Board of Health to have say on bike, pedestrian safety

Jessica Kenny, Centretown News
The addition of crosswalk countdowns and pedestrian markings at the corner of Kent and Catherine streets last spring aim to improve the safety of students walking to school.
The City of Ottawa’s Board of Health is pushing forward with a recommendation that will give Ottawa Public Health more say in the city’s transport infrastructure.

The recommendation, which was passed at a health board meeting on Nov. 17, would allow the public health agency to provide direction on the safety of “active transportation users” — particularly pedestrians and cyclists — around Ottawa schools. 

Sherry Nigro, manager of the health promotion and disease prevention branch at Ottawa Public Health, says this will give public health a louder voice in recommending things such as wider sidewalks, textured crosswalks and improved street lighting. 

Nigro notes the board’s action reaffirms the city’s commitment to promoting active transportation for the improvement of health and air quality. 

“There’s an acknowledgement from the board of health that the built environment is a big contributor to our own health,” she says. 

Captial Coun. David Chernushenko, a member of the board, says the recommendation is due to a downward trend in students walking or cycling to school. 

However, he acknowledges that there’s more than just awareness that needs to be done.

“The number one obstacle, particularly in the parents mind, is safety,” he says, noting that often parents drive their kids to school because they consider it safer than letting them walk or bike. 

Jim Tayler, principal at Glashan Public School, welcomes the move. 

The school has faced traffic issues in the past. Tayler notes the high-traffic intersection of Kent and Catherine streets, which is a main route for his students. 

Changes were made last spring, he says, including new pedestrian markings, advance pedestrian right of way and countdowns on pedestrian signals.

“I think ours is a good example of how we as a school council advocated and expressed our concerns, and the city responded and made those changes,” he says. 

Nigro says there has been a lot of concern and recommendations coming from Centretown, where there are high populations of students walking or cycling to school.  

Chernushenko says the board’s move will only give public health more of an advisory role. 

“We can’t say this ought to be done and we’ll pay for it,” he says. “The best we can do is work with the transportation committee as the primary delivery agent, so to speak.” 

A recommendation was also passed to request more municipal authority on speed limits, from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.

Should that occur, the city could look into setting new limits, and Ottawa Public Health would continue to look at the health benefits of reduced speed limits. 

“We’ve learned that all of the efforts to make all our streets more efficient by making them wider and faster ended up with a whole lot of undesired consequences,” says Chernushenko, “and we’ve got to start undoing it now.”

Tayler points to Chamberlain Avenue — the street running just south of and parallel to the Queensway between Bronson and Bank streets — as a difficult route for students.

“Even though there are posted speed limits, people tend to drive fast,” he says. 

“Nothing has happened, we haven’t had any close calls,” Tayler says. 

“It’s not a matter of having to respond to a problem, but certainly we’re aware of that.” 

Nevertheless, Nigro says the passing of the recommendation to support Ottawa Public Health’s work on active transportation is a step in the right direction to ensure school-aged children meet the recommended 50 minutes of physical activity per day.
“The significance is that more kids are going to be walking and wheeling to school and loving every minute of it,” she says.