Regional Road Corridor Design Guidelines

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Why Guidelines for Regional Road Corridors?

There are changing demands on, and expectations of, roadways of all types in urban areas across North America. Roads can no longer be considered as predominantly traffic carrying facilities moving vehicles and goods as efficiently and safely as possible. While this remains a primary objective, particularly for regional roads which have an arterial function, greater consideration needs to be given to the requirements of all travel modes. Road designers and planners must consider the role of the entire road corridor as a public space, and the role of roads in shaping the character, function and livability of adjacent land uses and communities.

This theme is well articulated in Section 6.10 of Ottawa-Carleton's Regional Official Plan (ROP), which provides the impetus for these guidelines:

" Review and modify general design guidelines for all regional roads which address compatibility with adjacent land uses and landscape character. These guidelines will also provide direction for regional roads that perform more specific functions such as mainstreets, Central Area roads, Entry Routes, and roads through special areas such as the Greenbelt or heritage districts. Taking into account the requirements of the anticipated travel modes and the diversity of other activities and users, the guidelines will address the following matters, including specific measures for implementation:

  1. design which is compatible with adjacent land uses and landscape character, such as wider sidewalks, street trees and parking on mainstreets in the urban area and Villages;
  2. design and maintenance of roadway elements, such as lighting and planting, that are attractive, energy-efficient, cost-effective and durable;
  3. measures to ensure the safety and security of users;
  4. any other items considered by Council." (ROP, Policy 6.10.1)

The ROP also states that the review of roadway design guidelines must, "incorporate value engineering principles, respect community values and reinforce Council's preference for walking, cycling and transit use over the private automobile" (ROP policy 9.5.4).

The guidelines focus on the function and design of regional roads in the urban area and villages of Ottawa-Carleton. These roads can be described as urban arterials. Freeways, collector roads, local roads, rural roads, scenic and entry routes and roads through special areas such as heritage districts are not addressed in this document. This work will be done in a later phase.

This review of design guidelines for regional road corridors crosses traditional boundaries between land use and transportation planning. While road design focuses primarily on vehicular movement and access to adjacent property, this review focuses on a broader set of design considerations including:

  • principles of community livability;
  • the multi-modal street function; and
  • the character of surrounding land uses.

The term "regional road corridor" refers to both the road right-of-way (ROW) and its interface with adjacent land uses. In a built-up area, the road corridor includes the face-to-face building separation across a road, which includes property outside of the ROW.

During the preparation of this document, the decision was made to restructure the Region of Ottawa-Carleton and the eleven lower-tier municipalities into one new municipality to be named the City of Ottawa. Under the new City of Ottawa, urban arterial roads may or may not be referred to as "regional roads." However, the intent of this document is to apply to all major road corridors. For consistency, they will be called "regional roads."

Guideline Objectives

The two objectives of this document are:

  • To recommend design guidelines for various types of regional road corridors which support their public space function, and their compatibility with adjacent land uses and landscape character; and,
  • To identify means to implement the guidelines.

The design guidelines complement existing guidelines and regulations for the design of new and reconstructed roads and of adjacent land uses (see the Appendix for a list of existing policies, regulations, standards and guidelines). The intent is to respect traditional design objectives for safety, efficiency, capacity, and maintenance, while integrating objectives relating to compatibility, livability, community building, urban design, cost and environmental impacts. The guidelines will help to implement the vision of a more sustainable transportation system and healthy, vibrant communities as expressed in such documents as the Transportation Association of Canada's (TAC) "New Vision for Urban Transportation." (March 1993)

The guidelines can also assist in integrating "traffic calming" into the design of arterial roads. The objective of traffic calming is primarily to reduce the speed of motorized vehicles which in turn creates safer environments for all modes using the road. These guidelines can be read in conjunction with TAC's "Canadian Guide to Neighbourhood Traffic Calming" (December 1998).

In Ottawa-Carleton, regional roads are arterial roads that demonstrate a full range of urban and suburban conditions. The challenge in preparing these guidelines was to ensure the full range of conditions were considered in setting direction for retrofit or new arterial roads.

Regional roads range from mainstreets to commercial streets in suburban areas with large format retail or shopping malls and reverse frontage residential streets lined with noise barriers. The guidelines therefore respond to widely varying conditions: right-of-ways from 20m to 45m; definition of the street space ranging from a building height-to-corridor width ratio of 1:1 to 1:12; number of blocks within 500m ranging from 2 to 9; average block length ranging from 50m to 300m or longer, and, building setbacks ranging from 0 to more than 30m.

Narrow or wide, with low or high traffic volume, the best roads are the ones that create attractive public places and accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, transit, as well as cars and trucks.

Regardless of the corridor type, these guidelines are intended to help direct the development and redevelopment of regional roads to be the best they can be - the best roads through residential districts in new development or existing urban areas, the best commercial streets, whether they are main streets or commercial corridors in suburban neighbourhoods, or the best roads through employment areas, whether they are in the urban core or suburban business parks. To achieve this requires special attention to the particular qualities and conditions that contribute to the design of a wide variety of regional roads.

In Ottawa-Carleton, which forms part of the National Capital Region, it is particularly important that regional roads assist in communicating the image of the Capital to local citizens and visitors alike.

How will the Guidelines be used?

The guidelines are intended to be used by:

  • Municipal staff involved in road design, land use planning, and maintenance and operations;
  • Citizens and elected officials involved in transportation and land use decisions; and,
  • Private developers, architects, landscape architects, planners and engineers involved in road design and land use planning.

The guidelines have general applicability to municipalities across Canada. However, the guidelines recognize Ottawa-Carleton's winter conditions and harsh growing environment along regional roads. Certain aspects related to snow management and the location of trees and other vegetation will be relevant to communities with similar climatic conditions.

The guidelines should be used in various applications, including the design of new roads, road widenings, and road rehabilitation projects. The guidelines focus on the mid-block segments of the road corridor, although some general guidelines are provided for intersections, driveways and pedestrian crossings.

As the document also deals with lands outside of the ROW, it can also be used when designing new urban areas, as well as in the development of Official Plan policies, Zoning By-law regulations, and Site Plan Control guidelines.

This document provides information and background to assist the road corridor planner or designer in choosing the appropriate combination of road corridor elements. For example, when using the Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads (Transportation Association of Canada, September 1999), this document should contribute to the development of the "design domain," a basic concept in roadway design.

Study Partners and Consultation

Several agencies came together to support this study. The Region of Ottawa-Carleton (Region), in collaboration with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and Go for Green funded this study. The study complements and benefits the policy and research activities of CMHC, which pursues sustainable community development on a national basis. The Go for Green Active Living and Environment program is a Canadian non-profit initiative with participation of the Federal government and all 13 provinces and territories. The program explores ways to improve the health of individuals and the environment. On this basis, the design of major roadway corridors is core to the interests of both CMHC and Go for Green, as well as the interests of the Region as expressed in the Regional Official Plan.

In addition, local municipalities, agencies and interest groups have partnered with the Region through their representation on a "Working Group" which met regularly during the preparation of the guidelines. The study involved other stakeholders to share information and work together to identify design solutions, through consensus, as much as possible.

Key elements of the study's consultative process included:

  • Establishment of the Working Group;
  • Research, by Regional staff (with input from the Working Group), on the performance evaluation of representative regional roads;
  • Selection of a consulting team to assist in the review and develop the guidelines (Delcan Corporation and The Planning Partnership);
  • Numerous Working Group sessions;
  • Two meetings with Regional and municipal staff on technical matters;
  • Two public meeting/forums; and,
  • Circulation of draft reports for formal review.

A Working Group collaborated with the Project Team during the preparation of the Design Guidelines:

  • Robin Bennett, Regional Cycling Advisory Group
  • Chris Brouwer, Township of Cumberland
  • Chris Bradshaw, Ottawalk
  • Allan Cameron, City of Kanata
  • Sandra Candow, City of Gloucester
  • Tim Chadder, Township of West Carleton
  • Guy Cormier, Village of Rockcliffe Park
  • Sue Cragg, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
  • Susan Fisher, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
  • David Glastonbury, Greater Ottawa Chamber of Commerce
  • Kevin Grace, Township of Osgoode
  • Linda Hoad, Federation of Citizen Associations
  • Craig Huff, Regional Forester
  • Brian Humphries, Township of Rideau
  • Dennis Jacobs, City of Nepean
  • Françoise Jessop, City of Ottawa
  • Jim Kearns City of Vanier
  • John Kizas, Transportation Association of Canada
  • Chantal Laliberté, Go for Green
  • Colin Leech, OC Transpo
  • Lise Meloche, City of Ottawa
  • Jack McGuinty, Building Owners and Managers Association
  • Marilyn Muleski, City of Ottawa
  • Geoff Noxon, Mobility Management Branch, RMOC
  • Danny Page, Township of Goulbourn
  • John Smit, City of Ottawa
  • Peter Steacy, RMOC
  • John Wright, Corush Sunderland Wright Ltd

What is a Regional Road?

Regional roads are arterial roads which form the network of major travel routes throughout Ottawa-Carleton. They are expected to move the greatest traffic volume and the most diversity of travel modes including pedestrians, cyclists, buses, cars, trucks, and emergency service vehicles.

Regional road rights-of-way range from about 20m to 45m. Some regional roads are in older urban areas where land uses define a narrow corridor, and where widening potential is limited or not appropriate. Other existing and planned roads are located in suburban settings where wider corridors have been protected or are available. Urban regional roads traverse all land use contexts, including the central area, new and old residential areas, linear commercial districts including mainstreets, institutional and government precincts, business parks and other employment areas, future town centres, village cores, and the transition zones between these areas.

Being arterial routes, all regional roads carry high traffic volumes. However, high traffic volumes do not necessarily jeopardize a road's ability to be multi-modal or to create good public spaces in both urban and suburban settings, in wide or narrow road corridors.

It is interesting to note that Bank Street, a classic main street, with four lanes in an 18.5m ROW with intersecting streets every 50m, carries the same peak hour traffic volume as Baseline Road, a typical suburban four lane thoroughfare, in a 46m ROW with blocks every 300m.

First Principles - The Vision

The design guidelines are based on a set of "First Principles" for regional road corridors. They have been derived from various sources including existing policy, lessons learned locally and elsewhere, relevant literature, and stakeholders' input.

The First Principles for regional road corridors are organized in accordance with the corridors' four basic functions. Each regional road corridor functions, to varying degrees, as a:

Public Space Principles

Allan Jacobs wrote, in Great Streets (1995), "If we can develop roads that are attractive public spaces, community-building places, then we will have successfully designed one third of the city and will have an immense effect on the rest." As a public space, roads should be safe, comfortable, barrier-free, pleasing to the eye, used by many, and a source of civic pride. They are a place for social interaction. To function as a public space, regional road corridors should be:

Secure: Regional road corridors should be safe and friendly areas for pedestrians and cyclists, and for adjacent residents and businesses.

Comfortable: Regional road corridors should maximize the physical comfort of pedestrians and cyclists, and of adjacent residents and businesses, through mitigation of the environmental effects of temperature, sun, rain, snow, wind, lighting glare, visual, noise, and air pollution.

Convenient: Regional road corridors should be convenient for their users by providing amenities, accessibility, signage, and integration with adjacent uses, as well as the ease of travel along the corridor.

Engaging to the Eye: Regional road corridors should have qualities that engage the eye through the creative combination of road elements such as trees and vegetation, lighting, signs, furniture, public art, utility infrastructure, and the definition provided by adjacent landscaping and buildings.

Spatially Defined: Regional road corridors should be designed with regard for the massing, height and setback of adjacent buildings and landscaping to define human-scaled spaces.

Green: Regional road corridors should maximize the amount of vegetation as an attractive element of public space, to green the urban landscape and to create public spaces and green ways.

Universally Accessible: Regional road corridors can contribute to the diversity of urban areas by hosting land uses and public spaces where people of all levels of physical ability, from all walks of life and from other communities can meet and interact without barriers.

Access Provider Principles

Regional roads provide access and/or exposure to lands located adjacent to them. The degree of access ranges from public street intersections, to consolidated vehicle driveways, to individual lot driveways, to pedestrian access only, to no access at all, to visual marketing exposure only. The use and design of the adjacent built form and the type of access are important determinants of the character and function of a road corridor. To best provide access and exposure, regional road corridors should be:

Properly Spaced: Block length and intersection spacing along regional road corridors should be designed to accommodate all transportation modes including walking, cycling, and public transit.

Access-Controlled: Vehicular access to individual lots adjacent to regional road corridors should be controlled to minimize turning movements and to reduce conflicts between all travel modes. Opportunities for direct pedestrian and cyclist access should be maximized.

Connective: Regional road corridors should provide a high degree of connectivity between land uses and places along and across the route. This includes accessibility and mobility for all users to and from adjacent land uses as well as the communities that flank the corridor.

Continuous: Regional road corridors should provide for visual and functional continuity, both for uses and activities along the corridor, and for uses and activities across the corridor.

Revealing: Regional road corridors should provide exposure to adjacent users requiring visibility, while managing the quantity and quality of signage and landscaping both within the road allowance and on adjacent lands.

Multi-Modal Route Principles

The high capacity, high diversity function of regional roads distinguishes them from the remaining hierarchy of the less-travelled public roads. To function as multi-modal routes, regional road corridors should be:

High-Capacity: Regional road corridors should continue to accommodate the highest volume of people, goods and services through a diversity of travel modes, and their design should facilitate the safe and efficient movement of these modes.

Safe: The design of regional road corridors should maximize safety for all travel modes and users. Integrating various traffic calming measures into the design of new or rehabilitated roads may be appropriate. Applying such measures should not displace traffic to adjacent non-arterial roads, unduly compromise transit service, or jeopardize emergency vehicle response.

Prioritized For Pedestrians, Cyclists and Transit Users: Regional road corridors should place a priority on walking, cycling, and public transit use, over the use of the private automobile.

Pedestrian Supportive: Regional road corridors should have sidewalks along both sides and other pedestrian friendly features, and should contribute to the pedestrian and cycling linkages within and between communities.

Cycling Supportive: Regional road corridors should provide features to promote safe and efficient cycling. Roads that form part of the Cycling Transportation Network (CTN) should provide for on-road commuter cycling needs to the greatest extent possible.

Transit Supportive: Regional road corridors that serve as public transit routes should include an enhanced level of features, facilities and connectivity for pedestrians, to promote transit use. Buses should have equal or greater priority than other vehicular traffic.

Heavy Vehicle Compatible: Most regional road corridors serve as routes for trucks, buses, and emergency service vehicles. They should be designed to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of large and heavy vehicles. This will minimize vehicle conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists, mitigate environmental effects and reduce maintenance costs of both the road and the vehicles.

Service and Utility Route Principles

Regional roads accommodate a range of municipal services such as piped water, sanitary sewers, and storm sewers, as well as utilities such as hydro, telephone, gas and telecommunications (cable, telephone, data, etc.). The services are typically underground, yet hydro, telephone and cable may be mounted on poles. Trees are also part of the public infrastructure. Providing suitable vertical and horizontal space is an important design challenge. The maintenance and operation of this infrastructure, and of the road corridor itself, are also important design considerations. To function as a service and utility route, regional road corridors should be:

Infrastructure Compatible: Regional road corridors should continue to provide the required horizontal and vertical space for municipal service and utility infrastructure.

Vegetation Supportive: Vegetation in the road corridor should be considered as part of a connected system of underground, at-grade and overhead infrastructure. The integrity and continuity of the system should not be compromised or broken. The green infrastructure promotes oxygen production, carbon dioxide absorption, ground water infiltration, noise and light attenuation, snow drift management, and airborne particle collection.

Operable and Maintainable: Regional road corridors should be based on designs which address the life-cycle costs and ease of maintenance of the infrastructure. Materials, construction techniques and scale of the road corridor elements should be selected to ensure durability and quality.

It is important to note that these four functions are not always entirely complementary. For example, it is often difficult to develop a desirable public space along a high speed arterial road. The pre-eminence of the various functions, therefore, often varies by road corridor type. This is the challenge the guidelines must address.


Adjacent Lands
Lands within the road corridor that are adjacent to the ROW. The depth varies from 20m to more than 100m depending on the land use.
Bike Pocket
A clear space behind the stop bar at intersections for the temporary stopping of bicycles at red lights.
The area between the ROW limit and the curb. Also referred to as "road edge" in this document. See also "inner boulevard" and "outer boulevard".
Building Height-to-corridor width Ratio
The ratio of building height to the distance separating building facades on either side of the road. If buildings are 8m high and separated by 24m, the ratio is 1:3.
Any instance where a sidewalk crosses a public street or private driveway. Crosswalks may be at intersections or at mid-block locations.
Curb-face Inlets
A device that receives surface water runoff and directs it to an underground storm sewer. The inlet is a cast iron structure that is mounted along the roadside edge of a concrete curb. It is an alternative to a catch basin.
The frontage of a road which is bounded by the side yard of an adjacent lot.
Heavy Vehicles
Vehicles such as large trucks, buses, and emergency service vehicles.
Inner Boulevard
That portion of the road edge between the curb and the sidewalk.
Life-Cycle Cost
The cost of constructing, operating, maintaining, and replacing an item as measured over the life-span on an annualized basis.
Lot Frontage
The portion of a lot that abuts a road ROW.
The feature that separates opposing travel lanes. Medians may be raised/curbed with a sod or concrete top, may be mountable with a concrete top, or may be painted lines on asphalt. Median width typically varies between 1m and 5m.
Noise Attenuation Fence
A solid fence or wall with a composition which reduces the intensity of sound between the source and the receiver.
On-road Parking
Parking that is permitted along the roadway either as permanent parking spaces or on a joint use parking/peak hour through-lane.
Lands abutting the ROW.
Outer Boulevard
That portion of the road edge between the sidewalk and the ROW limit.
Planting Zone
Same as Outer Boulevard.
Recreational Pathway
An off-road route for pedestrians, cyclists and other non-motorized users. It links communities, open spaces and recreational destinations.
The Region of Ottawa-Carleton
Regional Official Plan (ROP)
The Region's Official Plan as approved by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in October, 1997, and the Ontario Municipal Board in April 1999.
Regional Road Corridor
The ROW and adjacent land uses along either side, measured to the building façade.
Right-of-Way (ROW)
The corridor of land owned by a municipality within which a road is located. This includes the road pavement and boulevards on either side. The ROW width typically varies from 20m to 45m.
Road Allowance
Same as Right-of-Way (ROW)
The central, paved traveled portion of the road, including medians where they exist.
Road Edge
The area within the ROW limit and the curb. Also referred to as "boulevard" in this document. See also "inner boulevard" and "outer boulevard".
Salt-Tolerant Species
Vegetation species that are tolerant to the effects of high concentrations of salt in the air (spray), soil, or groundwater.
Snow Management
The process of storing, clearing, and removing snow that accumulates on roadways, sidewalks, recreation paths, driveways and parking lots.


This study concludes that the best design of Ottawa-Carleton's regional road corridors involves balancing the needs of the corridor to function simultaneously as a public space, an access provider, a multi-modal route, and a service and utility route. The road corridor design must address the road user needs, the land use context and the available corridor width.

With the input of a knowledgeable working group, design guidelines have been provided for various individual road corridor components. These include elements located on adjacent lands, the road edge, and the roadway, as well as intersections, driveways, pedestrian crossings and linear services. These components can then be assembled to form complete road cross-sections and plans. The process involves mixing and matching those component designs that best achieve the desired road character and corridor width. Demonstration plans have been illustrated for six basic road types, but other corridor designs are possible.

The study provides an implementation framework that can be used to set the guidelines into practice. The usefulness of the guidelines will best be measured when used in upcoming road corridor design projects. These may involve new roads, widenings, or road retrofits. It is acknowledged that the guidelines should be reviewed from time to time to incorporate emerging best practices and new lessons learned.

Combined with strong policy and a commitment to high quality design, these guidelines will be a powerful tool to help make Ottawa-Carleton's diverse regional road corridors the best public spaces they can possibly be.


Existing Policies, Regulations, Guidelines and Standards
(Regional, Municipal, Provincial, Professional)

The following table outlines various existing policies, regulations, guidelines and standards that road designers and decision-makers should have regard for in the design of regional road corridors in Ottawa-Carleton.

Responsible Authority Document, Date Relevance to Regional Road Corridor Design
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Regional Official Plan, 1997
  • establishes the Region's official policy, enacted pursuant to Ontario's Planning Act, 1990, and Provincial Policy Statement, 1995.
  • outlines an overall regional development strategy which encourages denser, more compact growth and affordable infrastructure.
  • promotes a multi-modal transportation system, with an emphasis on walking, cycling and transit.
  • requires sidewalks on both sides of regional roads except in business parks where they are required only on one side.
  • establishes ROW acquisition/widening policies for regional roads.
  • provides policy on when noise attenuation is warranted.
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Transportation Master Plan, 1997
  • confirms required transportation infrastructure improvements, including new and widened regional roads.
  • provides a program for regional road construction and reconstruction.
  • establishes modal share for all modes.
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Regional Regulatory Code, 1992
  • provides Council-approved standards on various matters including the use and care of regional roads, private approaches, road cuts, encroachments, street vending, signs, sewer and water services, and tree planting.
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Greening Guidelines For Regional Roads in Urban Areas, 1992
  • provides guidelines on various matters such as planting standards, tree removal & replacement, tree protection, turf, utility conflicts, life cycle management, and research required.
  • recommends 20m linear tree spacing along regional roads.
  • provides typical cross-sections of different road edge and median planting arrangements.
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Noise Control Guidelines For New Construction, Reconstruction and Widening of Regional Roads and Transitways, 1995
  • provides Council-approved guidelines on the provision of noise mitigation features to be implemented during the design and construction of new or widened regional roads and transitways.
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton Roadway Lighting Information Booklet,
  • provides guidelines on illumination levels, light spacing and light fixture options
Area Municipalities Local Official Plans
  • establishes policies for land uses adjacent to regional roads.
  • designates pedestrian routes.
  • includes detailed secondary or special area plans.
Area Municipalities Local Zoning By-Laws
  • establishes permitted land uses and performance standards such as road setbacks, landscaping strips, parking requirements, building heights, and densities.
Area Municipalities Municipal Sign By-Laws
  • regulates the surface area, height, number, and location of signs on private property.
  • prohibits certain types of signs.
Area Municipalities Site Plan Design Guidelines
  • provides recommendations on building orientation, buffering landscaping, parking areas, access, walkways, cyclist amenities, garbage enclosures, lighting, and signage, etc. .
Ontario Ministry of Housing & Ministry of Municipal Affairs Making Choices: Alternative Development Standards Guideline, 1995
  • outlines the need for alternative development standards in road design.
  • presents a hierarchy of ten street types ranging from more urban to less urban, on ROWs ranging from 12.5m to 30m.
Ontario Ministry of Ministry of Municipal Affairs Design Guidelines - Highway Commercial Areas, 1988
  • outlines the visual and functional problems with some highway commercial areas.
  • provides guidelines for such areas on various matters such as on-site parking, landscaping, signs, buildings, and vacant sites.
Ontario Ministry of Transportation Ontario Bikeways Planning and Design Guidelines, March 1996
  • provides guidelines on the use of shared road bikeways, shoulder bikeways, bike lanes, and bike paths.
  • provides recommended bikeway widths as a function of average daily roadway traffic and % of truck traffic.
Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads, 1999
  • provides a comprehensive set of design standards for components in the road edge, the roadway, intersections and crosswalks, and the linear services and road operation requirements.
Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) Canadian Guide to Neighbourhood Traffic Calming, 1998
  • provides design guidelines for traffic calming measures.
Dr. Barry Wellar, University of Ottawa Walking Security Index Project: Final Report, July 1998
  • provides a method to define, predict and evaluate the level of security (safety, comfort and convenience) that is experienced and expected by pedestrians when using signalised intersections.