Ottawa’s accessibility community has raised very worrying objections to the proposed design of the parking garage.
Further, the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee has not been granted an opportunity to review and provide feedback on the proposed designs, despite expressing a desire to do so. The unmistakable realization is that the parking garage has not been designed with accessibility being given its due consideration.
Many residents—with or without mobility concerns—rely on public transit to access essential services. The O-Train has become the backbone of Ottawa’s transit system, and yet, the nearest O-Train station at Preston and Carling will be over 500 m from the front door of the hospital (longer than five CFL football fields), because we are choosing to prioritize car parking over accessibility. Even for residents seeking to take buses rather than LRT are not spared this issue. There is currently no plan for regular or frequent bus service with on-site pick-up and drop-off at the main entrance. Those not taking private cars or Para Transpo will be forced to walk great distances.
The lack of access via transit is a clear violation of the basic dignity and human rights of our residents, as all people of Ottawa deserve equitable access to healthcare. This is a basic tenet of Canadian society.
But it is not just the sheer distance between the transit station and the front door. It is also the route itself—which winds and rises through the site. Multiple changes of direction and the reliance of two elevator changes to get through the parking garage makes this design even less accessible than does the simple distance. Such an elongated, circuitous route does not serve the needs of our neighbours with mobility issues, breathing issues, heart conditions, vision loss, intellectual and developmental issues, and bowel and bladder issues.
Even if a resident with accessibility issues eschews transit due to the lack of equitable access to the hospital (which will negatively impact our city’s plans to move to more sustainable transportation), the accessible parking spots in the parking garage will be farther from the front door that the best practice of 30 m. The nearest spot will be 75 m away from the font door, and the majority of “accessible” spots will be further than that.
Ottawa has a moral obligation to build an equitable and accessible city. If we are truly to be the great and just city that we claim to desire, we should exceed our standards and guidelines.
This proposal fails to meet our aspirations. It fails to meet our needs. It fails our residents.
If only traffic behaved like a simple stream of water that could be controlled by a faucet and channelled in whichever way we desired. But traffic does not flow like water, it is like vapour that expands and contracts, filling whatever space it is given, finding the cracks and crevices we never knew were there. Once you let traffic loose, it is very difficult to control.
And yet this plan has little studied as to how traffic will behave, how it will grow and how it will need to be controlled. This is because there has been no transportation planning as part of this proposal.
There are numbers and projects about how many people will drive, bus, walk and bike, but there are no explanations for how those numbers will be achieved. As Ottawa is in the midst of updating our Transportation Master Plan, having such a massive traffic construction project underway without any real planning would be farcical if it wasn’t so potentially damaging.
We do have some information about traffic in the area. In previous reports, we have been informed that no less than 17 of the major intersections in close proximity of the hospital already show significant congestion today.
On top of that, we are building more and more towers along this corridor on Carling Avenue with excessive amounts of parking, inviting so much traffic to the Carling and Preston intersection. None of this has been sufficiently accounted for.
We are driving with our windshield painted black. Perhaps this parking garage is necessary. Perhaps we can’t expect anyone to take the O-Train. Perhaps traffic will mystically move easily and efficiently in this area for the next half-century...but the point is: we don’t know.
Without a proper study, we can’t know.
Even if we need a parking garage—even if it needs to be four storeys—we still don’t know how it should be oriented on the site. The vehicular access points in these designs do not account for the current traffic congestion, nor the future traffic patterns (and congestion) in the area.
To be clear, no city will ever parking-garage its way out of traffic congestion. Unfailingly, more parking means more driving. We already have insufficient space for all the cars that are taken along Carling during rush hour, we can’t simply cross our fingers, close our eyes and hope everything will work out. Hope won’t change geometry.
Environment and Greenspace
We all knew that Queen Juliana Park was a potential development site—though the notion it would just become a parking tower was not in the plans—but that does not alter the reality of this area that encompasses Dow’s Lake, the Glebe Annex, Little Italy, the Civic Hospital neighourhood and other nearby communities. Queen Juliana Park is an important parcel of greenspace in this area. It provides respite from the asphalt and concrete of so many of our central neighbourhoods; it allows for recreation and relaxation for residents; and it serves as an important remedy to the heat island effect of our urban development, helping to significantly cool the area for residents as this city faces a climate emergency.
While it is good to create green roofs and to green car infrastructure for the benefit of residents, that does not confer virtue to construction of a large parking garage on a park. The High Line in New York is a wonderful conversion project—rejuvenating a massive, uneeded highway into a beloved park—but no one would choose such a project when you could just have a ground-level park, instead.
We have already noted the accessibility concerns of the hospital, writ large, but we are also converting a well-used park into an inaccessible park that is destined to see far less use by the general public. That the city and communities were promised underground parking, the sudden move to erect a parking garage in this spot instead is an incredibly difficult pill to swallow.
And even if we are to build a Queen-Juliana-Park-in-the-Sky, we all know that building a park on top of a parking garage is not without peril. In Capital Ward, we see a constant struggle to maintain any trees or greenery on top of the Lansdowne Park garage. We are not convinced that the current plan that includes full-size trees is viable. Issues relating to soil depth, soil quality, water and drainage will all have to be solved...without damaging the overall structure of the parking garage.
The Civic project has few guarantees, but it is guaranteed that we will lose hundreds of mature trees. We are guaranteed to losean accessible park in our central area. We can also be guaranteed more traffic, along with the noise and pollution it entails. We can be guaranteed that the moderating effects on the location-specific temperatures around Dow’s Lake that stem from Queen Juliana Park will be lost. We can guarantee that this project will lead to harms experienced by residents in the surrounding area. There will be environmental costs. There will be a lower quality-of-life.
There is no certainty to what is needed at this site to create a vibrant, modern hospital...and to create a vibrant, modern city. There is no certainty because there is insufficient study and insufficient planning. This location, hastily selected after the superior location of Tunney’s Pasture was mysteriously discarded, offers significant challenges—especially to accessibility, transportation and environmental impact.
It is unfortunate that the powers-that-be decided the new Civic must be shoe-horned into this location, but if we are to follow this folly, we should, at minimum, make a greater effort to build as thoughtfully and conscientiously as possible.
The first step, is to wait until the Accessibility Advisory Committee is able to conduct a review and provide us with thoughtful guidance. We should also require a proper transportation plan before rushing into this plan.
This is a generational project. This will completely transform multiple communities. We owe it to our residents, to future generations, to the city to only approve a project that we are confident will lead to a better, healthier and more livable Ottawa.