So over the summer Ottawa City Council is going to be grappling with the revolutionary idea of perhaps forming an advisory committee to consult with various factions to float the proposal of a pilot project to construct segregated bicycle lanes in a section of Centretown.
There’s a lot of congested traffic in that part of the city and the idea is to turn some two-way streets into one-way streets to accommodate bike lanes. Well, some of the city counselors (Centretown’s Diane Homles in particular) reckoned people were going to go crazy if parking spots and driving lanes were going to disappear in favour of new bike lanes.
And she’s probably right. Motorists always go mental when it means they can’t drive somewhere fast or when they can’t park (for free) right in front of where they want to go when they get there. And Centretown businesses will presumably plummet into bankruptcy if fewer cars are able to drive by their shops.
First of all, I’d be willing to bet that the patrons of Centretown shops and restaurants are mostly local – people who live in the area or people who live just outside the area. I don’t think a lot of folks drive in from Kanata or Barrhaven to get their groceries at Hartmans.
Second, Centretown (and as far down as the Glebe) is really the only urban community this city has. Cutting back on vehicular traffic and promoting bicycle and pedestrian traffic in that area is the best idea I’ve heard come out of city council yet….okay maybe even the only good idea.
In fact, I think there are way too many cars and not enough people in the whole downtown core. There’s a whole chunk of prime downtown land on one side of the canal that’s entirely taken up with office buildings and streets. Land that’s used for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, not including holidays. The rest of the time it’s deserted. How crazy is that?
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, when I first visited Ottawa, to see the famous Sparks Street – touted as Canada’s first pedestrian mall. It looked so innovative and exciting on the website. I got there on a Sunday afternoon. Not a soul in sight. All the shops and restaurants were closed. Debris, like tumbleweed, wafted around the gloomy, empty square.
If we want to revitalize downtown, we need to move more people into the area and make it as easy and safe as possible for people in the area to get around without having to drive. At least half the space in any downtown core should be residential – both affordable housing complexes and higher- end residences. Once you have people there 24-hours a day, like you do in Centretown, then you attract more shops and restaurants and you cut down the need for ever bigger and wider roads.
I think a downtown core needs only a network of one-way, single-lane streets with segregated bike paths (paths with curbs so cars can’t veer into them or park in them). Sidewalks should be widened to accommodate not only pedestrians but also benches/rest areas, sidewalk cafes, small green spaces, bicycle parking, outdoor shops, buskers, etc. And there would still be room for parking between the road and the bike paths for residents and those who absolutely must drive their cars downtown.
I’ll be interested to see how these “public consultations” on the bike lane issue are going to be conducted. I hope business owners take the time to survey their customers before declaring out-of-hand that no one will show up if there’s less traffic. I hope motorists who just use Centretown streets to drive through on their way to somewhere else aren’t consulted. I hope people with a little vision get the final say. And I hope fellow blogger and avid cyclist, Julia Ringma, is elected to city council in the fall to help keep this project moving.
If any of you live in a city with a vibrant, thriving downtown core, I’d love to hear how your city has accomplished that.