Gatineau for (a Truly Active) Life
Yet there’s quite a bit more that can be done. Unfortunately, many recent residential projects have missed clear opportunities to encourage active living. One of the single best ways to promote being active is to make it possible for people to live without being reliant on a car. Yet many newer developments in northern Aylmer and the Plateau require residents to drive for even the smallest things, like buying a loaf of bread or going to the local park.
Urban planning with a true eye to active living includes commercial zoning in all residential projects. These don’t have to be large malls. A simple convenience store is enough to encourage residents to walk to pick up some of their smaller purchases. Of course, in addition to having stores within walking distance, residents also require adequate sidewalks to persuade them to leave their cars at home. And those sidewalks should be designed so that walking along them is enjoyable. Allumettières west of Wilfred Lavigne is a good example of how not to do this – repeatedly coming to busy intersections where the pedestrian lights take ages to change, giving those on foot the impression that they matter far less than those driving cars.
As we construct newer neighbourhoods, we should instead focus on building quieter streets that won’t become transit hubs for people from elsewhere to drive through to get to a highway. Well-marked crosswalks instead of traffic lights give those on foot the sense that they have priority, making it more likely that people will leave their cars at home when running errands around the neighbourhood.
Another important factor is public transit. Anyone who lives along roads like Chemin Aylmer, Wilfred Lavigne or Eardley has a reliable alternative to driving longer distances. There isn’t really anywhere else around Aylmer that can say the same.
With its wealth of parks and bike lanes, it’s surprising that a neighbourhood like the Plateau doesn’t have better sidewalk infrastructure, proximity to smaller markets or access to public transit. Yet it’s certainly not too late. Future condominium projects throughout Gatineau should be required to include a small supermarket on the ground floor of one of the buildings. And sidewalks can still be added to many streets where they are currently lacking. While we’re waiting for STO’s fortunes to rebound, the city could start planning ways to provide neighbourhoods north of Allumettières with better public transit. The tramway project presents a perfect opportunity to revamp routes throughout western Gatineau to provide more equitable service beyond Chemin Aylmer, an artery that is already very well served.