It’s not quite car-free, but it’s a start

There’s a vacant lot sitting at the northeast corner of Cumberland Street and York Street. It’s quite a shame. What should be a prominent intersection is sadly underdeveloped, Mr. Mozzarella’s valiant attempts to hold things together aside. But now we have a new proposal for the lot. EcoCorner Inc. wants to build a  mix-use tower with retail at ground level and small residential units above (approximately 400 square feet).

It’s interesting. It’ll need a variance. And the community is already skeptical of the proposed height.

What the community isn’t questioning, however, is this building’s most unique feature: it will be car-free. Underneath there will be parking, yes, but it will be bike parking. The building will offer no parking to residents.

Well, let’s back-up a bit. It will offer no on-site parking to residents. There is chatter that they could provide off-site parking with a shuttle service to and from the lot. So that’s not exactly car-free; it’s more car-remote. I don’t like the rhetorical sleight-of-hand (we haven’t always had good experiences in Ottawa with developers who don’t actually mean what they say), but I do like the initiative.

There is very little reason that a building must provide parking to residents, especially a building in an area like the market. It’s a walkable neighbourhood (though it does need some infrastructure improvements…and it needs King Edward fixed) with a plethora of shops, restaurants and other amenities nearby. There’s transit that links to other central neighbourhoods, as well as the transitway and, eventually, the LRT. You don’t need a car to live downtown.

Of course, you might want a car. That’s the big objection (especially if you read comments at The Sun), but that’s a red herring. No one will be forced to move into this building. No one will be forced to sell their car and live there. Every other new build in Ottawa offers parking. Almost all of our residential buildings offer parking. There is no shortage of options for people who want to buy or rent a home for their car (there are also parking garages in the Market).

The big worry would be residents appropriating street parking for their cars. This does not seem like an insurmountable issue. The city doesn’t have to issue parking passes to residents (I’m not even sure if they do that for the Market…and I’m too lazy to really look into it right now). If you live in the core, you are not eligible for an on-street parking pass; the Market can be the same.

The off-site parking could be a concern. It’s not exactly eco-friendly to constantly drive people to their cars, and I have a bit of a worry that if the city changes the bylaws to allow “car-free” buildings, they’ll make remote parking a requirement.

(I don’t think this will happen. I think city officials are starting to understand that you don’t have to have parking absolutely everywhere, but the city still loves cars and parking, so you can never be sure.)

A more immediate concern is the suggestion that the car-free parking could just be shuffled onto the city:

One possible solution to the visitor parking issue would be for the developer and the city to reach an agreement that would designate some spaces in the city-owned lot at Dalhousie and Clarence for the building’s exclusive use, Fleury said.

This would not present a step forward in our city planning. We already provide businesses and residences with too much parking, a lot of it free. We need to move away from this dependence on parking cars. If the city wants to help, it would be much better for them to find a way to help Vrtucar (and any similar services *cough*Uber*cough*) expand. We can rid ourselves of car ownership without ridding ourselves of cars.

The project still has a few hurdles. Aside from getting a parking variance, the proposed height also violates the secondary plan for the neighbourhood. I am loathe to start tinkering with secondary plans too much (because then why have them at all?). If this tower is going to be built, it needs to find a way to keep the spirit of the secondary plan even if it can’t adhere to the letter of the plan.

(Or it could be a little shorter.)

Regardless of the height issue, this could be a major victory for bringing a little more parking sanity to a city drunk on cars.

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