By David Chernushenko, Special to the Ottawa Citizen
It seems that a hospital site solution has been brokered. What has not yet been resolved, or even adequately questioned, is the oversized surface parking "requirement" put forward from the outset as an essential criterion. That's a 1970s vision for a 21st-century hospital. We can, and must do better than repeating the mistakes of the past.
Let me start by stating the obvious: Most people don't take the bus to hospital in an emergency or if they have mobility issues. No one expects physicians on call to use public transit. Those visiting loved ones may not choose to take the LRT — unless they are among the 15 percent of Ottawa households who do not own a car.
But even if we assume that nobody will take public transit for urgent visits or if they are not ambulatory, that still leaves the massive majority of trips to hospital taken by staff, visitors and clinic patients. Given the choice, many — no, not all — would choose transit.
In the debate over the best location for a relocated Civic Campus, we've heard plenty from those who insist on easy road access, ample surface parking, and no traffic congestion. But we've heard much less about some other obvious questions:
Should a hospital of the 21st century be built for and around the private automobile, on the assumption that almost everyone can, will or should drive?
Would the Ottawa Hospital not do staff, patients and the broader community a valuable service by relocating to a place that offers frequent, convenient transit service — like the future LRT line — and is easily reachable by foot or bike as well as by car?
Shouldn't an institution dedicated to health actively encourage cleaner and healthier modes of transportation, and aim to reduce private vehicle use for non-emergency trips, as supported by Ottawa Public Health policies?
A hospital should be easily accessible to as many residents as possible, including those who cannot or choose not to drive. Encouraging people to use public or active transportation when possible also benefits anyone who drives by choice or necessity, by taking cars off the road.
The NCC, in its very public process, heard clearly from many citizens that protecting the Experimental Farm and its research fields is a priority, and that transit access should prevail over expansive parking lots.
The Sir John Carling site now being recommended by elected leaders, and apparently acceptable to the Ottawa Hospital board, is much nearer the Trillium O-Train line, and thus more accessible than the current hospital. But the matter of surface parking remains unaddressed.
Surface parking represents archaic thinking and runs counter to City of Ottawa policy direction. Reducing the need for parking — and accommodating required parking in multi-storey garages (like most big cities) — frees up more room for healthcare facilities and green space, both of which would benefit patients.
Prioritizing road access over transit, and failing to challenge the notion that all staff and visitors must drive, would harm us all by increasing congestion and air pollution. It also contradicts the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, and World Health Organization's climate change policy positions.
Our new hospital's location and design should support the policies of all three levels of government to shift away from the automobile as the favoured mode of transportation for environmental and health reasons.
The new hospital must carry us forward into a transit-oriented, low-carbon future. Emphasizing parking and car travel is out of step with 21st-century municipal planning, current health promotion practices, and all city policies.
Ottawa deserves a great hospital served by great transportation options.
Councillor David Chernushenko is Chair of the Environment and Climate Protection Committee and a member of the Board of Health. This article represents his personal opinion.