Supporters want 'complete streets' policy included in master plan
By Derek Spalding, Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — As the city prepares to unveil its updated transportation master plan this week, a coalition of community organizations wants to ensure cyclists and pedestrians are a top priority when building new roads or upgrading old ones.
Dozens of community groups representing a cross section of Ottawa residents wrote mayor Jim Watson last week urging him and council to include a complete streets policy in the master plan and the city's official plan.
There has already been support from several councillors for the concept, which would compel planners to put more of a focus on pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and the mobility-impaired when designing streets. The informal coalition, led by Ecology Ottawa, wants to keep the momentum going and they hope to see the strategy when the transportation master plan is presented on Wednesday.
"Mostly it's about safety. There are many places in the city that are unsafe," said Trevor Hache of Ecology Ottawa. "It's really important that the policy is applied to the entire city, in both urban and suburban areas."
Discussions about complete streets can often cause problems when the battle for space comes down to the decision to reduce vehicle traffic lanes or not. But Hache said complete streets is not about eliminating vehicles from the road. It's about sharing the space with all modes of transportation and giving residents more choices.
He described many of Ottawa's streets as outright dangerous, citing several examples, including the lengthy Bank Street that runs south from downtown through many neighbourhoods with sections that have several dangerous stretches.
A fatal collision near the Billings Bridge on Bank Street in August highlighted for many people just how unsafe the streets can be.
In that accident, a 56-yearold woman was killed when she was run over by a cement truck.
Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko said at the time that such accidents illustrate the need for improvements along Bank, which has vastly outdated street designs. He recently made a case for complete streets in a Citizen opinion piece, saying North American cities have been "killing" communities through "car-centric road design" that prioritizes vehicle traffic during rush hour.
"By allocating massive amounts of public space and money to favour just one type of use for one type of user for three hours a day - we're squandering valuable resources," he wrote in June.
Coun. Mathieu Fleury attached his name to an opinion piece in the Citizen on Saturday, calling for a complete streets strategy to be entrenched in the transportation master plan. His focus is more on the downtown and the ByWard Market, saying cycling networks need to be connected and sidewalks need to be widened in many areas.
Like many councillors, he has not seen the transportation master plan, but he anticipates it will include some form of complete streets guidelines or something similar.
Transportation committee chair Coun. Keith Egl said Sunday evening that he cannot comment about the transportation master plan until it is tabled on Wednesday.
Fleury's letter was also written by Liz Bernstein, vicepresident of the Lowertown Community Association, who is also involved with Ecology Ottawa. The environmental watchdog says the campaign to organize support for complete streets in Ottawa began in March.
Thirty groups have joined the campaign and attached their names to the letter sent to Watson. Those groups include the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, Ottawa and District Labour Council, Ontario's Heart and Stroke Foundation, and several student
organizations from Carleton University, St. Paul's University and the University of Ottawa.
About 2,600 signatures of support from individual residents were also collected.
In a news release from Ecology Ottawa, Mark Tremblay, the director of healthy active living and obesity research at CHEO, explains how improved street designs would help solve the "inactivity crisis" seen in most cities.
"Accessible, attractive and appealing pedestrian-and cyclist-friendly streets are an important step in the right direction," he said. "Ottawans and the nation's capital will benefit greatly if our elected officials pass a strong complete streets policy soon," he said.
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