Monday, May 5, 2008

Walking Ottawa

I had hoped to get out to more of the Jane’s Walk activities this weekend, but could only manage one – Elements of Walkability with Chris Bradshaw. There were 13 other walks going on throughout the city Saturday and Sunday. So, if you went on any of them, I’m interested to hear what you thought.

Our walk was bright and early Saturday morning. They said they had over 70 people registered, but only about 25-30 showed up – but it was early and kind of cold and gloomy. The people who took part were obviously all urban pedestrian types, so Chris Bradshaw was pretty much preaching to the converted when he pointed out things like crosswalks that are too large or the dangers of slopey sidewalks.

I had hoped to see some City types out as well. If I was an urban planner or something for the city this would have been a great way to really see the city and meet and talk with actual people that live in the city. Maybe they all went to the afternoon things?

Anyway, Ottawa’s a long way from what I would consider a walkable city. Parts of the downtown core aren’t too bad -- the areas with low rise buildings, mixed commercial/residential, narrow streets, lots of intersections (e.g.: Bank/Elgin/Somerset). The market area would be really good if they made a nice big chunk of it pedestrian only. Cars weaving among the outdoor patios, market stalls, shoppers and buskers is unnecessary, dangerous and just takes away from the whole experience.

Dining alfresco, while two feet away an SUV is pumping exhaust into your face is unpleasant. On the other side of the coin, why motorists would even want to join in that market traffic snarl is beyond me.

Outside of the downtown core, there is little encouragement in the infrastructure for walking as a form of transportation – urban sprawl in all its glory. Perfunctory sidewalks that suddenly end, highway on and off ramps with no concessions for pedestrians, too many 4+ lane streets with crosswalks that are too wide, no buffers between traffic and sidewalks, walkways that remain snow covered in winter and flooded when it rains, et., etc.

I could go on and on. There are many visionaries like Jane Jacobs who know what it takes for a city to be alive and vital. We have all sorts of fine examples of thriving, walkable cities all over the world. Ottawa even had/has a Pedestrian Plan that’s been dragging on for years.

Ottawa certainly does a lot of planning.


A Happy Downtowner said...

That's so cool. Wonder if Toronto has something like that, I should check it. I love our downtown core, it's not too pedestrian friendly though, I so agree with you about not wanting to eat your meal with exhaust fumes, yuck!

Bandobras said...

It is a fact that the curricula/lums/ lae for almost all urban planning schools and traffic engineers etc spend virtually no time on pedestrian or cycle issues. The grads haven't got the tools they need to create environments scaled for people and so they don't. If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
In Spain a century or so ago when I was young the local square was open during the day and deliveries etc or just plain old traffic could use the downtown core. Then at 5pm they literally locked off all the streets leading in to and out of the square with chains across the road. Then the restaurants opened up their patios and all the nice people came out and socialized. Kids played soccer. MOthers chatted. Men played cards or chess and there was no more gassing of the customers. It was very nice.

XUP said...

HD - Toronto & New York were the first to host Jane's Walks last year and this year Toronto was one of 8 Canadian cities to host it. It was this past weekend, too -- you missed it, but sign up for the updates and you won't miss it next year!

Bandobras - Maybe I should move to Europe... so much more civilized..but then they have all those freaky gay cannibals and guys who lock their kids in basements for 24 years. It's a tough call.