Reducing Ottawa’s Car and Parking-Space “Populations”

[Adapted from My Presentation to Transportation Committee of
the City of Ottawa on the Occasion of Considering its Part of
the City’s 2015 Budget, March 3, 2015]

After reading, yesterday, about Ecology Ottawa’s lobbying to get the City to step up its Global Warming planning – and how Councillor Chernushenko made similar points — I realized that I need to do my bit as well. As this is the first budget of a new council, and with several new members of this committee, it is appropriate to look at the big picture.

I have worked for 30 years to promote walking and cycling, and the sharing of cars. I work under the “Green Transportation Hierarchy” framework: “balanced” transportation is replaced by clear favouritism of certain modes based on each’s use of space, externalization of danger, environmental impacts, social equity, support for social and democratic capital, affordability (the city’s and that of its citizens), and contributions to personal health.

Not surprisingly, cars come out last by every measure. However, people and institutions are too dependent on them to talk in terms of getting rid of them, at least in the short term, but rather, by focusing on their impacts, we need to substitute other modes wherever and whenever possible. But at the same time, we can plan to reduce specific numbers each years, as well as a certain amount of their “infrastructure”: kilometres of lanes, width of lanes, and parking spaces, private and public.

Neither the recently revised Official Plan nor Transportation Master Plan talk about the car population, nor of the total amount of car infrastructure, although both documents favour walking-cycling-transit over commuting alone by car. How would it do this? It could find out about the vehicle populations and the number of its citizens who drive from the Province of Ontario. But counting parking spaces requires would require a “census,” not just of parking spots, but of how and how much they are used. The city owns the on-street parking and several parking lots. Land zoned for parking are managed by a few large companies. And it controls the zoning that requires various numbers of “ancillary” parking spaces (spaces that are required to serve each particular land use). The parking literature suggests that a city needs a ratio of between 4 and 8 total parking spaces for each vehicle in its “population” at residences, employment areas, and stores, institutions, and recreation facilities.

You might expect each year’s budget to provide clear evidence of the “dividend” of a reduce emphasis on driving (the share of trips by car during rush hour is supposed to drop from 55% to 50%). But alas, the road-expansion budget is much higher than what is spent on walking and cycling infrastructure, all in the name of “growth.” It is not clear what “growth” means: of the human population, the increase in the length of trips or the frequency of trips, or the increase in the car population? It obviously is not the last one, but if the city did put car-population within its sites, if could count on a reduced rush-hour demand, and more people looking to fill empty seats in the smaller number of cars remaining. After all, why are roads slated for widening and other “improvements” when 90% of the cars causing congestion are only 20% full?

What can be done?

1. Start a social media campaign to support the recent (since 2006) trend, “peak car,” which has brought the developed countries a steady drop in the amount of driving that has increased annually for over 100 years, but which is now dropping. It is mostly due to younger people who apparently don’t find driving as appealing as using their smartphone to stay in touch with friends and associates. Apparently, the car as “the great connector” has been replaced by the internet and mobile phones.

2. A second media campaign is needed to get citizens to favour local destinations over those further away — knowing that shorter trips can be done by the greener modes (and fewer transit transfers) — and to consider relocating their homes or jobs or retail loyalties to allow this to happen. The rise of carsharing (provided in Ottawa by shows that a growing number of people see the virtues of “location efficiency.”

3. Invite the public to identify parts of the car infrastructure that can be downsized or closed because it is not being used that much (just take photos of streets after a new snowfall to see how much of the street is untouched). “Pop-up” projects can be used to re-purpose them as “people places” for a day, week, or month to see if congestion occurs.

4. Create an agency like Transport for London (UK) that oversees the whole of transportation, rather than Ottawa’s separation of transit from taxi from parking (and not much of any interest in ridesharing and car-sharing/car-rental). It should set up an enterprise, “trans-seat” to coordinate all modes, including developing a “going-my-way” hitchhiking app. It should also set up a prototype carshare/rideshare hybrid that is ideal for the suburbs (two-station shared vans that are used for the weekday commutes and for private travel during the workday at the commercial end, and for personal family travel at he neighbourhood end — posted elsewhere on this site.)

5. Get from Ontario the same taxing and municipal powers as the city of Toronto to introduce road-pricing and surcharges on private parking, even free parking. Until road use ceases to be free — unlike garbage/water/sewer and recreation and community facilities — it will be overused. Yes, it is appropriate to charge — in proportion to space used and time of day — multi-user vehicles, but not cyclists or pedestrians.

6. Reduce speed limits on all roads (except limited-access roadways) to the speed of cycling: 20 kms an hour, a speed at which road deaths — and the fear of being killed or maimed — are eliminated and which will open free movement again for children and the elderly.

7. Look for private partners to develop Transit-oriented Development sites the city has planned for light-rail stations, rather than let this concept wither on the vine. And invite neighbourhoods to do their community’s “travel-reducing” plan to mix land-uses, increase employment, and increase housing densities in order to shorten trips and reduce “through traffic.”

8. Adopt a fairer fare system that today, translates into a poorer service at times OC Transpo calls “off-peak.” That service is used by seniors, stay-at-home parents, tourists/visitors, and the unemployed and workers with part-time or non-office-job hours. These are also people with limited means, but with a transit system that only limps along. Fares should be based on distance and time of day, as these factors come closest to reflecting the costs of providing the service. Yes, off-peak has many empty seats, but only because of the fare system and the agency’s bias by referring to off-peak riders as “dependent” or “captive.”

9. Expand the terms of reference for the Parking Stakeholders Consultation Group to include all City and private parking actors.


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