Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Museum of Nature: it’s all about the parking revenue

This compares the original plan, and what will actually be in place in 2014.

This compares the original plan, and what will actually be in place in 2014.

I went to the Public Information Session last night at the Museum of Nature.  The original plan was to maintain a park on the west side of the building, now they’ve chosen to install a 96-spot parking lot. That’s different than what it was supposed to be.

Naively, I went there to talk to them about cycling aspects of their plans. There were none, and clearly they’d never done any research. They lied about reading the Ottawa Cycling Plan and there was nothing in their plans about biking at all. There were many myths shared (“nobody bikes in the winter”, “who bikes to a museum?”, “why you just walk 100m?”, etc). It was like we were back in 2005. Or at an MTO information session about widening the 417.

For more details on the history, etc, read the article I started at Developing Ottawa.

The story they tell

The story they tell is that they have more visitors than ever. They looked into everything, parking was their last resort (see page 9)! But they needed parking, so would preserve trees and hey, it was only 96 spots! It could have been a lot more!

What actually happened

Up to 2004, parking revenue covered about 0.7% of museum expenses (around $200k). They planned on that in the design and renovation of the museum (2004-2010).

This chart shows the annual parking revenue (in green bars) and the amount of the museum's operating expenses offset by parking (in blue).

This chart shows the annual parking revenue (in green bars) and the amount of the museum’s operating expenses offset by parking (in blue).

Then, the Conservative government mandated that museums generate more revenue (even though this museum’s parliamentary allocation is higher than ever). In 2011 and 2012, they created a ‘temporary’ lot on the west lawn and understood the profit potential (about $650k, 1.6% of expenses). At this point, they’re addicted to parking revenue. The 2013 budget depends on continuing with that revenue. They’d have to lay off their co-workers if they cut that.

This was always about parking revenue, it was never about figuring out their visitors’ transportation needs. They didn’t bother with a TDM study, surveys, investigating better transit or bike infrastructure, etc. That could only cut into their parking revenue.

Other costs to society (local green-space, maintaining roads, health and environmental costs, etc) don’t hit their bottom line. They have no incentive to care.

(All my numbers come from the museum’s annual reports, which are refreshingly easy to read.)

Give up.

To those in the community, here’s my suggestions to you: give up. You lost this battle a long time ago. Focus on something you can win.

There’s an obvious argument that a museum that promotes nature shouldn’t be enabling fossil-fuel guzzling motor vehicles. Nobody cares.

Update: I updated the map. I’d made a mistake and my map was misleading. I’d forgotten that Metcalfe was still there and extended the parking lot on the east side all the way to Elgin. Based on their published plan (in the map above), there’s a future appropriation of the road expected. It seems like a difficult negotiation to me. There’s another story there.

3 responses to “Museum of Nature: it’s all about the parking revenue

  1. Sarah September 22, 2013 at 7:32 am

    “Give up” is the answer? They installed this parking at the end of this plan. Even at the opening of the museum, they were still planning a park. I went to Europe last year and never saw a world-class museum ruin a park with a parking lot. Totally unimpressed. Also, very bad for Centretown residents. They could use a park.

    • alexthepuffin September 22, 2013 at 8:42 am


      I agree with everything you’re saying about how bad this is for the community and how they changed their plan.

      My point about giving up is that there’s no way to change anyone’s mind. They count on this money and have no responsibility to make the city a better place. Based on my experience with lobbying to prioritize sustainable transportation over, fighting this isn’t going to get anywhere. That’s sad.

      – A

  2. Byron Johnson October 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Bicycle access around the Museum of Nature is horrid. The planners (if that’s what they are) have no idea about cycling. They put a bike lane right in the middle of the road with two lanes of traffic on each side. That’s fine for those who can go at the speed of traffic, but nightmarish for the majority of cyclist.

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