I Walk, I Bike, I Bus, I Drive: In pursuit of better transportation choices

June 2014

"With all your columns about improving walking and cycling, I assumed you were some kind of anti-car radical!"

These were the words of a Capital Ward resident who, upon meeting me for the first time recently, expressed relief that my "agenda" is not so much about forcing or guilting drivers out of cars as it is about ensuring that everyone has some genuine choices. I would like most of us, for most of our trips, to be able to actually choose which mode of transportation

we would like to take, without fear or any tradeoff between safety, convenience and comfort.

My agenda, if that is the right term, is to improve transportation choices in the City of Ottawa, to reach the point where walking, cycling and riding a bus/train (often in combination) would be as viable, convenient and secure as driving. In many cases, maybe even faster, cheaper or less stressful.

I think the City of Ottawa bumper sticker on my car says it nicely: "I bike, I drive." Like many citizens of this town, I do not belong exclusively to one camp, and am not hostile to either.

My guiding principle, as councillor, has been to increase choices for Ottawa residents at large. A few projects have been very ward- or neighbourhood-specific; but really, when it comes to moving around a city, there are no borders. Many people besides Capital Ward residents can make good use of a safer way to cross the Bronson Bridge over the Rideau Canal, an expanded O-Train, or signallized crossings on the National Capital Commission's driveways.

When seeking support at the Council table or from the general population for a specific project that provides more space for pedestrians and cyclists, or priority at a traffic signal, or even a dedicated structure like a footbridge, I try to reinforce what I consider to be the most important message of all: The fact that you cannot see yourself using this lane, light, crossing or footbridge does not make it a waste of money or an unnecessary frill. Rather, every time these investments in convenience and safety lead someone to make a trip by foot, bicycle or bus, rather than by car, it benefits everyone. That includes everyone who opts to use a car to commute or run an errand.

How so? Many people forget that a large proportion of pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users are making conscious decisions not to drive. Each non-car trip they make is one less car in your way on the road, and one more parking spot available to you. It's also one less taxpayer requesting a very expensive road- or bridge-widening project in the hopes that it will solve congestion. (It won't.) And I haven't even begun to list the health, environmental and social benefits, nor the cost savings of a broad shift toward active and public transit.

We have made some great gains on this front in the last few years, but we have a lot of work still to do. With that in mind, here are some recently approved, soon to be implemented or still conceptual projects of particular benefit to those who live in, shop in or pass through Old Ottawa South.

Recently implemented, or soon to be:

  • Speed limit reduction on Bank Street from 50 km/h to 40 km/h (completed)
  • New signage and road markings to improve cycling safety on the Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal (Stage I in June, Stage II after Lansdowne completion)
  • Signalized crossing of Queen Elizabeth Driveway at Fifth Avenue (mid-July)
  • Redesigned Main Street, with wider sidewalks and full cycle tracks (2016 completion), plus bike lanes on Lees Avenue and the McIlraith Bridge
  • Safety and traffic calming measures along Riverdale Avenue

At public consultation stage or awaiting detailed design:

  • Glebe Neighbourhood Cycling Plan, with various improved routes through the Glebe (June 25 open house)
  • O'Connor Bikeway, a North-South segregated bike lane from Parliament Hill to Lansdowne (June 26 public consultation)
  • Safe crossing of Colonel By Drive at Clegg Avenue
  • Changes to the on- and off-ramps connecting Colonel By and Bronson Avenue (late 2014) and a signalized crossing of Bronson south of the bridge over the Rideau Canal (2015)
  • Continuous Rideau River Western Pathway from Windsor Park to the Lees Transitway station
  • Footbridge over the Rideau Canal at Fifth and Clegg (estimated 2020-25)

Just the facts on Salus development

Much has been written and said about the Ottawa Salus proposal for 1486-94 Clementine Blvd. In order to provide as thorough and accurate information as possible to residents, I went so far as to create a special section on my website.

Here, in brief, is what's happening:

In 2010, Ottawa Salus purchased three lots at 1486, 1490 and 1494 Clementine with the intention of developing supportive housing for adults living with mental illness, including anxieties and depression.

In early 2014, after securing funding from all three levels of government, Ottawa Salus presented a detailed design and site plan to the City of Ottawa. The planned building, with 42 bachelor units, conforms to current zoning for this site and adheres to the City's guidelines for new Supportive Housing construction.

Ottawa Salus is a not-for-profit corporation that provides community mental health services, including supportive housing, rehabilitation and individual support to hundreds of clients. Community associations in areas where other Salus facilities exist report no significant problems, and some have described the organization and its tenants as exemplary neighbours.Although many neighbours expressed support for the new project or remained silent — no doubt many were simply not aware of it — a significant number raised concerns that can be broadly categorized as being about the building, parking and traffic, the amount of social housing in this neighbourhood, and the type of residents Salus will accommodate.

The building: Designed by an award-winning architect to the highest level of green building standards, with attractive natural landscaping, the building conforms completely to existing zoning rules. In short, what is being proposed is what is already allowed.

Parking and traffic: As none of the residents are expected to own cars, Salus applied to the Committee of Adjustment to allow just one parking space. Like many, I felt this was inadequate, although I agreed that some reduction seemed merited. Following a Parking Study, Ottawa Salus revised its site plan to include three permanent spaces that can accommodate up to six vehicles if parked in tandem, plus an off-street lay-by for pick-ups and drop-offs. Since the Salus building will not generate more local traffic than would any other development conforming to the site's zoning, existing traffic issues are beyond Ottawa Salus's scope of responsibility.

This leaves us with the concerns about whether Heron Park North already has more than its "share" of social/supportive housing, and whether the addition of 42 residents with mental illness would be unfair or tip the scales in terms of community safety. Here we run into an unambiguous fact: The City does not and cannot discriminate against any type of resident or any developer planning to accommodate a particular category of citizen, be they seniors, students, women fleeing abuse, or people with mental illness.

If someone buys land on a particular street because the site, zoning and price meet their needs, they have the right to build for anyone they wish. City employees and elected officials must uphold standards regarding traffic flow and parking, must ensure the building is to code, and may push for landscaping improvements or measures to enhance privacy between neighbours. But we cannot and will not block a residential project based on who will live there.

To learn more about the project, Ottawa Salus and its work and track record, I encourage you to attend one of the public meetings it is organizing, or even invite them to your place to learn more. Contact Sarah at 613-729-0123 x 2253.

Clementine road improvements

In response to ongoing speeding and traffic calming inquiries, the City of Ottawa is testing a seasonal traffic calming initiative between Secord and Rockingham Aves. The pilot project, running from late-May/early June to November, involves centerline paint markings combined with the customized FlexStake-type signs in the centre of the roadway to increase driver awareness. This configuration has proven effective in other large municipalities. The City has been monitoring speeds on Clementine and will continue to do so to determine if seasonal traffic calming measures are an effective solution.

In addition, Clementine north of Heron Rd. is scheduled for resurfacing in the 2015-18 period. I will work to get this done as soon as possible, recognizing that the deteriorated state of the road contributes to vibration of adjacent homes along with safety concerns.