On the destruction of the Queensway

It's no secret that I despise the Queensway – the controlled-access highway that runs straight through the middle of Ottawa in a more-or-less east-west direction. Its eight lanes and its on-ramps and off-ramps take up so much precious urban space, and the traffic entering and exiting it overwhelms the surrounding road network. As fond as I am of the thought of its destruction, though, I am fonder still of thoughts of what could replace it. There's no sense in emitting a bunch of carbon dioxide to demolish a highway if you don't provide more emissions-free transportation in its stead.

Indeed, I think emissions-free human transportation should be the main use of the Queensway right-of-way. An elevated light rail line seems like an obvious choice, running roughly parallel to the O-Train line 1. The problem is that there would be no good place for such a line to connect with line 2 – the Queensway passes a bit too far south of Gladstone for a convenient transfer at Corso Italia station. For that reason, I imagine an O-Train line running in the Queensway right-of-way from Lees station westward until Bronson, then diving underground and emerging in the median of Carling Avenue. Stations could be located at Lees, Main, Bank, Bronson, Dow's Lake, and at about 800-1000-metre intervals along Carling until Lincoln Fields.

However, I actually think that a bicycle route would be a more important use of that right-of-way. (This could certainly run alongside a light rail line; space is ample.) My reasoning is that safe and comfortable bicycle routes are much scarcer in Ottawa than safe and comfortable public transit – in fact, on transit there's virtually no question of safety at all. Moreover, there simply is no continuous, high-capacity east-west bicycle route across the city at all (analogous to the O-Train Line 1). The existing east-west routes are incomplete, fragmented, and low-capacity.

I envision a grand bicycle-way, about 4.5 metres wide, allowing for side-by-side riding in both directions. (This is what I mean by ‘high-capacity’ – all cycling infrastructure is generally assumed to require cyclists to ride single-file.) Alongside it would run a wide pedestrian pathway – perhaps 3.5 metres – with periodic benches and other appropriate furniture. Both pathways would be well-lit and shaded by a canopy of trees.

Together, these pathways plus space between them and on either side (for trees, etc.) would only take up perhaps 12 metres of width. I would guess that's not even four lanes of highway. This would still leave quite a bit of width available for various other uses. There could be parks in some places along the route; elsewhere – especially in Centretown – new streets and buildings could be built. I am also fond of the idea of an regional rail line that would connect Ottawa and its suburbs to surrounding communities – so that one could, for example, take the train out to Almonte for a day-trip.

One question is the crossing of the Rideau canal. It would be best for the bicycle and pedestrian paths to cross via the Pretoria bridge, so that no one need ascend and descend. (Or a new lifting bridge could be built, I suppose.) Perhaps a separate elevated automobile bridge over the canal should be retained, so that space on the Pretoria bridge can be re-allocated for pedestrians and cyclists – maybe even exclusively for them.

The benefits of the destruction of the Queensway would not be limited to that right-of-way, but would also extend to adjacent streets. Metcalfe, O'Connor, and Kent streets, for example, are clearly designed as traffic arteries connecting the Queensway to downtown. These streets could be redesigned to give more space to pedestrians, cyclists, and trees. One can even imagine more creative uses for excess road width – such as a little canal, in which children could race homemade boats, ducks could splash, etc.

On the whole, I think that the role the Queensway plays in Ottawa's transportation network and street design is, although acknowledge to be important, yet taken for granted. There is a need to engage the powers of the imagination to picture alternatives to this state of affairs in order to persuade a motorist that a Queensway-less Ottawa is plausible.