City Capacity – Updated

Our water treatment system isn’t designed to handle the largest rainfalls we get. That’s why after a big summer rainfall, the beaches close. The system can’t handle the volume and so the runoff–and all the waste in with it–goes directly into the river.

The system’s capacity is about 50% of the expected peak volume. When we get a typical downpour, we know half of it is just going right to our waterways, untreated. This seems gross, but it makes sense. It would be beyond impractical to build, maintain and pay for a system that could handle 100% of the expected peak volume, so we live with some pollution and the occasionally-closed beaches.

Snow clearing is in the news these days, because, well, it’s been snowing. A lot. Ottawa has established service levels for snow clearing, but the city is well aware that in larger-than-average snowfalls, we will never meet those service levels. Again, this makes sense. We can debate if we’ve got enough snow clearing capacity (I would argue we don’t), and we can debate if our priorities are straight (I would argue they aren’t quite), but few would suggest that on a day of really heavy snowfall, a bit of a service delay is unreasonable.

Now, I don’t know what the city’s capacity is for the expected peak volume of snowfall, but it’s clearly less than 100%.

Transit capacity is also less than 100% expected peak volume. You can tell because so many rush hour buses are packed well beyond capacity (if you get on a bus and don’t have a seat available, that’s over capacity by any reasonable measure). Of course, the justification for this is that these packed buses balance out those that are well under capacity. That’s understandable, but it’s a question of to what degree is it acceptable.

Ottawa likes to drive. She likes to drive a lot. She likes to drive a helluva lot. Yes, we have traffic issues, but no it’s not really that bad. We’re not Toronto or L.A. When the city plans road building, road widenings and road extensions, they target meeting 100% expected peak capacity. (They don’t meet it, because more road capacity means more driving, but that’s the goal.) Sure, when a Tanger Mall opens, that’s going to bust our road capacity (*weeps*), but that’s above expected peak capacity.

If you drive a lot, you’re probably going to want to park. City planners seek to provide parking capacity for 118% of expected peak volume. When on-street parking usage rises above 85% (meaning only 15% of spaces are free at a given time), it’s considered a problem.

Yes, that’s right. For every 85 on-street parking spots that are needed, the city seeks to provide more than 100 spots. (And, again, more spots will encourage more driving.)

So, to review, here are out targets:

Water treatment: capacity should be 50% of expected peak volume.

Snow clearing: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.

Buses: capacity should be <100% of expected peak volume.*

Roads and driving: capacity should be 100% of expected peak volume.

Parking: capacity should be 118% of expected peak volume.

What the hell.

*Yeah, I forgot to add that part about transit the first time around.

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3 thoughts on “City Capacity – Updated

  1. Is there a plan in the works to target 100% of the sewage because flushing into the river has been deemed no longer acceptable?

    But very interesting point nonetheless. Not that those determined to ignore evidence that more roads doesn’t actually help anything…

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