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).
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:
- Prioritize the affordable and inclusive modes of transportation: cycling, walking and public transit.
- End roadway expansions for car traffic and instead expand and improve the city’s walking, cycling and public transit networks.
- 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.