A Community-Centered Approach to Arterial Roads

We will need efficient movement of road vehicles throughout our cities for the foreseeable future.

Everything we rely on for urban living in Canada is dependent upon road vehicles. All the food, furniture and clothes we buy can only be delivered to stores by road vehicles; all the services we rely on: water, electricity, heating fuels and housing, must be installed and maintained by road vehicles; emergency services can only be supplied by road vehicles; tradespeople need road vehicles loaded with equipment to do essential repairs on our homes; for most of us even public transit can only be provided by road vehicles. This dependence predates the automobile; it can't change quickly. The infrastructure costs to change over to any alternative will be of a level that will take the best part of a century to absorb; the societal changes required will be multigenerational. And in Ottawa, interference by the OMB and NCC will slow it down even more.

Given Ottawa's sprawling population, we can't afford to provide sufficient public transit that most of us can live without individual road vehicles. As long as the Ontario Municipal Board prevents it, our city doesn't have the power to restrict development outside the greenbelt to high density transit-friendly communities; it's severely restricted even inside it. For the foreseeable future most Ottawa residents will be forced to rely on private road vehicles except for commuting to work at major employment centers.

From the standpoint of reducing pollution, we can't provide universal access to public transit within our current city structure. OCTranspo buses provide an average of 7.8 passenger-km per kg CO2 with their average passenger load of 16; current compact cars provide 4 km/kg. Buses on sparse usage routes (fewer than 8 passengers) provide fewer km/kg than a modern single-occupant car over the same route. When the car can take a shorter route than the bus, pollution favours the car even more. For a city as spread out as Ottawa is, private vehicles produce less pollution than buses for many, perhaps most, non-commuter trips.

Restricted-access throughways, the 417, 416 & 174, occupy huge areas of land in our urban areas compared to the road traffic on them. We need to have an intermediate method of conveying road vehicles between our communities in densely populated areas where space is at a premium. Arterials are that intermediate.

These facts require that we maintain an efficient arterial road network across the core of our city. Otherwise, as population increases, as cross-city trips consequently take longer, our ability to live will be severely curtailed by added expense, by added pollution, and by longer response times. Arterial roads need to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible at enabling road vehicles to keep our city together, for service and delivery vehicles and for private road vehicles serving areas where it's too expensive to provide universal public transit.

Unless we separate local traffic from traffic that needs to go across our community, our community will be devastated by future road traffic. As traffic increases on arterial roads they become less efficient because trips take longer and more fuel is used. Inefficient arterials force traffic that has no interest in a community onto local streets, increasing pollution, noise and danger. Already traffic from Hunt Club Road is being forced onto McCarthy Road and Uplands Drive; both McCarthy and Uplands face increasing pressure as Hunt Club Road becomes less efficient. Traffic on Hunt Club Road will increase because the population is increasing and because the new 417 connection will divert more traffic onto it.

Arterials must be focussed on allowing road traffic on them to flow as smoothly and reliably as possible. They need to focus on that single purpose in order to keep our city running and to protect our communities. They must be designed for vehicle throughput, not for pedestrians. When buses have no alternative but to use them, stops must be provided with pull-off bays so vehicles don't pile up behind them.

Our communities can be made more people friendly only if arterials fulfill their role.

What to do?

What not to do?

Next, focus on the bottlenecks:

Compensate communities for the inconveniences caused by arterials: Maximize the effectiveness of every square meter of arterial asphalt so we don't have to cover more of our land with it than we have to: John Sankey