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?
- Maintain speed limits at the level that most drivers view as safe, rather than too low as on the divided 4-lane Walkley Road east of Bank Street, especially the part east of Heron Road that forms part of the 417-Walkley-Heron-Baseline-416 corridor. Smoothly flowing traffic causes fewer safety problems and higher throughput than the wide variation of speed caused by inappropriate speed limit posting.
- Minimize congestion caused by construction on arterials. Construction should be limited to off-peak times whenever possible and be done in as short a time as possible.
- Minimize congestion due to accidents, by completing investigations as promptly as possible, and
by actively redirecting traffic around the accident rather than leaving it to individual blocked
vehicles to try to figure out what to do.
What to not do?
- Never change zoning to increase the number of people resident on a property dependent upon a private driveway that only accesses an arterial, as was done at 934 Hunt Club Road. Increases in zoning density should only be done when arterial access is by public intersections.
- Never add traffic lights to arterials unless there is no safe alternative. Recently a traffic light was added on Hunt Club Road at T&T even though it already had full access via Riverside Drive. There were legitimate safety concerns but they should have been addressed by intersection design. The new light was installed close to one of the busiest and most accident-prone intersections in Ottawa.
- Plan to avoid excessive bottlenecks. The east connection of Hunt Club Road to the 417 should
not have been opened until the Sheflin bridge could handle the additional traffic.
Next, focus on the bottlenecks:
Compensate communities for the inconveniences caused by arterials:
- The Sheflin bridge over the Rideau River is a bottleneck. Far more vehicles than the bridge can handle use it because there is no realistic alternative.
- The first focus at Sheflin should be traffic coming from east of the Rideau, crossing the bridge, then turning south on Prince of Wales to access communities south of the Greenbelt that have no transit service. The Strandherd-Armstrong bridge is too far south to provide much help. Rather than widen Prince of Wales south of Hunt Club, the money should go into reducing the bottleneck that is here now, at the Sheflin.
- Consideration has to be given to measures as drastic as reducing access to arterials. A major contributor to the blockage west of Sheflin is the interference between traffic lights at Antares and at Prince of Wales. Antares traffic at rush hour might cause fewer problems if diverted to Prince of Wales.
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:
- Provide pedestrian and cycle-friendly routes parallel to arterials. This can be easily done where streets exist in a grid pattern such as around Bronson Avenue north of the 417: Percy and Cambridge could easily become people-friendly havens from vehicular traffic. In suburban-style road layouts, efforts should be made to provide pathways parallel to arterials and separated from them enough to allow people to chat at a normal voice level. Rather than building expensive sidewalks both sides of Hunt Club Road right next to 80 km/hr trucks, the money would be far better spent on a pathway a block south.
- Continue the present practice of providing noise barriers between arterial traffic and residential communities.
- Pedestrian crossings of arterials should require pedestrian activation of a walk signal to minimize unnecessary delays of vehicles. For arterials with a substantial centre median, there are two segments that pedestrians cross: from one side of the road to the median and from the median to the other side. Consideration should be given to separate signalling for each segment rather than delaying vehicle traffic in both directions for the time required for a pedestrian to cross both. This will become increasingly important as our population ages, is more vulnerable to accidents and walks more slowly.
- Trials should be initiated of intersection designs such as the "superstreet" models being used in the USA, or high speed roundabouts, that might cause less disruption to arterial traffic flow than conventional traffic lighted intersections do, and cost less and occupy less space than grade separated intersections.
- New possibilities include optical recognition of vehicles and their speeds to improve traffic light operation on arterials around choke points to favour clearing of the arterial.
- Time-of-day dynamic lane assignments need to be studied, at difficult intersections such as Prince of Wales Drive and Hunt Club Road in particular.
- Traffic triggered advisory displays such as are used on the 401 through Toronto should be implemented whenever arterial traffic has acceptable alternative routes.
- When costs for arterial construction options are compared, they should include costs of delays to traffic using the minimum wage for each person/hour or the average wage throughout our city. Costs of commercial delays are even higher than the average wage as they include vehicle, inventory and overhead.