Community Newspaper Columns

Transportation Master Plan moves in the right direction

November 2013

On October 10, the City of Ottawa publicly released its Transportation Master Plan (TMP), Cycling Plan and Pedestrian Plan. Like many people, I hoped these documents — and the mayor’s speech that opened the day — would signal an important change in strategic direction and spending priorities. I was looking for a substantial shift in favour of public transit, walking and cycling, and a significant move away from car-centric planning and spending.

To some degree, that’s what we got, although the shift is subtle. Yes, the City has made a major commitment to expanding the light rail system faster and further, and cycling and walking have been granted greater prominence. But actual spending on traditional road projects will not be significantly downgraded.

Still, I shouldn’t be overly critical, as tempting as that is when I think of how many roads are to be built and/or expanded under the TMP.

The City now has a more ambitious goal to increase non-car commuting to 55% of trips in the morning peak, instead of 50%. Not earth shattering, but it’s a move in the right direction — by which I mean less congestion, pollution and noise, more people choosing active transportation and, with additional Complete Streets, more vibrant and people-friendly roads across the city.

Here’s an overview of other benefits for the city as a whole and for Capital Ward.

The boldest element of the TMP is its commitment to expanding Ottawa’s light rail network much earlier than anticipated, and in three directions at once. As soon as trains are rolling on the first phase of the Confederation Line in 2018, construction would begin on Phase Two. By 2023, residents should be able to travel by rail as far east as Place d’Orleans and as far west as Bayshore, where a new grade separated bus transitway will take them onward to March Road and Carling.

Heading south? You’ll be able to ride a train more frequently and further, with stops at Confederation, Walkley, South Keys, Leitrim and Bowesville.<br

With better integration of walking and cycling routes to many train and bus stops, it will be easier to get there and easier to park your bike or even bring it with you. Want to visit Little Italy or Chinatown? Ride to the train at Carleton’s Campus station, bring your bike on board, and roll off at the new Gladstone station.

For residents of an inner neighbourhood like ours, the benefit of a better citywide transit system is not so much the access to trains as the reduction (or lack of increase) in through traffic, thanks to better transit options for residents south of here.

The controversial Alta Vista Transportation Corridor (AVTC) is no longer listed for new construction activity between now and 2031. Although the corridor must be reserved for future needs, there would be no new “parkway” built here within the timelines of this TMP. You might say the AVTC has been “demoted”, while rail to the south has been promoted, which makes eminent fiscal, social and environmental sense.

Then there’s the proposal to twin parts of the Airport Parkway, ostensibly to improve airport access on a frequently clogged road. I’ll be watching this closely, as I oppose any widening that will attract new car commuters to Bronson Avenue, and onward down Sunnyside. It’s critical that any such twinning be for the purpose of creating a dedicated bus lane — possibly also for high occupancy vehicles. To simply add another conventional car lane would promptly undo any modal shift gains that all the money spent on trains, buses, bikes and sidewalks was meant to encourage.

In recognition of the deteriorating state of sidewalks and the growing need for a higher standard of pedestrian connections, the TMP includes significant investment in sidewalks and multi-use pathways. What’s more, walking and cycling infrastructure are slated to become separate categories with equal stature to other modes for planning and budgeting purposes.

There are more and better cycling routes planned for Old Ottawa South and the Glebe, and the Rideau River Western Pathway is slated for completion in Phase One of the plans (2014–2019). This continuous multi-use path on “our” side of the river, from Billings Bridge all the way to the Lees LRT station, means great connections to the university, Sandy Hill, Vanier and beyond, and anywhere the train-bus network goes.

The much-discussed pedestrian/cycling bridge over the Rideau Canal between Fifth and Clegg is now firmly anchored in the TMP for the first time. Although it’s not slated for construction until Phase Two (2020–2025), I will look for ways to advance the project by getting the detailed design completed as soon as possible. This would make it eligible for any special infrastructure funding that becomes available, or make it possible to swap for other projects that are delayed or unwanted elsewhere.

There’s a lot to absorb in all these plans, with various ways to access the information and provide comments. You can start with ottawa.ca/liveableottawa. I also welcome your direct feedback.

Councillor David Chernushenko