Freeways and Ring Roads

In the Ottawa Citizen, I argue that we should demolish the Queensway. Just tear up, smash it to pieces and use the land for… well, just use the land. There’s so much we could do with that stretch of central real estate. Anyway, I’m going to assume that you all read it. There are two critiques that I understand and couldn’t or didn’t address sufficiently in the piece.

First, there is this line:

And, luckily, the National Capital Commission supplies Ottawa with freeways along the Ottawa River.

To be clear, this was a veiled shot at the NCC for ruining our waterfronts. The parkways may not be freeways, but they are four-lane thoroughfares that barricade the river from the rest of the city. It’s a travesty. I can understand how readers not familiar with my writing may not have got my message.

The second objection relates to the idea of a ring road. I wrote:

The question becomes: what would we do without the Queensway? The simplest answer is that Ottawa needs a ring road, and, thankfully, we are building that sort of infrastructure. New developments like the Hunt Club extension and Vimy Memorial Bridge can move people around the core, rather than through it. There is talk of extending Brian Coburn Boulevard and expanding Earl Armstrong Road. These would connect us east-west.

I was not clear in this (and I thought the details were sort of secondary to my main argument). I don’t love the idea of ring roads. As many will note (and have), ring roads outside cities will eventually wind up inside cities as cities grow and sprawl. This is undoubtedly true. My point was not that we needed a ring road, but that we, essentially, have a ring road.

I have lived in the suburbs in the past. Within the past ten or so years, I have lived in Barrhaven and Orleans, and often needed to travel between the two. During these times, I occasionally worked in Gloucester, Kanata and Bells Corners. I have needed to travel across the city, from suburb to suburb. From Orleans to Barrhaven, I would generally go from Innes to the 417 to Walkley to Hawthorne to Hunt Club to Prince of Wales to Fallowfield (IIRC). From Barrhaven to Kanata, I could take Fallowfield to the 416 to the 417 to Terry Fox.

More recently, we have extended Hunt Club and built a bridge. As I’ve noted, suburban and rural councillors are pushing for more road expansions and extensions (some of which are already planned). This is what I mean when I say that we are building “that sort of infrastructure”. I was not calling for a ring road, per se; I was acknowledging that people will want to travel from one end of the city to the other, and noting that we already (roughly speaking) accommodate for that.

Granted, the trek from Orleans to Kanata around the city (assuming you won’t use the LRT and bus transfers…because I’m proposing killing the Queensway as the next big project) won’t be super fun (not that the trip along the Queensway is a barrel of rainbows), but that doesn’t mean we should just cut up central neighbourhoods to accommodate sprawl. Sprawl is bad and uneconomical on a number of levels. The Queensway is an enabler of sprawl that steals our lands, hurts development and partitions our neighbourhoods. We tolerate it because it’s already there. It’s sheer status quo bias. If we didn’t have the Queensway right now, it would be ridiculous to suggest destroying parts of the city for it.

Further, building these sorts of roads that will eventually be engulfed by new communities (mixed-use, please!) is a valid concern. But this isn’t really an object to my overall piece. The concern would be, it seems to me, that these major roads would soon be within the city bounds, cutting through and between neighbourhoods, and we wouldn’t want that.

Exactly! And we shouldn’t want it with the Queensway, either!

When this sprawl is inevitably overtaken by new development, it will be a lot easier to transform these roads into more community-friendly roads. It won’t be like dealing with a highway in a dense neighbourhood. (Also, if you go out to Barrhaven, when development comes, we expand these sorts of roads. Just consider what has happened to Strandherd.)

So that’s another 600-ish words on this subject. Hopefully it makes things a little clearer.

In defense of the Glebe

The Ottawa Citizen‘s Matthew Pearson has a new post up at the City Hall Blog (yay, they’re updating the blog again) about the recent public meeting about OSEG’s transit plan for Lansdowne. Since we’re talking about the Glebe, there have been a lot of comments disparaging the complaints of the (stereo)typical Glebe resident.

But not to fear, Glebites, Pearson’s got your back:

Now, I’ve covered a lot of public meetings during my time as a reporter and can tell you that this is usually when public meetings lose the plot. People line up in single file with all their grievances and unload, their voices rising in anger as their confidence (or indignation?) is boosted by cheers from the audience.

The temperature in the room rises to a boil and soon nothing the people answering the questions can say will appease the angry masses.

Well, I sat in that grand hall on Third Avenue and can tell you it didn’t go down this way. Sure, some folks made snide comments about the Lansdowne redevelopment, but the vast majority was civilized and respectful. They got up, asked questions about things that matter to them and then returned to their seats.

Obviously, there’s middle ground. Some people are reasonable; others are not. Some people have strong opinions about the transportation plan; some of us don’t. However, there’s even something to be said for those who react strongly to these matters. As I wrote last year:

This does, of course, smack of NIMBYism (generally a scourge on development, progress and personal freedom). As bad as NIMBYism can be, it does have an upside. Those who so value their backyards and their communities are those who are working to make our communities stronger. Yes, the melodramatic lamentations over the removal of a few trees may be hard to take, but the opposite – living in a purely atomized city where you do not feel a connection to the community in which you live – is worse.

This is not an all-out defense of NIMBYism, but a sense of community is a wonderful thing.

Alternate Headline: City No Longer Subsidizing Lifestyle Choices

Under the headline, Proposed bylaw would add thousands of dollars to cost of new homes, The Citizen’s Joanne Chianello notes that city looking at increasing development charges (DCs) for new home builds:

On Monday, the city released a draft of the updated bylaw under which the DC for a single detached home inside the Greenbelt jumps almost 25 per cent to $21,959. In the suburbs, where it’s generally considered more expensive to extend municipal infrastructure services, the DCs for a single detached will be $32,875 — a $7,500 increase.

The headline and text are correct. This move will add to the costs of new homes. However, as much as this can be framed as a burden placed on new development, it is more accurate to think of this as a correction to current policy. New developments in Ottawa contribute immensely to urban sprawl. Suburban and exurban development demands spending on new infrastructure and places demands on current infrastructure. Considering that habit of avoiding true mix-use development, we wind up making a bunch of bedroom communities which require people to hop in the car or on the bus in order to go many (most?) places. The reason for added development charges is to account for these added costs.

Further, the externalities created by these developments aren’t limited simply to added road costs. First of all, the roads use up public space, turning green space into asphalt. The vast majority of our public space is paved over for automobiles. This is an added demand created by development.

Increased transportation in the form of cars and buses (and, eventually, the LRT) results in added pollution. By living a commuter lifestyle, people are degrading a common resource. In addition, more traffic means more congestion (except for the LRT–though it will indirectly create more traffic). Increased congestion means greater delays–meaning that residents who aren’t living such a lifestyle still must deal with the added traffic burden.

When someone makes choices that have the potential to negatively affect others, it is only natural for policy-makers to try to make sure that those costs are internalized rather than socialized. One of the ways this can be done is by attempting to role those costs into the actual price of the good or service. That’s what the city is doing here. There are a bunch of costs that come with sprawl, and those costs should, first and foremost, fall upon those creating the demand for sprawl. (If it also happens to lower the demand for sprawl, well, that’s not a bad thing either.)

Narrowing Woodroffe, or, Urban Wisdom Comes to the Suburbs

An interesting thing is happening in Ottawa South/Outer Barrhaven. Development and expansion continues, but Woodroffe Avenue, a major road for the developed and developing areas, is being reduced. The Citizen‘s David Reevely has the details:

I treated this in a brief story on a busy day but Greater Ottawa reader won’t want to miss the impending closure of the south end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales, in Barrhaven. Not only that, but a couple of hundred metres of Woodroffe are to be narrowed. A lane, pretty much, just closed. Grassed over or something. Sold to Minto.

It’s the second time this has happened in Hearts Desire, which has apparently had a sort of provisional road network, reworked and adjusted as bigger roads have been built.

Now, it’s not like people are driving less. If you’re a critic of roads, the reason Woodroffe is being trimmed is that we’ve built a beast of a road in Strandherd Drive and now it’s a bigger traffic sewer and so on. But at a minimum, the city is acknowledging that drivers accustomed to using that stretch of Woodroffe are just going to have to drive farther. It’ll eliminate a sometimes tricky intersection with Prince of Wales, make the remaining part of Woodroffe less busy, and make Hearts Desire more pleasant, so it’s worth it.

The city’s obligated to effect this closure thanks to an old Nepean plan and an agreement with Minto dating back a decade. I wonder what it would take to make something similar happen on, say, Bronson Avenue or Montreal Road.

(I stole his entire blog post to quote here, so be a dear and click on his links so that he doesn’t get mad at me.)

This reminds me of the Complete Streets debate in regards to the re-development of Main St. (which I have written about). The argument against the initiative for Main St. was that such a reduction in car-privileged road design would hurt the commuters from farther out (by prolonging their commute by three minutes). The argument in defence of commuters boiled down to treating the neighbourhood around Main St. as a mere corridor for suburban residents trekking into work. But, now, we can see that such an argument doesn’t hold much water. The residents of Hearts Desire will benefit significantly from the narrowing of Woodroffe Ave., and it will not put much of a burden upon those travelling from parts afar. Continue reading

Quiet Suburban Racism

A minor controversy has come and gone in the past few weeks. The Nepean Redskins will no longer be the Nepean Redskins. As a result of a Human Rights Tribunal complaint lodged by Ian Campeau, the club has done the right thing. As I note in the Ottawa Citizen, whether they intended to offend or not, the existence of the Redskins was a tacit form of racism that we could no longer abide:

Supporters of the moniker will disassociate themselves from the racist elements of the name, pointing to history and the continued existence of the NFL’s Washington Redskins as justification for this quiet suburban intolerance. But it’s a façade. They are either lying to themselves or just plain lying. Naming your child’s sports team after the skin tone of an historically (and currently) marginalized ethnic group is simple, basic racism. Intentions don’t matter; a racial slur is a racial slur, regardless. And as Ian Campeau, the local man who launched the complaint, notes, we wouldn’t accept a team named the Blackskins or the Yellowskins.

As can be imagined, there was resistance. The Redskins had been the Redskins for about 35 years. The people who ran the club had been doing so without complaint for over a decade (despite the fact that complaints against their namesake, the Washington Redskins, have also been around for a decade or more), so this was a bit of a shock. The shock and initial defiance was understandable – a fairly typical reaction. It was unacceptable that over the past two years, since Mr. Campeau first approached the team, nothing was done. Just because we are desensitized to it does not mean that it is any less offensive.

Unfortunately, that’s a message some are still learning:

“It’s all been extremely overwhelming and very emotional for all of us,” treasurer Evelyn Torley told the Citizen on Thursday. “I have 13 years with the club, which is probably the least amount of time of anyone on the board. Others have 17 and 18 years of doing a lot of good work and putting in a lot of time for these children. But whatever. It is what it is. We’ll get through it and emerge stronger.”

“I get it,” she said. “I get that everybody has to be politically correct, but never has there been the slightest trace of racism intended. Quite the contrary.”

No, she does not get it, or at least she didn’t get it last week when she was interviewed. Refraining from using a racial epithet isn’t politically correctness; it’s basic human decency.

(And her “quite the contrary” line suggests she wasn’t really thinking straight at the time… is she suggesting that they used the name “Redskins” in order to fight racism?)

Thankfully, the club President, Steve Dean, demonstrated that the club does get it. He called the decision “right and just“, and, certainly, it is. Little more really needs to be said. It took a long time – way too long – but the club has finally done the right thing.

Let the NCC pay

The city is locked in a bit of a battle with the National Capital Commission. The city is finalizing (for now) plans for the new light rail transit system. In the west end, the LRT is scheduled to cut through some NCC land near the Parkway. The city plans to build a trench to hide it, but that isn’t good enough for the NCC. They want it buried.

The city is resistant – and optimisitic – since burying the line would increase the cost by $300 or $400 million. Currently pegged at $980M, city council voted to approve the plans as they are without NCC approval. Continue reading