Thoughts on the Canal

As is clear, I have a bit of an affinity for the canal. It is one of Ottawa’s most iconic features, and it is the defining feature of the city. From logging industry tool to World Heritage Site, the canal is Ottawa.

Which is why it’s so depressing how everything about the canal is so screwed up.

This was underscored the other day, when Parks Canada announced that it had signed an agreement with Ottawa Boat Cruise to start running cruises along the canal…which is nice, since we had nothing this year. There’s even chatter about some innovation, like adding more stops along the canal and integrating the canal tours with the Ottawa River tours. It’s nothing super-innovative, but it’s better than status quo.

Sadly…you knew there was a “sadly”…sadly, the contract is for 42 years. This is absolutely insane. I’ll be 81 (if I’m even alive) when this comes up for renewal. That means one provider locked into this cash cow for four decades. There’s no real innovation involved, just opaque promises about some new ideas. I’m absolutely incensed by this decision. I cannot fathom how Parks Canada could be allowed to lock down the canal for 42 years. It is epic mismanagement.

So, hopefully, Ottawa Boat Cruise and Parks can work together, unprompted, to do some cool stuff, but there’s reason to assume they will.

There’s so much wrong with the canal. This contract sucks. The parkland around the canal is uninspiring. The paths are nothing special. But I shouldn’t be completely negative. So, with that spirit in mind, and my cynicism held in check (as much as possible), here are some thoughts on what we should do with the canal.

(I’m not going to worry about all the different government departments that are involved. Development needs to happen and it’s stupid that we have so many layers–many far removed from the city–mucking things up.)

The Possible

  • Build the Fifth Avenue foot bridge. We’ve built the Corktown Bridge, and the Donald-Somerset bridge is almost complete (seems like it should be done by now, but the city is still saying June). Those are both pretty far north. Get the Fifth Avenue bridge built to connect Old Ottawa South to Lansdowne.
  • Fix the crossing at Bank Street. This means:
    • Proper sidewalks/pedestrian infrastructure. The current sidewalk is too narrow, especially in the winter. Widen the sidewalk or build a separate, but accessible from Bank Street, crossing.
    • Proper bicycle infrastructure. Get those super sharrows off the road and build bike lanes, or, again, a separate, yet accessible, bike crossing.
    • Do some speed reductions. Bank Street is a 40 km/hr zone, but people will go over the bridge at 70 or 80. Traffic calming. Real enforcement. Two lanes. Whatever. Get on it.
    • While we’re on the topic of the bridge, get some proper lights. Those low yellow street lights give really poor visibility at night. It’s friggin’ scary crossing that bridge.
    • Integrate the bridge with Lansdowne. We’re still developing at the foot of the bridge. Make the sidewalk expand into some sort of wide pathway that takes you write to the grounds.
  • Bring back 8 Locks Flat. Parks will sign a 42-year lease for no good reason, but the NCC won’t even open a waterfront restaurant for more than a blink at a time. If it could be winterized, that’d be cool, too.
  • Make more 8 Locks Flats. I’m not a fan of the just-put-a-bar-there school of urban development, but, hell, get some restaurants or something along the canal. Maybe a play structure? Some hammocks? Adult-sized swings?
  • Multiple stops along the canal. Ottawa Boat Cruise is running next year. Let it stop at Lansdowne, Canal Ritz, 8 Locks Flat and all the other 8 Locks Flats you should be creating.

The Challenging

  • Clean up the back of the NAC. I have a friend who loves brutalism. I love it, too, but she and I greatly disagree on the NAC. Whatever merits it has on the inside, it is a massive barrier in downtown Ottawa. It cuts of the core from the canal and parts east. Worse, all of its area along the canal is used for parking and loading. It’s just useless, crappy pavement. Not good Pavement. Useless crappy pavement. Maybe the building can be be incorporated into a vibrant waterfront, but right now it tells me that that part of the canal is to be a backdrop for the upper class and their expensive cultural pursuits. It’s not for the public.
  • Build more foot bridges. There was talk of a foot bridge at Lansdowne where the canal bends, but was deemed to expensive. That’d be neat.
  • Get a proper crossing at Carleton. I can hardly believe I never died walking that tiny dock on my way home from Mike’s Place at 1:00 am.
  • Better connect the canal to Mooney’s Bay. If you drive along Hog’s Back often, it’d be forgivable if you never realized you could easily access either. Connecting them would be great. Integrating that connection with Meadowlands would be super.

The Dream

  • Get rid of the driveways. The greatest thing the Greber plan probably did was free the canal from the rail lines that ran alongside it. That’s not a particularly engaging landscape. Sadly, the government replaced the rail lines with freeways…which amounts to much of the same thing. Freeways make much of the canal (not to mention the Ottawa River) unaccessible. It’s a friggin’ capital-w capital-h World Heritage site, and it’s become a negligible background for grossly speeding cars.

    It’d be especially good to get rid of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. Much of the Colonel By side of the canal doesn’t really interact with the surroundings, regardless of the freeway. However, the QED really cuts off a lovely potential waterfront. We could connect Lansdowne to the canal (which was the original purpose of Lansdowne Park, if we’re going to get into heritage and all that). We could connect Commissionaire’s Park to Dow’s Lake. The Glebel, the Triangle, Rideau Centre. All of these could connect to the canal. You could leave the Market and walk right to a lovely waterfront, connecting the Rideau Centre, the Westin, the Conference Centre and the NAC just across the canal (we should also clean up that side, so that it’s not just a loading dock for the NAC…brutalism needed be so damned brutal).

  • Turn the Canadian Forces Barracks into a park. Have you gone from Dow’s Lake to the Arboretum? It’s wonderful, except for navigating your way past the barracks. It’s a ridiculous and unnecessary barrier. If we ditched the QED, and got rid of the barracks, we could have an entire stretch of greenspace and public development from the NAC, past Lansdowne, along Dow’s Lake and Commissionaire’s Park, around up through the arboretum to Carleton University. If we also ditched the Colonel By, we could connect to the other side of Carleton and up to Mooney’s Bay. There is so much that could be done with that stretch. Our city life could be immeasurably improved, if we just got rid of these invading freeways.
  • Reform Carling at Preston. We’re starting this. We’re putting up some huge towers, which should be good, but Carling is still too wide and too fast. Give it a road diet. Get rid of the medians. Widen the sidwalks. Build cycletracks. Trees! Those new towers could be the first step in rehabilitating Carling so the neighbourhoods on the other side of the canal can easily access it. Why wouldn’t you want to connect the canal area to Little Italy? And just think how it would rejuvenate Queen Juliana Park. (Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what Queen Juliana Park is.)
  • Integrate OC Transpo with some sort of boat-bus. I don’t know if this would be at all practical or cost-efficient, but if I could just swipe my presto to take a boat from Dow’s Lake to Fifth, it’d be pretty dang cool. Oh… and make sure I can bring my bike on board.

There is so much more that we could do. I get regular ideas, from the practical to the fanciful all the time. This is just a short list. But it just shocks me how the NCC wants to do absolutely nothing with it. They have resigned themselves…no, not resigned themselves…they have completely embraced the idea that their contribution to canal life is to provide urban freeways purely for commuting purposes.

They’re not trying to improve Ottawa. They’re not trying to build a world-class capital (whatever the hell that might mean). They’re not making a better Ottawa for residents, visitors, tourists or the rest of Canada. They’re using it for a freeway, and they take very seriously their mission to make it’s sole purpose a means to move cars really fast.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Canal

  1. I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said, especially the need to get rid of the parkways (including the Ottawa River Parkway). We should also get rid of the Queensway for obvious reasons, but the way it crosses the canal and what the area around Pretoria Bridge is like is just awful.

    Another note is Queen Juliana Park technically isn’t a park, but is a greenfield site. We used to have buildings on that property until after around the 60s. I believe the CDP for the area allows some development on it.

  2. Normally, and I say that with a touch of irony given the givens, long term contract include periodic reviews. But in a few years, a foreign (no names, please) company could set up a boat tour and demand that the people running the competition be executed for failing to recognize the inherent right of said foreign company to the whole kit and kaboodle…or not. What do I know 😉

  3. Totally agree, Jon. I went to this NCC event earlier this year (http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/about-ncc/urbanism-lab/calendar-events/design-of-urban-waterfronts) where we heard about amazing waterfront projects in various locations… and not really any comment from the NCC on how this related to Ottawa, what they have planned for waterfronts in Ottawa (except for the linear park planned along the Sir JAM Pkwy), on how citizens could get involved… Frustrating, to say the least. They evidently know what is possible, what could be done to make Ottawa’s waterfronts amazing and more accessible to citizens, but continue with mediocrity. Ugh.

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