Aging infrastructure has created a need for the redevelopment of Main Street. The City of Ottawa conducted a study on possible development options and recommended the Transportation Committee approve an Option 5 which would implement a Complete Street design on July 5. This design would reduce the amount of vehicle lanes (from four down to two, plus turning lanes), create protected bays for parking, and implement an elevated and paved cycle track. This option would provide the best improvements to the pedestrian and cycling environment on the street, as well as improve the on-street parking and would enhance transit ridership. City staff hope to invest in additional cycling networks thereafter which would connect the road to the future LRT station at Lees. This recommendation by the City is a great opportunity to implement Complete Streets and enhance the cycling network in the city. Councillors on the Transportation Committee had to vote in favour of Option 5 (Item 1) to pass the City’s recommendation along to Council, and subsequently move forward with the implementation of this project. However, Councillors had a difficult time agreeing that this design plan is the best option for redeveloping Main Street.
Councillor Deans was the most vocal opponent to this proposal. She was primarily concerned with her constituents who use Main Street as their means to get downtown in their private automobiles. She argued that an being an arterial road, its main purpose is to accommodate through traffic and worried that the new design would lead to excessive delays (projected as three minutes at rush hour) for her motorist constituents. She criticized that there is no official definition for Complete Streets and said they cannot support it if they do not know what it is. She even suggested that the current conditions on Main Street entail a Complete Street, and argued that the current cycling infrastructure is not lacking (despite City staff’s presentation which illustrated how bikes are at times forced onto sidewalks). Councillor Deans proposed a motion for City staff to re-examine Option 3 (which entails four vehicle lanes plus on-street bike lanes) as the preferred option until the Alta Vista Transportation Corridor is built, and thereafter reconstruct Main Street to Option 5.
City staff announced that Option 3 rated the most poorly out of all five options (it maintains the narrow sidewalks, does not include on street parking, and is more costly) and also that they would not reconstruct Main Street a second time. Despite this, some Councillors spoke in favour of Deans’ motion and remained opposed to Option 5. Councillor Hubley suggested that Option 5 is a problem due to the fact that this is a road used all year long when cycling is not always appealing. Councillor Desroches could not see how Option 5 provides a solution to transportation problems and announced he will not support this at Council. Councillor Tierney inquired as to which option was more expensive and despite hearing that Option 5 is cheaper he remained supportive of Deans’ motion.
Other Councillors were more supportive of Option 5 and developing a Complete Street. Councillor Clark inquired to City staff about whether or not building more bike lanes will lead to more cyclists, and was told that yes, it would. He criticized Councillor Deans and emphasized that if Deans’ motion passed, a Complete Street on Main Street would never happen. Councillor Wilkinson emphasized that the on road delays would only be three minutes during rush hour and noted how hostile Main Street currently is for pedestrians; she would like to see the street become a place where kids feel safe walking to school. Councillors Clark and Wilkinson receive a Thumbs Up for their voiced support of Complete Streets.
Councillor Chernushenko acknowledged the concerns about congestion and informed the Committee that the solution is not to build more road lanes but to create better transit and promote other modes of transportation. He differed from Councillor Deans’ motion and said that Option 3 tolerates cyclists and pedestrians but it does not attract them, as it should. He deemed Option 5 as safer, cheaper, as providing alternatives to driving, and promoting business along the street. Following Councillor Chernushenko’s words of support, Chair of the Committee Keith Egli voiced a desire for Complete Streets to come to life in Ottawa and spread throughout the city, he said “we don’t want this to fail.” He also spoke to the importance of sustainable transportation options that are friendly to everyone. For their words of support, Councillors Chernushenko and Egli receive a Thumbs Up for supporting sustainable and active transportation and Complete Streets in Ottawa.
Councillor Deans’ motion failed with a tie, while the original motion to reconstruct Main Street as a Complete Street passed narrowly in a 5-4 vote. The Transportation Committee receives a Thumbs Up for passing the motion that supports Option 5 and Complete Streets, but unfortunately this decision was not easily made. The discussion was very telling in regards to Councillors’ positions on this important issue and we hope to one day see more Complete Streets created without dissent.