Ottawa

Councillors call for more lane closures on Bank Street

Some downtown councillors and other advocates are putting pressure on the city to expand pedestrian space along Bank Street so residents can safely access essential services by foot or bicycle — but the plan is getting some pushback from local businesses.

Glebe, Centretown commercial strips ideal for physical distancing 'experiment,' advocates say

Outside lanes of the Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal in Ottawa have been closed to traffic so people can keep their distance as they walk or cycle across. The city councillor for the area would like to expand the experiment. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Some downtown councillors and other advocates are putting pressure on the city to expand pedestrian space along Bank Street so residents can safely access essential services by foot or bicycle — but the plan is getting some pushback from local businesses.

Capital ward Coun. Shawn Menard is surveying his constituents to see if they support blocking off the southbound curbside lane of Bank Street between Glebe and Third avenues. The three-block stretch includes a grocery store, pharmacy and hardware store.

It's a proposal Centretown resident Sandy Miller said she would support after a near miss Monday afternoon when she stepped off the sidewalk on Bank Street to avoid a group of people.

"Right about that moment a car was coming and [the driver] swerved. I don't think he would have hit me, but we both kind of jumped," she said. "I saw the look on his face and thought, 'There's not quite enough room here.'"

Sandy Miller, left, said there should be more space for pedestrians along Bank Street in the Glebe. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

But Tammy Giuliani, owner of Stella Luna gelato shop on Bank Street in Old Ottawa South, criticized the plan, saying it would harm local businesses that are already struggling during the pandemic by removing more parking spots.

"Old Ottawa South and the Glebe are 'destination' strips, with patrons travelling from all parts of the city and beyond for goods and services that are unique to our city," Giuliani said in a news release. "We cannot depend on walkers and cyclists to sustain a living."

Giuliani said she's spoken with several business operators in the area who expressed similar concerns with the plan.

Two lanes of the Bank Street Bridge, just north of Giuliani's shop, have already been blocked off for pedestrian use, though that doesn't directly hamper parking.

Sidewalks made for walking

Menard's proposal follows similar moves made across the city in recent days.

The National Capital Commission has closed off a portion of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway through this coming weekend, but the city has only allowed councillors to restrict vehicle traffic on a few roadways to allow for physical distancing.

The city's board of health formally expressed support for widening spaces for active transportation at its last meeting.

Coun. Catherine McKenney said city staff finally agreed to close a lane of Somerset Street at Bank Street because sidewalks there are too narrow to allow people to remain two metres apart. 

"These are seniors [and] poor people, and there's no way to keep them safe, so staff did relent and give us that block," McKenney said.

People line up to enter a grocery store at Somerset and Bank streets in downtown Ottawa. This was just before the traffic lane next to the curb was closed to vehicles. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Both McKenney and Menard had to pay more than $5,000 out of their own office budgets for traffic barrels to close off lanes in their wards.

Like Menard, McKenney is now switching the focus to Bank Street.

"It's got all the essential services that people need. It's got grocery stories, pharmacies, food banks and pet supply stores," McKenney said. "It is the most densely populated neighborhood. There's a lot of community housing and supportive housing. It's the street that needs space."

Citywide experiment

A board member of advocacy group Bike Ottawa said the pandemic is a good time for a citywide experiment in reducing vehicle use.

Erinn Cunningham pointed to cities such as Milan, Paris and others in Canada that have blocked off kilometres of roads for pedestrians and cyclists. 

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"We don't have to go back to business as usual," said Cunningham, who also wants the city to move ahead with an experiment to make the ByWard Market a car-free zone while traffic volumes remain so low.

"Most people do want to abide by the social distancing measures. They don't want to be travelling in large packs, but we need space to do that," Cunningham said. "Closing things down and wagging fingers isn't going to get us there."

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