Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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The invisible car-less

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When Natalie and I were in our twenties, we shacked up. Our first place together was a one-bedroom apartment at Julian and Wellington in the heart of Wellington Village. Fortunately, in the mid-90s with two entry-level incomes, affordability was less of a concern than it is now and we could afford a place pretty much anywhere we wanted to be. Our decision was driven almost exclusively by transportation.

Like so many young people, we didn’t have a car. The cost of a car – parking it for work or school, gas, insurance, payments, fees, etc., was simply out of reach to us. We travelled by bus and bike. Natalie worked at the General and needed to be on the 16. I worked in the Glebe, downtown, then on Carling and attended school at Algonquin and Ottawa U and wanted to be an easy bike or bus ride away. We needed to be able to walk to the grocery and drug stores, to the bank, and to entertainment. For years we lived happily car-free in our 15-minute community. Even when we bought a house in Hintonburg, we didn’t have a car – it was only with Nick on the way that we accepted the parental gift of one.

Our car-free story isn’t unlike the car-free story that you probably know from your own friends, acquaintances and family, and possibly even your own. It strikes me, though, that we too often make an assumption that everyone has a car because we - in our particular circumstances at a particular time in our life - have one.

When I think back on the people I’ve had the pleasure to hire in our little Kitchissippi office, I think about the how rare it has been that someone on the team has a car. We don’t ask during the interview whether someone has access to a car, but with most of my staff I’ve learned that they generally don’t. They’ve rented or even owned in mid-rise conversions, above the shops on Wellington and Richmond, old and new towers, and in some instances whole houses in this ward without a car, in close proximity to transit and walkable amenities. That’s partly because councillors’ assistants are sometimes younger, of course. But it’s also in large part because with today’s cost of living, a car is one part of the budget that can be cut.

In this ward, there are thousands of residents who simply do not want to own a car. They rent and they own. In some cases they’re young singles or couples. In some cases they’re downsized seniors. Increasingly, they’re even families who are pioneering car-free urban living as all of us feel the increasing pressure to reduce our carbon footprint. They walk to the grocery store, take the bus or bike to go to work, and use Uber or car-sharing for more complex trips.

With the changes in R4 zoning and the new Westboro infill rules, we’re seeing developers respond to the opportunity to build parking-free low-rise multi-residential developments. They predominantly feature studio apartments and one- and two-bedroom units. Several years ago, City Council made a deliberate choice to allow no-parking buildings by eliminating many parking requirements. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely because I’ve sent you this link in response to concerns about a building going in near you that proposes no parking.

The decision to remove parking minimums in many instances was made after carefully balancing the many considerations that go into trying to develop our city more sustainably. We want intensification because sprawl and long commutes are unsustainable to either the taxpayer or our climate. We want more housing built to address affordability. We want the built form that results to have space for trees and landscaping and outdoor amenities.

Forcing developers to add parking only ensures that less of it is built in the neighbourhoods where it is most needed, that it is more expensive to buy or rent, and that it has less greenspace. When Council made the determination to allow more car-free developments, it was eyes wide open to the balance we were trying to achieve. When we require developers to provide parking for most of the units in the building, it excludes people from our community, it makes it more difficult to build “missing middle” housing, and it exacerbates heat sink effects.

There are absolutely growing pains associated with the reduction or elimination of minimum parking. I have succeeded in ensuring that every site plan we approve spells out to the developer that they have to stipulate to buyers and renters that the unit does not come with parking.

Still, too many landlords and real estate agents tell prospective tenants “oh, you can get street parking.” When those residents find out that there are restrictions on parking, that we frequently institute day and nighttime parking bans to plow, that neighbours are sometimes quick to call by-law and that there is fierce competition for street spots, they call my office – and we’re forced to tell them we have no help to give. It’s stressful for them and I continue to harp on with builders the need to be very explicit with new tenants that there are multiple buildings in our ward and across the City in which it is possible to get parking. Landlords owe prospective tenants an honest answer about parking availability.

If you’ve navigated to this post by way of a link from me explaining why a building proposed near you has no parking, the messages I want to convey and to which hope you’ll be open-minded are as follows. No-parking buildings are deliberately allowed, and a conscious decision by City Council as we try to build a more sustainable city. And, there are probably more people in your own life who live car-free than you may regularly think about. It is exceedingly common that people not have a car, which is a reflection of the incredible diversity in Ottawa.

Car-free is a choice that makes sense for many. I want there to be housing in Kitchissippi that serves their needs.



Posted July 10, 2022