Lees green space versus roadway: What’s next?

Chestnut Street resident Betsy Kitchen says the half-century old AVTC proposal would eliminate the Lees Avenue green space and would isolate Lees apartment residents. Photo by John Dance

Chestnut Street resident Betsy Kitchen says the half-century old AVTC proposal would eliminate the Lees Avenue green space and would isolate Lees apartment residents. Photo by John Dance

By John Dance

On the eve of the first phase of the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor (AVTC) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) on track for spring 2018, what’s next for Old Ottawa East?

Will a complete four-lane AVTC be built, resulting in OOE losing its large Lees Avenue green space? Or will the Hospital Link (AVTC’s first phase), much improved transit and a shift to increased cycling, walking and sharing of vehicles kill the rationale for the full AVTC?

“The Lees Avenue green space strengthens the community fabric,” said Betsy Kitchen, a Chestnut Street resident, whose property backs onto the green space at Springhurst Park. “To have a highway go through here would be like taking a pair of scissors and cutting through the fabric.”

“The LRT and its new Lees Avenue station is one step forward, but building the AVTC roadway beside the LRT would be two woefully regressive steps backward and would undercut the massive investment in LRT,” said Kitchen.

Conceived more than half a century ago, the AVTC aims to provide transportation relief for the growing southeast sector of the city. The corridor begins at Conroy Road and Walkley Road, winding through green spaces in Alta Vista (behind the Ottawa Hospital’s General campus), through Hurdman Park, across the Rideau River and through the 160 Lees Avenue green space to end at the Queensway and Nicholas Street exit with ramps to and from Lees.

The Hospital Link segment can be seen from the eastern end of Old Ottawa East’s Centennial Boulevard. The roadway runs 1.2 km from the hospital to Riverside Drive and is, according its 2005 environmental assessment, “the southerly two lanes of the ultimate four-lane design solution.”

Over the last decade, Kitchen has seen more members of the community actively using the Lees green space. Many teams play there three seasons of the year and pedestrians and dog-walkers make daily use of the area.

Many community members of Sandy Hill, OOE and Riverview Park have long campaigned against the full AVTC roadway. In 2013, the city excluded the project from its “affordable” road network to be built by 2031, but kept it on the “ultimate” road network schedule. However, this downgrading of the complete project was preceded by approval of the $62-million Hospital Link segment.

A number of politicians have declared their opposition to the complete project.

“The full AVTC connection is below the ‘affordability line’ in the current transportation master plan, which means it is essentially not being considered by anyone for more than another 11 years,” explains Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko.

“This ensures that all of the transit, cycling and pedestrian improvements underway and planned will have been built, and we will have seen how dramatically they change travel patterns and modes in the city.”

“I am opposed to a ‘parkway style’ AVTC ever being built,” said Coun. Chernushenko. “ There may come a time when we all (or most of us) agree that an actual complete street and bridge across to the other side of the river in this corridor makes sense, but I believe such a decision is more than a decade away.”

Councillors to the south, notably Jean Cloutier of Alta Vista and Diane Deans of Gloucester-Southgate ward, remain concerned about the growing transportation requirements of those in expanding southern communities like Riverside South.

“I have been a strong advocate for improved north-south transportation options and as such continue to support the future construction of the AVTC,” said Coun. Deans. “I also recognize that the way that people choose to move around this city continues to evolve. Should the city move forward with the AVTC, the environmental assessment would need to be updated to reflect multi-modal transportation options including dedicated transit lanes, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and cycling infrastructure.”

Coun. Cloutier said Alta Vista has a lot of cut-through traffic from the growing communities in the south end and believes a AVTC would reduce this.

However, he understands when the Hospital Link opens in December there will be a positive impact on Smyth and Alta Vista traffic, better emergency access to the hospitals and a better transit link for hospital visitors and employees. Another improvement is a new bus service between the Civic and Smyth hospital campuses.

“We need to find solutions for better north-south transportation, be that transit, AVTC or encouraging other active transportation,” said Coun. Cloutier.

Meanwhile, back on Chestnut Street, Kitchen says she and her neighbours, including many residents of the Lees apartments, are going to continue their vigilance over the Lees green space.

“If we lose this vital community green space, it will further isolate the Lees apartment towers, and deprive all the residents of this corner of Old Ottawa East of a unique and vibrant urban oasis.”

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Filed in: FP, Front Page, News

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