In this case, I have made it clear to the church, developer and residents that I wish to see the height reduced to respect and protect heritage views of this landmark building. If the financial requirements can be achieved within the 15-metre limit, all the better — aim for that. I also wish to see as many of the mature trees protected as possible, not merely replaced later. Southminster is an essential part of Old Ottawa South, but for it to have a future, the property will need to be redeveloped in a major way. As always, though, the devil is in the details.

To find our more, please attend the community meeting I will host on Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. in the church’s Lower Hall.

 

Healthy food and healthy forests

July 2017

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) wants to know what you think about the practice of marketing unhealthy food and drinks to children and youth. By participating in a 15-minute online survey, you can help OPH develop public policy options and guide future education activities aimed at encouraging healthy eating habits at a young age.

Where companies place products and displays; prizes and deals; team sponsorships; commercials and online ads; the use of mascots, fictional characters or celebrities to promote products — all these things have been shown to influence young people’s food choices and, ultimately, their health.

To complete the survey, visit capitalward.ca/ophsurvey. For more information on the effects of marketing unhealthy foods to children and youth, visit capitalward.ca/marketing.


Protecting our urban forest

I am pleased to report that City Council recently adopted a 20-year Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP). I wrote about this important project during the draft stage last year, and am doing so again because residents of Capital Ward have told us they believe protecting and expanding our urban forest is very important, and because I consider this an example of excellent public consultation and collaboration with stakeholders. That’s not always the case at City Hall.

The UFMP is made up of five four-year management periods, which will each be followed by formal reviews. It provides 26 recommendations for making Ottawa’s urban forest healthier, more diverse, resilient and, ultimately, sustainable. These recommendations cover program structure and administration, planning (including a review of existing tree by-laws), maintenance and growth, and outreach. And they respond to the six challenges faced by Ottawa’s urban forest: invasive species, pests and pathogens; land development; difficult growing conditions; tree loss on private property; limited community awareness and engagement; and non-City ownership of urban trees.

These are important priorities because of the valuable benefits provided by urban forests, including mitigating and adapting to climate change, supporting physical and mental health, increasing property values, reducing energy use, reducing health care and infrastructure maintenance costs, and improving air and water quality.

The City now has a great opportunity to encourage extensive public engagement and to foster environmental stewardship in every neighbourhood. With 40% of Ottawa’s urban area made up of privately owned land, residents can play an active role in the UFMP and increase its potential impact.

Some residents are concerned about by-law enforcement and whether the plan will actually change anything. Like many communities, Old Ottawa South has seen a significant loss of trees on individual lots as a result of infill projects. Currently, the city’s planning rules and building permit application process favours the right of a property owner to build or expand at the expense of existing trees. In too many cases, even protected trees are cut without a permit, as the fine for doing so appears to be insufficient to discourage such behaviour.

Our existing tree-related bylaws and planning processes need to be updated and strengthened if we wish to stop the steady loss of significant trees in our neighbourhoods. Accordingly, a review of the tree bylaw will occur in the first management period of this plan, with public consultation expected to be a very important component. As timelines become known, I will report on all opportunities for residents to participate.

Protecting and expanding the urban forest is especially necessary in Ottawa since the Emerald Ash Borer destroyed 20-25% of our canopy. This plan represents a timely response to the loss caused by this invasive beetle, whose larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients.

It’s also worth mentioning that investing in trees is good for our economy: A 2014 TD Economics special report about Toronto’s urban forest found that every dollar put into tree maintenance returns more than $3 worth of environmental benefits, and those benefits increase as trees age and grow in size.

As we head into the summer vacation period, I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone some important downtime. Whether it’s with family, or with the children off at camp somewhere, I hope you have a great summer and take some time to play!