Main Street locals celebrate end of 'complete street' construction project

Two years ago, Main Street residents found themselves in the middle of a major City of Ottawa project to overhaul the four-lane thoroughfare. Now, they live on the city's latest 'complete street.'

Old Ottawa East thoroughfare took two years to finish

Mika Weaver, the owner of Singing Pebble Books on Main Street, sits in the cafe next door that's run by her husband. Weaver was one of many local business owners who faced precarious times during the City of Ottawa's lengthy project to turn the four-lane thoroughfare into a so-called 'complete street.' (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

During the worst of the construction, through the detours and dusty days, Mika Weaver remained optimistic.

"I was sure we could weather it," said Weaver, who has owned Singing Pebble Books on Main Street since 1995. "And really it wasn't that bad."

Two years ago, Weaver and other locals found themselves in the middle of a major City of Ottawa project to overhaul the four-lane street running through the otherwise tranquil Old Ottawa East neighbourhood.

The plan was to turn Main Street into the first major Ottawa thoroughfare that's also a so-called "complete street" — a road that's shared equally by cars, cyclists, pedestrians and transit users. 

On Saturday, both the community and the city celebrated the end of the work with a party that included street food, carriage rides and a brass band.

"Finally, finally, finally." said Weaver. "The street is now designated cool."

Will improve traffic flow, says councillor

While the city converted Churchill Avenue in Westboro into a complete street in 2014, Main Street is more heavily used and more centrally-located.

The renewal project began in May 2015 and involved the replacement of deteriorated water and sewer systems, as well as the addition of new cycle tracks, wider sidewalks, parking spaces and public art.

The street gradually began to reopen to car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic last summer. 

Coun. David Chernushenko holds a necklace made of the century-old pipeline that was torn up as part of the Main Street renewal project. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

"There's been a major shift throughout North America of what a major thoroughfare that runs through a downtown residential neighbourhood … should be and what it could look like," said Capital ward Coun. David Chernushenko, sporting a necklace made from the century-old subterranean pipe that was torn up as part of Main Street's renewal.

"You can still keep traffic flowing, but essentially take it back as a real liveable safe street for people."

Aside from some minor work that remains on the southernmost stretch of the bike track, Main Street is now back open, Chernushenko said.

While drivers may notice one fewer lane in each direction — stretches of Main Street are now two lanes instead of four — a centre turning lane at major intersections will actually improve traffic flow, not slow it down, he added.

"One car that wanted to turn, previously, was essentially stopping all of the moving traffic. And now, even with fewer lanes, it's not," said Chernushenko.

Two women walk their bikes along a new separated bike path on Main Street on June 17, 2017. Hundreds of people came out Saturday to celebrate the completion of a lengthy construction project that turned the previously four-lane thoroughfare into Ottawa's latest 'complete street.' (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

'It's safer'

Main Street's previous flaws caused "frustration for so many years," said Phyllis Odenbach Sutton, president of the Old Ottawa East Community Association.

"We have wide sidewalks now, where it used to be walking on this street was horrific. And biking on this street was not something you wanted to do," she said. "So it's just wonderful."

The truth is, if you build infrastructure, people will use it.- Joey Gunn, Main Street resident

Odenbach Sutton said the community association wanted to see the power lines along Main Street put underground as part of the renewal work. The fact that many large trees had to be uprooted to make the changes possible was also somewhat bittersweet, she said.

But the positives of the project ultimately outweigh the negatives, Odenbach Sutton added.

Joey Gunn lives on Main Street and said he's already seen concrete changes in cycling volume along the road.

"The truth is, if you build infrastructure, people will use it," said Gunn. "You see the traffic, the bike traffic now. People are using [the bike tracks]. And it's safer."

Fifth-Clegg bridge next

With the Main Street renewal project mostly complete, attention in Old Ottawa East will likely turn to the construction of a pedestrian bridge over the Rideau Canal that would connect Clegg Street with Fifth Avenue in the Glebe.

Mayor Jim Watson told those who came out Saturday afternoon he expected the province to make a funding announcement for the bridge in coming weeks.

Both the city and the federal government have already committed to their share of the roughly $17.5-million bridge project.

For Weaver, the pedestrian bridge will not only bring more patrons to the stores along Main Street — it will also bring benefits for people like herself who also call Old Ottawa East home. 

"A lot of the kids in this neighbourhood go to schools in the Glebe. So having that footbridge connect means that people can just get across the canal much quicker," she said.