A radical rethinking of transportation in Ottawa’s downtown core will be on display for the public at city hall on Thursday, Jan. 17.
The final presentation for the city’s Downtown Moves study will kick off the way it started – with speakers discussing the strategy needed to move transportation for Ottawa’s urban core into the future.
That means reconsidering how people will get downtown – mainly by using transit, bicycles or by walking.
Members of the public can view a display of the final Downtown Moves plan in Jean Pigott Hall at city hall (110 Laurier Ave. W.) starting at 5 p.m. Presentations will begin at 7 p.m. and feature Amanda O’Rourke from 8-80 Cities, Donna Hinde from the Planning Partnership, Ron Clarke of Delcan Corporation, the study’s engineering consultant, and finally Ken Greenberg, a popular consultant and speaker on urban design issues.
The open house is the final public meeting on the plan before it goes to planning committee for approval in early March.
The study is meant to provide a blueprint for how streets, bicycle lanes and sidewalks should be designed in the downtown to accommodate thousands of pedestrians who will pour onto the streets from three underground stations after the city’s light-rail line begins operating in 2018.
The city’s master planning documents say that pedestrians should have the highest priority, but that’s often not the case in reality, said Nelson Edwards, the city planner in charge of the project.
“It’s going to test how far we can push that conversation,” Edwards said.
The difference will be in how engineers approach the way they design the street, he said. In the past, they would start with the center line in the road and move outwards to fill up the space. In that paradigm, the private vehicle ranks as most important. But the shifting needs of downtown transportation mean the city needs to look at building streets from the outside edge inward, meaning the features for pedestrians have the highest priority, then bicycles are considered, and finally the remaining amount of space will be parceled out for vehicles.
Edwards and engineering consultants have drawn up samples of how downtown streets could be rebuilt when the city approves money for the projects. By doing a lot of the work ahead of time, Edwards thinks it will be much easier for city planners to simply adopt the those prepared templates that have already been studied. Making the process easier will ensure the streets are actually built as Downtown Moves envisions them to be, he said.
While another plan for the area, the draft version of the Centretown community design plan, envisions testing the idea of changing some one-way streets into two-way streets, that will depend on how much space is leftover when the needs of different road users are accounted for, Edwards said.
If there is a tradeoff between having bicycle lanes or having two lanes for vehicular traffic, it’s more likely that bicycles would be prioritized.
“We have a limited right-of-way and we need to distribute that space in an equitable way,” he said.
An independent review of converting downtown streets to two-way roads found that it would not be the “panacea solution” some planners believe it could be, Edwards said.
That doesn’t mean we won’t see any conversions to two-way streets, Edwards said. In fact, his plan supports testing that idea out on Metcalfe Street since it is a more ceremonial route that links Parliament Hill and the Canadian Museum of Nature.
“It may be a bold choice,” he said.
The Downtown Moves strategy will eventually mean there will be less on-street parking in the downtown, creating a need to better direct drivers to the numerous publically accessible underground parking lots instead, Edwards said.
“Yes, it will have an impact on those (parking spaces), but it will be a minimal impact,” he said.
Queen Street, which will have light rail running beneath it, forced Edwards to think differently about how streets are designed. Underground stations mean thousands of people will pour onto Queen Street at certain times of day.
That means sidewalks will need to be widened on Queen Street – there’s no way around it.
Creating a safer and more welcoming environment for pedestrians along Queen Street will encourage amenties such as cafés and stores to set up shop there, Edwards said.
The same goes for cyclists on Slater and Albert streets. The glut of bus traffic that clogs those streets will mostly be removed when transit moves underground, opening up an opportunity to use the former Transitway streets for other modes of transportation.
Edwards said he and other transportation planners at the city believe it’s the right spot for the spine of the east-west bikeway through downtown. Slater and Albert could be the right location for a sort of “bike highway” through the downtown and link to other bicycling lanes that take people to other important destinations.
That’s the role Edwards sees the Laurier segregated lane pilot project playing. It will be an important route to maintain during light-rail construction, he said, but after 2018, Laurier will still be an important route for cyclists to get to destinations like city hall, the courthouse, the main library and other important office buildings.