Getting Our Lives Together (2005)

“Getting Our Lives Together”
Draft Remarks by Chris Bradshaw for Car-Free Day at Ottawa City Hall, Sept. 22, 2005

It has taken me a little time to warm up to the idea of a car-free day, even though I am a long-time advocate of walking.  I did write a paper for the Car-Free Cities Conference in Toronto in 1992 that called for the cities to have a different transportation system that made cars unnecessary, but that was for quite some time in the future.  I have come to accept the argument that the habitat that cars need and the habitat people need are ultimately mutually exclusive.  I mean, which would you rather have, a car-free city or a people-free one?

There is a close community of people who want the car reigned in here in Ottawa, at one time it might have been the most varied of any city in North America.  The pro-rail transit group, Transport 2000 is probably the oldest existing group, although I don’t think they focussed mostly on urban transit until the 1980s.  There is Citizens for Safe Cycling that started in the early 1980s, and in the early 90s won the Region’s contract to do cycling safety programs.  In 1988, Ottawalk started, speaking for the walking mode until 2000.  Soon afterwards, Car-Free Ottawa started, and still is slightly active.  There have even been transit-users groups, including the one councillor Holmes started in the 1970s, and another that started up a couple years ago.  I came to Ottawa in 1969, and remember being part of two other groips: Transit Probe and the Ottawa Research Institute, led by Jim Steinhart, both active in the 1970s.

Today, we have an important alliance between all these interests in the City Centre Coalition, with cycling, transit, and mostly older-area community associations as participants.

Light rail is seem by many as the solution.  Others champion the official plan’s urban boundary and commitment to more compact development.  Other people promote buying more efficient automobiles.  There are also two City advisory committees, Roads and Cycling, and Walking and Transit, but they have been frustrated by low staff support.  There is also one for the environment and for disabled persons.  What is most remarkable is that motorists have never been organized.  I worked in this field for almost 40 years in Ottawa, and I have never seen a group of motorists get organized.

In any case, today is the day for renewal of this long-term effort to reduce the damaging effects of cars on our quality of life.  It is a time to connect this cause with the daily lives of people, to avoid being seen as unreasonable, radical voices.  Here are some suggestions for action by citizens of Ottawa:
First, think about your driving.  Do you really enjoy it, or it a unavoidable, stressful activity?  Do you really know how much it costs, both the costs related to driving, and the cost related to owning and keeping a car on the road?  The CAA says those costs for a newer Chevrolet Cavalier is about 13 cents/km plus $7000 a year.

Second, be careful where you choose to live.  Is it close to the job or jobs that pay the bills?  Can these jobs be reached without driving?  Have you picked a neighbourhood with local services that can be easily reached by all members of the household without depending on being driven there?  Consider ridesharing if one of the jobs is poorly located, perhaps with the assistance of the employer or a free website.

Third, provide all the amenities for the alternatives modes.  Do all members of the household over 10 have a bicycle, and have they been provided cycling training to do it safety?  Is all clothing designed for physical activity, have reflective material for evening use, and is weather-ready?  Is there a supply of bus tickets by the phone, along with a list of all bus-stop numbers?  Are there maps of the transit system and the bicycle paths up in the main hallway, or in each person’s backpack?

Fourth, don’t assume you need one car for every licenced driver in the household.  Consider the costs and the fact that ownership stimulates driving.  Work out plans for sharing.  And consider carsharing or using a rental car for the odd time conflicts occur.

Fifth and finally, when talking to elected officials and municipal staff, display some understanding of the problem.  For instance, don’t complain about high taxes in the same breath as you complain about congested roads.  Widening roads is expensive and only encourages more car-ownership and use – and this costs the road users, and the City, more.  Participate in your community association.  Don’t blame only “outsiders” for the traffic on your street; rather make a commitment to reduce your own driving.  Also, don’t demand more and more parking, as parking stimulates driving.  And finally, make sure your streets are walkable first, and driveable, last.

In two days, my neighbours and I will be celebrating car-free day for the firt time in the Glebe.  We are calling it “walk ‘til you shop.”  Guided walks, info booths, displays in “bulb-outs” at the corners, kids activities should make the point that residents need to travel little to live a full life when they live in a “complete neighbourhood.

I want to leave with a very short poem for today:
Car-full, careful.  Car-free, carefree.

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