Readying for reconstruction

Main Street project clears city hall hurdles

A century-old water pipe is the catalyst that will soon transform Main Street from a crumbling, traffic-plagued thoroughfare to a model of progressive urban design.

The water main beneath Main Street, dating to 1908, is desperately in need of replacement — and that means tearing up the entire roadway next summer.
But instead of rebuilding to the status quo, city council voted July 17 to create a new streetscape, dubbed a “complete street,” with wide sidewalks, raised bike lanes, and two lanes of car traffic instead of four.

“We may be the first city in Ontario to have this kind of complete street,” said Mayor Jim Watson, just before voting in favour of the plan. “I think once you see what happens to Main Street, the transformation, there will be a long list of people who will want to see their version of a complete street, in their particular neighbourhood.”

The city will dig up Main Street from the McIlraith Bridge (Rideau River) to Echo Drive. It will reduce the street from four lanes of car traffic to two lanes between Oblate Avenue and Toronto Street.

Separate cycling lanes – referred to as a ‘cycling track’ – will be installed between Evelyn Avenue and the McIlraith Bridge.

City council approved the plan by a wide margin, with only six of 24 councillors dissenting. The detailed design work is scheduled to begin this summer and be completed by June 2014. Shovels should be in the ground by August 2014, with most of the work completed by 2015 and final landscaping finished in 2016.

“This is a community, around Main Street, that has been withering on the vine for decades,” said Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko, who advocated passionately for the ‘complete street’ concept on Main. “It’s once in a century that you completely rebuild a street and redesign it … This is our chance on our street to do it right.”

The Old Ottawa East Community Association, led by president John Dance, lobbied hard in favour of the Main Street redesign, and celebrated the outcome of the vote as a victory.

But that victory came with a side-effect that the community association will find harder to swallow —  a strengthened push for construction of a new road along the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor,  cutting through the eastern edge of Old Ottawa East near the University of Ottawa’s Lees Campus to link Alta Vista to downtown.

Dance and the community association have long fought against the AVTC. But several councillors, including some who voted in favour of the Main Street redesign, argued that Old Ottawa East residents can’t have their cake and eat it too — and if traffic is restricted on Main Street, other routes must be built to allow drivers from the south end of the city to get downtown.

“The very people that we’re supposed to say ‘Hallelujah, let’s bring it!’ to them today, are the very people who fought vehemently against (the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor),” said Barrhaven Councillor Jan Harder, in a vituperative speech opposing the redesign of Main Street.

“When it comes to debate (the AVTC), I don’t want to hear one word from you!” she warned.

City staff estimate a two-lane Main Street (with additional left-hand turn lanes at several intersections) would be able to accommodate 900 cars per hour without causing traffic jams.

That’s fine for most of the day. But at rush hour, with an estimated 1200 cars per hour travelling the street, it would result in a three-minute delay for commuters.
That’s on top of additional delays that are expected to be caused over the next five years by construction of the downtown LRT line.

“This road is designated as an arterial road and we are removing two lanes of arterial traffic,” said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who opposed the redesign. “The traffic has to go somewhere and the question that my constituents have is, where is that traffic going to go?”

Coun. Chernushenko said he sympathizes with south-end commuters, who saw a planned north-south light-rail project cancelled in 2006 and have long waited for the AVTC to be built.  He struck a conciliatory note toward Deans, offering to open up a full discussion on the AVTC when council considers the city’s Transportation Master Plan this fall.

“I will work with you to make sure that the transit solutions you need are built, including a thorough exploration of the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor,” he pledged at the July 5 Transportation Committee meeting.

Chernushenko said later in an interview that, although he continues to oppose a four-lane expressway for the AVTC, a different type of roadway with space for cars, bikes, and transit could be acceptable.

Chernushenko noted that — with improved pedestrian and cycling facilities — Main Street would actually be able to move more people to their destinations than in the current, car-dominant configuration.

He said that, as people living in the neighbourhood choose to bike and walk more often, it would free up road space for through-traffic.

But re-imagining Main Street is about more than just transportation. Together with the upcoming development of the Oblates property near Saint Paul University — which will see the construction of some 1400 dwelling-units plus street-front retail stores — the new design aims to turn Main Street into a people- friendly place, a true hub of neighbourhood activity.

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