Posts Tagged ‘suburban vs. urban

29
Mar
10

Greyhounded out of downtown Ottawa

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien made a rather bizzare, out-of-left-field proposal: to move Ottawa’s current Greyhound terminal from it’s current Catherine Street location, to out by the VIA Rail station on Tremblay Road.

Naturally, this was met with some protest. While the current intercity bus terminal is far from the nicest facility in the world (it’s probably about five years overdue for a big renovation), it’s certainly well-located. It’s downtown, served by several major OC Transpo routes (including the 101, which is considered to be rapid transit), and is close to the 417. It’s not perfect, as it could probably stand to be a bit closer to the CBD, and perhaps have better non-peak transit service, but it’s still within walking distance for residents of Centretown, the Golden Triangle, the Glebe, Chinatown, and so on. Additionally, the central location leaves it fairly equidistant (or at least as much as that’s possible) from Ottawa’s various suburbs.

The train station, on the other hand? Well, it’s pretty suburban—if you’ve ever tried to walk there, you know that the area makes pedestrians feel like a very distant afterthought. I think the only people that would be able to walk there would be residents of a small residential area a few hundred metres west of the station. Certainly far fewer people than the tens of thousands in and around the downtown core. And sure, the Transitway runs right by it, but, speaking from experience, it’s much more of a pain to jam yourself on a crowded 95 with luggage than it is a 4 making its way down Bank Street.

The other question I have about this proposal is where would you put the new bus terminal? Let’s take a look at both, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Ottawa Train Station. Image is approximately 500 metres across, for reference.

Ottawa bus terminal, to the same scale.

While it’s pretty plain that the bus terminal takes up a much smaller footprint, it’s not exactly a small facility. It takes up an entire city block, and even as it is, it can get pretty crowded—I’m sure Greyhound would love to have something larger were they to build a new terminal. But if you look at the train station image, there’s not much room for anything even the same size as the current terminal, let alone anything larger. There’s an area between Tremblay at the station’s access road, but that would involve getting rid of green space and a bike path, as well as potentially conflicting with the reconstruction of the Transitway for light rail. One of the station’s parking lots could be removed, I suppose, but I doubt VIA would like that much, and neither takes up anywhere near as much space as the current bus terminal.

Overall, moving Ottawa’s intercity bus terminal to this location makes little sense. How many people even transfer between VIA and Greyhound? I’d be curious to see the numbers, should they even exist. Not only does this proposal increase sprawl by decentralizing a major transportation service, but I’m not sure it would do anything to improve intercity transit service or convienience in Ottawa. Leave well enough alone, Mayor O’Brien, and keep bus service in the downtown core.

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04
Feb
10

Does Terry Fox Drive really need extending?

As I browsed through the Ottawa Citizen yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice this article, on the extension of Kanata’s Terry Fox Drive being fast-tracked despite a number of environmental concerns. I instantly knew I had to look it up and attempt to understand why it’s so important this particular project has to be pushed through and I came away baffled.

Helpfully, the extension already seems to be marked on Google Maps, so it was easy to get an idea for what the new roadway would look like. As described in the article, it will arc through forest, marsh, and farmland as it makes it’s way from the neighborhood of Kanata Lakes to Morgan’s Grant. And so far as I can tell, it will serve no useful purpose besides creating sprawl and potentially destroying a rare habitat. Not good, to say the least.

The endangered Blanding's Turtle, which can be found in marshland west of Kanata. Image from Canadian Wildlife Service, by Ryan M. Bolton.

I think what we have here is a case of the Greenbelt doing more harm than good for the environment. While I’d rather see the urban boundries of Ottawa’s suburbs frozen where they are for the time being, for growth to be concentrated inwards, it would seem to me that if Kanata has to expand, there are far more suitable areas to the east. There’s a lot of farmland out there, especially north of the 417, land that is for some reason protected, while the land to the west is not. While I hardly advocate paving over farmland for suburbia, it can’t be denied that there is a lot more of it around Ottawa compared to rare turtle habitats.

What strikes me about this is that we seem to have some very screwed-up priorities here. Is it really this important to build a shiny, four-lane monument to urban sprawl? Surely there must be some other piece of infrastructure that this stimulus money can be spent on—something that won’t harm an endangered species. That’d be something I could go for.

14
Aug
09

The City weighs in on Intensification

The City released an interesting educational video recently (it might have been today, I can never tell as the City doesn’t date anything on their website) on the role that LRT and intensification could play in the future of the city. You can find it here.

It’s about 15 minutes long, and it briefly covers a number of topics, including:

  • A brief history of Ottawa’s development and subsequent suburbanization
  • The problems that suburbanization has caused, and why intensification is important
  • The definition of intensification, and how it would affect Ottawa
  • Which areas of the city are best-suited to intensification
  • The consquences of not intensifying the city

It’s a surprisingly balanced video for a release by a government on an important piece of policy, and does a good job of covering many of the issues that are likely to come up for urban development over the next 20–30 years. It’s also rather interesting to note the tone of the video, and some of the arguements made, as it’s very clearly directed at changing the opinions of suburbanites. The video makes a strong financial arguement in favour of intensification, and notes that places like Kanata, Orleans and Barrhaven will require higher population densities before LRT can be built out to them—infrastructure bribery, I guess. It’s also fairly critical of the car-dependent lifestyle, and really plays up the importance of walkable neighborhoods.

At any rate, it’s an interesting glimpse at how the suburban inertia of development is finally starting to shift towards a new paradigm. It’s certainly a fascinating time to be an urbanist, as we watch cities come to grips with the reality of the future, and attempt to adapt to changing attitudes. This video certainly shows that even though we’re ahead of the curve as far as North American cities go, we’ve got a long way to go before we get where we’re going, even if we don’t necessarily know where that is.

15
Feb
09

Some links

A few interesting links\reads I’ve found over the past couple of days.

First, a discussion over on Spacing Toronto about the urbanization of Mississauga. We don’t have anything even close to this phenomenon going on in Ottawa right now due to the way the development patterns of this city currently stand, but there’s a chance it could be in our future if we begin setting serious targets about creating a denser city. After all, Westboro is already home to the third-tallest building in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Next, over at Greater Ottawa, David Reevely gives a rundown on how Scotiabank Place came to be built where it is. It’s interesting for me, as someone who was not in Ottawa at the time (nor was I old enough to pay attention to the news, if I was), and in a weird sort of way it almost makes sense. Of course, it’s now even more obvious that the overall plan for the area has been a failure, even though the Senators have managed to do well for themselves. As the debate over whether we should invest in an MLS stadium in Kanata or a revitalized CFL stadium at Lansdowne Park heats back up, it becomes even more important for us to look at what went into the decision to develop out in Kanata in the first place and critically analyze its impact on the city. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly has probably picked up on my opinion by now, and I’m glad that Ottawans seem to be coming out much more in favour of refurbished Frank Clair Stadium rather than a white elephant in the suburbs.

Finally, there’s a new blog over at the Ottawa Citizen called Designing Ottawa by Maria Cook. It looks to be all about urban design within the city, both building interiors and exteriors, as well as our streetscapes and landscapes. There are already a number of interesting posts up about the new Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building on Sussex and the Sir John Carling Building at the Central Experimental Farm. The latter I find particularly interesting, as she creates a fairly impassioned argument for the building to be saved from demolition and given heritage status. A tough position to take, considering the building is not exactly beautifuly in the conventional sense, but it certainly has its merits.

12
Feb
09

*shakes head*

I try to be an advocate for this city as much as possible, but it’s difficult, sometimes.

City revises bus rider incentives (after canceling them altogether, at one point)

Council meeting spirals out of control

As far as the bus incentives are concered, their decision is basically the worst of both worlds. Discounted bus fars won’t be anywhere near as effective at luring people back onto buses, but at the same time the transit budget will still be way out of balance. On top of that, I’m that transit riders are probably going to end up confused by all the changes and back and forth.

On a positive note, at least the Lower Duck Island bridge proposal seems to have been quashed, and hopefully for good. Of course, the fact that they’ve left it open to reconsideration means that it will probably be put back on the table and then dropped again at least two or three more times.

In short, it’s a wonder that this Council gets anything done sometimes. Reading the Citizen’s coverage of the meeting makes it sound as if it routinely dissolved into petty squabling and sniping across the room. And you know what, guys? That isn’t the way to run a city. City Council should be all about working together, and finding solutions that work for everyone (or at least as many people as possible). It’s time for City Councilors to start taking a holistic view, and working out what’s best for the city as a whole, not just for the constituents of their ward. I realize that it’s a political balancing act, but something obviously needs to be done, as I think it’s fairly self-evident that the confidence most Ottawans have in their city’s government is starting to slip.

04
Feb
09

Ontario wants to help Ottawa curb sprawl

According to the Ottawa Citizen, Ontario is ready to help step in and grant Ottawa an exception to rules that force it to set aside land on the fringes of the city for suburban development. Some choice quotes:

As part of the land-use planning process, the city intends to set aside 850 hectares for new development. Construction on the land is expected to consist of a number of single-family homes in low-density subdivisions.

At the same time, the municipality is attempting to boost population density as a means of stemming sprawl and improving the efficiency of the public-transit system. Several provisions in the plan, and an associated transportation plan that emphasizes light rail, aim to promote intensification in areas that have already been developed. Some councillors, however, have said an 850-hectare expansion of the city’s growth boundaries will undermine that end.

But Councillor Peter Hume, the chair of the planning committee, said Monday that space for low-density projects is required by the “provincial policy statement,” a declaration under Ontario’s Planning Act that sets the ground rules for local land-use plans.

André Sorensen, a professor at the University of Toronto, says the city doesn’t have to banish suburban development to become more densely populated.

“You can’t entirely change the trajectory of how cities get developed,” Mr. Sorensen said in an interview. “What we want to do is shift to a higher and higher percentage of new housing units being built as intensification.”

This last quote is something I particularly wanted to point out. I’m obviously something of a booster when it comes to densifying cities and changing the way we develop urban areas, but at the same time I know that it’s not something we can change instantly. We’re fighting against about a hundred years of inertia, where the ideal life has always been seen as owning a house in the suburbs with a big yard and white picket fence. It’s not easy to tell people that everything they wanted is wrong and that they would, in fact, be much better off doing something completely different. Really, it’s not something that we can do.

So the trick will have to be to change attitudes slowly. We can’t just sit down and eliminate suburban development entirely, in fact, I don’t think we should. As Sorensen mentions, suburbs won’t just go away, and we’re going to have to work with them if we want to densify cities. They’re already built, what we need to look at when it comes to suburban areas is making them more like urban ones: for instance, how can we combine living spaces with working and shopping spaces better, rather than having them as separated clumps, like they are in so many existing suburbs? I don’t have the answer to that, but I think it’s questions like that that we’ll need to be answering in the future.

Going back to the original article, I’d like to see Ottawa have minimum density targets set, like municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area. Basically this requires existing developed areas to hit a certain target for population density, while new development is also held to higher-density standards. This forces developers to change their strategy for new proposals, and seems to be working so far in the GTA, albeit slowly. It would be at least worth looking into in Ottawa, if you ask me.

24
Jan
09

Kettles versus Ducks

I’m sure if you’ve been keeping an eye on local news at all, you’ve noticed the storm brewing around the latest round of debates over where to build a new bridge across the Ottawa River. If you haven’t, though, here’s a quick primer:

The National Capital Commission (NCC) is looking to build a new bridge across the Ottawa River, with the intent of removing trucks from downtown Ottawa, which currently cross the river using the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge. This means that they usually exit the 417 at Nicholas Avenue, and take it up to Rideau Street on to King Edward Avenue, which leads to the bridge. Needless to say, this has a fairly detrimental effect on those streets, with noise, pollution and congestion all unfortunately prevelant.

With this in mind, the NCC commissioned a study which, last September, recommended Kettle Island as the best site for a new bridge. Naturally, this led to a fight between east end residents, with those living near the site coming out against the plan, suggesting Lower Duck Island as an alternative.

Now, I’m not an expert on bridge construction, but I am a geographer, and when I look at these two sites, I can see some clear advantages in favour of Kettle Island, which I’d like to break down here. (Full disclosure, first of all: I used to live near the Lower Duck site, so I do have some bias, here)

Infrastructure

Kettle Island, as it stands, has a solid link with the 417, the Aviation Parkway. The Parkway has a full on\off ramp system at the highway, and is a four-lane, semi-grade separated roadway running almost all the way to the river. It will require some re-working near it’s end point to avoid the Ottawa-Rockcliffe Airport, but overall few changes will likely need to be made.

Lower Duck Island has no such connection. For one thing, it is past the “split”, where highway 174 heads east after the 417’s turn towards the south, an area known for its congestion (though admittedly, there are plans to widen this highway). There is an exit at Montreal Road, but no clear link to the north.  Shefford  Road, not far away, does run towards the river, but is fairly low-capacity and directly abuts a residential area. Light industrial and commercial development, meanwhile, prevents the easy construction of a road from the Montreal Road exit north to the river.

Community Impact

When it comes to Kettle Island, personally, I think a lot of the negative reaction is overblown. The Aviation Parkway is, as mentioned previously, partly seperated from nearby neighborhoods, and is a large enough road to be able to deal with an increase in traffic. Residents near the Parkway, though, will see some increase in traffic noise, and the road will become more congested, but probably not unmanagable so. Care would also need to be taken to ensure that the Aviation Museum was not adversely affected.

Lower Duck, meanwhile, could have a very low impact, I will grant, if the bridge is built to the east of the Rockcliffe Parkway. However, this would require the construction of a new exit from the 174, meaning significant reconstruction would be needed on the highway—likely a prohibitively expensive gesture. As mentioned above, the only other possibility would be a Montreal\Shefford link, which would easily have a much worse impact than the Aviation Parkway. And finally, the increased congestion this bridge would cause on the 174 can’t be ignored, as congestion is already a significant concern for residents of the area.

Environmental Impact

It does almost go without saying that any new bridge will have an environmental affect, but they would likely be markably different between the two sites. At the Kettle Island site, there is, essentially a clear corridor to and from major roadways on either side of the river. The main concern here would be Kettle Island itself, a low-lying, environmental sensitive alluvial island (made up of sediments deposited by the river, in other words). According to Ottawa Riverkeeper, the island is home to a highly unique swamp ecosystem, one which we should definitely make an effort to preserve. From an evironmental perspective, Kettle Island is not ideal, but it is almost certainly better than Lower Duck.

First, should the Montreal\Shefford approach I mentioned be taken, Lower Duck Island would cause similar environmental concerns as Kettle Island. Furthermore, though, even if the bridge were built further east, then the northern end of Grant’s Creek Conservation Area becomes an issue, as it would need to be protected from heavy traffic flows across the river. The final nail in the coffin is the Quebec side of the river, where we find Parc de Baie-McLaurin, a large, marshy bay along the banks of the river. Having a bridge touch down here would be disasterous, to say the least.

I think that these three categories represent the  most important factors in deciding where this new bridge should go. Kettle Island obviously isn’t the perfect choice, but then, no choice is. Rather, I think that Kettle Island is simply the best choice of the available alternatives.




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