By Brian Clarke
This is the first of two parts of an article about an important and frustrating problem we have all experienced: road congestion. Why is it split into two parts?
Well, in today’s half, I introduce the problem in a somewhat serious tone. It’s not really a new argument, but one that I think we all should be aware of if we are going to deal with the issue. Tomorrow, in part two, I switch gears and take a bit more of a silly tone in attempt to answer my own questions.
Because that is how I deal with questions that I have no real answer to…
On the one hand, I agree that we Ottawans cannot complain about traffic as much as our neighbours in Toronto and Montreal, however, it is still a recurring problem that seems to rear its ugly head every summer. With unpredictable weather, tons of construction every summer and a vastly inefficient transit system, our city’s roads can get very congested.
Add our huge suburban sprawl to this and average commute times in Ottawa end up being one of the highest in the country at over 26 minutes. For an idea of how huge our suburban sprawl is, consider that Ottawa has only 300 residents per square kilometer, while other large cities in Canada (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) are all well over 4000! Even Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, have a population density of over 1000 – three to four times that of Ottawa. Is this a case for high-rise condos in Ottawa?
City Hall’s solution to this issue is certainly respectable, albeit a bit utopian: encourage everyone to cycle to work. They have a vision that by building and improving bike paths and lanes, more people will take a green option to get to work. If you build it, they will come.
As a cyclist, I love this attitude from City Hall. However, I realize that it is not entirely practical – most people are still going to drive, no matter what. This simply isn’t Europe – our North American culture is too dependent on cars.
Additionally, as pointed out by Alex Devries of Spacing magazine, there is a bit of a paradox of striving to improve green commuting. The nature of municipal politics and the fact that most electorates are car drivers means that City Hall must try to improve cyclist networks without inconveniencing drivers.
This is why the issue is such a tricky one, and why I have no serious answer. It’s tough in city politics to make everyone happy. However, I think all of these related problems – surburban sprawl, inefficient public transit, and road congestion all have the same underlying issue: our overdependence on cars.
If we can somehow become less obsessed with driving, I believe the suburban sprawl would slow down as many people would look for closer options, more pressure, time and resources would be put on improving public transit and most obviously, road congestion would diminish. The question then becomes, how do we do this?
Before I give my completely ridiculous answer to this question tomorrow (because, again, I don’t have a serious, practical solution), I’d like to give you the chance to chime in. Share in the comments below or on our Facebook page how you think (if at all) Ottawa can reduce its dependence on cars and consequently its road congestion.
The number of residents per kilometer does not say how much urban sprawl there is in a city. There could be one apartment with everyone in it and the ‘population density’ would be the same, but there would be no urban sprawl. Ottawa is a huge city. Ottawa is 2778km 2. Next largest city you listed, Calgary at 726km 2 (26.1% that of Ottawa almost 1/4 the area). Ottawa has a ton of countryside and farmland which is reducing the population density. Although is does increase the chance for urban sprawl, low population density does not equal large amounts of urban sprawl.
Also inefficient transit in Ottawa. So many workers come from outside of Ottawa, that is a great big problem, check out Hwy 417 at Hwy 416. Until we make practical public transportation to the outskirts of Ottawa and beyond (problem above)
Will it get better when construction starts on for the train? It will only get worse because the train will not serve those that it is being built for.
Thank you for pointing that out – you are correct in that I was thinking about population density in the wrong way. There must be some other statistic however (although, it’s not necessarily needed as anyone can easily observe it) that shows how the urban sprawl in Ottawa is getting a bit out of hand and putting undue strain on public transit as well as our roads and highways as more people are commuting longer distances.
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