'A wonderful surprise': Ottawans flock to closed-off Queen Elizabeth Driveway
Some think more city streets need to bar vehicles during pandemic
As Ottawa residents cheer the decision to close a stretch of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway to vehicle traffic, calls are being made to shut down even more streets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closure began Saturday morning and will run until at least the following Sunday, April 26, according to the National Capital Commission.
The road is blocked between Laurier and Fifth avenues from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
"It was a wonderful surprise today, because we hadn't heard the news," said Marcia Krawll, who lives close to the Rideau Canal and the driveway.
Many people like Krawll were out enjoying the sunny weather Saturday, while expressing concerns that it's been hard to do so while also physically distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I was walking in circles in the church parking lot near my building, but then people started copying me. So I had to stop doing that," said Tanya Northcott, who lives in a small apartment.
Marion Read, meanwhile, described walking along the Rideau Canal pathways as being "very squishy."
"I've been walking kind of on the curb here, between the traffic and the dogs and the people and the runners and the cyclists." said Read.
City too slow
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) has argued that one way people can stay healthy during the pandemic is to connect with nature, and in an urban environment, closing off roads is one way to make that possible.
But Robin Edger, CAPE's executive director, thinks the City of Ottawa has so far dropped the ball.
"I think the city has made it really difficult for people living downtown to walk around safely right now," Edger told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Friday.
The city recently closed two outside lanes of the Bank Street bridge across the Rideau Canal to traffic. At least one city councillor has also used a portion of his traffic calming budget to close a street in his ward.
The Queen Elizabeth Driveway is operated by the NCC, not the municipality.
"I know the city is starting to come around ... they should have moved quicker," Edger said. "They still need to do more, but it's certainly a start."
'Not very many cars on the road'
Some people out walking around Saturday agreed that more closures would be a good idea.
"I know with some of the parks being closed, they're worried that opening roads and stuff would sort of have people flock to this area," said Meghan Garvey.
"But it doesn't seem overly busy right now. So I think maybe [they should do] this in, like, a couple neighbourhoods, because there's not very many cars on the road right now."
Mayor Jim Watson, however, has expressed concern that opening up Ottawa's streets could encourage people to congregate.