ROAD AHEAD HOLDS LOTS OF PROM­ISE

‘Com­plete streets,’ bet­ter bike ac­cess part of evolv­ing trans­port net­work

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - DON BUT­LER

As Canada cel­e­brates its sesqui­cen­ten­nial, what lies ahead for the city of Ottawa? In a se­ries of sto­ries and vi­gnettes, the Cit­i­zen looks at how our city and its fab­ric, its peo­ple and its in­fra­struc­ture, will change in the decades ahead. To­day, we look at com­mut­ing in a fu­ture of driver­less cars and LRT trains.

If a city has a cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem, it is its net­work of roads, path­ways and side­walks. From the boule­vards and av­enues that con­sti­tute its ar­ter­ies, to the con­nect­ing veins of lo­cal streets, lanes and cy­cling paths, the net­work’s func­tion­al­ity does much to de­ter­mine a city’s state of health.

A poorly de­signed trans­porta­tion net­work can leave a city feel­ing pinched and en­er­vated, need­ing reg­u­lar af­ter­noon naps to cope. But one that works well un­leashes en­ergy, draw­ing res­i­dents from their homes to par­take in and en­hance the life of the city.

The Ottawa of the not-to-dis­tant fu­ture will gain a vi­tal cir­cu­la­tory link when light rail tran­sit ar­rives. That will fun­da­men­tally change the way we get around the city. But peo­ple will also still drive, walk and cy­cle. Within as lit­tle as four years, some of us may be tootling around in driver­less cars.

One thing is clear, says Vivi Chi, the city’s man­ager of trans­porta­tion plan­ning: “We can­not con­tinue to build and widen roads.” There are new roads in the city’s trans­porta­tion plan, to be sure. But all are rel­a­tively short and con­cen­trated in de­vel­op­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

The prov­ince is wi­den­ing parts of the Queensway over the next four years, but that’s a mixed bless­ing, Chi says. High­way widen­ings of­ten cre­ate con­ges­tion on ramps and nearby ar­te­rial roads.

When city streets are re­built, they’ll look dif­fer­ent than in the past, when their pri­mary pur­pose was to ac­com­mo­date ve­hi­cles. All new or re­con­structed roads will be “com­plete streets,” de­signed to of­fer safety, com­fort and mo­bil­ity to all users, re­gard­less of their age, abil­ity or mode of trans­porta­tion.

There’s no sin­gle tem­plate for a com­plete street. “It’s a tool box,” says Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs the city’s trans­porta­tion com­mit­tee. “A com­plete street in West­boro is not go­ing to look like a com­plete street in my ward.”

Egli and his wife once lived on Churchill Av­enue. Af­ter their first child was born, they gazed out their win­dow and said, “How will we ever teach him to ride a bike on that street?” So they moved to the sub­urbs.

Fast for­ward to 2014: Churchill be­came the first com­plete street in Ottawa, with sep­a­rated cy­cling tracks on both sides of the street. “Now, it would be a dream,” says Egli. Com­plete streets, he says, “make our city and our com­mu­ni­ties much more liv­able.”

The city has re­cently com­pleted or is build­ing com­plete streets on Main Street, O’Con­nor Street, Macken­zie Av­enue and Rideau Street be­tween Sus­sex and Dal­housie, among others. More are in the works — on El­gin Street, By­ron Av­enue, Rich­mond Road, south Bank Street and St. Lau­rent Boule­vard. “It’s be­com­ing part of our DNA,” Chi says.

Ten­sion be­tween mo­torists and cy­clists also seems to be part of our DNA, which vir­tu­ally guar­an­tees there will be grow­ing pains as more com­plete streets are built. Al­ready, some have raised safety con­cerns and com­plained that the re­duc­tion in driv­ing lanes is mak­ing it harder to get around.

To min­i­mize con­flict and ill will, the city will work with com­mu­ni­ties to de­ter­mine the best form for a par­tic­u­lar com­plete street. “You’re giv­ing peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to help re­build their com­mu­nity,” Egli says. “And they get very ex­cited about that.”

At the same time, the city has been ramp­ing up its in­vest­ment in cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture. It spent just $4 mil­lion on cy­cling be­tween 2003 and 2006. That will grow to $53 mil­lion be­tween 2014 and 2018, with more to come.

Though there’s no tar­get date for com­ple­tion, the city’s “ul­ti­mate cy­cling net­work” will fea­ture con­tin­u­ous, high-ca­pac­ity spine routes along ma­jor road­ways for longer-dis­tance travel, sup­ported by smaller scale neigh­bour­hood routes — all con­nected to city and NCC path­ways. When com­plete, the full net­work will to­tal 2,529 kilo­me­tres, com­pared to about 1,400 kilo­me­tres to­day.

The city will also make it easy for cy­clists to use light rail tran­sit. Ev­ery LRT sta­tion stair­well will have a cy­cle track. Peo­ple will be able to bring their bikes onto the trains.

Pedes­tri­ans haven’t been for­got­ten, ei­ther. The city’s 2013 pedes­trian plan lists more than 90 new side­walk projects be­tween 2014 and 2031.

It also calls for a new $21-mil­lion foot­bridge over the Rideau Canal, con­nect­ing Fifth Av­enue with Clegg Street in Old Ottawa South. The city has se­cured fed­eral fund­ing for the project and is con­fi­dent the prov­ince will ante up, as well. If so, work could be­gin as early as 2017.

An­other city plan, called Down­town Moves, aims to make the down­town area more walk­a­ble. It iden­ti­fies mid-block cross­ings to im­prove the flow of walk­ers to and from LRT sta­tions; in­ter­sec­tions where pedes­trian vol­umes war­rant safety im­prove­ments; and blocks that re­quire wider side­walks, benches and other pedes­trian ameni­ties.

If more peo­ple in fu­ture get around us­ing tran­sit, bi­cy­cles or on foot, that should open up a bit of space for mo­torists. But the sin­gle project that would make the big­gest dif­fer­ence for driv­ers is the pro­posed down­town Ottawa truck tun­nel, a crosstown route un­der Sandy Hill and Low­er­town, link­ing Ottawa at High­way 417 to Gatineau.

If it pro­ceeds, the four-lane, 3.4-kilo­me­tre tun­nel would trans­form traf­fic flow though Ottawa’s down­town core. It would di­vert about 1,700 trucks and 25,000 cars a day that now use sur­face streets and bridges.

“That would make a big dif­fer­ence to the down­town,” Chi says. “This is the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, and we have big trans­port trucks com­ing right down the mid­dle. It’s em­bar­rass­ing.”

A study in 2016 con­cluded the tun­nel was fea­si­ble, but the es­ti­mated $2-bil­lion cost is a ma­jor stum­bling block.

The next step will be an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment, which will deal with the tun­nel’s func­tional de­sign and im­pacts, and will fur­ther re­fine the cost. That will be fol­lowed by what Chi says could be a P3 (pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship) pro­cure­ment process. Fund­ing will de­ter­mine when — or if — the tun­nel pro­ceeds, but it cer­tainly won’t be un­til well af­ter 2020.

Per­haps the big­gest im­pon­der­able is what im­pact au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles will have on the way we get around. In the words of Ford CEO Mark Fields, “This next decade is re­ally go­ing to be de­fined by the au­to­ma­tion of the au­to­mo­bile.”

Whether that cre­ates heaven or hell, as Zip­car co-founder Robin Chase said dur­ing a 2016 pre­sen­ta­tion in Ottawa, re­mains an open ques­tion.

Car shar­ing is the key, Chase be­lieves. If that be­comes the model, peo­ple will be able to get door-to-door ser­vice at the speed of a pri­vate car for the cost of an LRT ticket. There’ll be far fewer cars on the road and much less need for park­ing, lib­er­at­ing un­told space for other uses.

That’s one pos­si­ble sce­nario. If dif­fer­ent pol­icy choices are made, though, au­ton­o­mous cars could end­lessly cir­cle the block while waiting to pick up pas­sen­gers, clog­ging streets and mak­ing con­ges­tion much worse.

Tech­no­log­i­cally, at least, Ottawa is well-po­si­tioned for the ad­vent of driver­less ve­hi­cles. “We have the best state-of-theart traf­fic signals in the world, bar none,” boasts John Man­coni, gen­eral man­ager of the city’s trans­porta­tion ser­vices de­part­ment. “We can change traf­fic sig­nal tim­ing within eight sec­onds from a lap­top, any­where in the world.”

The city’s sig­nal sys­tem will help in­te­grate the tech­nol­ogy re­quired to make au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles op­er­ate ef­fec­tively, Man­coni says. More­over, Ottawa is blessed with com­pa­nies with the ex­per­tise to de­velop that tech­nol­ogy.

No­body re­ally knows what will hap­pen. “It’s a lit­tle bit like the Wild West at this point, in terms of where it’s go­ing to go and how it’s go­ing to play out,” Egli says. The city is just start­ing to con­sider the im­pli­ca­tions, but one way or an­other, they’re likely to be enor­mous.”

You’re giv­ing peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to help re­build their com­mu­nity. And they get very ex­cited about that.

ER­ROL MCGIHON

“Com­plete streets” like Churchill Av­enue are sup­posed to ac­com­mo­date the needs of all peo­ple, whether they choose to walk, cy­cle, drive or take pub­lic tran­sit.

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