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What’s the best way to get around Ottawa?


Walking has been an ordeal all week. Monday there were no plowed sidewalks. I was patient because 37cm of snow fell on Sunday and I’m a reasonable person. I clambered to work through the snowdrifts and didn’t complain.

Tuesday and Wednesday there were some plowed sidewalks, but it was still a lot of work to walk to work.

Today many of the sidewalks had a thick coat of greasy snow. I hate that kind of snow. You can’t get any traction, and it takes a long time to get anywhere because you slide back a little with every step. My friend says it’s like doing the moondance.

Walking has sucked this week.


I take the bus home from work most days. This week has been a busing nightmare. On Tuesday I waited over an hour for the #14, which is supposed to come every 15 minutes. I’m told Wednesday was even worse. The woman beside me was almost crying because her feet were so cold. After work the last thing you want to do is stand on a street corner for an hour, slowly freezing, wondering if all the buses have been cancelled or something.

At one point I turned to the woman next to me and said “If this goes on much longer, we’ll have to eat somebody.”

I was just kidding. I wasn’t that hungry. But if I’d had a log and some kindling and matches in my knapsack, I would have built a little fire and cooked someone just to warm things up a bit.

Eventually a bus came. It was bursting at the seams with passengers. It was the most over-crowded bus I’ve ever seen outside of Greece. A very nice bus driver let us all on, even though we were crammed into him and the door and flattened against the windshield.

It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get home that day, and I live 6.5 km from work. I could have walked it faster, and I would have been warmer too. But how was I to know the bus was going to be an hour late?

And does anybody else wonder where all the missing buses go? I can understand that the buses will run late when traffic is bad, but shouldn’t there still be one arriving approximately every 15 minutes? Wouldn’t the 5:00 bus be there at 6:00, and the 5:15 bus be there at 6:15? Etcetera?

Anyway, the buses have been tortuous this week.


I don’t drive, but people who do tell me that this week has been hell on wheels for drivers. Between the snarled traffic, huge snowbanks, bad road conditions, reduced lanes, and pedestrians walking on the streets, it’s been slow, frustrating and hazardous trying to drive anywhere.


I rarely take a taxi. But last night I was at a party in Chinatown, and around 10:00 I decided to treat myself to a cab home. I called Blue Line. They told me they could send a cab if I didn’t mind waiting.

“How long?” I asked.

“Anywhere from half an hour to two hours,” he said.

Half an hour to two hours? If I wanted to wait half an hour to two hours, I’d take a bus.

I walked.


I’ve seen the occasional bike out there, but I haven’t talked to any bikers about how it’s working for them this week. They’ve got to be going faster than everybody else, right?


Snowshoeing to workI was impressed with the woman on snowshoes going over the Somerset Street railway bridge. She gets bonus points for ingenuity. But sidewalk conditions weren’t consistent enough for her to leave the snowshoes on. Sometimes she had to carry them.


Public costs of various methods of transportation:

I got this breakdown from Ottawa City Councilor Diane Holmes today:

The total public cost (not user cost) per passenger trip:

Car driver: $2.50

Transit user: $1.76

Cyclist: $0.24

Pedestrian $0.10

(source 2003 “Costs of Travel Report” Delphi/MCR for City of Ottawa)

You’d think if they wanted to encourage us 10-cent pedestrians, they’d make walkability a priority in this city.

Stompers wanted

Tonight on my way home from work I stopped at the Plouffe Park skating rink to help Carol stomp snow. Volunteers need to stomp all the snow inside the rink down so it gets compacted before the rain starts on the weekend. Carol and I stomped for an hour and got about half of it done. (If you’re around Preston and Somerset and have a few minutes to spare, please go help stomp for a bit. It’s the rink right behind the Plant Recreation Centre.)

Carol was saying that as bad as sidewalk conditions are now, they’re going to get a lot worse if the City doesn’t get rid of the snow before the rain starts this weekend. Those mountains and humps and banks and ruts will all be frozen into place by Sunday, immortalized till Springtime.

Happy last day of Fall, by the way.


8 comments to What’s the best way to get around Ottawa?

  • Those are great stats.

  • Living out in the west end I don’t have the luxury of walking to work, it’s at least 10 or 12 k to where I work downtown, I don’t have a car (and even in the summer I don’t use my motorbike to commute), and the winter weather doesn’t allow me to pedal, but I don’t complain about the transit situation even though it took the #97 30 minutes to make it from Bayshore to where I got on just after Pinecrest yesterday evening, or even that it took 40 minutes to make it from there to Elgin – the roads truly sucked. Heck, I didn’t even complain that much when it too 30 minutes to make it from Bayview to Lebreton the other day because of a couple of stuck buses, it’s winter, and this _is_ Canada.

    I’m no fan of this city council but there are limits to available resources and an army of those little sidewalk plows just don’t make sense for the amount of snow we do get.

    In the town close to where I lived out east (lo these many years ago) snow removal from the sidewalk was the responsibility of the home or business owner that fronted it – and it worked. A couple of years ago I was living in Hintonberg and during the winter I kept the sidewalk clear in front of our 1/2 of a duplex as well as the unit next door rented by an elderly lady who couldn’t shovel and pretty soon the buildings on each side of us started doing the same until the walk to the convenience store on the corner was a breeze no matter how much snow was elsewhere.

    What we saw this week is a prime example of a city full of people sitting on their duffs waiting for someone else to look after them, and then complaining when it didn’t happen fast enough… were it up to me I’d have a by-law in place requiring people to look after the snow on their portion of the sidewalk by the close of business tomorrow.

    PS: Nice to see another Ottawa blogger – coffee’s on me (stageleft @ if you’re a downtown worker :-)

  • My faith in the city’s collection of transportation-related services has plunged about 80 per cent this week. Not one day did the bus service not deliver me some appalling screwup, not one day did I make my way to or from work on city streets without getting so deep in the snow it went down my boots.

    During and in the day after a seriously major snowfall, of course things are going to be a mess. But it’s become really, really obvious this week that (1) operating a bus system and plowing sidewalks are two tasks the city government is just no good at, and (2) keeping cars moving comfortably is the top priority. It’s pretty disappointing.

  • J.

    I agree, the weather and transportation has been awful this week. For a 30min bus right, it’s taken me over 1 1/2 to get home this week.

    What I don’t get, is that the weather isn’t even that bad, so why is the traffic awful? This doesn’t make sense. I heard someone blam it on the city for not plowing(sp?) the roads property and for some people driving 20-40km/h on the highway, but still! This doesn’t make sense and is very frustrating

  • stageleft – is there a point at which you will complain, or will you just keep accepting the continuing deterioration of public transit in Ottawa because it’s winter and it’s Canada? Myself, I refrained from complaining for four days, for the same reasons as you continue to refrain. But there comes a point at which I have to say “For God’s sake Ottawa, this is winter and this is Canada, get your shit together!”

    As for making people responsible for the sidewalks in front of their homes, I respectfully disagree with that proposition. We wouldn’t make people responsible for clearing the roadway in front of their homes because we take cars and road maintenance seriously. We think it’s a job for specialized snow removal teams. We wouldn’t leave drivers to navigate the patchwork of inconsistent and amateurish snow clearing attempts by citizens. Pedestrians should be entitled to the same consideration. The quality, consistency and timeliness of snow-clearing are critical elements of being a pedestrian-friendly city. (Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate homeowners who shovel the sidewalk – I most definitely do. I just think it should remain the responsibility of the City.)

    I’ll take you up on that coffee after Christmas – thank you.

  • If transit came to a complete and grinding halt I’d probably complain – but that would depend a lot on the weather. I spent most of my life living in the Arctic and High Arctic and have seen entire towns shut down for days as a result of storms and blizzards so I’m not a stranger to a little snow and weather related inconvenience, something that I suppose colours my reaction to these things.

    Comparing sidewalks to road ways is like comparing apples and airplanes, they both start with the letter “A”, but that’s pretty well where it ends. It takes no amount of skill for even a semi-able bodied individual to push the snow off a 4 foot wide strip of sidewalk, and even if it’s not perfect it’s still gonna be better than slogging through a foot of snow; and it’s a heck of a lot more efficient system than waiting for someone else to come along with some sort of publicly owned snow clearing equipment to do the job.

    I’m a big proponent of removing, to every extent possible, public dependence on government for this sort of thing. Sure they have ultimate responsibility of maintaining the sidewalks but how much better a place would Ottawa be if people took a few minutes to do things like push the snow off the sidewalks in front of their houses and businesses to make it a bit easier for people using them simply because it makes things a bit easier for people using them?

  • James

    My sidewalk STILL isn’t plowed, what a joke… stageleft, while I agree that any semi-able-bodied can (and should) shovel the snow in front of their houses (I’ve shoveled my portion and my back hurts), lots of people don’t… and I’m forced to walk on the street instead. Some portions of the sidewalk have 4 feet of snow cause people have shoveled their driveways onto the sidewalk (aka the church down the road) because the snowbanks are too huge already. It’s either that or shovel it directly into the road.

  • Cycling works, even in the winter. Get a studded tire for the front ($55 at MEC), fenders,warm clothing for your hands, feet, neck, and face, splash-proof pants or gaiters, and you’ll find it easy, despite the snow banks.

    Turn in an upright fashion. Thru snow, go about 10kph and be ready to put a foot down if necessary, Afer a few hours in the saddle, you’ll be an expert.

    You’ll feel much more secure than walking on those bumpy sidewalks.