Freeways and Ring Roads

In the Ottawa Citizen, I argue that we should demolish the Queensway. Just tear up, smash it to pieces and use the land for… well, just use the land. There’s so much we could do with that stretch of central real estate. Anyway, I’m going to assume that you all read it. There are two critiques that I understand and couldn’t or didn’t address sufficiently in the piece.

First, there is this line:

And, luckily, the National Capital Commission supplies Ottawa with freeways along the Ottawa River.

To be clear, this was a veiled shot at the NCC for ruining our waterfronts. The parkways may not be freeways, but they are four-lane thoroughfares that barricade the river from the rest of the city. It’s a travesty. I can understand how readers not familiar with my writing may not have got my message.

The second objection relates to the idea of a ring road. I wrote:

The question becomes: what would we do without the Queensway? The simplest answer is that Ottawa needs a ring road, and, thankfully, we are building that sort of infrastructure. New developments like the Hunt Club extension and Vimy Memorial Bridge can move people around the core, rather than through it. There is talk of extending Brian Coburn Boulevard and expanding Earl Armstrong Road. These would connect us east-west.

I was not clear in this (and I thought the details were sort of secondary to my main argument). I don’t love the idea of ring roads. As many will note (and have), ring roads outside cities will eventually wind up inside cities as cities grow and sprawl. This is undoubtedly true. My point was not that we needed a ring road, but that we, essentially, have a ring road.

I have lived in the suburbs in the past. Within the past ten or so years, I have lived in Barrhaven and Orleans, and often needed to travel between the two. During these times, I occasionally worked in Gloucester, Kanata and Bells Corners. I have needed to travel across the city, from suburb to suburb. From Orleans to Barrhaven, I would generally go from Innes to the 417 to Walkley to Hawthorne to Hunt Club to Prince of Wales to Fallowfield (IIRC). From Barrhaven to Kanata, I could take Fallowfield to the 416 to the 417 to Terry Fox.

More recently, we have extended Hunt Club and built a bridge. As I’ve noted, suburban and rural councillors are pushing for more road expansions and extensions (some of which are already planned). This is what I mean when I say that we are building “that sort of infrastructure”. I was not calling for a ring road, per se; I was acknowledging that people will want to travel from one end of the city to the other, and noting that we already (roughly speaking) accommodate for that.

Granted, the trek from Orleans to Kanata around the city (assuming you won’t use the LRT and bus transfers…because I’m proposing killing the Queensway as the next big project) won’t be super fun (not that the trip along the Queensway is a barrel of rainbows), but that doesn’t mean we should just cut up central neighbourhoods to accommodate sprawl. Sprawl is bad and uneconomical on a number of levels. The Queensway is an enabler of sprawl that steals our lands, hurts development and partitions our neighbourhoods. We tolerate it because it’s already there. It’s sheer status quo bias. If we didn’t have the Queensway right now, it would be ridiculous to suggest destroying parts of the city for it.

Further, building these sorts of roads that will eventually be engulfed by new communities (mixed-use, please!) is a valid concern. But this isn’t really an object to my overall piece. The concern would be, it seems to me, that these major roads would soon be within the city bounds, cutting through and between neighbourhoods, and we wouldn’t want that.

Exactly! And we shouldn’t want it with the Queensway, either!

When this sprawl is inevitably overtaken by new development, it will be a lot easier to transform these roads into more community-friendly roads. It won’t be like dealing with a highway in a dense neighbourhood. (Also, if you go out to Barrhaven, when development comes, we expand these sorts of roads. Just consider what has happened to Strandherd.)

So that’s another 600-ish words on this subject. Hopefully it makes things a little clearer.

2 thoughts on “Freeways and Ring Roads

  1. replacing the Queensway with residential and park land would be the very best thing that could be done to improve the quality of life in Ottawa. The only major city in North America that does NOT have a multi-lane highway running through its centre is Vancouver – and no other city can come close tot he quality of life enjoyed by people who live there as a result. The advent of city-wide rapid public transit via electric LRT offers an alternative to commuting by car and the opportunity to plan for this now Ottawa could be in the same class, as well as reducing the health threats produced by over a half million registered vehicles in this city (and the 500+ premature deaths each year caused by air pollution)

  2. Good. And while we’re at it, rezone all the parking space at Kanata Centrum and Signature Mall to one-third residential, one-third green space and one-third multi-story car park, all within a four or five story height limit. At the same time provide free continuous loop bus service and encourage existing retail outlets to go multi-story. This would soon justify westward extension of the LRT, eventually to Carleton Place and Perth. Get Trudeau to think along these lines, across Canada.

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