Elgin and Hawthorne: You Could Be Next! City considers turning portions into complete streets

By Robb Barnes

The city has plans to turn the stretch of Hawthorne Avenue between Main and the canal into a ‘complete street’ favoring cyclists and pedestrians much like it has done with Main Street. Credit: Robb Barnes

The city has plans to turn the stretch of Hawthorne Avenue between Main and the canal into a ‘complete street’ favoring cyclists and pedestrians much like it has done with Main Street.
Credit: Robb Barnes

Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue will soon become friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians, City of Ottawa officials told people at a public consultation last month.

The consultation unveiled plans for Elgin Street south of Lisgar Street, and Hawthorne Avenue between Isabella and Main streets. Both Elgin and Hawthorne will be renewed as part of the city’s ongoing maintenance schedule for all city streets.

Through the renewal process, Elgin and Hawthorne could become ‘complete streets’ – a format used in Main Street reconstruction to make the roadway easier to use for a wider range of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Ottawa streets were once seen through a single, car-focused lens. They were strictly a means to get drivers from one point to another as quickly as possible. A few years ago, City Hall decided to start thinking about streets as something more.

City engineers now also ask how a street will be used by pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. They think about streets as a place – for gathering, walking, shopping – rather than just a way to get somewhere else.

The proposed changes to Elgin and Hawthorne look like a step in the right direction. The Elgin Street of the near future could be a destination point for pedestrians and a safer street for cyclists.

The plans propose more trees, wider sidewalks, one less car lane in either direction, lower speed limits, raised intersections, more bus stops and a permanent public space connecting Jack Purcell Park with the street.

Meanwhile, Hawthorne could get wider sidewalks and a new bike lane on the north side, which will connect to the bike lane on Main Street.

The plans for the section of Hawthorne between Argyle Street and the Pretoria Bridge are less impressive. There, we won’t see a reduction in vehicle lanes or plans to address safety concerns where cars turn onto Isabella Street or Queen Elizabeth Drive. These intersections are currently high-risk for pedestrians and cyclists and confusing for motorists.

Also, there are no new bike lanes planned for Elgin. While this is a drawback, it is likely that reduced speed limits and raised intersections will work to slow down cars. Fewer parking spots will reduce the chance of dooring incidents, where drivers opening car doors collide with cyclists.

The renewal of Elgin and Hawthorne is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Ottawa to get it right: to build a welcoming, accessible downtown core connected to vibrant communities such as Old Ottawa East. The city’s new complete-streets plans get us part of the way there. The rest is up to us – to demand more of our public spaces and from the officials tasked with building them.

Robb Barnes is Managing Director of Ecology Ottawa, a not-for-profit, volunteer-driven organization that provides information on environmental issues and encourages environmental leadership.

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