Old Ottawa East ecstatic about plans to revive Main Street

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By Laura Mueller, EMC News

A vision for Ottawa's first "complete street" that affords the same priority to cyclists and pedestrians as to cars attracted around 300 people in Old Ottawa East on June 17.

The city is reconstruction Main Street starting in 2015 and the plans call for a radical change that will reduce vehicle lanes from four to two to make way for dedicated cycling tracks, wider sidewalks and dedicated on-street parking.

The plans will calm traffic and convert Main Street back into the vibrant community commercial artery it once was, said Capital Coun. David Chernushenko.

He's extremely enthusiastic about the plans and the prominence they give to active modes of transportation, such as cycling and walking.

"There are four types of users of any streets (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and buses)," Chernushenko said. "Our streets are optimized at the moment for one of those users - cars.

"You have to make a statement at a certain point. You have to make driving a bit more difficult and we're doing it on purpose," he said.

Old Ottawa East Community Association president John Dance said it is very exciting that the city is taking an aggressive stance to promote a complete-street vision for Main Street.

"It really has set the tone for what can be done," he said.

Local merchants are on board, Chernushenko said. They say the street is now "antisocial" and wards off customers.

Business owners are excited about an improvement in on-street parking as a result of the rebuild. While the number of spaces will be reduced from 142 to 85, those spots will be available 24 hours a day, instead of only certain off-peak hours.

Old Ottawa East resident Kristin Kendall was enthusiastic about a complete street's potential to make the community more integrated. As for potential traffic congestion, she said motorists will deal with it.

"I think it will be fine," she said. "People will just accept it ... If people are forced to change the way they drive, (it will be) better for everyone."

That opinion wasn't universal. A couple residents who live in a condo building at the north end of Main Street at the canal were unhappy with the plans because they require the road to be widened in that location, which will remove extensive landscaping around their building that is planted on city road allowances.

One of the residents, Christine Nestruck, said she would prefer to see a plan that improved transportation both for commuters coming from the south end as well as local residents.

Chernushenko said there will always be pushback to any change, but he is convinced people will appreciate the changes in the long run.

Instead of simply a painted line to mark a cycling lane, the city is proposing to put raised cycling tracks along Main Street. The tracks are meant to provide more separation between bikes and vehicles. The city is currently installing Ottawa's first cycling tracks on Churchill Avenue.

The cycling tracks would run from Mc-Ilraith Bridge to Harvey Street in the northbound direction, with sharrow markings completing the cycling connection on Main Street to the canal.

From west of the canal and Pretoria Bridge, the cycling connection is proposed to use the counter-directional lane that already exists of Graham Avenue to bypass Hawthorne Avenue. Treatments for future cycling connections down Clegg are also in the plans. That would connect a proposed footbridge over the Rideau Canal at Clegg Street and Fifth Avenue to both Main Street and a proposed Rideau River pathway that is currently being designed.

Some people in attendance, including Kendall, were excited about the idea of changing the intersection at Main Street and Riverdale Avenue into a roundabout.

"I love roundabouts," she said. "It allows traffic to operate in a more integrated fashion," she said, adding that a more continuous traffic flow through a roundabout can also reduce vehicle idling and pollution.

But Theresa Wallace said the traffic light at that location helps calm fast-moving traffic coming over the bridge by forcing it to a stop when the light is red. Cycling or walking in a roundabout is also more daunting than at a regular signalized intersection, Wallace said.

The transportation project manager, Ziad Ghadban, said roundabouts have more of a traffic-calming effect than signalized intersections because roundabouts force all vehicles to slow down - not just the vehicles that happen to catch a red light.

A second public open house with fewer people in attendance was held at the Greenboro Community Centre the next day at the request of Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who was concerned residents of her ward would face longer commutes.