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.

King Ed 1 1938
King Ed 2 1998

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):
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0lT2VwybbY
 
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.
 
http://www.lowertown-basseville.ca/index/KingEdward.htm
 
Marc Aubin,
Ottawa

Comments

  1. I think part of the problem is that the job of engineers is to build things. If there is nothing to build, they really don’t have much of a job. (Renovating/restoring is just window dressing.) Therefore, they are going to only give serious consideration to additional infrastructure, not reducing it.
    I doubt you will be able to change the outlook of the old engineers. The potential for change is more likely to be found in younger engineers if their schools take a different approach to problem solving that is more wholistic, if you will.
    If there is little liklihood of the engineering staff changing any time soon, then the focus should be on the politicians. Try to get them to see that the engineers aren’t experts with all the answers. Failing that, you will have to mobilize your community, en masse, so that the politicians’ future election is in question and they will definitely place value on that.

  2. Vancouver has exactly the same problem with the problem of accommodating bikes on the Burrard Street Bridge. The City won’t reduce it from 6 to 4 or 5 lanes. (Engineers had proposed 4 lanes, likely because such a drastic change would be sure to fail). Instead the City will be freely spending on the project rather than taking the low cost alternative.
    As for living your entire life within a 10 block radius? People lived much more simple and spartan lives in the past than they do now. The range for “choice” of goods and services was fewer than they are today. Even if you have a theatre in your neighbourhood, it may not be playing the movie you want to see, so you hop in the car. Or you may not be satisfied with the greasy spoon down the block, so you drive across town to the hip new restaurant that’s all the rage. The local grocery may be too expensive or not stock the range of products you want so you drive across town. The furniture store nearby may not have the styles that you like, so you hop in the car.
    In large part, this is all caused by affluence.
    i.e. you hear about people saying to eat “local”, but you never hear criticism lobbed at high end imported luxury goods – just cheap stuff made in China.

  3. It can be done. It’s 9 blocks to my work, 4 blocks to the supermarket. There are dozens and dozens of restaurants, a number of drug stores, my family doctor, and of course the liquor store, among a host of other amenities all well within 10 blocks. But this is Vancouver….

  4. I guess the question is whether you are satisfied with staying in your own neighbourhood (even if it does provide a good variety of choices) or whether you venture out (even on occassion) to meet/eat with friends who live elsewhere, etc.

  5. I don’t own a car. I chose to live in a neighbourhood that provides the amenities to meet my daily needs. I venture out to meet/eat friends who live elsewhere. Either I walk, take transit, car pool, or rent a car.
    Certainly I face more limitations on mobility than someone with a car, but I don’t feel my quality of life is anything close to being poor. It is more focused. In that sense, I think I am better off than a lot of people today whose attentions are so dispersed that you wonder how connected they are to reality when they are always checking their cell phones and on the move.
    I think a refocus on neighbourhoods is inevitable. Our current car-focused culture is unsustainable. As the car’s true cost is increasingly reflected in its cost of ownership, its use will decline, spurring neighbourhood development. If this doesn’t happen fast enough, ecological collapse will eventually force it.

  6. I’m all for reducing cars. The damage on the environment, the politics of oil, and the wars that result from it all. As part of that, I would ask that all of us look at our personal air travel.
    Suppose you feel smug, living in the city, walking to work. But, then you fly to London once a year. A flight to London and back is 15000kms. Divide that by 365 days/year, and it means you average 41 km/day.
    You share that with others on the plane, but once you factor in that it takes more barrels of oil to make jet fuel, planes use it up a lot faster than cars, it’s worse on the environment than regular gasoline, planes leave contrails leading to global warming, etc, then you’re not ahead.

  7. Price Tags is all about Ottawa this week, King Edward Avenue and Clive Doucet. I live near King Edward as well and it helps that the Councillor is very much on side and City Council is so far going along. That was quite a coup – a 4-lane study while construction of the 6 lanes is going on, and getting a crosswalk near the approach to a major bridge. It also helps that most of the traffic is non-voters, cars connecting to the interprovincial bridge.
    While land use planning has an element of accommodating local residents, transportation planning is more paternalistic. The bigger the project, the less the local community is viewed as a stakeholder: the non-local users outnumber them and the community is an obstacle to cars efficiently getting to where they are going.
    In the long term we have to put other criteria into the traffic engineering process. More capacity solves most engineering problems, and the engineers have the gall to claim that more capacity means less pollution. But the health, safety, and quality of life of residents and pedestrians should get more weight than a 30-second delay to a peak-hour driver.

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