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Establishing a Community Vision for the Road Corridor

Establishing a Community Vision for the Road Corridor

The measure and memorability of a city is given as much by the character of its streets as by its buildings and public spaces. In fact, since about a third of the land use of any city is in its streets, and since these corridors are in public ownership, the design of a street network in a city represents one of the most promising opportunities both to control and visually impact city residents and visitors alike.

These guidelines demonstrate that regional roads can perform a variety of functions and can take on many different forms. As outlined in Section 8.0, there are several types of regional road corridors and many variations of each. In some cases, such as in road retrofit situations or as part of secondary planning or neighborhood studies, there may be an opportunity to change the character of a road corridor. As such, many regional road projects need to be designed on a case-by-case basis.

Similarly, there can be several competing objectives, some relating to the aesthetic context and others relating to the functional aspects of the corridor. This is evident in the First Principles outlined in Section 6.0. Some principles promote regional road corridors as attractive, livable public spaces, while others recognize their relatively high speed function. However, all regional road corridors should aspire to integrate communities rather than divide them.

On this basis, it is clear that designers should formulate their plans based on a broadly accepted "vision" for the corridor. A vision is a collection of statements and/or images that express the desired character, form, and function for a road corridor. Developing this vision should be the first step in road corridor planning. Ideally, the vision should be developed with input of stakeholders including the adjacent community, business groups, landowners, plan review agencies, and special interest groups.

The visioning process for regional road corridors can include several steps:

  • Identifying a road design or corridor planning project;
  • Identifying the stakeholders;
  • Examining existing and planned future conditions;
  • Communicating with stakeholders to determine their desires, fears, values and aspirations for the road corridor;
  • Developing and evaluating general design alternatives;
  • Holding meetings, workshops, focus groups, and/or conducting surveys;
  • Preparing a draft vision and circulating it widely for input; and,
  • Finalizing the vision and seeking endorsement and/or approval.

The visioning process can be conducted for road design projects of all sizes, even small-scale projects such as intersection designs. Ideally, however, a vision should be established for entire corridors. This will avoid a piecemeal approach and will prevent a number of isolated and possibly conflicting visions along a corridor.

There are many benefits of doing a road design or corridor planning process with a clearly articulated vision. The most obvious is that there can be buy-in for the project from many stakeholders. The vision expresses community values and becomes an important basis for the development of a roadway design as discussed in the Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads (Transportation Association of Canada, September 1999). The vision will guide decisions over time even though politicians and staff may change.


Financial/Capital Planning Considerations

Financial/Capital Planning Considerations

Many of the design guidelines identified herein may lead to a higher level of service. This ranges from wider sidewalks to more frequent tree planting, and these increased standards may result in higher construction and maintenance costs. In some cases, however, the design may result in savings, such as where less land is required for ROW's or where lane widths are minimized. The cost savings or benefits may be accrued to the municipality or adjacent land developers, and this varies depending on the situation. Design related decisions should have regard for these cost implications on a case by case basis.

As a principle, good design should have regard for minimizing life-cycle costs. These are the costs of constructing, operating, maintaining, and replacing infrastructure over its life span, measured as an annualized cost. In some cases, a design may be more expensive to construct, but this cost may be offset by a longer life span or by lower ongoing maintenance costs. Today, there is a shortage of public funds relative to the list of required/desired road projects across the community. With this comes a requirement to "do more with less." Life-cycle costing should be considered by designers, stakeholders, and decision-makers.

Next Steps - Securing Buy-in

Next Steps - Securing Buy-in

The success of the implementation of these guidelines will be a function of how they are understood and embraced by the intended users.

Even though the document was created as part of an open and consultative process involving many stakeholders, it is acknowledged that its value will not be fully realized until it is applied in projects. The following initiatives can help ensure buy-in:

  1. Wide distribution of the document to municipal staff, utilities, stakeholders and potential end-users.
  2. Organization of workshops where municipal and consulting engineers, planners, landscape architects, and development approval officers will be introduced to the guide.
  3. Meetings with key groups representing land development and community interests.
  4. Recognition of the guidelines in various planning documents, and in an Applicants' Guide to Site Plan Control.
  5. Review of Official Plan ROW protection policies.
  6. Ongoing review and amendment of the guidelines, based on continuous monitoring and feedback.

With these measures, this document will be useful, both initially and over the long-term.

Planning Toolkit

Planning Toolkit

In Ontario there is legislative authority for municipalities to control the planning and design of communities (the Planning Act). Within the Planning Act, tools (and associated approval processes) help determine the level of detail and the appropriate level of control that can be exercised. In addition to the Planning Act, other control avenues may be explored, including the Municipal Act and the Environmental Assessment Act. The following planning tools can be used to implement these design guidelines:

Official Plans - The Official Plan is intended to provide the most general guidance to the long-term development of a municipality. Statements are intended to be strategic and general. Community design policies in the Official Plan are broadly defined to establish the general vision, yet permit sufficient variation and innovation within the broader context, without the need for site specific amendments.

First Principles for road corridor design can be formalized in Official Plans. These principles can be introduced in the basis and objectives section of the Official Plan. Visions for individual road corridors can best be formalized as part of Secondary Plans or special area studies leading to Official Plan amendments.

On the basis of this review of design guidelines for regional road corridors, it is recommended that ROW protection requirements outlined in the Regional/Municipal Official Plans be reviewed to determine whether they are appropriate. It is not suggested that existing ROWs with long-established edges should be modified.

Secondary Plans - Secondary Plan policies are also broadly based and are intended to provide general guidance in the preparation of more detailed regulations for the preparation of Draft Plans of Subdivision, Zoning By-laws, Subdivision Agreements and Site Plan Control.

It is essential that Design Guidelines, especially ones that relate to road corridors within Draft Plans of Subdivision, be developed and included within Secondary Plans. It is often far too late in the process to require design criteria to be implemented in zoning or site plan approval if the Draft Plan, which may already be fundamentally flawed, has been approved. To avoid this problem, community design issues dealt with in the Secondary Plan are relatively detailed as they relate to community structure, land use pattern and road networks. Policies should be written to identify items that will be essential, encouraged and/or discouraged. Wording must still be general enough to permit sufficient variation and innovation within the broader context, without the need for further amendments over time.

The Secondary Plan should also identify items such as permission and encouragement for alternative development standards, a description of the form of the road pattern, and should describe the 'vision' for regional roads. Secondary Plans can be adopted by Official Plan Amendment, following a thorough community involvement process.

Zoning By-laws - Items related to the Zoning By-law are intended to more clearly identify the land use distribution and the detailed regulations that will determine building types and the location of a building on a lot. Setbacks, building height, parking requirements and lot dimensions are typical items articulated in a Zoning By-law.

To implement the First Principles outlined in this guide, consideration should be given to reviewing Zoning By-Laws to:

  1. Include front yard setbacks, or build-to lines, for all non-residential uses adjacent to regional roads, to ensure an appropriate building height-to-corridor width ratio to spatially define the road corridor.
  2. Establish appropriate building heights for all uses along regional roads, according to the land use context, encouraging multi-storey buildings to improve the building height-to-corridor width ratio.
  3. Permit mixed-uses along regional road corridors.
  4. Encourage buildings and entrances to front, face and feature the road.
  5. Where parking areas abut regional roads, require the parking area to be separated from the street by a landscaped edge, including vegetation, berms, and/or low fences. Allow breaks in the fence for site access.
  6. Reduce the amount of required parking for all uses to encourage walking, cycling, and transit use.
  7. Permit the shared use of parking between adjacent uses, particularly uses with offsetting peak hour parking usage, especially in the vicinity of transit stations.
  8. Establish lot sizes and lot frontages appropriate to the desired land use context.

Draft Plans of Subdivision - Subdivision approval is a tool to divide large blocks of land into smaller parcels, including road corridors. Draft Plans should be created in consideration of these guidelines to ensure that regional roads do not become community dividers, but become fully integrated with the community as a focal point for commercial and mixed use activities. Further, Draft Plans should ensure that development lots have frontage along, and potential access to the road corridor.

Site Plan Control - The majority of urban development on private lands in built-up areas is approved by Site Plan Control. This planning tool should be used by development approval officers to implement the established 'visions' for road corridors and the specific design guidelines identified in this document. Measures recommended for implementation through the site plan control process include:

  • Develop an Applicant's Guide for Site Plan applications, and include examples of recommended design solutions. In the guide, reference the Regional Road Design Guidelines, relevant Official Plan policies and zoning regulations and other applicable regional regulatory codes. Request applicants to have regard for the guidelines.
  • Ensure that applications for Site Plan approval are accompanied by building elevations, sign details, landscape plans, grading and drainage plans, and composite utility plans so that all elements of the road corridor can be examined in a comprehensive manner.
  • Require that Site Plans are drawn on a base plan that shows the location of the regional road centerline, lanes, curb and all of the landscape features or utilities located between the curb and the street lot line. This will also permit a comprehensive review of the development as it relates to the road edge and roadway.

Sign By-Laws - Private and public signage influence the character of a street. Sign By-Laws should be reviewed to incorporate these guidelines. Sign By-Laws, as established pursuant to the Municipal Act, should recognize that performance standards related to permitted sign types, heights, and sign face areas should vary depending on the context and desired road character. The general road types outlined in Section 8.0 can be used as a framework for establishing standards.

Proposals for on-site signs for new projects should be included on all applications for Site Plan Control. To ensure that sign proposals are considered in the context of the Site Plan and the road corridor:

  • Encourage that a complete application for Site Plan Control include details on proposed signs. Include dimensions for sign height, width, and sign face area for each sign.
  • Establish approval mechanisms so that signs may be permitted to vary from certain provisions of the sign by-law provided that the signs are approved as part of the Site Plan Control approval process.
  • Where sign applications are submitted as part of an application for Site Plan Control, give the authority for signage approval to the Site Plan Control approval body. Building officials will be consulted on matters pertaining to sign structure or mounting devices.

Environmental Assessment - The Environmental Assessment (EA) process can provide another means for determining and formalizing visions for road corridors, especially for larger projects. In Ontario, larger road projects are required to undergo an EA study process. This often involves a thorough planning process with mandatory consultation. Phases 1 and 2 of the EA process require an examination of the need and justification for a project such as a road widening or a new road. Phase 3 requires an examination of alternatives and preliminary assessment of environmental effects. It is within these first three EA phases that a visioning process can be used to help define the desired road character, and to guide the development of the alternatives.

Where possible, the Official Plan, Secondary Plan and Environmental Assessment processes should be harmonized and carried out as one seamless planning exercise. This will streamline approvals, reduce confusion, and ensure that a wide range of planning interests can be addressed.

Regional Regulatory Code and Other Regulations - There are various policies, regulations, guidelines and standards to apply to the design of regional road corridors in Ottawa-Carleton and other municipalities. The documents refer to many design issues ranging from noise, lighting, geometry, and construction details. The Design Guidelines are not intended to replace these documents. Rather, the guidelines are intended to be read in conjunction with them and possibly influence their modification when they are reviewed in the future.


Public and Private Sector Roles

Public and Private Sector Roles

In dealing with issues related to road corridor planning and design, the onus rests primarily on the public sector. The road ROWs are within the public realm and it is the role of the government agencies who own and administer these corridors to ensure that they are planned, designed and built to reflect these design guidelines.

The role of the various regional/municipal departments that have jurisdiction within these ROWs is to work toward an appropriate balance between the functional and aesthetic requirements of the community. Both are important to the ability of the city to work from a transportation perspective and the establishment of an appropriate image of the city that makes it a great place to live, work and visit.

It is also the role of the regional/municipal governments to establish policy and regulations that guide the development on adjacent lands that best complements the roadway and road edge.

The role of the private sector is primarily related to development that defines the corridor along the road ROWs. Adjacent development is crucial to the quality of the urban image of the corridors. These Design Guidelines are intended to assist with a comprehensive approach to community design that will result in appropriate development, likely to occur incrementally over a relatively long period of time.