comments on proposed Elgin Street redesign

Ottawa Transportation Committee is meeting on May 3, 2017 to consider the staff report including proposed designs.  Here’s what I wrote to the committee:


Dear Councillors Egli and McKenney:

I am writing to you as chair and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee, about the Elgin Street redesign that will come before the committee on May 3, 2017 (ACS2017-TSD-PLN-0007 Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study).  I support the report recommendations, namely (1) that the functional designs in the report be approved as-is and (2) that the speed limit be posted as 30 km/h.

I want to emphasize particularly strong support for the speed limit reduction to 30 km/h, and the language of the report “Designed for lower operating speed” (page 14).  Using design to lower the speed of vehicles in the downtown core is the single most important intervention that council can make to provide a safer and more pleasant experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and to make an even more liveable Ottawa.  This is particularly important given the presence of Elgin Street Public School.

I also want to express my support for the particular design intervention of raised intersections.  I very much hope this means that the crosswalks themselves will be continued across the street at sidewalk level (“continuous sidewalks”) across the side streets (I am using the language from NACTO guide “Pedestrians at Multi-Modal Intersections” ).  To me raised intersections and continuous sidewalks are a very significant design improvement that helps ensure lower operating speed.

I hope as well that the committee will recommend careful monitoring of speed and multi-modal level of service after the redesign, to ensure high levels of service are being achieved for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ensure that the design is keeping speeds below the 30km/h target.  If the data indicate that speeds are higher than 30km/h, I expect the city to continue to modify the design until speeds are 30km/h or less.

In my submission to the Elgin Street consultation I had recommended either no parking, or parking on only one side

While I am pleased to see some reduction in parking, I will just echo Councillor Chernushenko (page 25):

I am concerned that the proposed 90 spaces, although less than the current parking supply, is a half-measure that will ultimate prove a disservice to the same businesses that are in favour of more parking, as the renewal of Elgin Street will not be as complete as it might have been had fewer such parking spaces on the street itself been included.

I would particularly emphasize the fact that the report states (on page 18) that there are currently 3749 parking spaces within 2 blocks of the area (including 850 underground parking spots at City Hall ).  It seems to me the city could be more ambitious than cutting 32 parking spots out of 3749, particularly given the substantial downsides of on-street parking for traffic flow and safety, including circling cars and dooring of cyclists.

I look forward to the Elgin Street redesign.  I am pleased to see the city following Complete Streets design principles and emphasizing streets designed for safety, with improved levels of service for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

CC: Councillors Fleury, Chernushenko and Leiper


As a side note, on the topic of the 850 underground parking spaces at City Hall, here’s how many were free on Sunday April 2, 2017 around 10:30am.

IMG_9284-9284-20170402-6S - Version 2

the message of parking – Museum of Nature

A parking lot is a message.

The possibility that a private car might need to sit empty in a storage space is more important than any other use of land.

That message is that potential car storage outweighs all other uses.  A parking lot in public space says that the possibility of storage of a private car is more important than any other public use.  A car might need to come and sit empty for a while, and so space must stand empty.  An empty space in a park setting awaiting an empty car is more important than a child playing, a senior strolling, a student sunbathing.  Someone, somewhere outside the city core might need to store their car for a few hours in the middle of the day in summer, and that’s more important than any local use 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

There is clear evidence that green space is essential for mental and physical health.  There’s clear evidence that urban intensification must be matched by local green space, so that people packed into small units in towers have some space outdoors in the city.

There’s clear evidence that car use is a factor in obesity, stress, and creates huge amounts of particulate, greenhouse, and noise pollution.

Parking ignores the clear importance of green space for mental and physical health, parking is a message that we’d rather incentivise obesity, road “rage”, and pollution.  Oh, and cars are the single biggest killer of young people in Canada.

Parking lots are an incredibly inefficient use of space.  And parking lots are ugly, both by their inherent blank gritty spaces as well as what are inevitably the cheapest possible standards for design.  Putting parking lots next to heritage, giving privilege to car storage to any other use of public land next to important national sites, is nothing less than contempt for beauty and disdain for history.  (It’s not just the Museum of Nature that does this, the entire strip of key buildings from Library and Archives Canada to Parliament has surface parking all around it.)

To summarize: the car kills you slowly or the car kills you quickly, and the car makes for dirty, ugly, wasteful spaces.  You would be crazy to give it priority in public space.  But we do.

All of which to say it doesn’t matter whether the Museum of Nature’s west parking lot holds 7 cars, or 29, or 48, or zero.  It is a stupid use of public greenspace.  The idea that this can be mitigated by restoring the grass so that you can gaze across a strip of green AT A BIG CENTRAL SURFACE PARKING LOT is ridiculous.


The idea that a green space just east of condo densification should be allocated to a car lot based on the possibility of maximum use for a few days at the absolute peak of the summer season is insulting.  Even if this lot were full all the time it would be a terrible use of space and a terrible priority.  The fact that it is never anywhere near full just makes it contemptuous and wasteful.  Some theoretical cars for a few days mean months of dead ugly space in the middle of the west park.  Some empty private cars might need to be stored, so no park for you.

It comes down to this:

Storage for cars that might come is more important than cities for actual people.

If this isn’t completely wrong (and incidentally the complete opposite of what green space, transportation and environmental plans say at all levels of government) then I don’t know what is.


May 21, 2012  parking in downtown Ottawa