Three plaques went up on Toronto’ s Spadina Avenue last year celebrating the 1971 victory over the never-built Spadina Expressway: a victory over car-centric planning won 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, Ottawa is marking a different milestone. We’re voting on whether to build our commuter expressway: the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor parkway, phase 1.
The phased approach is making it hard for councillors to realize the gravity of their decision. On March 8-10 they will debate and vote on phase 1—the $55 million, 1.2 km AVTC hospital link.
Councillor Hume is calling it a “standard city street.” The map in the budget document shows a simple black line linking Riverside Drive to the General Hospital.
But have a look at the real plan. Note the similarity to the layout of the full parkway through the corridor. The $55 million price tag covers the underpass, bridge and loop necessary for a much bigger road.
Hundreds of comments on the petition site noroad.ca indicate the level of outrage throughout the city. Eight city centre community associations are officially against the road as designed. Many have for years tried to get the city to consider alternatives to pouring more cars onto our roads.
The Mayor says he has no plans to build the full road. It’ s a nice sentiment. But whether today’s mayor wants the commuter parkway or not, the first phase of this road will beg future mayors to build the rest.
Growth and intensification will demand it. Southeast commutes, now circuitous cut-throughs that anger drivers and residents alike, will increase. But with no room for dedicated rapid transit in the corridor, extending the road will be the only solution.
Though the exact numbers are unclear, the full parkway will cost hundreds of millions to build. It will intensify traffic in the downtown core and on the 417. It will put a serious dent in transit ridership, mix buses with car traffic, and break Ottawa 2020’ s smart growth promises of a modal shift to transit, biking and walking.
Hospital expansion over the next decade is one factor driving phase 1. But in examining this growth, are we conflating the needs of patients with the needs of staff? Right now, poor transit corners thousands of hospital employees into driving to work and paying for expensive parking. Better transit for commuters—both hospital staff and local residents—would free up surrounding roads for patients in cars and ambulances.
Many hospitals are nestled, like the Ottawa General, into their surrounding neighbourhoods and served not by dedicated thruways but by local roads. Think Montreal’ s Royal Vic or the Toronto General. Employees walk to work from all around, practicing health leaders’ mantra of prevention as cure.
Perhaps the former planner in town this week from the world’ s most livable city, Vancouver’ s Larry Beasley could weigh in on how we can keep quality of life top of mind.
For next week, councillors need to be clear on the meaning of their decision. Will they irreversibly set in motion the building of the full AVTC commuter parkway? Or will they take the bold step of deferring the budget item and working towards a smarter solution that will grow with our city?
Sherry McPhail is a writer living in Ottawa, after also living in Calgary and Vancouver. Leisure and work time spent in Toronto, Montreal, the maritimes and overseas gives her a broad perspective on smart, usable design that works in an urban setting. Often found on the local rinks, fields, forest trails and ski runs, she is keen on getting outside and building community. She sits on the board of her local community association in Riverview Park.