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Auto-Free Ottawa?

Wed Sep 21, 2005 Miss Vicky 

Tomorrow is Car-Free Day, when citizens are encouragd to leave their gas-guzzlers behind in favour of more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.

We hear a lot of talk from City Hall about this city's support for public transit, enhanced walkability, cycling and so forth. Take this bit from the website, for example:

The City is committed to protecting and conserving our environment, and reducing pollution levels in Ottawa. Ottawa's Growth Management Strategy, Ottawa 20/20, is our blue print for where we want to be in 20 years and how to get there. As part of Ottawa 20/20, Council approved the Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan at the January 12, 2005 City Council meeting and committed to reducing Ottawa's greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2012. To reduce pollution caused by transportation, the City is taking advantage of environmentally friendly technology such as hybrid buses, and bio-diesel and ethanol-diesel fuels, and expanding Light Rail Transit.

Of course, the road to global warming is paved with good intentions. That is, the good intentions get paved over. We sure like our roads here in Ottawa, and we like our cars even more.

No strategy will be successful unless people (and businesses and institutions) change their habits. Even the city's site admits this: "the success of the City's environmental strategies relies on you, our residents. You can do your part by reducing your reliance on cars - by walking, cycling or using OC Transpo to get to your destination."

Here's what the city has planned for the day:

City Hall

Thursday, September 22, 200
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Festival Plaza, City Hall, 110 Laurier Ave. West

Music - Trivia - Games - Art - Chalk painting - Fleet of original bicycle creations - OC Transpo Rack & Roll bus - Environmental booths

Similar things are happening at parks and suburban centres - bouncy castles, bike safety nfo, and so on. But really, doesn't this seem a little tame for car-free day? I'd like to see the city go a bit farther than having a bouncy castle and some display diesel buses. No amount of sidewalk chalk is going to persuade people to sacrifice convenience for air quality.

The least they could have done was close down some city streets and hold the activities there. Close off the market, for example. Or a couple of blocks downtown. According to the Sierra Club's Ottawa chapter,

Street Celebrations are held on International Car Free Day (September 22) in cities around the globe. However, the City of Ottawa’s by-laws do not permit full road closures for International Car Free Day. The Ottawa Group of the Sierra Club of Canada looks forward to the day when Ottawa’s by-laws will permit full road closures for International Car Free Day to demonstrate the urgency of the environmental hazard that cars represent.

Diplomatic, no? Surely our council and bureaucrats could find a way to make a temporary road closure happen. That by-law excuse just doesn't cut it. And it doesn't make me feel too confident about the lofty rhetoric of our "growth management strategy".

At some point we're going to have to accept a little discomfort and inconvenience. If we want our planet to last, that is.

Some people were moved to reply

amckay Sep 21, 2005 02:33 PM said:

Thanks for the reminder ... guess I'm commuting 4 days this week instead of the usual 3 ;-)

accidental altruist Sep 21, 2005 03:31 PM said:

dangit! was going to volunteer @ festival plaza but just got news that i officially got my fun temporary secondment that starts friday leaving me with only car-free-day to vet my replacement. hope some of ya'll participate/show up at the event!

my lofty activist ideals are getting thwarted by ambition. ... but at least i'm still biking to the office.

amckay Sep 21, 2005 03:47 PM said:

Oh, and as for the closure stuff, cripes they had no problem shutting down roads for Bluesfest.

accidental altruist Sep 21, 2005 04:18 PM said:

they only shut 'em down for Bluesfest after 6pm. it's weekdays before 6pm that are the problem.


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