Communities working for healthy transportation
A new initiative is helping Ottawa residents to identify and address the barriers to walking, biking and accessing public transit in their own neighbourhoods.
The Healthy Transportation Coalition launched its "Community Engagement for Healthy Transportation" initiative, a four-year program, to enable people to use active transportation. The initiative will focus on a few areas of Ottawa where people currently lack safe and healthy ways to get to work, shop and obtain services.
The Healthy Transportation Coalition, which represents 21 organizations and 50 individuals, came together in Ottawa last year to promote equity, health and sustainability in the city's transportation system.
HealthBridge, BioRegional North America, Ottawa ACORN, EnviroCentre and other organizations, together with the Ontario Trillium Foundation and other funding partners, are collaborating to make Community Engagement for Healthy Transportation happen.
The engagement initiative will help communities in six Ottawa neighbourhoods identify transportation challenges and solutions. It will also encourage residents to use active transportation and help them have their perspectives addressed when the City of Ottawa plans transportation infrastructure and services.
"We want to ensure, ultimately, that there is equality and equity within the transportation system so that some neighbourhoods aren't getting all of the benefits and other neighbourhoods being left behind," said Trevor Haché of the Healthy Transportation Coalition.
In collaboration with the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (or ONS), which collects demographic and other data on the city's neighbourhoods, the Coalition identified areas with low socio-economic status and poor walkability.
For 15 of those areas, they then mapped existing cycling, pedestrian and public transit infrastructure. They also mapped in the planned improvements from the City's 2013 Transportation Master Plan.
Using the above information, the Coalition plans to select six neighbourhoods that face particular transportation challenges but are not slated for significant municipal infrastructure and service improvements.
Trevor Haché and Erin Andrews of the Healthy Transportation Coalition are working with residents to make streets more pedestrian-friendly. Photo Denise Deby.
Activities have already begun in the first two neighbourhoods selected: Bayshore in western Ottawa and Heron Gate in the southeast. According to ONS data, both communities include relatively densely populated and ethnically diverse areas with a significant number of low-income households, compared to the Ottawa average.
In these two communities, the Coalition is conducting door-to-door surveys and has held several "sharing circles" where people meet to discuss issues. In August, community members and local councillors will participate in active transportation audits by walking, biking or using wheelchairs on local routes to see firsthand what is working and what improvements are needed.
So far, community participants have reported a variety of concerns. These include a shortage of places to cross streets safely, a lack of bike lanes, inadequate snow clearing on sidewalks and the high cost of public transportation. Residents have also said they would like to see more bus shelters, better street lighting and traffic-calming measures.
As well as documenting these concerns and taking them forward, the Coalition will host an annual summit on sustainable and equitable transportation organized by the EnviroCentre. Community members from participating neighbourhoods can share their suggestions with decision makers and with each other.
The initiative also includes pilot projects to improve cycling and walking in the neighbourhoods. There is a bike sharing project in collaboration with RightBike. The Bike Host program, led by BioRegional North America, will support newcomers to Canada to take up biking.
Alongside the engagement initiative, the Coalition for Healthy Transportation is working city-wide to encourage safe, healthy, comfortable and convenient transportation. For example, the Coalition has asked city council to allocate funds to implement the sidewalk repairs, bike lanes, multi-use paths and other pedestrian and cycling infrastructure improvements that are set out in the Transportation Master Plan.
"We need to see our streets as places for people, and not just people in cars but people walking and people on bikes as well," Haché said. "It could be as simple as increasing the time at crosswalks that pedestrians have to get across the street."
Based on the engagement initiative's experience over the next four years, Haché said the group is "hoping to ensure that when the City does update its 2018 Transportation Master Plan, more of a focus is placed on equity within the transportation system."
This way, the system would be "able to better accommodate and include people that might have a lower income or be facing other barriers to participation."
The Coalition welcomes volunteers to help with the Community Engagement for Healthy Transportation and other initiatives, and invites individuals, businesses and organizations to become Coalition members.
Denise Deby writes on environmental and social justice issues. You can find her at http://denisedeby.com and http://greenlivingottawa.com.