Downtown Moves an ambitious plan to revamp Ottawa's core

When the LRT's Confederation Line is running, the city anticipates increased pedestrian and cycle traffic so planners have come up with a template for a renovated downtown.
This is what Wellington Street could look like if the city moves to implement Downtown Moves.

The City of Ottawa will release the finishing touches on a major new plan for the downtown Thursday night at city hall.

Spurred by the advent of light rail and the completion of the Confederation Line in 2018, planners have spent the last 18 months studying and consulting with Ottawa residents on ways to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.

"When we're going to invest so much in the Confederation Line of the LRT ... is this what we're going to bring people up out of the ground to be greeted by, is inadequate sidewalks, ad hoc cycling facilities?" said Nelson Edwards, an urban planner with the City of Ottawa. 

"(People) said, 'no, we need to step it up and have a quality experience for public transit and public space from my door, on the LRT Confederation Line to my office destination,'" he said.

Edwards said the current situation needs fixing, as thousands more people are expected to walk and bike in the downtown, once light rail is up and running. The city's solution, called "Downtown Moves", offers a long list of tools that fit Ottawa's needs.

A big opportunity exists once significant bus traffic is removed from Albert and Slater, said Edwards, and Downtown Moves suggests wider sidewalks and adding bike highways.

Queen Street too would get a major makeover. But since the city's right-of-way is limited — just 60 feet between building fronts compared to 66 feet in most other cities — Edwards said pedestrian space might come at the expense of on-street parking and the flow of car traffic.

"There will be an impact, but not nearly as deep or desperate as some are projecting," Edwards added.

While Somerset Ward Councillor Diane Holmes called the review positive, she's sceptical about its implementation.

"We have many of these studies sitting on shelves and the problem is to get them actually implemented. This is slated for post-2018 and will there ever be money for it? Because certainly the city doesn't put much money into pedestrian infrastructure."

Holmes said if there's not a local business association lobbying for better pedestrian access for shoppers, "... pedestrians go to the bottom of the list."

Where Holmes and Edwards agree is the poor state of the downtown when it comes to accommodating pedestrians, particularly the sidewalks on Queen Street, which Holmes described as "completely inadequate", especially when foot traffic there increases in the wake of the Confederation Line's 2018 completion.

"Well the downtown at the moment is pretty sad. It's dirty, it's dark, there's no sun, there are no trees, the sidewalks are tiny ... compared to many downtowns it's a pretty unattractive area so we definitely need to improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists," she said.

For a sneak preview, Edwards said people can look to sections of Bank Street and Wellington West, which have undergone streetscaping in recent years — or they can attend tonight's open house, beginning at 5 p.m., and offer their thoughts.

The Downtown Moves plan goes to Transportation Committee for final approval in March.