During this past year of attending many meetings related to Ottawa’s new Official Plan, I have been introduced to a new term: the “cut-through”. This term is used by folks who don’t like their streets to be used by anyone going anywhere. The inference is that only those who live on a particular street should be there. Of course, some streets have to go somewhere, but apparently anyone who’s anyone doesn’t live on those kinds of streets.
Cul-de-sacs and dead-ends were the 20th century answer to keeping a street from going “through”. If the street came to a dead end, the thinking went, there’d be no traffic. Those with the most money could live on the dead end, and, as the cul-de-sac pattern slowly unwound out on to an arterial road, the houses would get smaller and the traffic heavier. Dwellings on the main road would get the full force of the heavy speeding traffic, and people on those streets would just have to put up with it.
"Cut-throughs can cut down on traffic, and we need more of them."
All of this pointless meandering of the street system resulted in a huge increase in per capita vehicle miles travelled in the last few decades, as people drove extra distances just to get out of their housing development, and then sat in traffic on the few roads that actually went anywhere.
The remedy for all these unnecessary vehicle miles travelled is to make everything a “cut-through”. If all urban streets connected to each other through a grid of short blocks, trips would be shortened and the volume of traffic would be absorbed more equally by the whole network.
Allowing on-street parking on one, or alternating sides of a narrow street, could serve to make speeding highly inconvenient, and remind drivers that they’re sharing the road. Slow speeds and the presence of other users provide just the conditions necessary for main street retail to develop.
"The remedy for all these unnecessary vehicle miles travelled is to make everything a 'cut-through'."
If roads like Heron, Walkley and Smyth are going to become main streets with small retail, we need them to be cut through at every possible opportunity, giving pedestrians maximum access from adjacent neighbourhoods, and many places to criss-cross the street.
Cut-throughs can cut down on traffic, and we need more of them.
~ JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa