Why 15 Minute Neighbourhoods are Good for Drivers

In my ward of Alta Vista, we have an active anonymous pamphleteer who has declared war on the City of Ottawa Draft Official Plan and its central concept of 15 minute neighbourhoods. I suspect that this person’s animosity toward the draft Official Plan is very much bolstered by the fact that they haven’t read it. In their defence, it is long.



The key strategy that this mystery activist is deploying, is to inform residents, particularly seniors, that 15 minute neighbourhoods are about abolishing the automobile. I sat through enough Community Association Zoom meetings this winter to suspect that, at least on the part of some residents, this fear is genuine. Therefore I’ve set myself the task in this blog to present the advantages of a 15 minute neighbourhood from the perspective of a driver.

"Why is this good for drivers? Because a properly connected network of narrow streets and short blocks provides many possible routes for drivers to get to their destination..."

15 minute neighbourhoods are the pattern of development in every settlement built before 1945. In North American cities, often the pre-1945 part of town is only a fraction of the overall town. In this case, the pre-1945 part of town is often seen as the exception, the touristy part of town, or, to quote my dad, the yuppie part of town.


15 minute neighbourhoods are characterized by a discernable centre, composed of a variety of complementary small businesses, such as a grocery store, medical office, bank, post office, library and hardware store, for example. The businesses are arranged along a main street or square, which is accessible to the surrounding neighbourhood from every direction, via many intersecting streets.



Why is this good for drivers? Because a properly connected network of narrow streets and short blocks provides many possible routes for drivers to get to their destination, allowing drivers to take the shortest, least busy route. If there is construction, or an accident, there are obvious alternative routes for drivers to take. If you think that sounds like common sense, try tracing a route between Camborne Crescent and the Food Basics on Heron Road, and ask yourself if there is more than one choice of route. This is why Alta Vista has work to do connecting its street grid if we are going to evolve into a series of 15 minute neighbourhoods.

If there’s one thing most drivers can’t abide, it’s other drivers, because they cause that universally loathed substance known as “traffic”.

The second reason that 15 minute neighbourhoods are good for drivers is that short, quiet streets, near a compact town centre, tempt many, many people to go on foot. Not everyone, but enough to free up considerable road space for remaining drivers. If there’s one thing most drivers can’t abide, it’s other drivers, because they cause that universally loathed substance known as “traffic”. Pedestrians don’t make traffic, so we need more of them. Pedestrians often beget other pedestrians, creating a virtuous cycle that I talked about in another blog called “The Useful Walk”.


"A vibrant, active neighbourhood, with lively businesses, parks full of people, a great mix of ages, origins and interests, might just be enough to convince some folks to hang up the car keys, and make the odd trip on foot."

A third reason that 15 minute neighbourhoods are good for senior drivers in particular, are that they reduce the need for excessive speeds. A walkable neighbourhood accommodates cars at speeds that don’t endanger pedestrians, which just so happens to be a speed that a lot of seniors are comfortable with.


Finally, 15 minute neighbourhoods can help save on gasoline. A vibrant, active neighbourhood, with lively businesses, parks full of people, a great mix of ages, origins and interests, might just be enough to convince some folks to hang up the car keys, and make the odd trip on foot.


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