Why must we always assume cars?

Last year…I think it was last year?…I led a Jane’s Walk along Bank Street in the Glebe. (If you don’t know about Jane’s Walks, check ’em out). I was talking about the changes along Bank Street, it’s potential, it’s problems, you know, the usual stuff.

At one point, we got the proposed development at Bank and Fifth (no, not the Fifth + Bank proposal, the other one). I wrote about the plan when it came out a few years ago. It seemed like a fine plan (that has since changed, and is still a fine plan), but neighbourhood people were getting really upset at the proposed lack of parking. It was madness. There are already too many cars in the neighbourhood, and they were upset about not inviting more.

I started talking about the proposed development, and one gentleman expressed his dislike for the plan because there had to be parking, because obviously people are going to drive there. You can’t possibly stop them.

(If I’m not mistaken, this man drove to a Jane’s Walk.)

This is bullshit. This assumption that cars will be forever present, that there’s never any chance of people not driving somewhere is utter bullshit…and I wasn’t really up for taking any of that bullshit, especially since it meant more people would be driving in my neighbourhood.

The man and his wife left the Jane’s Walk soon after. I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t my finest hour, but I don’t really know why anyone would go on a Jane’s Walk to advocate for driving.

So, yeah, I was thinking about that as I saw this news story from a few weeks ago:

The City of Ottawa’s planning committee has approved a luxury condo building on Scott Street, pitting the councillor for Westboro against his residents, who fear the development will turn their neighbourhood into a parking lot.

The nine-storey building would have 49 units but only 13 surface parking spots, four of which would be reserved for visitors.

Residents clearly can’t imagine that people would ever live anywhere without a car. Oh what cruel fate must befall someone livnig in a dense area right on transit that they wouldn’t fucking drive everywhere?

“It’s not going to reduce the number of cars,” said Vivan Russell, who lives next to the proposed site.

She worries her new neighbours will simply park on the street.

Well, no, I guess she’s right. It’s not going to reduce the number of cars, because all the entitled drivers already living in the area aren’t going anywhere. Also, with nine new resident parking spaces, you’re probably going to get nine new resident cars, as well. So, yeah, bravo, well deduced.

And maybe there will be more street parking, at least in the short run. Bad habits–like driving–are hard to break, and as a city we keep re-inforcing the idea that you need a car, need it.

But we can also take steps to deter car ownership. We could, say, build a massively expensive LRT system right past their front door. We could also just not offer residents street parking (like downtown or like the condos on Holmwood that back on to Lansdowne). There are actually mechanisms in place to help encourage modal shifts.

But the biggest deterrent to car ownership is probably the lack of parking. Jurisdictions that don’t enforce minimum parking requirements, that don’t offer tons of street parking, that don’t cater to drivers, see lower rates of driving. It’s amazing that when you don’t officially encourage an activity, people do less of it.

So, actually, yes, the proposal likely will reduce the number of cars, compared to how many you’d get if you had 53 parking spots.

think Kitchissippi Councillor Jeff Leiper gets it. He seems supportive of the plan, if a little conflicted:

Higher buildings with less parking will be a new reality for the neighbourhood once LRT runs through the area, Leiper told the committee.

“I think this is the kind of building that we’re going to have to accept,” he said.

No, no it’s not the kind of building “we’re going to have to accept”. It’s the kind of building we’re going to have to build. It’s the kind of building we must want. It’s the kind of building we must promote.

Look, I get that people who have been hoodwinked into thinking that car ownership is the only way to go through life are going to have trouble understanding that not everyone has bought into the lie. But they’re going to have to get used to it. Their dominance in our city…their destruction of our city is waning.

We’re building new things. Sustainable things. Livable things. Great things. And sometimes, you’ll just have to take transit to get there.

Oh, and by the way, city council approved the plan. Even in car-centric Ottawa, people are starting to get it.

2 thoughts on “Why must we always assume cars?

  1. I wouldn’t regard the fact that this was approved as proving anything in particular other than the fact that development proposals in Westboro get approved. Literally everything gets approved in Westboro, good, bad, indifferent, conforming to plans and policies or not. If you’re a developer and want to try something edgy or innovative with no parking, do it in Westboro. Similarly, if you’re a developer who wants to put up suburban schlock-lite with excessive parking in an urban area, also do it in Westboro. They might even end up right next to each other.

    https://www.google.ca/maps/@45.3940715,-75.7493707,3a,75y,182.55h,94.85t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sGJICQgaGsRYh4XSrIQ3uEA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    • I wasn’t meaning to focus on the proposal or the approval, but on this mentality that so many people in Ottawa have that no matter the circumstances, people will always own and drive cars. There’s so much evidence this isn’t true. There’s even evidence in Ottawa that this isn’t true, yet still people just refuse to acknowledge that car ownership isn’t an eternal truth. I’d also like to see our city councillors get ahead of this stuff more to help people understand why we don’t always have to assume cars.

      Sadly, many of them don’t seem to understand, either.

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