Ottawa

Mayor's intervention blocks plan to open Bank Street to pedestrians

A surprise intervention by Mayor Jim Watson near the end of Wednesday's marathon council meeting stifled a city councillor's plan to partially close a few blocks of Bank Street in the Glebe to make more space for foot traffic.

Council approves last-minute motion to get area businesses on board

The view from Fourth Avenue up the section of Bank Street in question, from Third Avenue to Glebe Avenue. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

A surprise intervention by Mayor Jim Watson near the end of Wednesday's marathon council meeting has stifled a city councillor's plan to partially close a few blocks of Bank Street in the Glebe to make more space for foot traffic.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard had been working with city staff for weeks to give three blocks of the west curbside lane of Bank Street between Glebe and Third avenues to pedestrians and cyclists for more room to physically distance in the COVID-19 era.

But the mayor's 11th-hour motion means any street closures must first have the approval of any businesses that are affected. Watson gave no prior notice of his motion.

Some local businesses had opposed Menard's plan because it would narrow the road, as has been done on the Bank Street Bridge farther south, take up 19 street parking spots and offer less space for curbside pickups of food and retail goods.

However, Menard has said he also received hundreds of emails in support of the closure from residents and employees.

He pointed out that the virtually empty city-owned Glebe garage and east side of Bank Street still provide hundreds of parking spaces.

As well, city staff had confirmed the "no parking" spots on First, Second and Third avenues around the corner from Bank Street could also be used for curbside pickups and deliveries.

The closure was expected to be implemented sometime last week, then delayed. Now he's not moving forward with the plans.

 

"There was great opposition from the business community," Watson told reporters, saying he received about 30 letters from area businesses.

"I felt as mayor it was my responsibility to bring forward what I thought was a reasonable compromise."

Proposed closure a 'nail in the coffin'

The mayor said many local businesses and the business improvement area wrote to him to express their dismay with the plan, including Bank Street establishments outside the proposed area such as Stella Luna and Irene's Pub.

Menard's proposal, according to a letter from Irene's Pub to the mayor, would put "a death nail in the coffin of Glebe businesses." 

Irene's Pub is one of the Glebe businesses that wrote Mayor Jim Watson to oppose closing a lane of Bank Street for a three-block span. Its letter said the proposal would put 'a death nail in the coffin' of Glebe businesses who rely on curbside pickup. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Watson originally proposed all businesses would have to agree to any partial road closures, but then supported Coun. Riley Brockington's amendment that only two-thirds of businesses would have to agree for pedestrian areas to be widened into the street.

A number of councillors complained during the hour-long debate over the issue that they were being asked to choose between the health of small businesses and health of the public.

Some, like Coun. Mathieu Fleury, said the city should be taking a holistic approach to consider where it might close roads to make room for pedestrians.

"I feel like we're treating this like some kind of turf war," said Coun. Theresa Kavanagh.

But most councillors lined up behind the mayor to, in his words, "stand up the for the rights of these small business owners."

Councillors must still pay for closures

The mayor's proposal passed in a vote of 15 to seven.

In addition to Menard, councillors Fleury, Glen Gower, Kavanagh, Rawlson King, Jeff Leiper, and Catherine McKenney voted against the motion.

Menard tried to have his plan for Bank Street grandfathered into Watson's policy, but lost 14 to eight — Coun. Carol Anne Meehan joined the councillors who were against the mayor's motion in voting no.

The mayor's move also superseded a motion from Leiper asking that any closures for physical distancing be paid for by the city instead of each ward's $50,000 annual traffic-calming budget.

 

FInally, the city manager said Wednesday he is looking at how restaurants and pubs might be allowed to open expanded patios on city rights-of-way this summer, while allowing customers to keep their physical distance, which is being considered in other cities.

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