The Transformative Power of a Foot Bridge

A key pillar of Ottawa’s proposed Official Plan is that each neighbourhood would have a mix of demographics. A community that puts everyone within a 15 minute walk of goods and services, must above all have a healthy mix of people: young and old, well-to-do and less well-to-do, owners and renters, workers and retirees, producers and consumers, newcomers and old-timers. The interplay of these groups is what makes the community safe, interesting, and self –reliant, and can lead eventually to unique community character. By contrast, the homogeneity of a lot of 20th century development leads to a long list of challenges, from the golf course retirement community that can’t find anyone to wash the clubhouse dishes, to the big box store, that’s deserted and subject to break-ins at night, to the residential subdivision with no grocery store.

"A community that puts everyone within a 15 minute walk of goods and services, must above all have a healthy mix of people..."

In the April issue of the Mainstreeter newspaper, Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna announced new federal funding for pedestrian infrastructure, including foot bridges. A foot bridge has the magical power to transform all the neighbourhood streets on either side of the waterway into potential bike and foot commuter routes. Cyclists and pedestrians no longer get funneled out to a noisy, dangerous car bridge when they need to cross the river or canal. A footbridge makes it practical for the non-driving population to work, live or attend school on the other side of the bridge.

"A footbridge makes it practical for the non-driving population to work, live or attend school on the other side of the bridge."

A perfect example of the need for this kind of exchange, is in the relationship between the Old Ottawa East, Old Ottawa South and Sandy Hill neighbourhoods, versus Alta Vista. Alta Vista is currently losing population. The population peaked in 2007, and has lost four percent since then, largely because many houses once occupied by a family of four, are now down to one or two occupants. This population loss is clearly visible in the fact that Hillcrest High School had a population of 1068 in 2005, and is now projected to be 490 for 2021-22. The array of courses once offered has been narrowed down over the years accordingly.


Today it may be high schools, but tomorrow it could be transit, community centres and libraries that see their services cut due to decreased use. Meanwhile, Sandy Hill has an overabundance of student renters, with the challenges that go with having an enormous concentration of young people all in one place.


"A foot bridge has the magical power to transform all the neighbourhood streets on either side of the waterway into potential bike and foot commuter routes."

A bridge connecting Pleasant Park Road to Windsor Park, would put Alta Vista within an easy bike commute of the University of Ottawa, Carleton, and Saint Paul’s. This might eventually spur some of our Alta Vista empty nesters to contemplate providing rental housing on their property. A younger, non-car-owning population is one element we are missing in Alta Vista, to evolve to walkability. As our seniors age out of their driving years, we will need walkable shops, restaurants, performance spaces, as well as bike repair and craft stores, run by a younger population of entrepreneurs who can support the evolving needs of retirees.

Let’s build a footbridge and hope the young folks pedal over to the other side.


JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa.