Narrowing Woodroffe, or, Urban Wisdom Comes to the Suburbs

An interesting thing is happening in Ottawa South/Outer Barrhaven. Development and expansion continues, but Woodroffe Avenue, a major road for the developed and developing areas, is being reduced. The Citizen‘s David Reevely has the details:

I treated this in a brief story on a busy day but Greater Ottawa reader won’t want to miss the impending closure of the south end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales, in Barrhaven. Not only that, but a couple of hundred metres of Woodroffe are to be narrowed. A lane, pretty much, just closed. Grassed over or something. Sold to Minto.

It’s the second time this has happened in Hearts Desire, which has apparently had a sort of provisional road network, reworked and adjusted as bigger roads have been built.

Now, it’s not like people are driving less. If you’re a critic of roads, the reason Woodroffe is being trimmed is that we’ve built a beast of a road in Strandherd Drive and now it’s a bigger traffic sewer and so on. But at a minimum, the city is acknowledging that drivers accustomed to using that stretch of Woodroffe are just going to have to drive farther. It’ll eliminate a sometimes tricky intersection with Prince of Wales, make the remaining part of Woodroffe less busy, and make Hearts Desire more pleasant, so it’s worth it.

The city’s obligated to effect this closure thanks to an old Nepean plan and an agreement with Minto dating back a decade. I wonder what it would take to make something similar happen on, say, Bronson Avenue or Montreal Road.

(I stole his entire blog post to quote here, so be a dear and click on his links so that he doesn’t get mad at me.)

This reminds me of the Complete Streets debate in regards to the re-development of Main St. (which I have written about). The argument against the initiative for Main St. was that such a reduction in car-privileged road design would hurt the commuters from farther out (by prolonging their commute by three minutes). The argument in defence of commuters boiled down to treating the neighbourhood around Main St. as a mere corridor for suburban residents trekking into work. But, now, we can see that such an argument doesn’t hold much water. The residents of Hearts Desire will benefit significantly from the narrowing of Woodroffe Ave., and it will not put much of a burden upon those travelling from parts afar.

No one wants a major thoroughfare running through their neighbourhood. Heavy traffic on Woodroffe Ave. diminishes the quality of life of the residents of Hearts Desire, and it’s not difficult to understand how. There will be concerns over noise, pollution and safety. This proposal to narrow Woodroffe Ave. has much merit–especially when we consider that it will have little effect on the commuters who currently use that stretch of Woodroffe. There are other routes into the city, and city planners see this as pretty much a win-win, with very little burden placed on those living farther afield than Hearts Desire.

And even if there is to be a burden placed on anyone in such a scenario, why shouldn’t it be on the commuters? Certainly, we want a free flow of traffic–as much as is possible–throughout the city, and, yes, it’s great when we can get from one end to other quite quickly, but we know that it is unreasonable to expect this, universally. So, if there is to be a minor inconvenience, I’m okay with erring on favouring the members of the community that live in the area of possible development or re-development.

The idea that commuters must bear a greater burden of traffic woes than neighbourhood residents is re-inforced by the type of development that occurs in the outer fringes of the suburbs. We see few mixed use developments. There are few office buildings or commercial parks. These communities are based on segregating themselves from the rest of the city and the much of their lives. Segregation comes at a cost.

Too often, development conversations turn into an urban vs. suburban/ex-urban fight. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. The narrowing of Woodroffe demonstrates that the needs of each community are quite similar. Further, it demonstrates that all of us face trade-offs in regards to our preferred communities and neighbourhoods. We can’t assume high traffic and thoroughfares as the default; they are variables in the equation.

When they are treated as the default–as the sacred status quo–rather than the externalities they are, we are shifting the cost of suburban life onto urban dwellers. It is a significant transfer of well-being, if not of wealth, and considering the costs of new developments, it is disturbingly regressive transaction.

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