Help win a better 2020 City Budget

The elected Board of Directors of the Healthy Transportation Coalition recently sent in our Budget 2020 requests to the Mayor, City Councillors, and relevant City staff.

We are calling for an investment of $35 million to achieve more affordable public transit for people living on lower incomes, better snow and ice clearing off sidewalks, affordable and inclusive housing near rapid transit, safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, and on-line booking for ParaTranspo users.

If you too want the City of Ottawa to invest in these improvements to help ensure the transportation system is more equitable, please email the Mayor and your City Councillor today, using this tool on our website.

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$26 million in improvements, not bad for a year's work

Since our founding in 2014, we are proud of the progress we've made to make Ottawa better for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit riders. Transportation equity is a big focus of our work, and 2019 has been filled with important investments in the change we need.

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Parking rates and transit fares

We have been drawing attention to the need to increase parking rates in Ottawa, for a few years, and we might be making progress. Progress is sorely needed.

The cost of metered on-street one- and two-hour parking rates have been frozen in Ottawa since 2008. Meanwhile, the City of Ottawa has increased OC Transpo single-ride transit fares by 80% since 2008.

A single-ride on OC Transpo used to cost $2 in 2008. Fares will increase to $3.60 per ride later this year (once Light Rail Transit launches).

 

Why would people choose to ride transit instead of driving their cars if transit user fees are always increasing? Sadly, the City is planning to increase public transit user fees every year by 2.5%.

We think this sends the wrong signal. More should be done to encourage people to ride transit, because more people riding public transit will reduce air pollution, and it will help lessen congestion

Due to our work, scrutiny is being placed on frozen on-street parking rates. As noted in the Ottawa Citizen, a report is being written for Council's consideration that may recommend improvements. We hope improvements include ending the apparent tax advantage provided to surface parking lots in the downtown.

On a related note, in the previous term of City Council, we worked with City Councillors so that consideration would be given to easing road congestion. In 2016, this led to a vote at City Council that unfortunately went the wrong way (read On congestion causes and solutions, Ottawa turns its back on reason).

Some Councillors were undeterred, however, and they found money in their office budgets to fund a study on congestion and possible solutions, which was released at an event we hosted in March 2017. The report recommended the best way to reduce congestion in Ottawa would be to increase parking rates.

The Healthy Transportation Coalition will continue to push for increased parking rates, and more affordable public transit.

We will also continue to push for using parking revenue to fund more sustainable transportation, such as bike parking at bus stops to encourage multi-modal transportation. In our work related to Budgets 2018, and 2019, and thanks to the leadership of Councillors Keith Egli and Shawn Menard, we won $30,000 each year to fund ring-and-post bike parking at bus stops.

There is still so much more we need to do to improve the situation, and with your help, we can get there. Please become a member or donate to support our work today.

 

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The safety of our streets is a public health issue

Dear Mayor Watson and City Councillors,

A public conversation is happening in Ottawa about how our streets can be made safe for all. Last month, hundreds took part in a silent bike ride following the tragic death of a cyclist on Laurier Avenue, in front of City Hall. People are speaking up in the mainstream media, on social media and in messages to you, their representatives. It’s clear that many in our community want change.   

Two important motions to protect everyone who uses our streets are coming to Council on June 12. The first calls for Council to adopt a strong Vision Zero policy and make immediate changes to protect vulnerable road users. The second asks Council to dedicate the $57-million federal gas tax transfer to making our cycling network safe.

We ask that you pass both motions in full and begin the urgent work needed to make our streets safe for all. It’s a matter of public health.

A strong Vision Zero policy, properly funded, would improve the health of our community in several ways.

Many municipalities in Canada and around the world have already adopted Vision Zero— an ethical approach to transportation that makes safety the top priority. Under Vision Zero, no deaths or serious injuries are acceptable, and the transportation system is designed to prevent them.

Bringing Ottawa’s streets up to the Vision Zero standard would save lives and prevent life-changing injuries that result from collisions. No one should be at risk of death or serious injury on our streets.

But the health benefits wouldn’t stop there. A Vision Zero approach would also encourage the active modes of transportation that make us, our communities and our environments healthier.

An investment in Vision Zero streets is an investment in the health of our children and youth. The expert statement in the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth—the most comprehensive assessment of child and youth physical activity in Canada—notes that active children and youth are healthier, with improved heart, bone and muscle health, as well as a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes. These experts also point to evidence that active children and youth think better, learn better, and have better emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Sadly, the Report Card revealed a grade of D− for active transportation among children and youth in Canada—much worse than the global average of C. Only 21% of 5- to 19-year-olds in Canada typically use active modes of transportation to get to and from school. The numbers for Ottawa aren’t any more encouraging: the Ottawa Community Wellbeing Report 2018 noted that only 25% of 12- to 17-year-olds in our city get the recommended amount of physical activity each day—the equivalent of a D− grade.

What would happen to these numbers if Vision Zero routes for children and youth to walk and bike to schools, community and recreation centres, parks, and other places, were a priority?  

The shift to Vision Zero will require significant financial resources. It is a necessary investment in public health and safety with a substantial return. The Ottawa Cycling Plan, for example, cites an estimate from Ottawa Public Health that a 5% increase in the city’s cycling mode share can result in an annual benefit of $16 million. We need much more of this kind of broad analysis to inform spending at all levels of government.

The shift to Vision Zero will also require long-term, forward thinking and leadership (“vision”!). We ask you to lead now by passing the two safe streets motions in full on June 12. The result will be a safer and healthier city.   

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard Annett, Executive Director, Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre

Naini Cloutier, Executive Director, Somerset West Community Health Centre

David Gibson, Executive Director, Sandy Hill Community Health Centre

Simone Thibault, Executive Director, Centretown Community Health Centre

Mark Tremblay, Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute; Professor and Scientist, Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa; President, Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance

Michelle Perry, Member-at-Large, Board of Directors, Healthy Transportation Coalition

 

 

 

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Electric Transit Buses in Ottawa - When?

So, OC Transpo staff have responded with a memo in response to Councilor Mckenney's question regarding trialing electric transit buses in Ottawa.  The memo reads like a typical government document written by a bureaucracy looking for every way they can to justify the status quo (in this case, a 100% diesel bus fleet).  OC Transpo says they'll watch what other cities are doing and maybe get around to trialing a few buses in 2025.  Meanwhile, 14 global cities (including Montreal) have committed to not buy any more diesel buses after 2025 (before OC Transpo even gets around to trying one out!).  In Canada leading cities are well into trying out electric buses.  These include Toronto (60 electric buses), Edmonton (50 electric buses), Montreal (40 electric buses).  Where is Ottawa?  For more info check out www.sustainable-bus.com

OC Transpo acknowledges that their buses generate 44% of all the City's corporate emissions but that fact and the recent declaration of a climate emergency doesn't seem to be enough to motivate them to do anything about this for 5 or more years.  In fact over the 2018-2020 period OC Transpo is buying 300 brand new diesel buses.  They say, bringing the LRT into service is good enough for now.

This memo goes on to trot out a litany of reasons why trialing electric buses would be complicated.  Do we try out a  bus with big batteries or small batteries?, how would we find space in our garage for the charging infrastructure?  we need to train new mechanics, what if the electricity supply to the garage doesn't have enough charging capacity?  (hmm no problem running 34 electric trains to the garage though!).  They're more expensive so we'd have to study whether we'd save enough money in reduced diesel vs the cost of electricity.  In short, this is too much for us to try and deal with right now.

Completely missing from this memo is any acknowledgement of the well known and well understood benefits of electric buses or of their rate of adoption by other transit agencies.  The electricity costs per km of travel are easily 1/3 of the diesel costs per km of travel.  Electric vehicles are quieter, smoother and more pleasant to ride in, dramatically less polluting, and simpler to maintain.  One of the biggest challenges to electric vehicles, the limited range and extra time required to recharge (vs refilling a diesel tank) are much less of a factor for transit buses because the number of kms they need to travel in a day are nearly constant and well known and they can be recharged again each night.   Transit buses are very high mileage vehicles with a predictable mileage per day usage pattern  -- the perfect scenario for electric vehicles vs fossil fuel powered vehicles.

Maybe the biggest mistake was that OC Transpo was asked about a trial of such buses.  What we need is just to get on with starting to migrate the bus fleet to electric.  There are 385,000 electric buses in operation worldwide.  This is a technology that is well beyond the trial stage.  It's time to get on with it.

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Planning for Equity, Affordability and Community Health

Traffic congestion. Parking problems. Collisions. Noise and air pollution. Unaffordability and inequity. Sedentary living. Social isolation. Ugly streetscapes. Fear of crime. These are modern plagues in our cities.

What will rid us of them? The status quo of expanding roadways? A widespread move to efficient/electric cars? No and no.

What we need is a shift from a single-minded focus on car travel to a multi-modal mindset that prioritizes the affordable and inclusive modes of transportation – cycling, walking and public transit.

This was the message Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI), gave to nearly 100 people gathered for a Planning & Transportation Equity workshop held recently by the Healthy Transportation Coalition.

Walking, cycling and public transit: overlooked and undervalued

One of three expert speakers at the event, Litman talked about how to plan for equity, affordability and community health.

Walking, cycling and public transit provide many benefits that are often overlooked or undervalued, according to Litman. He challenged us to apply the kind of comprehensive analysis of planning and transportation issues that the VTPI is well-known for.

And he provided a great example: a chart clearly showing what cycling, walking and public transit can do for a city (and where expanded roadways and efficient/electric cars fall short).

Walking, cycling and busing our way to a friendlier, safer, more affordable city

Litman also pointed to some fascinating research that demonstrates how prioritizing affordable and inclusive transportation modes solves not only environmental problems but also social and economic ones.

Inviting more walking and cycling in a city can reduce social isolation, for example. A survey in Vancouver showed that people travelling by foot or bike are much more likely to have a friendly social interaction than people travelling by car (with transit riders somewhere in the middle).

There is also evidence that transit-oriented cities are safer cities. Litman pointed to research from the US showing that transit-oriented cities have about half the traffic fatality rates as more automobile-oriented cities.

Litman also introduced the concept of affordable-accessible housing: inexpensive homes in compact, mixed-used, walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods with good transit service. Research from the US shows that housing and transportation account for more than half of all spending for all but the richest households – which is unaffordable. Often in Ottawa it’s an either/or: either affordable housing far from services, or expensive housing in a connected neighbourhood.

We can make Ottawa a walking, cycling and transit city

Right now, the City is updating a document that will determine the fate of the city for years to come: the Official Plan.

For equity, affordability and community health, the Official Plan needs to:

  1. Prioritize the affordable and inclusive modes of transportation: cycling, walking and public transit.
  2. End roadway expansions for car traffic and instead expand and improve the city’s walking, cycling and public transit networks.
  3. Stop the construction of car-dependent neighbourhoods and instead create more compact, mixed-use, walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods with good transit service and affordable housing.

 

You can tell the City what you want to see in the Official Plan through an online feedback form. But act soon -- the form is open only until June 30, 2019.

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Advocating for planning and transportation equity in Ottawa

The Healthy Transportation Coalition has been working on transportation equity in Ottawa since 2014. And, we’ve won some important victories, working with our allies:

 

In 2016 and 2017, we held two transportation equity summits at City Hall (read the 2017 Summit report here).

In 2018, in partnership with the City for All Women Initiative, we conducted community consultations with equity-seeking groups to ask them what they think of transportation, planning and equity issues.

But if we are to continue to make progress, much more needs to be done.

The City of Ottawa is updating its Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan and has said it will be putting a greater emphasis on equity than it previously did.

Now is the time for you to tell the City how it can better address inequities here. How do you think the Official Plan and Transportation Master Plan need to be improved? Get engaged, visit the City’s Official Plan website, www.ottawa.ca/newop.

Get in touch with us via email (healthytransportationott@gmail.com) or on social media (https://twitter.com/healthtransport; or facebook.com/healthytransportation).

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Other cities require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair-accessible service. Why not Ottawa?

Here’s a scenario: you and a friend have spent a pleasant evening out. It’s late, and it’s cold, and so you both decide to splurge on a ride home. You live in different directions, so you’ll need two vehicles. You each request a vehicle, and after a short wait, your ride arrives.

Once home, you text your friend to make sure she got home safely and find out that she is still waiting in the cold! She uses a motorized wheelchair to get around, and there isn’t an accessible vehicle nearby.

There is a danger that this will become the new normal in Ottawa.

Against the advice of accessibility advocates, the City of Ottawa decided in 2016 not to require transportation companies such as Uber and Lyft to provide wheelchair-accessible service, as other cities do. Instead, the City decided to ask the companies for a voluntary surcharge that would go into an “accessibility fund” meant to improve accessibility in other ways.

The City’s consultants, KPMG, recommended that the accessibility surcharge be 30 cents per ride. Total surcharges for these companies in other cities are much higher: US$0.72 per ride in Chicago and US$2.75 in New York City.

Accessibility advocates have no shortage of ideas as to how money in the fund could be spent: when consulted by the City in 2018, they put forward 33 recommendations. The top priority was to increase the number of accessible vehicles. Also near the top of the list was creating an online, self-serve booking system for ParaTranspo.

Unfortunately, the accessibility surcharge has shrunk from the recommended 30 cents per ride to a mere 7 cents per ride — far too meager to make much of a difference. In fact, City staff have already warned accessibility advocates not to expect too much from the accessibility fund.

With the possibility that companies such as Uber will take over more of the market — diluting the already often inadequate service for people using motorized wheelchairs and scooters — that’s just not good enough. The KPMG report clearly sets out the risks:

The economics of the taxi industry have been changing with the introduction of new competition. In New York City there are reports of many taxis being parked because there is insufficient demand. Should that occur in Ottawa, the incentive could be to park the accessible vehicles first, as they are the most expensive to operate. There has already been concern expressed that accessible taxis may not be on the road as often as other taxis.

Other cities, including the City of Toronto, simply require companies such as Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service with the same fees and wait-times as non-accessible service. We can do that here, too.

And in the short term, the very least the City can do is to increase the accessibility surcharge to 30 cents per ride or even more, so that we have the funds to take real steps to make transportation equitable for all — a very reasonable expectation in 2019.

Take Action!

Tell the Mayor and your City Councillor that you want:

  • the accessibility surcharge for companies like Uber to be immediately increased to 30 cents per ride or more; and
  • work to begin on requiring companies like Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service at the same rates and wait-times as their non-accessible service.

You can email the Mayor at Jim.Watson@ottawa.ca and find your Councillor’s contact information here.

You can also tell your Councillor in person that you expect action on this file at a budget 2019 consultation. Find out when your Councillor is holding one here.

And you can fill out a short survey about what you want to see in Budget 2019 here or email directly to budget@ottawa.ca

Then ask your friends and neighbours to do the same!

Thanks!

 

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Momentum Building in Bells Corners: 500 Residents Petition for Bike Lane and Speed Reduction on Moodie Drive

BIG changes are on the horizon in Bells Corners, all thanks to our committed group of volunteers and the united community of Bells Corners.

On July 22nd, the Healthy Transportation Coalition hosted a public event: Bells Corners Pop-Up Bike Lane & BBQ to demonstrate the residents of Bells Corners’ strong desires to have a safe, separated cycle track and speed reduction implemented on Moodie Drive.  Working with City Councillor Rick Chiarelli, the event closed down two lanes of traffic on Moodie Drive in order to install a temporary bike line upon which residents of Bells Corners could cycle safely from 10AM-4PM.  We wanted to demonstrate the pressing need for safe cycling infrastructure and a speed reduction on Moodie Drive.  The widespread success of the event shattered our expectations.

More than 100 residents attended the event.

500 residents signed our petition, which asks the City to implement a separated cycle track and speed reduction on Moodie Drive.

CBC’s radio broadcast program, All in a Day interviewed Vice President of the Healthy Transportation Coalition, Trevor Haché, and Bells Corners resident, John Netto.
You can find the radio broadcast here: All in a Day Radio Segment

CBC News, CTV News, and Radio Canada covered the event. 
CBC: CBC Article
CTV:  CTV Article
Radio-Canada:  Radio Canada Article  

It is imperative that we capitalize on the momentum generated from our outpour of success.  With City elections around the corner, the opportunity for the implementation of cycling infrastructure and speed reductions is imminent; in order to progress, we must act now. 

To ensure that we can maintain momentum and achieve the separate cycle track and speed reduction on Moodie Drive, I encourage everyone to help our Bells Corners neighbours by:

  • Sending an email to City Councillor, Rick Chiarelli, urging him to prioritize our petition asks in current city planning initiatives. The link to the email can be found here.

  • Calling City Councillor, Rick Chiarelli to ask how he plans to implement the cycling infrastructure and a speed reduction, which has been clearly requested by 500 members of Bells Corners who have signed the petition.

 

We have ways to go before seeing the speed reduction and cycle tracks implemented on Moodie Drive, but if we work together to build from this momentum, we can make more progress, more quickly. 

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30 km/h streets are safer streets--so why aren't we all getting them?

Toronto and Montreal are among the cities putting widespread 30 km/h speed limits in place to protect their residents. With its street-by-street approach, Ottawa lags behind.

Years ago, I asked for a reduction in the speed limit on a street my daughter takes to school, which has the city's default of 50 km/h. I knew that the Ontario Coroner had recommended lower speeds, and I had seen charts like this one (from Toronto Public Health):

We could change the limit, I was told, but it wouldn't slow anyone down – people will drive the speed they feel comfortable driving. This street had just been rebuilt in a way that made it very comfortable to drive at lethal speeds on a busy route to school. Any request for permanent traffic calming would require a long wait for an expensive study.

I tell this story because I can see the same thinking at the heart of the city's new 30 km/h speed limit policy, adopted last April: lowering the speed limit by itself is a useless gesture, and it is too difficult and expensive to enforce speed limits or physically calm traffic.

Would you like a 30 km/h street in your neighbourhood? First, submit an application. Staff will determine the operating speed – if it's 35 km/h or less, you'll get your 30. If speed is more of a problem, the street must meet a long list of criteria (no more than 2500 vehicles per day, no more than 3 buses per hour per direction, no wider than seven metres, etc.). Slower speeds must be popular on the street, because you'll need a petition showing that 66 percent of residents agree to the change.

(Councillor Jeff Leiper pointed out problems with the policy – “in the areas where we need the most help, this policy is not going to give it to us” – and secured a slight loosening of the restrictions to include more streets fronting schools.)

Other cities are taking much bolder action.

There are 30 km/h zones in more than 80 cities in the European Union; some are city-wide, such as in Graz, Austria, which became Europe's first 30 km/h city in 1992, and Dublin, Ireland, which moved to 30 in 2017. Pressure is building to expand 30 to even more urban areas.

Montreal will soon see sweeping speed limit reductions, including 30 on residential streets and some commercial streets (several Montreal boroughs already have 30 km/h residential limits; Plateau-Mont-Royal's date from 2015).

In Toronto, councillors representing more than 700,000 of the city's residents voted in 2015 to drop the speed limit to 30 on 387 km of streets under their jurisdiction. In doing so, they rejected a recommendation from city staff to adopt a restrictive, street-by-street policy.

These councillors took issue with the belief that lowering the speed limit alone was futile. Evidence was brought forward that signs alone will lead to decreases in operating speeds, and that even small reductions in speed would increase safety.

They saw the lower limit as a first step in managing speeds – setting a new standard that would make it easier to meet warrants for speed humps and other traffic calming, and make enforcement tougher with higher fines and points.

They also saw a widespread speed limit reduction as more equitable than a street-by-street approach: “We're going to make it right for everybody. You don't have to give us a petition in order to have a safe street at 30 km/h, as recommended by the Coroner” (Councillor Paula Fletcher).

Councillors felt an urgency to act: “We're not pretending that this is going to solve all ills .... but it's going to contribute, and we have to take every step, based on the evidence that we know to be true, to protect our communities” (Councillor Josh Matlow).

(This was before changes to Ontario legislation – championed by Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi – gave municipalities new powers to set speed limits and use automated speed enforcement.)

There is no excuse for Ottawa to delay taking similar action. To say we can't because all drivers won't immediately comply is to miss the point: setting lower, safer limits retools the system, so that streets like the one on my daughter's route to school are rebuilt to make slower speeds self-enforcing (with raised crosswalks, more pedestrian crossings, narrower lanes, etc.). It also simplifies traffic calming: no need for an expensive, time-consuming study when you already know the street should be slower – and the money saved can be put into speed humps and other measures.

For now, the trickle of safer streets in Ottawa has begun: the first 30km/h signs are up on Princeton Avenue in the leafy neighbourhood of Westboro, after 90 percent of residents on the street signed a petition supporting the change. Where the next signs pop up is anyone's guess.

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