This is the city that was
1945 Population, Ottawa-Hull and vicinity, from the 1950 Plan for the National Capital (Gréber Plan) – Plate III. Distribution of Population – captioned: “1945 Population, 1 dot represents 20 persons”
And this is the city they made
Every red line. Every red line is an arterial highway. An arterial highway whose wide, high-speed road surface has a status near sacred. Want cars to go slower? Sorry that’s not possible, that’s an Arterial. In the heart of the downtown. Effectively, once the “Queensway” highway was built (replacing the rail line that had been there), the entire downtown became an on/off ramp for the highway.
Wikipedia – Ontario Highway 417 – Queensway
Within Ottawa, the Queensway was built as part of a grand plan for the city [the 1950 Gréber Plan] between 1957 and 1966
This 1960s era highway planning was based on many assumptions, but the foremost amongst them was that city cores were blank slates that should be restructured with highways as the primary design element. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s a screenshot from Form, Design and the City (1962):
You see all that blank space? That’s where people actually lived. But in this worldview, those people don’t exist.
The detour it would take to describe this “urban renewal” planning would be long, but basically the vision was that all the wealthy people would move to the suburbs, and the city core would be nothing but poor people and office towers for the wealthy men who would commute to work every workday. And the priority would thus obviously be to make the commute as fast as possible for the commuters. The local residents, as is evident from the image above, basically might as well not exist.
Think this doesn’t apply to Ottawa? Here’s the great man Gréber himself pointing from the sky at a resident-free Ottawa.
This was never a good idea.
By 1988, as William H. Whyte documents extensively with evidence in City: Rediscovering the Center, it was already obvious that this didn’t work and didn’t make any sense. 32 years later, with residential towers rising in city centres all over the world, it is even more evident it doesn’t make any sense. In 2020, with remote working virtually eliminating the commute for almost anyone who can work with a computer and a telephone, it makes even less sense.
And yet we still prioritize the car commuters, going much much faster than the 30km/h that should apply anywhere downtown, or the 10km/h that should apply for residential streets. And driving on every street, rather than having some streets reserved exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists.
And this prioritization of car commuters is embedded in decisionmaking which locks in this priority at multiple levels. Not least of which, wards don’t control their own roads. Why don’t wards (and their residents) get to control the roads where they live? Well, no reason from a democratic perspective. But mostly so that wards don’t get to make roads slower.
The evidence about speeding is abundant.
Excess speed and inappropriate speed are very common
Speed limits provide information to the drivers about the safe speed to travel in average conditions. Exceeding the speed limits is very common. Typically, 40 to 50% of the drivers travel faster than the speed limit. Typically, 10 to 20% exceed the speed limit by more than 10 km/h. In addition, drivers adapt their speed insufficiently to local and temporary conditions related to traffic and weather. They often choose a speed that is inappropriate for the prevailing conditions. Speed choice is related to the drivers’ motives, attitudes, risk perception and risk acceptance. Furthermore, speed choice is affected by characteristics of the road and the road environment and by characteristics of the vehicle.
The above quote is from 11 years ago, from 2009 SafetyNet Speeding (PDF). If you prefer a more recent version, see European Road Safety Observatory (ERSO) Speed and Speed Management 2018 (PDF).
Or for that matter, read Ottawa’s own 2013 Transportation Master Plan, which says all the right things, not that that seems to make much difference in how some of the staff plans or the majority of Councillors vote.
2013 Transportation Master Plan – Chapter 3 – Create a Supportive Built Environment (PDF)
Section 3.1 Use planning processes to support sustainable choices
- Action 3-1 Enable walking, cycling and transit through community design plans and development review
- Action 3-2 Reduce the impacts of surface parking
If you want to know why our actions don’t match our words, I recommend Jeffrey Tumlin speaking on What has prevented Walkable Urbanism, and how to fix our cities and in particular his observation that most cities have great plans that describe a walkable city, but budgets for a car commuter city.
UPDATE 2020-07-10: The problem with this kind of red line vital arteries depiction of the city’s streets is it makes it feel like those arterials are the literal lifeblood of the city, and opening them to other uses would kill the downtown. In reality it is quite the opposite. Those red lines are not life. Those red lines are emptiness and cars and danger. END UPDATE
Bank Street BIA Street Opening Proposal 2020
The Bank Street BIA has proposed
1/3 Downtown Bank has put together a proposal to close Bank Street (Queen – Flora) to motor vehicles to provide greater access for cyclists and pedestrians. This would take place Saturdays (9am – 11:59pm) from July – September 
2/3 Following feedback that insufficient time to vote was provided, the closure of Bank Street (Queen – Flora) has been postponed for one week to allow for more time for businesses to submit their vote
3/3 The City of Ottawa requires a 2/3 approval from businesses for each block impacted by the closure.
We hope to update everyone on the status of this vote by Wednesday, July 8th. We welcome feedback from our community on social media, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re wondering why it requires a 2/3 approval from businesses for each block impacted by the [opening to pedestrians and cyclists], it’s because the Mayor just conjured this requirement up out of thin air, in an unannounced motion that crushed a planned Glebe Bank Street opening.
(One might also ask a larger question of why the BIA members get a larger voice than the actual residents, but anyway.)
UPDATE 2020-07-10: The Bank Street BIA has been successful and thanks to extra work with the city, the street will be opened from Queen Street to Catherine Street. END UPDATE