Ottawa Citizen

LRT of­fers chance for two-way streets

Coun­cil to vote on plan that would change Met­calfe and O’connor


Turn­ing down­town’s Met­calfe and O’Connor streets into twoway roads to slow traf­fic and make them safer has long been a dream for Ot­tawa ur­ban­ists. But how­ever much ap­peal the idea might have, do­ing it turns out to be really hard.

“This has been talked about for years and years,” says Som­er­set Coun­cil­lor Diane Holmes. “Through mul­ti­ple vi­sions for Cen­tre­town, by mul­ti­ple con­sul­tants and lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I think it’s still quite some way off.”

The idea is in­cluded in the city’s lat­est long-term plan for Cen­tre­town, writ­ten by the city government’s favourite ur­ban de­signer, Ge­orge Dark, who over­saw a 2004 study on spruc­ing up down­town and, more re­cently, was the city’s de­sign guru for Lans­downe Park.

City coun­cil hasn’t ap­proved the Mid-Cen­tre­town Com­mu­nity De­sign Plan yet, but it’s on the verge, with a vote due early in the new year.

The city is hop­ing to do some­thing sooner rather than later as part of a makeover of down­town trans­porta­tion that goes along with the ex­pected open­ing of the ligh­trail sys­tem in 2018.

The plan, called Down­town Moves, is partly aimed at mak­ing bet­ter use of streets that should be re­lieved of buses and some cars af­ter the trains start rolling, and partly at mak­ing Ot­tawa’s core a bet­ter place to walk so that a pleas­ant rail ride doesn’t turn into a grim trudge for the last few hun­dred me­tres af­ter peo­ple dis­em­bark.

“The use of Cen­tre­town’s ar­te­rial streets as a high-vol­ume, high-speed ramp­ing sys­tem for the Queensway con­trib­utes to the cre­ation of un­safe and un­pleas­ant con­di­tions,” Dark’s Cen­tre­town vi­sion says. “The cur­rent oneway sys­tem is ori­ented to serve the needs of Ot­tawa’s com­muters and is de­signed to move as many cars as pos­si­ble through Cen­tre­town for peak-hour com­mut­ing.”

When they’re not crowded, that de­sign turns streets such as Met­calfe and O’Connor, and to a lesser ex­tent Kent and Lyon, into high­way ex­ten­sions them­selves: They’re long, straight, flat and have few traf­fic lights or stop signs.

Many cy­clists don’t feel safe on them (though some dare­dev­ils hap­pily ride the wrong way be­cause other streets are well out of the way) and pedes­tri­ans on the nar­row side­walks don’t like walking with traf­fic whizzing past inches away.

Many build­ings along them have tiny en­trances and tall, blank walls be­cause no­body wants to hang around out­side. On Met­calfe, the newly ren­o­vated Mu­seum of Na­ture’s multi-storey glass “Lantern” above the main en­trance shines out over a street whose main users are drivers who get to see the ad­di­tion in their rear-view mir­rors.

Two-way streets, the

think­ing goes, could carry al­most as much traf­fic at a more se­date pace, while be­ing friendlier to any­one who’s not in a car, and would be dra­mat­i­cally bet­ter when the roads are mostly empty out­side rush hours.

Holmes thinks the idea is at­trac­tive, but isn’t sold on the prac­ti­cal­i­ties.

“I know that, gen­er­ally speak­ing, peo­ple like what they have,” she says. “If they have a one-way street, they want to keep a one-way street. If they have a two-way street, they want to keep a two-way street.”

It would also have to be shown that the streets really could han­dle as much traf­fic af­ter the con­ver­sion as be­fore.

“A much big­ger job is deal­ing with the ramps to the Queensway,” Holmes adds. If a two-way con­ver­sion af­fected the High­way 417 onand off-ramps, the pro­vin­cial government would have to agree be­cause it owns the high­way.

Even more chal­leng­ing: at three and four lanes across, O’Connor, Met­calfe and Kent are wide as oneways but just or­di­nary for two-ways. If they’re go­ing to carry nearly all the traf­fic they do now, and keep ex­ist­ing street park­ing spots, and have turn­ing lanes at ma­jor in­ter­sec­tions, and in­clude any kind of cy­cling lanes … well, pack­ing all those things in won’t be easy.

“We don’t need bike fa­cil­i­ties ab- so­lutely ev­ery­where,” Holmes al­lows. It could be that, if the roads are turned into two-way routes, they wouldn’t need bike lanes, for in­stance. Ex­cept that O’Connor — one of the few roads that runs into the busi­ness district, the full length of Cen­tre­town and al­most all the way through the Glebe as well — is the city’s early choice for a north-south seg­re­gated bike route to match the one on Lau­rier Av­enue.

Noth­ing would be done with­out ex­ten­sive study and pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, Holmes says. If there’s a trial to be done, it could be on Met­calfe start­ing at around Glad­stone Av­enue, or maybe McLeod Street along the north­ern edge of the Mu­seum of Na­ture. “It doesn’t have to go all the way to the Queensway, at least not just to try it out,” she says.

 ?? WAYNE CUDDINGTON/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN ?? One-way Met­calfe Street (seen here) and O’Connor Street are can­di­dates for two-way con­ver­sion.
WAYNE CUDDINGTON/OT­TAWA CIT­I­ZEN One-way Met­calfe Street (seen here) and O’Connor Street are can­di­dates for two-way con­ver­sion.

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