Getting Around in Ottawa When Living in Ottawa
Here is the ultimate guide to getting around in Ottawa when living in Ottawa, the bustling capital of Canada where politicians, diplomats, and ordinary citizens co-exist in an intricate dance of daily commute. Fear not, my dear soon-to-be Ottawan, for navigating this urban jungle is a breeze with the plethora of transportation options! By planning your route ahead you will most assuredly shave minutes off that pesky daily commute, making it as smooth as rink ice right after the Zamboni passes by. So hop on a bus, glide through the streets on a convenient e-scooter, or join the two-wheeled brigade and cycle through picturesque pathways – the choice is yours. When the time comes to plant your flag in this land of chill and charm, remember: a well-charted course will have you zipping about like a true Ottawan in no time!
Navigating the bustling streets of Ottawa can be an adventure in itself, but with proper planning and knowledge of the available transportation options, getting around the city becomes a breeze. As a newcomer to Canada’s capital, you will discover that Ottawa’s commuting scene offers an impressive assortment of choices catering to different preferences and needs. Whether you prefer driving your own car, enjoying a leisurely bike ride, or taking advantage of an extensive public transit system that includes both buses and light rail, there’s sure to be something for you.
During the colder months, even the city’s charming winter landscape becomes part of the commute as some residents opt to travel on the skies! Of course, any discussion about transportation in Ottawa wouldn’t be complete without touching on the good and the bad aspects, as well as the constant improvements and innovations that make commuting in the city a dynamic and ever-changing experience. Not to mention, Ottawa residents, like anyone else, have their fair share of commuting gripes, but with so much variety, there is always a solution waiting to be found.
Driving in Ottawa
Most people living in Ottawa prefer to drive to work and elsewhere. It’s convenient, especially if you live outside the city or transport kids. As of 2016, about 70% of Ottawans chose to drive to work. Of those drivers, 82% drove by themselves, putting 220,000 solo travelers on the road. A third of those folks had a commute of over 30 minutes.
The pandemic saw a huge decrease in driving commuters – for obvious reasons. In 2021, 26% fewer Ottawa workers drove to work than in 2016. For the entirety of 2021 compared to 2016, there were over 164,000 fewer commutes by car. During those days it was great to get around the city.
Driving to work isn’t always quick. It depends on the distance you travel, but the average Ottawan spent 54 minutes every day commuting. That’s a considerable increase from the 25.4 minutes spent in 2016.
Another way to look at the travel time is by determining how long it takes to drive 10 kilometres. In 2022 it took the average Ottawa commuter 14 minutes to drive those 10k. If you’re moving to Ottawa and trying to estimate your drive times, the 10k drive time should give you some idea of how long you’ll be in the car.
FYI, rush hour is between 4 and 5 P.M., with the slowest commute in Ottawa during that hour on Thursdays. You can expect to spend an extra 6 minutes per 10k during that time.
Let’s take a look at some average drive times from various neighbourhoods, suburbs, and surrounding communities right into Centretown, as close to the middle of the city as you can get.
Ah, the age-old question: “Just how long will it take to drive into the heart of the city from my humble abode?” Well, fear not fellow commuters, for we have assembled an array of average drive times from your favourite neighborhoods, suburbs, and satellite communities leading right into the bustling Centretown – as central as central can be. So, whether you’re from East, West or South – you’ll surely find that coveted parking spot before taking to the city streets by foot, in search of caffeine, commerce, and camaraderie.
Commute to Centretown from:
Kanata: 23-minute (min) drive, 1 hr 14 min public transit, 4 hr 31 min walk, 1 hr 20 min bike
Barrhaven: 31 min drive, 1 hr 10 min public transit, 4 hr walk, 1 hr 6 min bike
Cornwall: 1 hr 12 min drive, 3 hr 2 min public transit
North Grenville: 43 min drive, no public transit avail, 10 hr walk
Borden Farm: 20 minute drive, 44 minute public transit, 1 hr 58 min walk, 37 min bike
Woodvale: 22 min drive, 1 hour public transit, 2 hr 42 min walk, 53-minute bike
Carleton Heights: 17min drive, 53 minutes public transit, 1 hr 41 min walk, 32 min bike
Carson Grove: 15 min drive, 51 min public transit, 1 hr 36 min walk, 34 min bike
Elmvale: 16 min drive, 41 min public transit, 1 hr 23 min walk, 26 min bike
Carlington: 11 min drive, 31 min public transit, 1 hr 17 min walk, 26 min bike
University of Ottawa: 5 min drive, 20 min public transit, 24 min walk, 10 min bike
Traffic in ottawa
The twin headaches of most drivers are traffic and construction. A lot of you commuting into Ottawa will spend time on Highway 417 (the Trans-Canada Highway), or Highway 416, (Veterans Memorial Highway).
Highway 417 connects Ottawa to Quebec to the southeast and Arnprior to the west (where it becomes Highway 17 and continues its westward trek). This major traffic artery passes through the heart of Ottawa, delivering residents of communities like Vars. Limoges and Casselman among others in the East and Kanata, Stittsville among others in the West.
There was major construction on 417 in the city in the fall of 2022. And there are plans to widen a two-lane stretch to four lanes in the near future. Living in Ottawa means living with road construction.
Highway 416 brings commuters from Highway 401, south of Ottawa, into the city near Barrhaven and Bells Corners neighbourhoods. Commuters coming from communities to the southwest, like Carleton Place, Perth, and Ashton area, travel up Highway 7 to Highway 417 near Kanata.
Other roads with high traffic include the Hunt Club Road, Ottawa River Parkway, and Aviation Parkway. Hunt Club Road is a busy, four-lane highway running along the southern edge of the city. This is more highway than road and plans are in the works to widen it to six lanes to keep traffic flowing between Highway 416 and Bank Street.
Relatively tame in comparison is the Ottawa River Parkway (Sir John A. McDonald Parkway). This scenic drive also serves commuters and carries express buses. If you live on the west end of Ottawa and work in the government offices at Tunney’s Pasture near Holland Avenue and Parkdale Avenue and Scott Street, you’re likely to become very familiar with this stretch of pretty highway. From Lincoln Heights, this commute takes about 13 minutes by car, 30 minutes by public transit, or 23 minutes on your bike.
Aviation Parkway provides a north-south route from Highway 417 to the Ottawa River. Less intense than the larger throughways, it takes drivers to crossroads like Ogilvy Road and Montreal Road that lead into the city centre. Like a lot of Ottawa’s medium-sized roads, it’s fairly scenic, but don’t be surprised to hit some traffic congestion during rush hours.
Optimize your time on Ottawa’s highways and roads by checking for construction and other delays. Use your phone’s map functions to check for slow spots and avoid them if possible.
So how does Ottawa’s driver’s fares compare to those in other Canadian cities? Well, CTV news reports that Ottawa has the 8th worst traffic congestion in the country. As the fourth largest city, we do pretty well!
Compared to Ottawa’s 14-minute 10k, Toronto and Vancouver both come in at a super slow 23 minutes. Winnipeg and Montreal are up there as well, at 19 minutes. In London, it takes 17 minutes to go 10k and in Edmonton and Halifax, it takes 16 minutes.
Even on Ottawa’s very worst travel date, February 18, 2022, it was still almost three minutes faster to drive 10k here than in Toronto. But hey – that’s probably unfair as Toronto is a very condensed city.
Ottawa has ok public transit. The bus system is expanding to a light rail system to serve both neighbourhoods inside the Greenbelt and the surrounding suburbs. In 2016 about 20% of Ottawans used public transit to get to work.
While the OC Transpo bus system has been around forever, the light rail is fairly new to Ottawa. Known as the O-Train, the light rail here is separated into two lines— the electrically-operated Confederation Line (known as Line 1) and the diesel-operated Trillium Line (known as Line 2).
The first line, the north-south running Trillium Line, consists of diesel trains and was introduced in 2001. This single-track line was a pilot program, with plans to switch to electric light rail and extend the line in 2006. This expansion did not come to pass and light rail became a political football.
Another line would not be approved until 2012. The east-west Confederation Line, which includes a downtown tunnel, did not come into service until 2019.
Now, Ottawa is in phase two of its light rail expansion plan. All new trains are electric and environmentally sustainable. Planned expansions will bring 77% of Ottawans within five kilometers of a light rail station.
Ottawa’s public transit does have challenges as the city continually expands with suburban sprawl placing a strain on the system. And the LRT system has had plenty of implementing issues that are widely discussed among Ottawa commuters.
Fun fact – Ottawa has more rapid transit lines per capita than other major Canadian cities. With 49 kilometers per 100,000 residents, it’s ahead of Toronto (32km), Montreal (37km), and Vancouver (29 km). Calgary wins with 53 km per 100,000 residents. This is also due to the fact that the City of Ottawa’s land area is massive.
What we lack in established transit like subways we’re making up for in enthusiasm for expanding the light rail. All of Canada’s big cities continue to invest in public transit as a way to decrease traffic congestion and increase sustainability.
A lot of Ottawans get around under their own power. About 10% of residents walk or bike to work. Ottawa has a lot of bike paths and is pretty safe for cyclists. In neighbourhoods close to the city centre, walking or biking can be faster than either driving or public transit. It’s also cheaper and healthier.
Transportation is like the weather. We love to complain about it! Here are some of the highlights of our commute complaints:
- Traffic congestion. Accidents, construction, and too many cars lead to longer travel times for drivers. Getting from place to place outside the city centre is generally much faster.
- Weather. Two birds with one stone! Winter weather makes all forms of transport more difficult. From slippery roads to icy walks, we love to complain about traffic and weather in one breath.
- Slow public transit. Bus and train riders point out that it can be a slow and complicated process to get where you’re going on public transit. Getting to stations, walking between stations, and multiple stops can make riding into the city a long slog. On a side note make sure to use the OC Transpo ‘Trip Planner’ to navigate your public transit journey
- Parking. As much as we like to drive, we hate to park. Finding parking in downtown Ottawa is a chore. Time saved getting to work is easily lost searching for a place to park. We also don’t love the cost. Reserving a spot downtown can set you back $150-$250 per month. Hourly rates are usually $3-$4 per hour.
And now, it’s time to get serious – my own personal complaint about commuting in Ottawa: the notorious seasonal potholes of Ottawa – an added challenge to your daily commute, and perhaps even an unexpected contender for the latest edition of ‘Road Slalom: Canadian Edition.’ As you navigate the obstacle course created by these pesky craters, it’s essential to keep in mind that this is not solely a test of your driving skills, but also an opportunity to practice some camaraderie on the road.
You see, Ottawa’s climate has a peculiar knack for putting asphalt through the wringer, with our weather changing from frosty winter wonderlands to sweltering, humid summers. The result? A road system that seems to have been playfully poked and prodded by Mother Nature herself. So, as you steer clear of these car booby traps, be sure to leave ample room between yourself and your fellow road warriors in front, behind, and besides you. After all, you’ll want to emerge victorious against these pesky potholes, and that is a mission best accomplished by working as a team.
Did you know, that 88% of Canadians want to spend 15 minutes or less getting to work? If that’s you and you’re moving to Ottawa, carefully consider your transit options and the location where you want to live.
And speaking of relocation if you are thinking about making a move to Ottawa feel free to reach out to us. Give us a call – shoot us a text – send us an email – or even wrap it in a bow and send it first class because we got your back when moving to Ottawa or anywhere across Canada.