Walkley Road connects two of Ottawa’s great recreation areas. On the east end, sits the Mer Bleue conservation area, a wetland of international importance, and one of the world’s most studied bogs. The 3500 hectares is criss-crossed by boardwalks and cross-country ski trails that provide access to this wilderness right on the edge of our city.
"Walkley is home to many useful businesses and many wonderful residents. They deserve better. No one should have to live or work on a road that everyone else is trying to flee from at a high speed."
On the west end sits Mooney’s Bay, the caricature of the perfect urban beach: swimming, volleyball, rowing, a massive playground , shady barbeque area and constant flow of cyclists, rollerbladers and strollers, all of it situated at the fork of the world-famous Rideau River and Canal. Imagine a summer day spent biking around on the Mer Bleue trails, then riding the three-kilometre length of Walkley to pick up some picnic supplies, then arriving at Mooney’s for a late afternoon swim and sunset picnic. Sounds like a great one-day, in-town, low-budget bike getaway!
"This will take an extraordinary amount of courage, given the present levels of traffic, but it must be done. We desperately need to rebuild Walkley with an emphasis on pedestrians and bikes..."
Except that Walkley is about the worst possible road in all of Ottawa on which to bike. It has all the horrors of mid-20th century automobile design: wide lanes, and too many of them, no trees, no parallel parking, no bike lanes, housing situated with its back to the road, and the worst urban design crime of all: massive parking lots separating store fronts from the sidewalk. There is nothing, the entire length of Walkley, to entice any kind of window shopping or leisurely strolling. Nor is there a parallel secondary route either north or south of Walkley that would allow a cyclist to cover the same ground and avoid Walkley’s traffic. (This is where a grid street design would provide some remedy, as I outlined in an earlier blog entitled “Vision for a Walkable Alta Vista”). Walkley is home to many useful businesses and many wonderful residents. They deserve better. No one should have to live or work on a road that everyone else is trying to flee from at a high speed.
"We built this disaster in the first place, and we can fix it."
Is there a remedy for this fiasco? Yes, and much of it is contained within the City’s Official Plan. As new infill buildings are added in the coming years, they should be required to build out to the sidewalk and crucially, to face the street. This will take an extraordinary amount of courage, given the present levels of traffic, but it must be done. We desperately need to rebuild Walkley with an emphasis on pedestrians and bikes, and not leave it as a sacrificial traffic sewer. We also need tons of trees – there is way too much asphalt and way too little shade the whole length of the road. And we need pedestrian crossings, parkettes and benches.
Will all this slow traffic? Maybe, but that’s not such a bad thing if we want Walkley to be a place to be in, and not a place to escape from. We built this disaster in the first place, and we can fix it.
~ JANET MARK WALACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa