Canada’s Capital has a Disability: Transit and Mental Health

It’s hard to be functional in a dysfunctional city.

I suffer from invisible illnesses that have greatly impacted my life. I currently do not work or pay taxes, which I guess means that society can label me as “dysfunctional”. Because I live on a low income, I cannot afford a personal vehicle, and therefore my transportation options are limited. Ottawa—or AUTOwa (as per the popular Twitter hashtag, #Autowa)—is not designed to prioritize people over cars. This leaves a huge responsibility for the public transit sector, and it’s no secret that Ottawa has failed to deliver on its promise of a world-class transit system. Since the launch of the LRT, there has been an outpour of people voicing their frustration with it, and with our transit system in general—and with reason. From a poorly designed system for the Canadian climate, to the lack of planning of bus routes and shortage of drivers, issues abound. But let’s face it, Ottawa never got it right, and it is people living with disabilities (physical and invisible), and those with low incomes who suffer the most. I am terribly sorry that our LRT and the bus route changes that came with it, are causing emotional distress… but I see a silver lining: with transit riders expressing their frustrations loud and clear, the important conversation about poor public transit and its effects on mental health has made its way to our collective consciousness.

In the ten years that I’ve lived in Ottawa (way before the LRT launch), my experience is that public transit here has always been terrible, and it has caused me a lot of distress. As a person living with a mental illness, having to depend on an unreliable transit system has been detrimental to my mental health and hindered my recovery from major depression. For years, I depended on public transit to go to medical appointments and therapies, wellness workshops, exercise, occasional social opportunities, and school. These resources, located across the city, allowed me to survive very dark times, and having access to them is crucial to my recovery, as they increase my wellbeing and help me build the skills and confidence that I feel I need, to be ready for “a normal life.” Knowing how critical attending these commitments was for my recovery, I tried to push myself, but with commute problems being so frequent that they were to be expected, it was very difficult to stay committed to improving my health. With late or ghost buses, missed transfers, tracking reliability issues, and an overall poorly designed transportation system, I missed appointments, had to pay late cancellations fees, I missed school and social events, etc. With all the other challenges that I faced, I didn’t have the energy to deal with the added emotional and physical consequences that the transit problems created, that avoiding life was my default impulse. Some days, the thought of going out of my apartment gave me so much anxiety and dread, that I felt instantly exhausted. There were phases when I continuously cancelled my scheduled outings and would isolate. It felt impossible to build a stable and sustainable routine that would allow me to envision working in a near future, without the fear of relapsing. Consistency is so important in recovery, but maintaining a healthy routine is very challenging when you have a mental illness. For years, I felt like I was fighting to barely keep my head above the water. I had ninety-nine problems, and public transit was certainly one of them. Life was hard enough as it is, that adding the daily frustrations of dreadful commute made me want to give up.

After struggling for many years, I realised that my only solution was to remove my biggest barrier that prevented me from achieving more progress; I had to move to a part of town where I wouldn’t have to deal with daily public transit usage. I moved near downtown, to a more walkable neighbourhood, and I wish I would have done it years ago. Since I moved, my life improved so significantly, that I would wish for everyone to have the freedom of living near most of their daily destinations. It’s a life-saver. Literally. I instantly felt the weight of social isolation lift off my shoulders. Not only am I able to access most of my necessary destinations at a walking distance, I also feel much closer to people and a vibrant community. It is inspiring and motivating, and I am grateful that I no longer have to endure the troubles of public transit, to access that. Now, I rarely lose the momentum of my motivation, like I used to. I still have bad days when I struggle to leave my apartment, but I tell myself that compared to before, it’s a small effort to go out, and it has the potential to transform my day, in a positive way. I can just walk out the door and be at a nearby coffee shop, within 5 minutes. Just smiling at a stranger on the street or interacting with the barista when I pay for my coffee, can get me out of my head to break the negative thought loops, and can activate my productivity.

Ottawa’s disabled public transit system kept me disabled and poor. It made me feel overwhelmed and deeply hopeless, because no matter my intentions and efforts, I had very little energy left to dedicate to taking constructive actions that would improve my life. However emotionally resilient that I thought I was, having chronic feelings of hopelessness forced my body shut down and avoid life. When I think of my experiences with the public transit system, the first word that comes to mind is “stress”… The last thing a person trying to recover from a mental illness needs, is MORE STRESS. Taking public transit should reduce the stressors of transportation; not add more. The physical, emotional and financial burdens of Ottawa’s public transit system is detrimental to people’s wellbeing, especially for those whose mental health is already fragile. A transit system that is inconsistent, unreliable, unstable and disabled, keeps people who are trying to be functional, dysfunctional.

Extensive commutes are dreadful, whether you are using public transit, or stuck in traffic inside your car. If this time could be spent doing more meaningful things it would greatly increase your quality of life. A better transportation system that includes good public transit and better neighbourhood design, could help create a functional, healthy and vibrant city that would benefit everyone in Ottawa, whether they suffer from a disability or not— but it could have an even bigger impact on someone’s ability to recover from personal challenges, to participate and ‘‘contribute to society’’, and to live a dignified life.

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Land Trust to Protect Affordable Housing Sites Near Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit Stations?

People across the city of Ottawa showed up in a big way today to support the declaration of a housing and homelessness emergency, an effort lead by City Councillors McKenney and King who won unanimous support at City Council for their Motion. The last clause of which included the following:

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT staff review and report back to the appropriate Standing Committee and Council on the steps needed for the City to establish a Land Trust to protect publicly-owned lands, including those identified by staff as appropriate for the development of affordable housing near rapid transit."

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THANK YOU to the 180+ people who emailed the Mayor and council asking to prioritize $35 million in transportation equity investments!


On November 6, the City tabled its Draft budget.

We at the Healthy Transportation Coalition (HTC) board of directors see 3 of 5 transportation equity wins.


WIN: $15 million for affordable housing

By the end of this year, there is an expected 12 000 on the wait-list for affordable housing according to the Housing Registry. Affordable housing is in great need. On top of everyone's right for a decent place to call home, everyone should have easy access to rapid transit. Although there is no clear indication that any of these affordable housing units will be built close to rapid transit stations, there is news that certain developments may be by Tunney's Pasture (Forward Avenue) and the area between the future Main Public Library and Pimisi station. Take a look at our full list of asks here

WIN: A fare freeze for Equipass and Community Pass

However, further improvements are much needed (Take a look at our full list of asks here). It was also announced later that day on November 6, that there may also be a 3-month fare freeze for regular passes with the possibility of an extension. Well done Ottawa Transit Riders and transit users on being heard. Continue on with the #Freeze4FairFares #FreezeFares campaigns!

WIN: On-line booking for ParaTranspo users

This is way overdue so we are very happy to finally hear progress on this. The #ParaParity voice is strong. Many have been waiting for this for over a decade. A full suite of on-line services is promised by end of 2020, with a web form declared to be available by the end of this year. There will be more details on this in the upcoming Transit Commission meeting on November 20th at 9:30 am (Item 3 on the agenda). We would greatly appreciate the support by joining us at the meeting. We are expecting:

  • draft implementation
  • key components of the system
  • timelines
  • booking priorities (for 50% of seats be reserved online, 50% by phone)




There's more work needed

Snow and Ice Clearing of Sidewalks


Our ask:
Please commit $7 million a year to bringing winter sidewalk maintenance to a class 1A standard, starting in the 2020 Budget. People should not be confined to their apartments in the nation’s capital of a G7 country, and yet that has been the case these past few winters because not enough money is being spent to properly clear snow and ice off of sidewalks. People across Ottawa were trapped in their homes, unable to access transit, or experienced numerous slips, falls, and inconveniences due to lack of snow removal on sidewalks and at bus stops. Immediate action is required to ensure that no more people suffer from isolation, injuries and aren’t required to take great risk to leave their homes.


In the draft Budget (according to the Mayor's speech):
City teams regularly clear 6,000 kilometres of roads and 2,300 kilometres of sidewalks throughout the city. Maintaining our network is expensive – and last year’s harsh winter left our winter maintenance budget in deficit. The 2020 estimated base budget for Winter Operations is increasing by $5.6 million for a total of $78.3 million, which is a 7.7% increase over 2019. 
Of the $5.6 million increase, approximately $2.9 million will be allocated to sidewalk maintenance.

I am pleased to say that the Winter Operations budget now reflects the latest 3-year average actuals (2016-2018). The 2020 Draft Budget also includes $250,000 in funding to undertake a review of the winter operations Maintenance Quality Standards, which will focus on sidewalks and Class 5 residential roads. Following last year’s challenging winter, staff have been reviewing their service delivery model to ensure better sidewalk maintenance this coming winter. They will be increasing coverage on the network with a goal of having 24/7 coverage available on all sidewalk beats.

In this article, one of our board members, Terrie Meehan, has expressed how the harsh winters led her to replace her wheelchair. Some had no other choice but to be house-bound. We realize that the maintenance standards are set for review for 2022-2023 as they have not been updated since 2003. But meanwhile, for seven straight years, the City has exceeded the funds it has allocated for winter maintenance. Last year, it was reported that $9 million was spent on sidewalk clearing alone. We expect more than $2.9 million.

Vision Zero Road Safety Action Plan Improvements


Our ask:
Too many people biking are being killed and injured on City streets, therefore a minimum of $12 million must be spent on building cycling infrastructure for all ages and abilities, based on Vision Zero principles and international best practice. Vision Zero principles must be implemented into planning documents, alongside consultation with those found to be most at risk (specifically seniors and children). These cycling safety improvements could be partially funded by charging for parking on evenings and weekends in on-street paid parking areas, and in City-owned parking lots (as per Chair Blais's Motion at the Oct. 2, 2019 Transportation Committee meeting).


In the draft Budget (according to the Mayor's speech):

Again, this year, Budget 2020 also includes funding for active transportation – with an investment in both the Ottawa Pedestrian and Cycling Plan of $9.1 millionCe financement nous permettra de prévenir ou d’éliminer les décès et les accidents de la routes à travers Ottawa.We remain committed to develop a safe and sustainable transportation environment that focuses on pedestrian and cycling safety, with funding geared towards highest ranked locations – as I think we can all agree that any cycling or pedestrian death is one too many.

In addition, Budget 2020 includes $4 million towards initiatives identified in the 2020-2024 Strategic Road Safety Action PlanThe Strategic Road Safety Action Plan identifies areas for road safety, along with countermeasures that can be implemented to address associated collision types. These initiatives align with Vision Zero (or Safe System) principles of road safety. The emphasis will be on areas with vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists – at intersections and on rural roads.

Budget 2020 also includes $1.65 million to fund the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Program, with each Councillor receiving $50,000 for road safety initiatives in their community – an increase of 25% over 2018.

There is also $500,000 set aside for Pedestrian Crossovers, in order to improve the safety of pedestrians at key crossings across the city. As a result of the 2016-2018 Pedestrian Crossover Pilot Program, there is a list of approximately 100 locations city-wide that have been confirmed to meet the pedestrian/traffic volume warrants for PXO implementation. 

There is also $4.2 million for intersection control measures, and just over $3 million for network modifications for to existing intersections (Albion Road and Leitrim Road). Budget 2020 includes: $2.4 million for New Traffic Control Devices Program; $1 million for the Safety Improvements Program; $600,000 towards Accessible Pedestrian Signals; and $420,000 for Safer Roads Ottawa.


Of the $151 million invested in infrastructure as a whole, we believe that there should be greater investment in active transportation infrastructure. We expect more than the $9.1 million declared.


We remain hopeful that, together, more can be done to reach transportation equity.



In solidarity,

HTC Board Members

November 9, 2019




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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.   




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

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,

Get in touch with us via email ( or on social media (; or

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