Towards a human-centered Ottawa, beginning with Bronson North

It took a century to accumulate the horse and buggy Ottawa that lies at our center. It took another century to accumulate the car dependent Ottawa that surrounds it.

Ottawa never was pedestrian friendly. Between avoiding Irish-French bar fights, dodging horse poop and spooked horses, then breathing lead fumes and being deafened by roaring buses, we've had a rough life.

Ottawa never was cycle friendly either. I lived in a dozen major cities around Canada and Europe while trying to qualify for the Canadian Olympic cycling team in the 1950s, and when I moved to Ottawa in the 1960s, I found it the most dangerous place to cycle I'd ever encountered.

Ottawa also isn't transit friendly, except for commuters who work downtown. It takes over an hour for OC Transpo to get to the nearest veggie store from my home. It's 6 km by road; even though pushing 80 I could easily walk it faster if there were sidewalks.

How can we best start now on the path to a pedestrian, cycle and transit friendly Ottawa?

First, we need to accept history. We all now absolutely depend on road transport for everything we use, every day, from furniture deliveries to tradesmen who repair our furnaces to the can of soup at the local store that was delivered by truck. We can't change that overnight. It will probably require the best part of another century to develop and implement the technology and infrastructure that will allow Ottawa to become a truly pedestrian, cycle and transit friendly city.

Second, we need to join together, rather than pitting people in one area of our city against people in other areas. Balance, co-operation and compensation are essential tools for all of us.

Today, the issue is Bronson Avenue North. There are at least 100,000 residents of south Ottawa with nowhere else to go faced with Centretown residents who demand that they go anyway.

First, the lesson from history: we all, Centretowners included, rely on arterial roads for essential transportation around our city. Any impediments to traffic flow on Bronson will force traffic elsewhere where it will be even less desirable, increase costs for all of us for everything we require, and increase pollution for all of us.

So, all of us Ottawans should co-operate with, and pay for, remediation in the communities affected by those arteries.

Lets face it: cars don't appreciate trees or benches. And, not many people will use a bench with smelly traffic roaring by a meter away. Why don't we move the planned benches and trees from Bronson to the streets each side of Bronson, Percy & Cambridge, to start making them truly pedestrian and cycle friendly?

We should ask why the residents of the area have to cross Bronson so often, and correct it. One thing I've heard many mention is the zoning that prohibits neighbourhood stores throughout most of the area. Not everyone wants to walk all the way to Somerset street, and not everyone is Asian either. Why don't we modify zoning there to provide for small general stores where residents can walk to get a can of soup or postage stamps? One about every three blocks seems a sensible idea to start. Perhaps they should be owned by neighbourhood trusts to ensure that they continue to meet neighbourhood needs, to avoid them being bought out by a tattoo parlour or the like.

It's ideas such as these, that provide for all the people of Ottawa but are aimed towards the future we want, that will accumulate to provide the human-friendly city we all want. Let's hear more of them while planning the Bronson rebuild.

John Sankey
other notes on community matters

A submission to the City of Ottawa in 2012 when improvements to traffic flow along Bronson Avenue were recommended by professional staff and being opposed by local residents. Regrettably the professional planners lost at Council.