A Moratorium on New Roads

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2008
by Mike Buckthought and Lori Waller

Ecology Ottawa is petitioning city council to declare a five-year moratorium on spending for new roads and road widening. This funding would be better directed towards public transit, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure. The City of Ottawa should support sustainable transportation instead of wasting money on new roads.

Ottawa’s motor vehicles produce 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, contributing to climate change. From 1990 to 2004, emissions from the transportation sector have increased by 15 per cent. Cars create a toxic mix of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

Smog is a serious problem in Ottawa. In 2005, air pollution in Ottawa was estimated to cause 290 premature deaths, 3,010 visits to emergency rooms, $25 million in health care costs, and over $18 million in lost productivity. Smog causes asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart diseases and cancer.

Ottawa’s Official Plan talks about promoting environment-friendly modes of transport. However, our city plans to spend $1.5 billion on roadways between 2008 and 2017. This includes $690 million for building new roads and widening existing roads. When roads are widened, traffic expands to fill the available space. The result is more smog, more traffic jams — and more expenses for taxpayers.

This year, the city had to cancel repaving on 20 per cent of the roads that need it because of higher fuel costs. At a time when we can’t afford to fix the roads we have, the last thing we should be doing is building more. We pay increasing taxes to maintain an expanding road network — 6,000 kilometres, and growing.

Narrow, pedestrian-centred streets are easier to maintain, and they encourage a sense of community. They’re also good for business. People are more likely to shop in neighbourhoods where they feel safe walking around. Children are more likely to feel safe playing in neighbourhoods built for people. Widening roads only increases the traffic, making our streets unsafe for children.

Car-centric cities are unsustainable. When roads are built in the suburbs and the countryside, we lose our precious farmland — it’s paved over, to make way for big box stores, and oversized parking lots. Urban sprawl threatens the way of life of Ottawa’s farmers. We must protect our villages, green spaces, and agricultural lands from the urban sprawl that is compounded by roads, which take up a fifth of all land in the urban area. When we grow food locally, we reduce emissions from the trucks used to transport imports from California and other distant places.

A road moratorium could include a cap and trade system. If a new road must be built somewhere, an equivalent length of road could be converted into a pedestrian street. In the future, many roads will become lively pedestrian-centred streets. Over time, we can reduce the total length of the road network — and encourage public transit, cycling and walking instead.

You can write to your councillor and the mayor, and tell them you want a moratorium on the construction of new roads. You can find your councillor’s contact information at: http://www.ottawa.ca/city_hall/mayor_council/councillors/index_en.html.

Tell your friends about the petition, and ask them to sign it at: http://www.ecologyottawa.ca/take-action/index.php.

Get involved with Ecology Ottawa, and help make Ottawa a more sustainable city. For information, visit http://www.ecologyottawa.ca/.

Lori Waller is Ecology Ottawa’s Environmental Research Associate. Mike Buckthought is a member of Ecology Ottawa’s Steering Committee.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 23, Number 5, September–October 2008, page 1.