Guest Post by Neil Arason: The Case for Automated Speed Enforcement in Ottawa

What follows is the first Slow Ottawa guest post, from Neil Arason, who wrote the book on traffic safety in Canada. The book is No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads (Wilfred Laurier UP, 2014)—a study that was a key inspiration for my own new campaign for the elimination of traffic deaths and serious fatalities in Canada.CX0lxBWUAAA3poxThe impetus for the post below is River Ward councillor Riley Brockington‘s Feb 29 announcement that he had given “notice of motion proposing the city ask the provincial government for permission to use photo radar.” (Yes, I’m afraid we still have to do that in Ontario.) There has been a swift and effective reaction from local safety advocates, including the Safe Streets Ottawa petition and a global perspective from the remarkable Hans Moor. But I thought this also merited a response from Canada’s leading traffic safety expert, so I asked Neil and I owe him a huge debt for the reflections that follow, received in the day that the motion goes to council. My only addition to his expert remarks would be that even if the majority of Canadians didn’t support the use of speed cameras it would still be the ethical choice for governments, since it is rooted in safety science rather than in motorist intuition and myth. 



The Case for Automated Speed Enforcement in Ottawa

by Neil Arason

Overall, speed is the number-one road safety problem and is an aggravating factor in the amount of trauma generated in all motor vehicle related crashes. Pedestrians and cyclists are the road users disproportionately put at risk, since most crashes produce blunt forces exceeding the limits of their physical tolerance. The research concludes that a pedestrian is five to eight times more likely to be killed by a vehicle travelling at 50 km/h than by one travelling at 30 km/h. Ultimately, Canada has made no progress in the last decade in reducing trauma numbers to pedestrians and cyclists. Continue reading


Autowa Then and Now

Almost two years ago I stumbled on the National Capital Commission’s plan to include a narrow, completely unprotected bike lane in the redesign of the Alexandria Bridge. In response I wrote a post explaining how this design could easily be made a great deal safer for cyclists, and more ecologically sound.

My proposal for safe active transit in downtown Ottawa runs counter to the long-cherished ideal of a national capital held together by parkways. In such a vision, urban cyclists and pedestrians are merely an impediment to the experience of driving around distracted by tulips, grass, historic monuments, and the occasional splash of colourful fabric.


View of the Proposed Confederation Boulevard-Sussex Drive Rehabilitation, King Edward to St. Patrick.

This vision of downtown Ottawa as a touring motorist’s paradise is baked into the NCC’s 1959 founding document, the National Capital Act, which refers to “any street, road, lane, thoroughfare or driveway” as a highway—i.e. a place for cars. The National Capital Act served to implement the 1950 Gréber Plan for the city that we now know call Autowa. The Gréber plan is a hefty 400-page tome, but one can get the basic idea from the remarkable ten-minute film Capital Planavailable in full on the NFB website. Continue reading

On the road to Vision Zero Canada … with your help

[UPDATE to what follows: In May 2016 I launched the Vision Zero Canada website.] 

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero is a global movement dedicated to the elimination of the 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries caused by vehicular collisions each year. In many places the numbers are mounting, and progress will only happen by way of substantial changes in attitude and public policy. It’s time for Canada to get with the program.

As Neil Arason notes in his indispensable 2014 book No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads, Canadians tend to regard motor vehicle crashes as accidents, acts of God, or the fault of individuals engaging in aberrant behavior. This fatalistic attitude helps explain why Canada’s per capita traffic fatality rate is almost double that of the world’s best performers. To improve this lamentable toll Canadians will need to take action based on the example of countries who lead in the development and implementation of safe design.

The first step towards a Vision Zero policy is raising public awareness about the extent of the carnage, and showing how it can be avoided though improvements in regulation and design. Continue reading

A Tactical Urbanism Primer

The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is … one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
—David Harvey

Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?
—Henry David Thoreau

Tactical Urbanism (hereafter TU) is the term that Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia, principals of the Miami- and Brooklyn-based Street Plans Collaborative, use to describe an innovative and effective method of urban improvement. In their new book Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2015) they describe a sometimes rogue approach to “complete streets” advocacy and design—sometimes called “action planning” or “planning by doing”— that emerged out of frustration with broken regimes of civic administration. tu_cover In the preface to this remarkably readable and well-illustrated volume Garcia recalls his efforts, as editor of the early blog Transit Miami, to support the progressive Miami 21 zoning code in 2006-2009. The revised code, which aimed to overturn an archaic and fatal system of segregating the urban fabric according to rigidly-defined land-use categories (commercial, residential, institutional, industrial) was ultimately implemented to wide acclaim. But as Garcia explains, the process of approving these sensible revisions was excruciatingly time-and-resource intensive. He recalls that Continue reading

Bike Lanes are as Dutch as Tulips

This is a brief post regarding the NCC‘s recent scheme for the redevelopment of Ottawa’s Confederation Boulevard (i.e. a stretch of Sussex Drive) between King Edward and St. Patrick. (Thanks Chris Begley for bringing this to our attention.)  My point is simple, and I begin by asking the reader what is wrong with this picture.

View of the Proposed Confederation Boulevard-Sussex Drive Rehabilitation, King Edward to St. Patrick.  Click image for complete proposal (PDF) on the National capital Commission website (

View of the Proposed Confederation Boulevard-Sussex Drive Rehabilitation, King Edward to St. Patrick. Click image for complete proposal (PDF) on the National capital Commission website (

I’ll forgive you for answering “The drunk in the red car.” Continue reading

Pinterest as a Tool for Urban Advocacy

A slice of the 100+ images on the Slow Ottawa ‘Streets for Everyone’ Pinterest board. Click image to visit site.

Over on Urban Commuter today, the intrepid Ottawa cyclist/blogger Hans Moor posted a cautionary tale about the sensible and senseless use of new media. His reflection inspired me to share a story about a very recent Slow Ottawa success, with no small thanks to Hans and other advocates for smart, sustainable urbanism. Continue reading

Audiocast #4: Living Lightly with David Chernushenko

David as photographed by a passer-by on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City during the making of his latest film “Bike City, Great City.”

“SUSTAINABILITY IS SOCIAL, ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC” says David Chernushenko—seasoned campaigner for community improvement and current Councillor for Ottawa’s Capital Ward—in this hour-long interview with Slow Ottawa host Graham Larkin.  Here David reveals exactly how he got his start in advocacy for living lightly; he explains why he eschews partisan labels; he expresses his hope for a generation more attuned to light living; and he shares many stories about recent local initiatives. Continue reading

Audiocast #3: Coming Home to Centretown

Elspeth McKay in the re:Purpose store at 150 Gloucester St, Ottawa.

I recently visited the Gloucester St. office of Elspeth McKay, director of Operation Come Home to talk about her work with street-involved youth in Ottawa. We spoke extensively about Elspeth’s knack for developing enterprises that train and employ youth. We also discussed the origins of many OCH programs including Reunite; the Resources (Drop-in) Centre; the Rogers Achievement Centre high school program; BottleWorksFarmWorksHousing WorksEntrepreneurship Works; and the re: Purpose store. Continue reading

Audiocast #2: Walking with Dan Rubinstein

Dan Rubinstein walking to my house on the morning of 13 November 2013.

Dan Rubinstein walking to my house on the morning of the audiocast.

The intrepid Dan Rubinstein came to my living room recording studio on 13 November 2013 to tell me about his Born to Walk project, including a forthcoming book on “the transformative power of walking.”  Dan shared many enlightening stories about his extensive travels with serious walkers and experts on walking.

To hear the complete interview use the player below on supported platforms, or click HERE to download.

[UPDATE 24 Nov 2013: Professor Phil Ford has commented extensively on this audiocast in a blog post describing walking as a ‘technology of experience.’ Join the conversation here.]

[UPDATE 17 March 2015: The book is now out. Buy it, and kindly spread the word.]

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Making it in the Glebe


“I LOVE MAKING THINGS” says Kathrin von Dehn, a friend who opened her basement workshop—along with many cupboards and drawers—for the first Slow Ottawa profile on sustainable living. The first thing she shows me as we descend the stairs is a recent acquisition in the form of an old wooden chair missing a front leg and all but one of its stretchers. “Isn’t it great?” she enthuses, and I see what she means as I admire its elegant proportions, its warm materials, its signs of use, its brokenness, poise and resilience. Kathrin explains how one of her neighbours recently “just threw it out.” When I ask her about her plans for the chair she says “I dunno, maybe find a stick that will work as a leg.”


Most of the things in Kathrin’s home are time-worn, and many have been scavenged from familiar places. The proud owner of a dilapidated minivan used mainly for trips out of town, Kathrin likes to navigate her neighbourhood on foot, usually with her two dogs and a kid or two, and always on the lookout for found materials whose lives she can extend through her art. In the well-organized workshop that takes up most of her basement she gathers all kinds of oddments that she can transmute into jewelry, handbags, stationary, wall art, storage boxes…whatever she feels like making today. Continue reading