Who matters and who doesn’t, NCC and Robert Moses Edition

The NCC is an interesting…department? pseudo-municipal agency? collaborator?…when it comes to urban development in Ottawa. Their roots can be found in the federal agencies the brought us the Greber Plan and razed Lebreton Flats–two horrendous, classist policies that we’re still actively trying to recover from (and may never, really).

…But, it’s also started to embrace a proper urban vision for the city of Ottawa. There are still flaws, many of them, and they’re still an unelected, unaccountable federal agency foisted on the residents of Ottawa, but they’re becoming more of a trusted partner.

Weirdly, though, they still act as protectors of single-occupancy vehicle commuting. This doesn’t actually fit in with their official vision, nor does jibe with their newfound urbanism, but, still, it persists.

The other day, I wrote about the OC Transpo summer schedule. I focused on how the reduced service demonstrates a real lack of care for city services, but I could just have easily focused on a more class-based issue. Drivers never get seasonal reductions for service levels like bus riders do. It’s quite fair to take from this that the city believes drivers are more important than transit riders (the price/funding disparity of the two really underscores this point).

The NCC, too, feels this way, and it’s a damned shame.

The NCC is the keeper of the parkways. They decide on the roads, who can use them and whether or not the city should be bankrupted trying to build sustainable transit infrastructure.

The parkway system is a throwback to mid-century North American thinking. It’s based on the notion that the government should be providing ample natural space for people to drive through. (I don’t know if the idea of the “Sunday Drive” still persists, but if it does, it should die in a fire.)

Robert Moses, the notable and notorious New York City planner from half a century ago, was a big believer in this model of transportation. I mean, he wasn’t actually a proponent of driving through luscious park space, he much preferred being chauffered through it.

He also kind of hated transit. (If you needed to get into New York City, the preferred way was to be driven across a magnificent bridge, rather than riding a train.) Moreover, he hated the people who used transit…typically poorer, less-white people.

One thing Moses did to ensure proper car supremacy was to build New York parkways so that any overpasses were too low for buses. This meant fewer tourists in his scenic parks. It also helped keep out The Poors.

For years, the NCC has been allowing buses on the parkway, but it was always supposed to be temporary. The transitway was supposed to continue through the west end (between Byron and Richmond, I believe), rather than connect with the Moses-esque parkway.

Soon, the bus issue will be resolved, as we switch to LRT. And LRT is basically following the route of the transitway. This means it has to go along the river (please, let’s not argue the chosen route, right now; that’s not the point of this post).

Well, the NCC didn’t really like that. There are a bunch of expensive homes kind of nearby and those people deserve to be able to look out over the parkway without having to see any trains. (I mean, those trains might be carrying people of a lower socio-economic status. We can’t have that.)

Now, if you’re like me, you might think a four-lane divided freeway is a significant barrier to accessing public greenspace. You would, of course, be wrong. The NCC has decided that providing a commuter route for drivers is an important part of its mandate to deliver a sustainable National Capital Region that can be enjoyed by all Canadians.

So the NCC has no problem with traffic jams and car traffic.

The NCC will go to bat for middle- and upper-middle-class homeowners.

The NCC will hold its nose and accommodate public transit…but only for so long.

The NCC has demonstrated that they believe in a transportation user hierarchy. Drivers (and their passengers) are deemed more important than transit users. (They’re also deemed more important that pedestrians, bicyclists and the environment.)

If you doubt this, check out how badly they want to get buses off of “Confederation Boulevard”, but won’t try to limit car traffic. (The very concept of “Confederation Boulevard” is stupid, not least of which because it demonstrates that the NCC cares more about their self-importance than the livability of our capital city.)

So, yes, the NCC is coming along way. Quite often, I trust it more than I trust city council. However, for the past few decades, they’ve adhered to a transportation caste system, and though there’s some evidence that they’re willing to change, we haven’t yet seen significant changes to demonstrate they’re on the right track.

All local agencies need to stop ghettoizing transit. We need healthy and successful transit, not more people in cars.

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