Elgin Street merchants welcome wider sidewalks, fret over potential parking loss

Extra-wide sidewalks that could accommodate more patios, benches and landscaping is the key to making a redesigned Elgin Street more pedestrian-friendly. But that shift comes at a cost — on-street parking could be reduced by half.

Pedestrian-friendly plan comes at cost for cars, with less parking, lowered speed limit

A new plan for Elgin Street would see the space for vehicles reduced. (CBC News)

Extra-wide sidewalks that could accommodate more patios, benches and landscaping is the key to making a redesigned Elgin Street more pedestrian-friendly. But that shift comes at a cost — on-street parking could be reduced by half.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said the plans for Elgin are a 'shift' from the street's current car-centric design. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

The plan for Elgin was unveiled Wednesday evening. It's among the city's first truly "complete street" plans that follow a council-approved policy considering the safety and experience of all roadway users equally.

Under the plan a portion of the road from Lisgar Street to Isabella Street would be reduced to two lanes of traffic.

To make it safer for cyclists to share the road with cars, every other intersection would be raised to sidewalk level and the speed limit would be officially dropped to 30 km/h. The sidewalks would be between three and 7.5 metres wide.

"It's going to be a place that's more for people, less for travelling through," said Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney.

Elgin Street "was designed many, many years ago when we designed our roads for vehicles and they were given the absolute highest level of service. That is no longer our policy. It is going to be a shift," she said.

The Elgin Street redesign would see sidewalk space increased, and room for vehicles decreased. (City of Ottawa)

Mixed reviews

News of the plans were met with mixed reviews from people along Elgin.

"The sidewalks are a bit of an embarrassment for a shopping-restaurant type of neighbourhood, so it'd be nice that way," said Ellis Barefoot, who lives in the area.

However, he said "the challenge is always traffic flow in and out of downtown. They keep narrowing more and more of the streets and reducing the options for cars."

Indeed, most residents appear to be in favour of a more pedestrian-friendly experience for Elgin, but businesspeople in particular are concerned about plans to halve the number of parking spaces from 122 to 61.

The redesign, which is slated to begin in 2019, does not currently include a parking garage in the area, like the one built in the Glebe following major construction on Bank Street.

Vehicles and cyclists would share the road, because there wouldn't be enough room on the shoulder to accommodate cyclists next to vehicles safely. (City of Ottawa)

Parking worries

"I think it is a concern if it takes away the overall ability of parking," said John Couse, owner of The Lieutenant's Pump. 

He said he supports the move in many cities to "reclaim streets for people and get them back from cars," and believes that sort of transformation will ultimately be good for Elgin.

John Couse owns Lieutenant's Pump on Elgin. He supports 'reclaiming' the street for pedestrians, but wants to make sure there's ample parking for customers in the area. (CBC)

But Couse worries that with less parking, Elgin could lose out to other entertainment districts, including nearby Lansdowne Park, that provide plenty of paid parking.

"That would be an overall concern."

Tyler Dillabaugh, who has worked on Elgin for more than a decade and is currently a bartender at MacLaren's, said parking is a "huge factor. If they want to drive down in afternoons or for dinner, and they can't find parking, then they're obviously not going to come downtown."

Tyler Dillabaugh said parking is a 'huge' factor for restaurants and bars. (CBC)

It's true that many people come to Elgin on foot after work for a drink or a bite to eat, or if they live in the area. But, he argued, "no one is going to bike here from South Keys for a few beers."

However, a couple of tourists were in favour of a larger and more attractive sidewalk experience.

Editha Sanders, from Denver, Colo., had walked with a friend to Pure Kitchen on Elgin from their hotel on Albert Street.

"It was quite a walk, but we enjoyed it," she said, adding that she didn't think parking would be an issue for tourists, and the redesign would invite more people to visit Elgin.

"I would live here because it's a pretty nice neighbourhood."