What's next for safe streets for Ottawa's cyclists and pedestrians?

A plan to systematically build safer, more walkable, and bike-friendly streets, more money for Ottawa's pedestrian and cycling infrastructure plans, and federal and provincial support for Stage 2 light rail - these were Ecology Ottawa's sustainable transportation priorities going into this term of council. With 2016 coming to a close, it's time to reflect on what we've accomplished together and look forward into 2017.

As outlined below, the next few years will be a critical time for improving the health and safety of Ottawa's streets. We're asking for your support to help make the most of the many opportunities that are emerging. You can support this work with a one-time donation, or you can become a Trailblazer - a monthly donor supporting a full-time advocate who works to improve the health and safety of Ottawa's streets for cyclists and pedestrians. If you have already donated in recent months, thank you! We hope this update will help you understand one of the areas where your valuable contribution is being put to work.

Our Active City work has focused on three major areas during this term of council: building complete streets, accelerating investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and supporting light rail.

1. Complete streets: 

During the last term of council the City of Ottawa adopted a Complete Streets Policy and, in the run-up to the 2014 municipal election, Ecology Ottawa called on all candidates to get behind the new planning approach. By adopting the policy, the City agreed to overhaul the way it designs our streets. They had agreed, in principle, to adopt a planning approach that systematically considered the needs of all users (including cyclists, pedestrians and public transit riders, among others), all ages (the young and the old) and all abilities (including the mobility-impaired). This was an important move away from the old model of developing streets primarily according to the needs of cars. But no one knew exactly how the City was going to make the transition.

Ecology Ottawa was one of many voices encouraging the City to follow through on its promises and we strongly supported an ambitious Complete Streets Implementation Plan when it came out in 2015. This Implementation Plan outlined how the City of Ottawa was going to systematically integrate complete streets principles into the criteria that engineers use when designing our streets. It was ambitious - it moved Ottawa from one of hundreds of cities across North America paying lip service to complete streets, to one of the leading cities putting the model into practice. Streets like Churchill Ave. and Main St. are early examples of the 'complete streets' design model at work. But we know that widespread implementation remains a political question. In other words, if we want to see better streets for pedestrians and cyclists, we need to organize communities to speak up for complete streets design at key moments.

To this end, Ecology Ottawa launched the Complete Streets Restorations Map in 2016. This is an interactive tool designed to help residents across the city find streets slated for renewal in their neighbourhoods, and then take a leadership role in ensuring that these streets are re-built as complete streets. There are hundreds of streets that will come up for renewal in the next few years, which means hundreds of opportunities to make lasting improvements to our streetscape. As we move into 2017, we will strive to engage residents in all areas of the city on street re-builds in their neighbourhoods. In the first half of 2017, we will also conduct a comprehensive assessment of the state of the City's complete streets policy implementation.

2. More money for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Ottawa: 

The City of Ottawa's Cycling Infrastructure Plan and Pedestrian Infrastructure Plan lay out specific investments that Ottawa hopes to make in these areas. They are on the whole good plans, filled with good ideas, but they have two key problems. First, the investments are too small. For example, all of the investments in either plan cost less than the projected cost of widening the Airport Parkway. Second, the investments are spread out over 15 years.

It is true that the City invests in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in other ways, such as the day-to-day street restoration mentioned above as part of the complete streets planning approach. Despite this, Ecology Ottawa believes that we need more investment in bike lanes, walkways, signage, pedestrian bridges and transit integration measures, and we need it faster.

During the 2014 municipal election we called on all candidates to accelerate funding for the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure plan and we were happy to see that most candidates supported the idea. Since then, Ecology Ottawa has been urging the City to make the most of provincial and federal infrastructure funding as a way to accelerate active transportation initiatives. The Trudeau government was elected in part on a promise to make infrastructure investments in cities across the country. Meanwhile, the provincial government is making substantial infrastructure investments of its own, in addition to sustainability initiatives funded by revenue from its cap and trade program.

We need leadership from City Hall – a list of shovel-ready projects along with seed money – if we hope to take advantage of these funding opportunities. So far, we have received assurances from City officials that Ottawa is positioning itself to take advantage of this opportunity. Also, last year's list of federal infrastructure funding in Ottawa contained large sums for cycling, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure. In 2017, we will dig deeper into the numbers, watch where the next round of federal infrastructure goes, and seek assurance from the City that Ottawa is accelerating investments in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

3. Light rail: 

The City of Ottawa is in the midst of building a comprehensive light rail network which will dramatically scale up the city’s public transportation capacity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buses and cars. Stage 1 of the plan, which runs from Tunney's Pasture in the west to Blair Station in the east, is on track for completion in 2018. Stage 2 would extend light rail further west, south and east by 2023.

We called on all 2014 municipal candidates to prioritize light rail investment, and we're pleased to see the City of Ottawa's light rail focus in its budgeting process - it stands as the City's number one investment commitment. We're also happy to see widespread agreement between all levels of government to adequately fund Stage 2 of the project.

In 2017, we'll be watching for sustained attention to cycling and pedestrian connectivity at the new light rail stations popping up all across the city. We recently discovered that the City essentially forgot to add bike lanes to the new Booth Street station before moving to correct the mistake. We must ensure that similar mistakes are avoided as the city rolls out its new transit network. We're also watching for a concrete vision for future transit investments. Expanding into Kanata and outlining the next great strategic investment in the downtown wards will hopefully be on the table. Ultimately, the choices the City makes on transit will impact Ottawa's emissions and urban development patterns for generations to come, and we are happy to see that it is one of the City's core priorities.

So, what's next? 

Clearly, 2017 is a time of profound change in the urban fabric of Ottawa. We need to ensure that the resources are in place to mobilize Ottawa residents around safe and healthy streets at this critical time. You can sign up to become a monthly Trailblazer here with a donation of $1 per day. If $1 a day is too much, consider making a 50 cent or 25 cent per day commitment. Or you can make a one-time donation by clicking here. There is a lot of work to be done, and you can be an important part of the path forward.

Thank you for all that you do to make Ottawa a greener city. We look forward to working with our donors, volunteers and supporters to make 2017 Ottawa's best year yet for sustainable transportation.

Best of the season,

Graham, Charles, Lucie, Velta, Robb and the entire Ecology Ottawa team

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