BALTZ: Parking phobia to blame for Sherwood speedway

Zig-zags: Doing a number on Sherwood

Mixing traffic engineering and politics can have unintended consequences. Take Sherwood Drive, running from Carling Ave near Dow’s Lake to Parkdale Ave just south of the Queensway onramps. Sherwood is thoroughly residential, featuring large, gracious homes with deep lawns, mostly built in the first half of the 20th century when the Civic Hospital neighbourhood was developed. Wide, well-kept boulevards with mature trees separate the street from the sidewalks. In short, it is close to being an ideal urban residential street.

Yet, Sherwood is the subject of continual complaints from residents about traffic, particularly its speed. One reason is that it provides a very convenient direct diagonal for traffic between the major commuter arterial of Carling and the 417, making it a desirable route indeed for those wanting to avoid the heavy traffic and signalized intersections on narrow Parkdale and other less direct routes. A look down Sherwood provides another clue. The street is enormously wide, with no barriers in the way of cars barreling between Parkdale and Carling except a few stop signs. Aiming your car down this road feels like being on a speedway.

Is this because of bad design? Undoubtedly this is part of the reason. The curb-to-curb asphalt is too wide for a residential street not meant to be a major arterial. However—and here’s where politics and unintended consequences come in—a large portion of the blame for fast traffic on Sherwood is probably due to residents having worked in the past to improve traffic conditions.

Few neighbourhoods in the city are as allergic to on-street parking as the Civic area, largely due to a history of hospital visitors and staff clogging up neighbourhood streets. What does this have to do with traffic and speed? Just this: very few measures provide cheaper or more effective traffic calming than on-street parking that narrows the drivable width of the road, and reduces the perception of unobstructed width. As it is now, roads like Sherwood appear essentially four lanes wide, since parking is completely banned during the day. This could be simply and easily changed by allowing short-term parking.

Civic neighbourhood residents traditionally strongly support a parking ban. The Ottawa Hospital wants to protect its parking revenue. For elected officials, there’s no advantage to taking on these strong forces with no clear constituency for allowing parking. So we have a scenario where virtually the entire neighbourhood is a no parking zone, while the hospital lawn was converted to a parking lot a few years ago despite the ample supply of potential on-street parking nearby.

Now we have reached the point where truly dubious measures are being tried. Recently, the City painted zigzag lines on the street, and put up signs saying they were an experimental speed reduction program. Really? Does anyone actually think this will work? Why not try the obvious speed reduction program, and put parked cars on the street—short-term parking—and just slow things down the old-fashioned way.

8 comments

  1. I would be interested in seeing some actual ‘data’ on those zig-zag designs before I pass judgement. Like the writer, I am very skeptical that the zig-zag pattern is effective at all in reducing motorists speeds, but sometimes hard data surprises. Allowing short term parking would certainly go along way to reducing speeds. And with more poeple coming and going and getting in and out of cars and walking, the street would be a lot livelier too (and that’s not a bad thing). I walk on the street with a baby stroller occasionally and sometimes feel like I am intruding on some one else’s postcard….

  2. Interesting observation Jay. Living on Sherwood, I won’t argue with your description of it as being “close to being an ideal urban residential street.”

    Obviously it was designed to be a wide, gracious street in an era before it was common for people to use residential streets as drag strips. The speeding problem is likely to get worse as intensification progresses.

    Indeed residents have been very active in trying to control both traffic and parking in the area. Many have the ‘crazy’ notion that posted speed limit signs might deter speeding. The city disagrees.  Instead, they came up with the zig-zag lines. I can’t see any perceptible difference in the speeds as a result of the zig-zags, but the City claims that it works in Europe. Most visitors to the street just snicker.

    While allowing more parking in the civic hospital neighbourhood might reduce traffic speeds, it would also likely add to the overall traffic volume in the area. 

    Personally, since the speeding problem is largely confined to Sherwood, I would like to see more aggressive speed calming measures applied, like average speed cameras being used successfully the UK and Spain:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/driving/article5645536.ece

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/6743003/Average-speed-cameras-installed-in-neighbourhoods-for-the-first-time.html

    http://live.kyero.com/2011/02/19/average-speed-cameras-in-full-operation/

  3. It is so sad to see my neighbours (in the Tunney’s Pasture area) converting their front lawns to parking pads because of the one-hour parking restrictions preventing onstreet parking by Tunney’s employees. Who cares whether some cars are parked in front of my house during the day? It’s a city street, and I’m not there anyway! Neighbourhoods with street parking and lawns are much prettier in my opinion than neighbourhoods with no parking and cars lined up at the front door.

  4. Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood has used collapsible bollards to give the “appearance” and “feel” of a narrowed roadway. They are placed a regular intervals, out from the curb about the same distance as a parked car’s outer edge. Discreet, yet visible enough to slow down traffic.

    Sherwood Drive residents might still have their cake and eat it too.

  5. It’s not only Sherwood that has this issue. I live on Bayswater near Carling, and the cars move quickly on there. I’d like to see more on-street parking, but I’d also like to see narrowing to force traffic to slow down, as well as design retrofits that blur the difference between car and pedestrian space

  6. I’m just a little bit resentful of the neighbourhoods – and the Civic Hospital area is not unique in this respect – where daytime parking is not allowed during the week.

    Why couldn’t there be parking on one side of the street on even days or weeks of the month, and on the other side on odd days or weeks? Other cities do it. Maybe it would result in less speeding. At least it would seem fairer than the present system.

    If the city knows about the effectiveness of different approaches, let’s hear about them. Personally, I’ve never understood what those zig zag lines were all about.

  7. I share Jay’s take on this. The problem of “volume” won’t change if curbside parking is allowed, the street has volume already. Slowing down the volume should be the aim here. I have also seen those bollards in NDG, and they work – but I’m also partial to on-street parking as a way to defend green front yards. Besides, those are city streets and I also struggle with neighbours who feel “proprietary” about streets that everyone pays taxes for. Finally, on-street parking buffers sidewalks and bring more pedestrians to them – the people who park become eyes on the street once they are on foot.

  8. Street parking IS street narrowing. The usual NIMBY brigands want their cake and eat it too. They don’t want cars driving. They don’t want them not driving. And, of course, their own vehicular movements don’t constitute “traffic” – only other peoples’ do.

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