Access or Excess?

Discussion around reducing Ottawa’s oversupply of parking is frequently countered with the assertion that vast parking lots are necessary to serve people with mobility impairments. The assumption is that elderly or mobility challenged people always need vehicular assistance to get around, and therefore we must provide plenty of room to park.



Ottawa is fortunate to have a lot of vocal advocates among those who live with disabilities, who have made the city a better place for a lot of us: parents with strollers, bike/bus commuters, grocery cart toters and walker users, to name a few, with whom they share a need for wheeled access.

Concern for the mobility needs of Ottawa’s population would be better focused on the development of 15-minute neighbourhoods.

Among the able-bodied population, there are many people who sincerely want to see Ottawa become as inclusive as possible. It’s sometimes useful, however, to remember that including more of one thing, might leave less room for something else. If we included a few 747s in the Billings Bridge parking lot, there’d be less room for everything else. In the same way, making room for more cars is not always tantamount to being “inclusive”.



Not all elderly people have mobility impairments, and not all people with mobility impairments choose to make every trip in a motor vehicle. Among the motorized options for people with disabilities are OC Transpo buses with ramp boarding, Paratranspo, taxi vans, rides from friends and family, or vehicles adapted for drivers with disabilities. In the first three scenarios, extra parking does no good at all to the passenger. If the traveler in question wants to go from the front door of their origin to the front door of their destination, it doesn’t matter to them whether the parking lot holds ten cars or a thousand. What matters is whether there is a drop-off zone where rules are enforced. And in the last two scenarios, what matters is not the overall size of the lot but whether the handicapped parking zone is enforced.

...all that the large lot does, is to put more distance between everything and everything else, which inconveniences everyone who is not driving.


Nonetheless among the able-bodied, we have many parking advocates who confidently speak on behalf of the mobility impaired, in claiming that large lots are necessary to inclusivity. Some even claim to believe that driving is an act of solidarity with people with disabilities. But in fact, all that the large lot does, is to put more distance between everything and everything else, which inconveniences everyone who is not driving.

It’s sometimes useful, however, to remember that including more of one thing, might leave less room for something else.

Concern for the mobility needs of Ottawa’s population would be better focused on the development of 15-minute neighbourhoods, where everyone, regardless of age or ability, would be within a fifteen minute walk or roll of daily necessities. Super-sized lots just impair everyone’s ability to get around.



~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa. This blog was co-authored by MARY-JANE CLINKARD, who is as a Disability-Rights Advocate.