Patios causing pedestrian congestion in the ByWard Market

Some residents in Lowertown are hoping this will be the last summer the sidewalks of Ottawa's ByWard Market will be overcrowded.

Community association hopes problem will be resolved with new rules

Members of the Lowertown Community Association hope new sidewalk standards will help alleviate congestion in ByWard Market. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Some residents in Lowertown are hoping this will be the last summer the sidewalks of Ottawa's ByWard Market will be overcrowded.

The popular downtown district is filled with bars and restaurants with adjoining patios, making navigating around them a tricky task for pedestrians — especially those with accessibility issues or baby strollers.

"The challenges are narrow sidewalks to begin with," said Peter Ferguson with the Lowertown Community Association.

"[And] patio encroachment ... sign boards being put out that are not supposed to be put out," he added.

Ferguson said the sidewalks on Clarence Street in the heritage district are particularly problematic and pedestrians often resort to walking on the road to get by.

"Depending on the time of day [it can be] quite difficult and quite chaotic," he said.

In March, city council voted to require businesses to leave two metres of the sidewalk clear for pedestrians. 

However, existing businesses have until Oct. 31 to submit plans for compliant patios — although that's not the case for businesses with new patios.

"Patios that did not exist prior to this year need to comply by this season," said area councillor Mathieu Fleury.

Some pedestrians in the ByWard Market resort to walking on the road to get around patios, street signs and advertisements. (CBC)
Fleury said a review is being done to look at how to improve the overall area beyond just limiting patio spaces.

"We're currently doing a full review of the public realm of the entire market. Then we're engaging with residents, with businesses, with the broader public on the future of that space and the investments that are needed," he said.

Fleury said he's looking at what cities like Toronto, Montreal and Kingston have done with converting part of their roadways into patio space to help alleviate congestion on sidewalks.

"Patios are part of the vibrancy of an area and we thrive on that. Now we're rethinking the space," he said.

Ferguson said the idea of using on-street parking and streets as patio space could work.

"This seems to us to be a reasonable trade-off," he said.

The importance of patio space

Daniel Benoit, general manager of the Heart and Crown on Clarence Street, said patios play a significant role in attracting customers.

"If it's [sunny], the patios are packed. If it's raining, there's nobody in the market ... people just don't come down here," he said.

Daniel Benoit, general manager of the Heart and Crown, says patios are essential for any successful restaurant and bar in the ByWard Market. (CBC)
"I go from 500 seats to 1033 seats in the summer. So it's huge for me. 500 seats, if they're full it's a lot of money."

Benoit said all of his outdoor patios will need to be rebuilt to meet the city's new regulation.

"I think we're off by about five inches or so," he said.

"We take them down in the fall, so we're not going to be affected in the fall, but we'll be affected through the winter rebuilding them for the spring."

The city has offered a 25 per cent discount on patio licence fees to help businesses recover some of the costs associated with making the necessary changes.