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.