Healthy Streets

This article is a key companion piece to the Spring 2020 Edition of the PEN Insider, produced in partnership with the Healthy Transportation Coalition. Please see the PEN Insider Centerfold (coming out April 1st) for a map explaining how and where these principles can be applied in Ottawa

People have genuine concerns about what increased urban population density could mean to Ottawa’s street trees, and green spaces, within the existing urban boundary area. Too often they’ve seen trees cut down by developers, or the City, replaced with much smaller trees that often don’t survive for long.

No one wants to live in a concrete jungle. But what if Ottawa seriously moved toward created Healthy Streets, that included many street trees and greenspaces?

Think about it, Ottawa is responsible for operating and maintaining thousands of kilometres of roads, and most of those roads are currently designed to move cars as quickly as possible. Indeed, re-imagining the road right of ways is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities we have to build a just, healthy, and sustainable city.

A Healthy Streets approach would see us take space away from cars, and in some cases, prevent cars from using the streets at all. Instead, beautiful wide sidewalks, bike paths, and bus-only lanes would prevail, and there would be lots of places to sit and rest, underneath beautiful street trees, and next to plants.

This photo from the Healthy Streets website shows how our urban environment can be filled with lush greenspaces, if we prioritize health and take back our streets from cars.

The nation’s capital already has a commitment to complete streets, but now it is time to build on that with a healthy streets approach. As indicated on the website:

The Healthy Streets Approach™ was developed by Lucy Saunders through her research into the health impacts of transport, public realm and urban planning. It turns out that the key elements necessary for public spaces to improve people’s health are the same as those needed to make urban places socially and economically vibrant and environmentally sustainable.


Cartoon image of people using a street in various ways, surrounded with the text of the ten healthy street indicators. These are Everyone Feels Welcome, Easy to Cross, Shade and Shelter, Places to Stop and Rest, Not too noisy, People choose to walk and cycle, People Feel Safe, Things to See and Do, People Feel Relaxed, and Clean Air
Ten Healthy Streets Indicators

Lucy has distilled these down to the 10 Healthy Street Indicators™. Focused on the human experience, these indicators show what really matters on all streets, everywhere, for everyone.






Everyone feels welcome

HealthyStreets3“Streets must be welcoming places for everyone to walk, spend time and engage with other people.  This is necessary to keep us all healthy through physical activity and social interaction.  It is also what makes places vibrant and keeps communities strong. The best test for whether we are getting our streets right is whether the whole community, particularly children, older people and disabled people are enjoying using this space.”

 People choose to walk and cycle

“We all need to build regular activity into our daily routine and the most effectively to do HealthyStreets4this is to walk or cycle for short trips or as part of longer public transport trips. People will choose to walk and cycle if these are the most attractive options for them. This means making walking and cycling and public transport use more convenient, pleasant and appealing than private car use.”

 People feel relaxed

HealthyStreets5“The street environment can make us feel anxious – if it is dirty and noisy, if it feels unsafe, if we don’t have enough space, if we are unsure where to go or we can’t easily get to where we want to. All of these factors are important for making our streets welcoming and attractive to walk, cycle and spend time in.”

 Easy to cross

“Our streets need to be easy to cross for everyone.  This is important because people prefer to be able to get where they want to go directly and quickly so if we make that difficult for them they will get frustrated and give up.  This is called ‘severance’ and it has real impacts on our health, on our communities and on businesses too.  It is not just physical barriers and lack of safe crossing points that cause severance, it’s fast moving traffic too.”

Clean airHealthyStreets6

“Air quality has an impact on the health of every person but it particularly impacts on some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the community – children and people who already have health problems.  Reducing air pollution benefits us all and helps to reduce unfair health inequalities.”

Not too noisy

HealthyStreets7“Noise from road traffic impacts on our health and wellbeing in many ways, it also makes streets stressful for people living and working on them as well as people walking and cycling on them. Reducing the noise from road traffic creates an environment in which people are willing to spend time and interact.”

Places to stop and restHealthyStreets8

“Regular opportunities to stop and rest are essential for some people to be able to use streets on foot or bicycle because they find travelling actively for longer distances a challenge. Seating is therefore essential for creating environments that are inclusive for everyone as well as being important for making streets welcoming places to dwell.”

People feel safe

HealthyStreets9“Feeling safe is a basic requirement that can be hard to deliver.  Motorised road transport can make people feel unsafe on foot or bicycle, especially if drivers are travelling too fast or not giving them enough space, time or attention.  Managing how people drive so that people can feel safe walking and cycling is vital.”

“People also need to feel safe from antisocial behaviour, unwanted attention, violence and intimidation. Street lighting and layout, ‘eyes on the street’ from overlooking buildings and other people using the street can all help to contribute to the sense of safety.”

 Things to see and doHealthyStreets10

“Street environments need to visually appealing to people walking and cycling, they need to provide reasons for people to use them – local shops and services, opportunities to interact with art, nature, other people.”

 Shade and shelter

HealthyStreets11“Shade and shelter can come in many forms – trees, awnings, colonnades – and they are needed to ensure that everyone can use the street whatever the weather.  In sunny weather we all need protection from the sun, in hot weather certain groups of people struggle to maintain a healthy body temperature, in rain and high winds we all welcome somewhere to shelter. To ensure our streets are inclusive of everyone and welcoming to walk and cycle in no matter the weather we must pay close attention to shade and shelter.”

For more about the Healthy Streets Indicators™ please check out

One thought on “Healthy Streets

  1. Yes, healthy streets policies can help Ottawa recover some of the public spaces currently dedicated to cars (about 30% of many developed cities in North America). Neighbourhoods could lead the way by identifying streets that could be narrowed (and partially depaved or repurposed) or closed altogether (as happened last summer in Kitchissippi:


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