FTO Presentation on Urban Boundary

Urban Boundary Expansion Statement at the Joint Planning Committee/ Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee – May 11, 2020

By Kirstin Pulles on behalf of Free Transit Ottawa

May 11, 2020

As a representative of Free Transit Ottawa, I want to focus on how urban expansion impacts not only the functionality of the city, but also how equitably designed it is. We at Free Transit Ottawa do not support an expansion of the current urban boundary.

On April 24, 2019, the City of Ottawa declared a climate emergency acknowledging the need for massive reductions in carbon admissions.  This can only happen if the city changes many of its policies, above all its approach to urban planning. You are being asked to make a choice here with clear environmental consequences.  Providing for future housing needs by expanding the city’s boundary to allow for new single-family dwellings will only continue with the old policies which are incompatible with the need to massively reduce carbon emissions.  

Transportation is responsible for 40 percent of Ottawa’s greenhouse gases. Cars are the main culprit and these can be reduced by 2/3rds on a per trip basis by using public transit.  Expanding the boundary and single family dwellings works against this reduction. In most suburban neighbourhoods, necessary services are beyond walking distance forcing people to rely on private cars for the vast majority of their transportation needs. Low density development makes good public transit prohibitively expensive. I’m glad to hear many stakeholders focusing on transit in planning, but want to note that the declared intentions do not seem to match with reality. The relationship between urban sprawl and transit ridership have been shown to be inverse in study after study. Sprawl goes up, ridership goes down. I also again want note that we have seen ongoing ridership declines even without the added pressure of expansion. 

Some claim that most people want to live in the suburbs, and that they willing to go afar for their dream home. However, a CHMC study finds that 80 per cent of homebuyers would give up a large house and a yard for a modest or attached dwelling where they could walk to amenities, take transit to work and commute in under 30 minutes. The argument is being made that price is a simple a question of supply and demand and so expanding the boundary will lower costs, but not all supply is equal. The supply of far away, car dependent, isolated single family homes does not meet the demand for housing in liveable communities close to work and vibrant neighbourhoods. 

The city is claiming that the new developments outside of the existing urban boundary will be near rapid transit and key amenities. It will not be on agricultural or other resource oriented lands, or on fragile ecological zones such as the wetlands that protect us from worsened flooding. I want to note that these proposed neighbourhoods are much closer to existence within our urban boundary. There is little to hold developers accountable to the neighbourhoods they are proposing in order to sway us in favour of a plan with unreliable outcomes. 

Others defend the expansion because they reject our current forms of densification. Agreed. These are too often ugly high-rises that offer very limited accommodation for families, or displace existing residents. Zoning laws are applied unevenly, and often without any apparent long term plan. Rent costs increase in the few walkable, livable neighbourhoods in the city as developers build luxury condos rather than affordable housing. But the answer is not to build out the suburbs but to democratize city planning and development. We are being given nightmarish pictures of how intensification may happen, but often these visions are being presented by developers with a vested interest in specific outcomes from this plan. I don’t think that developers should be seen as neutral sources of information in this debate. I don’t think that industry voices should control our urban development. A drive for profit must not have unlimited control over our future. 

Our city has the power to direct development in democratic, community-oriented ways. 

Our city needs to be viewed as a common space, where we make decisions collectively. We have a right to the city, to shape the space we share in order to shape our lives and communities. The city, its government and its people, not developers, need to be at the helm of urban planning. 


Transit Policy and Covid-19

Public transit is an essential service. In the midst of a pandemic it is also a particularly  dangerous one for transit workers and transit users. The City of Ottawa has tried to strike the right balance, but more needs to be done.  Free Transit Ottawa calls on the Mayor and City Council to immediately take the following steps:

1. Formally suspend all fare collection

Many riders are experiencing a severe loss of income but still need to use transit to make essential trips. 16 cities in Canada have already implemented free transit, however, OC Transpo has only announced back door boarding on buses and that drivers won’t accept cash payments. Fare gates on the LRT remain in operation. Due to the closure of OC Transpo Service Centres, seniors are expected to make special trips to Loblaws or Shoppers Drug Mart to renew discount passes. Procedures for renewing the Equipass are unclear at best. This policy is iniquitous. Riders who lack the means to pay should not be made to feel guilty or have to deal with the threat of fines.

2. Ensure the level of service allows for the required physical distancing

While some service reductions are appropriate given the circumstances, the switch to Saturday Service is too crude a response. In particular it ignores the relatively large numbers of people using the bus to get to and from work. The number of buses in service during peak hours needs to be increased so as to meet riders needs while maintaining the necessary physical distancing.

3. Make masks and hand sanitizer available on all buses and trains.

Ottawa Public Health recognizes that public transit is an essential service “that must continue to allow the city to function.” The majority of riders are taking transit because they do not have another option.  Masks and hand sanitizer are necessary in order to make these necessary trips as safe as possible.

4. Ensure that everyone providing OC Transpo and Para Transpo services has access to testing for the Covid-19 virus and is eligible for paid sick leave.

Transit operators are providing an essential service during this time. For their own safety, and to reduce the spread of Covid-19, workers providing essential services should have access to testing as soon as possible, and be eligible for paid leave if exposed to the virus. 

5. Ensure that all operators have regular access to washrooms for bathroom breaks and handwashing prior to meals.

In order to follow the recommendations of public health authorities operators must be able to wash their hands often, especially before eating.

Signed by:

  • Clint Crabtree, President and Business Agent, ATU Local 279
  • CUPE 4600
  • Ecology Ottawa
  • The Energy Mix
  • Free Transit Ottawa 
  • Fair Trade Carleton 
  • Healthy Transportation Coalition
  • Migrante Ottawa
  • Group of 78
  • Ottawa Coalition for a Green New Deal