News / Ottawa

Walkability audit considers Ottawa's sidewalk safety

A new report will reveal what residents in Hintonburg, Beaverbrook and the Glebe found during several walkability audits last year.

Between construction, winter weather and busy roads, walking in Ottawa isn't always comfortable, a new report has found. Along Scott Street in particular, pedestrians share space with long lines of buses, particularly at rush hour.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Between construction, winter weather and busy roads, walking in Ottawa isn't always comfortable, a new report has found. Along Scott Street in particular, pedestrians share space with long lines of buses, particularly at rush hour.

Whether you’re pushing a stroller, using a cane or driving a motorized wheelchair, the state of the sidewalks can make or break your ability to get around.

That’s why the Pedestrian Safety Committee, part of the city’s Council on Aging, just spent more than a year auditing sidewalks, pathways and crosswalks for safety and accessibility issues in spring, fall and winter.

They’ll table their findings Thursday at a special event in Alta Vista.

The issues, to anyone who walks, are well-known: missing pathway connections, lack of safe crossings and poor winter maintenance, for example.

The committee worked with Ecology Ottawa and the city’s public works department to develop a sidewalk hazard form and a walkability audit checklist for exploring broader safety and accessibility issues.

“Once we had that we thought we should try it out,” said Dianne Breton, who chairs the committee.

And so volunteers set out with local councillors and city staff in tow, to assess sidewalk safety in Beaverbrook, Hintonburg and the Glebe.

Results varied, Breton said.

In Beaverbrook, traditional sidewalks aren’t as prevalent as multi-use pathways, which have their own issues: crumbling asphalt, for one, and narrow paths that aren’t quite comfortable to share.

Crosswalks are also few and far between in the Kanata community, Breton said, posing problems not just for seniors and people with mobility issues, but also for kids walking to school.

Downtown, the issues were a bit different.

In the Glebe, residents at the Abbotsford Senior Centre found residential streets lacked safe crossings, or the light was too slow to let seniors and people with mobility issues cross in time.

Along the Bank Street bridge, pedestrians felt uncomfortable being so close to traffic, Breton said.

The same was true along Scott and Albert streets in Hintonburg, where the sidewalk is often right beside the busy road. It recently became a transit thoroughfare as the Transitway was shut down for construction, as well.

Winter maintenance is a separate beast altogether. The audits found sidewalk plowing is often lacking, and when it is done it can create icy, uneven walkways. Snowbanks also reduce visibility or blocked mailboxes.

Despite these issues, Breton said pedestrian safety is slowly getting better. The city’s term of council priorities includes $11.2 million to improve crosswalk safety, for example.

And public works staff were on board with the audit project from Day 1, Breton said.

“They don’t want the sidewalks to be unsafe,” she said. “It’s important to them that people report things if there’s something dangerous or not working.”

Breton said many of the immediate hazards were fixed, particularly after the committee lead a follow-up audit in November with staff.

The issue is crucial: by 2031, more than 25 per cent of Ottawa residents will be over 65, according to the Council on Aging.

The report will make multiple recommendations to the city and the council on aging Thursday afternoon.

But Breton said her main wish is that other communities make use of the walkability tools to do their own local audits.

“Its not just for seniors, its for everyone,” she said. “We all walk, even if you’re in an electric wheelchair that’s how you walk. The spaces we walk in need to be comfortable and safe.”

The report, called Safe Streets for Seniors and Other Valuable People in Ottawa, will be presented Thursday between 3:30 and 5 p.m. at 1247 Kilborn Place in Alta Vista.