Occasionally someone, after coming across Price Tags, sends me an inquiry, like this one from Marc Aubin in Lowertown Ottawa, a member of a citizens’ group fighting a road-design issue in their neighbourhood.
Take a read. Perhaps you have some advice to pass on:
I’m part of a local community group called the King Edward Avenue Task Force… I read some of your document entitled A Local Politician’s Guide to Urban Transportation with great interest. My understanding is still growing about the convergence of transportation and land-use planning….
My grandfather lived his entire 86-year life within a ten-block radius in downtown Ottawa (shopping, Church, school, home, work, service organizations, everything). I’ve often been very perplexed at why, even 30 years after Jane Jacobs wrote about it, that we still haven’t started going back to a more sane way of building our cities. Why can’t I live like my grandfather did?
I got a chance to see most of Canada’s cities in the past year, and the contrast was heart-wrenching. It really is a tale of two cities. At the heart of every major city lies an old and often decayed victorian paradise with elm trees, walkable neighbourhoods, and wonderful gothic architecture. Then, surrounding every city, like an overweight person’s belly, is the huge expanse of endless and ugly strip malls and suburban sprawl. It’s a shame.
The sections of your document that were of particular interest to me were 1) Congestion is our Friend and 2) Maximum Desirable Capacity. I in fact ran into this very issue in 2001 when I was fighting with consultants undertaking an environmental assessment. They were looking at “renewing” King Edward Avenue in downtown Ottawa after the city was ordered by the Ontario Municipal Board to prioritize the improvement project for the street.
The main problem the community and myself were having with the consultants, more specifically the traffic engineer, was revolving around the number of lanes. The street was originally 4 lanes, and increased to 6. The consultants insisted that we had to accommodate the amount of traffic and that the street was already “at capacity” or “failing.”
I argued that the social costs highly outweighed their argument. It’s a residential street, but it’s used as one of the main truck routes (3000 heavy vehicles per day), houses aren’t more than 1 or 2 meteres from the road, pollution is at 200% of maximum at times, noise is as high as 75Dba, the posted speed is 50 and a survey revealed cars were driving at an average of 75, etc, etc. I think you get my point. Anyway, the consultants chose to ignore my argument (I was only 22 years old at the time, and what does some stupid kid know, right?).
Guess what? A year ago, King Edward Avenue was reduced to 4 lanes from 6, so that construction work would begin. There wasn’t any traffic chaos. The city didn’t shut-down. I was so angry, but also saw this as an opportunity. Now, with a little bit more experience under my belt, and some help from colleagues at Transport Canada, I was able to make a much more convincing case. We discovered that the traffic has been reduced by 8-10% along the avenue, and we’ve also been able to prove that the traffic didn’t bleed into other sections of town. City council was so impressed, with a lot of campaigning, that it passed a motion asking for a traffic study of no more than $150,000.
My only problem, now, is that I’m concerned that the same old traffic engineering establishment at city hall is going to start pulling the same BS. They fought this proposed study very hard, and now they’re the ones supposed to put together an “impartial” assessment. Yeah, right, I learned how that works while sitting on committees for the environmental assessment.
These engineers all seem to be about cars. We need the capacity! The network will fail! We have to build more roads somewhere else in the network! I really started to question the actual knowledge of these guys, and realized they aren’t supermen. They don’t have all the answers, but no one listens to anyone else but them. There engineers, right? (God forbid) I want to make sure I’ve got everything I have ready to throw at them during the process. I’m putting together a case and campaign.
I would just like to know if you have any comments about this? Any recommendations?
For a real cool slide show on King Edward, check out the following YouTube.com link (remember to turn up the volume; there’s sound):
If you have any further interest in this topic as a case study, then please have a look at our website or feel free to ask me any questions. We’ve built quite an extensive set of data, and are still adding to it.