Ottawa Traffic 101: How to Get Around Ottawa ON Like a Pro

What to Know About Driving in Ottawa

Navigating the transportation landscape of the city of Ottawa presents a unique blend of options for drivers and public transit users thanks to its well-structured road network, extensive transit offerings, and commuting patterns. Understanding the dynamics of travelling in Canada's capital city is essential for residents, visitors, and anyone considering moving to Ottawa. Whether behind the wheel or riding a bus or train, learn how to make the most of Ottawa's diverse transportation options.

Get to Know Your Major Roads

Highway 417, also known as the Queensway, is one of the most important roads to know in Ottawa. This road is part of the main highway system in the National Capital Region. It runs from west to east through the city, bypassing to the south of Downtown Ottawa and continuing east to Quebec. 

Highway 416, the Veterans Memorial Highway, is a north-south route into the city from the US border in northern New York. This road terminates at the Queensway on the city's western side, between the townhome community of Bayshore and the waterfront homes in Crystal Bay and Lakeview Park. 

Hunt Club Road is an important east-west bypass road. It runs between Highway 416 on the city's west side and connects with the Queensway to the east, running past several commercial centers and the airport.

Riverside Drive is a north-south road that connects to Hunt Club Road at the southern end near the airport. It follows the Rideau River north past Carleton University and terminates at the Transitway just south of the Queensway.

What to Expect Driving at Different Times of Day

The city, of course, has rush hour traffic. However, commute times are considerably better than those in most other Canadian cities—even for those commuting in and around Ottawa's best neighbourhoods. The morning rush period runs from about 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and in the afternoon, from 3:30–5:30 p.m. During these times, the average Ottawa driver takes 14 minutes to travel 10 kilometres.

Motorists will find the most congestion on weekday afternoons, from 4:00–5:00 p.m. On Mondays, it takes 16 minutes to travel 10 kilometres. On Wednesday and Thursday, the same drive will take approximately 18 minutes. 

When driving in Downtown Ottawa, be sure to check parking restrictions on the signage. Parking and stopping are prohibited on numerous downtown streets to keep the traffic flow moving during the morning and afternoon rush hour periods. 

Despite all that, European car parts manufacturer Mister Auto says Ottawa is the third-best city in the world to drive in, trailing only Calgary and Dubai. The study ranked cities based on congestion, infrastructure, driver behaviour, and other factors. 

Parking in Ottawa

Commuters and visitors coming to Downtown Ottawa will have to pay for parking. There are several Municipal Parking Lots scattered throughout the downtown area that range from $1 to $3 per hour. There is also on-street parking at pay and display machines in some areas. Note that there are many winter weather parking bans and restrictions that take place in Ottawa each year and that the rules are in effect and enforced whether signs are displayed or not. 

Ottawa Public Transportation

Public Transportation Options in Ottawa, ON

Ottawa has an affordable public transportation system that consists of buses and light rail trains. Commuters can connect to Downtown Ottawa, the airport, neighbourhoods, shopping districts, and more using OC Transpo buses and trains. There is also an additional public transportation system on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River, the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO).  

OC Transpo

OC Transpo offers both bus and light rail train service on the southern side of the Ottawa River. Bus routes run throughout Ottawa seven days per week. The easiest way to plan a commute is by using the OC Transpo Travel Planner website or app. 

The OC Transpo light rail is known as the O-Train. The train runs from west to east through Ottawa, with multiple stops along two lines throughout the day. The light rail connects the Tunney's Pasture neighbourhood in northwest Ottawa with the Gloucester area on the city's east side. It runs through a 2.5-kilometre tunnel as it travels through Downtown Ottawa. The trains run every five minutes or less during peak service times. 

There are Park and Ride services at all transport stations for those who want to leave their car and ride the train to work. Parking permits are $28 for regular parking and $63.50 for a Gold permit. Secure bike storage is also offered for a $10 fee. 

Purchasing a monthly pass is the most affordable way to use OC Transpo. A single trip for an adult costs $3.70, and a day pass costs $11.25. Monthly pass rates are as follows:

  • Adult: $125.50
  • Youth (19 & Under): $96.75
  • Senior (65+): $47.75
  • Equipass (Low Income): $58.25
  • Community (Disabled): $43.25

Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO)

The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) provides bus service in Gatineau on the north side of the Ottawa River. The buses connect between all the major areas in Gatineau and Downtown Ottawa. Gatineau also has a two-lane Rapibus corridor that runs through the city. This corridor travels between Labrosse and Alexandre-Taché and is reserved for buses only. It also connects to Downtown Ottawa via the ByWard Market neighbourhood. There are four park-and-ride locations in Gatineau for commuters to use.

The Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) also connects to the Transcollines bus system. This is a regional bus system that connects to outlying areas in this part of Quebec.

Fares for the Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) are as follows:

  • Adult Annual Pass: $94.50 per month
  • Adult Monthly Pass: $105
  • Monthly ECHO Pass (Low Income): $64 
  • Monthly Student Pass (20  & Under): $67
  • Monthly ZAP Pass (Youths 12 to 16): $22 per month or $180 for September to June

Commute Times from Suburbs to Downtown Ottawa

Ottawa has some very nice suburban communities on the outskirts for those who want a slower pace than the big city offers. Here are some of the nearby suburbs and their commute times to Downtown Ottawa. 

Kanata

The suburb of Kanata is about 25 kilometres southwest of Downtown Ottawa. The fastest route to downtown is to take the Queensway eastbound. Commuters can then double back at Nicholas Street (northbound) and cross the Laurier Avenue Bridge to get downtown. This route can take anywhere between 25 and 45 minutes, depending on whether it's rush hour.

Another option is to take the Kichi Zībī Mīkan—the scenic parkway that passes some of Ottawa's waterfront homes along the river—northeast and follow the Ottawa River to downtown, although this can add 5 to 10 minutes to the commute time. 

Barrhaven

The Barrhaven community is located 25 kilometres directly south of Ottawa. The quickest route is to take Greenbank Road north from Barrhaven and then follow the Queensway eastbound. The drive can be made in around 25 minutes when traffic is not congested. If the Queensway has heavy traffic during rush hour, it can take up to 55 minutes to make the drive. 

For public transportation, commuters can take bus route 75 to the Tunney's Pasture transit station. From there, they can catch the light rail train to Downtown Ottawa. This makes for about a one-hour commute. 

Nepean

The Nepean suburb is slightly southwest of Ottawa. This neighbourhood is close to the airport and has a large commercial center, making it a great choice for those who want suburban living that's not far from major shopping and groceries. Nepean is about 15 kilometres from Downtown Ottawa. The quickest commute is to take Clyde Avenue north and then get on the Queensway. The drive takes 18 minutes when traffic is clear and up to 40 minutes during rush hour.

Riding the bus from Napean to Tunney's Pasture may not be an option for commuters since the earliest bus doesn't leave until 8:30 a.m. If that does work for a commuter, bus route 80 and the light rail from Tunney's Pasture take about an hour.

Beacon Hill-Cyrville Ward

The Beacon Hill neighbourhood and the Cyrville community form a popular suburb just 9 kilometres east of Downtown Ottawa. Westbound traffic on the Queensway is less congested than eastbound, so this is a fairly easy morning commute. Take the Queensway westbound and then take Exit 118 to merge onto Nicholas Street. Then, cross the Laurier Avenue Bridge to get to downtown. This is a 10-minute commute when the roads are clear, although it can take up to 22 minutes during rush hour.

A commuter can bike to downtown from Beacon Hill-Cyrville Ward in less than 30 minutes. Bus service doesn't start until 9:00 a.m. in this suburb, and the route can take an hour or longer to get to Downtown Ottawa (from the Rideau Transit Station).

Orléans

The Orléans community is a large suburban area about 20 kilometres east of Downtown Ottawa. The quickest route between these two points is to take Jeanne d'Arc Boulevard north and then get on the Queensway westbound. Merge onto Nicholas Street from Exit 118 and cross the Laurier Avenue Bridge. The drive only takes about 15 minutes during non-rush hour traffic. Once rush hour picks up, the drive can take up to 35 minutes. 

Bus service in Orléans doesn't start until about 9:00 a.m. Riding the bus to the Blair station and then taking the light rail will get a commuter to Downtown Ottawa in less than an hour.

Other Helpful Things to Know

One important thing to know about Ottawa is that traffic patterns and regulations change in the winter. The city averages about 225 centimetres of snow every winter. It can take time for the city to complete snow plowing and clearing. Ottawa tries to have all the roads and sidewalks cleared within 24 hours of a snowstorm. Until the roads are cleared, parking is prohibited in certain areas to make room for snow plows and trucks. Roads are cleared in order of priority, so drivers should anticipate a longer commute if their route still needs to be cleared.

Getting Around Ottawa

It's abundantly evident that the city of Ottawa offers a comprehensive system catering to a wide range of commuting needs. From its well-maintained roads to the efficient public transit network, Ottawa provides reliable options for moving around the city. For anyone navigating through Canada's capital, Ottawa's transportation system stands as a testament to the city's commitment to facilitating smooth and versatile commuting experiences.

Thinking about moving to Ottawa? Contact MetroCity Property Group of eXp Realty at (613) 733-9494 to reach a local real estate agent who can help you find your Ottawa dream home today.

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