Ottawa’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) Needs Reorientation next time it’s reviewed

Presentation to Transportation Committee on the Transportation Master Plan
Chris Bradshaw, November 15, 2013

My comments are comprehensive and more appropriately apply to the next review of these various plans, although I offer seven suggested changes to the current Master Plan.  I am not addressing the pedestrian or cycling plans, despite my strong support for those two modes.  Today, I am concentrating on driving, and mostly car-ownership.

Since 1978, I have had two passions: 1) bringing political awareness and stature to pedestrians and 2) reducing the footprint of cars.  Since that time, I have practised using all modes by what I call the “green transportation hierarchy.”  I can also count time at a U.S. college that forbid students from having a car and most professors walked to the campus, and my employment soon afterwards with General Motors in Canada.  My wife and I live in Sandy Hill; we have been “car-lite” since 1995.

What I have come to conclude, and share with you today is that “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”  My fascination with transportation has resulted in much published writing and speeches.  In one of them, I created a way of measuring transportation by any mode so all trips could be compared.  The result was the Neighbourhood-Radius Foot-Unit of Transportation, NRFUT (or “Enerfoot”), shows the following “footprint” of the different modes:
= = = = = =
NRFUT Hierarchy of Modes:
Mode Used             #2      #3      #4     #5     #6        #7
Drive owned car    30         5       1.2    120     10      1250
Drive shared car    30         3       1.33      7     10        670
Rideshare                30         5       2.5     60    15         900
Taxi or ride-share  30         4       1.2*    96     5         480
Use Transit            100         3.5  20*     17.5 13.7     240
Ride a bike                 3          2        1         6      4          24
Walk                            1           1         1        1       1.2         1.2
Notes: Column #2: space occupied; #3 SPAM factor (1-5); #4: Avg. no. of travelers; #5:Total Footprint; #6: Avg trip length; #7: Total NRFUT score.  NRFUT=neighbourhood-radius foot-unit of travel; SPAM= Storage (parking), Pollution, Anxiety (caused to others), Manufacturing/Morbidity; * Not counting driver, who is tied to the vehicle
= = = = = = =

The ratio from the largest to smallest NRFUT count is roughly 1:1000.  The great differences have to do with the vehicle size, the longer distances “enabled” by vehicles, the low occupancy “enabled” by private ownership.  Private ownership also ensures the vehicles are used often and are large and “amenitied” enough for not average trip but the few most demanding ones.

It is accepted around this table that people are free to pick whatever mode they want.  But many over here would suggest there is much favouritism granted the private car:

1)    It supposed benefits to “the economy,” although not so much the local economy.”

2)    Federal housing policies that promote home-ownership in new houses and provide energy subsidies.

3)    Provincial policies that tax property on its retail value, not its and its occupants’ demand for services.  Note that local roads are not supported by gas taxes or provincial fees.

4)     Zoning that requires oversupplies parking, making it “free” (which is a subsidy “buried” in prices, wages, rents/mortgages).

5)    Auto and housing advertising that ties ownership to “freedom” and “status”

6)    Car owners, in a sense “subsidize their own cars by ignoring 80% of car costs that are fixed, some of which the CAA also ignores (owner time costs, parking at home), in costing trips.  [I have campaigned with the Envirocentre to do household transportation audits, to overcome this.]

But there is a rising tide of concern:

1)     Environmental concerns have reached an “immovable” object: Climate Change

2)    Health has focused on inactivity and its contribution to many conditions.

3)    Oil is used as leverage by “rogue” states

4)     “Peak Car”has arrived: the decline of auto use, auto-ownership, and delays for young people in getting licensed has occurred since 2006, before the financial melt-down.  Part of this decline is the increasing reality that driving in cities is no longer fun; while walking always is, especially when it means always being connected to one’s social network.

Think of the automobile’s historic century of ubiquity as a pendulum: the first 50 years were downhill, the last fifty has been uphill, to the point of it coming to a stop and reversing direction.

What is the focus of this Master Plan?  It is peak-hour travel, a product of jobs times geographic scale of the “commutershed”: the territory within which the car has made daily commuting possible.  Car ownership and jobs have conspired to create a problem that we never solve, plan after plan: too many cars carrying too few people going to jobs too far from where the people live.  How can roads be congested, when the cars causing the congestion aren’t near to being full?  Why doesn’t the Plan consider more options than two pages describing “ridesharing” to get more people in those cars to reduce the number of cars using the roads at the same time.  The current problem is the treating private car ownership as sacred, in which driving is good and “passengership” is bad.

A couple years ago, I had a private audience of PGM (Planning & Growth Management) staff, including Ms. Scheppers, to pitch a concept, which I called “Trans-Seat,” a hybrid of carsharing and ridesharing, which would overcome all the problems of ridesharing as well as the problems of transit: greater flexibility for ridesharing, and overcoming the reality that people who use either one are deprived of car access for half the week.  Trans-seat uses carshare vehicles with two stations each, one in a residential suburb and the other in a suburban employment area.  The cars are stationed at the former on evenings and weekends (to replace second-cars), and at workplaces on weekdays to provide a vehicle for personal or business trips, even including some ridesharing (lunch, going to the same remote meeting).  The car is driven between the two as part of a ridesharing plan each weekday morning and evening.

Even though it is too late to start this review over, I have a few changes to suggest for the next one in 5-7 years.

1)    Commit the city to reducing car-ownership, downsizing democratically the car “population” to fit the road capacity, not the other way around.  This should be done through shared fleets in private hands.  Note how many carsharing companies have been bought by car-rental firms (for example, Discount has just started its Student Carshare, now at three campuses in Ottawa).

2)    Second, make transit service better at off-peak times, getting more use out of buses that sit idle for most of the service week.  This would draw “transit-choice” riders to use it for trips other than commuting, and improve life for the so-called “transit-captive” half of the population that don’t have cars or aren’t allowed to or aren’t supposed to drive, the “PED-CIVS”: Poor, Elderly, Disabled, Children, Ill &Infirm, Visitors, and what I call Simplicists, those who actually choose to live without a car.

3)    Adopt the Affordable, Low-NRFUT Transportation Hierarchy – Walking, Cycling, Transit & Trucking, Shared cars, with private (and usually single-occupant) vehicles at the bottom.  This will require each report to Council for a transportation expenditure, including transit, will include a statement of how many NRFUTs (“enerfeet”?)will be saved.

4)    Exert more control over subdivision design and the location and scale of retailing.  This is needed to make the 150 or so local communities “complete.”  Parking requirements – except setting maximums– should be eliminated, leaving parking to be a market of its own.  Saying “mixed-use” is not specific enough.  Make the neighbourhood associations more relevant by giving them a role and letting them tax their residents and businesses to have the resources for full participation in their planning.

5)     Start telling commuters that they can only use so many NRFUT for their peak-hour commute, and any excess will be charged for through some form of road pricing.  Tax all off-street parking as well [see University of Ottawa’s Sustainable Prosperity’s The Costs of Sprawl].  And tell them that their affordability model should consist of tracking housing and transportation together, and that living close to work and “conveniences” translates into saving fixed car costs as well as variable ones.

6)    Abandon any further “rapid transit” projects until you have done all upgrades to walking and cycling infrastructure and to bring in streetcars to all main street spines feeding the core (which were once part of the City’s plan, but were dropped several years ago, another example of the myopic focus on having transit compete with subsidized car-commuting).

7)    Finally, require that the next review include two additional plans: a) A transit plan that will finally have clear numbers for costs by km and time of day and data from PRESTO on how the resources are used. B) A car plan to ensure that the car “population” is reduced by a target amount.

NOTE: on terminology: “Complete Streets” conjures up a characterization of our current arterial roads as “compete streets” (e.g., road rage, etc.)   The “master” plan seems like a plan prepared by the “masters” of our automobile-dependent complex (congestion at rush hour – like freedom to cross streets anywhere, anytime – is seen as an impediment to higher car-ownership rates).  After seeing the films, “The Human Scale” and David Chernushenko’s “Bike City, Great City” at the Mayfair Theatre in the last week, I am reminded of my little ditties: “Car-Full, Careful; Car-Free, Carefree” and “Cars scar; parks spark.”

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