Make Bank Street safe and comfortable now
By John Dance
Why does the Glebe’s section of Bank Street remain cramped and unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists while most of the other “traditional main streets” in Ottawa’s core have become friendlier and safer?
Six years ago, after four years of planning, consultation and construction, Main Street in Old Ottawa East was reconstructed as a “complete street.” The changes have been profoundly positive for pedestrians, cyclists and businesses. Before the conversion of the four-lane arterial road into what is essentially a two-lane arterial with cycle tracks and wider sidewalks, it was dangerous and unpleasant to walk along much of the street and cyclists sensibly avoided the route.
The Main Street reconstruction plan was strenuously opposed by some suburban and rural councillors because their constituents feared that a reduction to two lanes would slow down their commute to work. Indeed, city planners estimated it would take commuters an extra two minutes to pass through Old Ottawa East. But the community successfully argued that the form of a main street should be primarily shaped to meet the needs of the immediate community rather than those who drove through it twice a day.
About a decade ago, the Glebe section of Bank Street was reconstructed for $17 million. This effort provided much-needed new underground services, but it did not produce a significantly better environment for pedestrians and cyclists. Public art and new streetlights were added and sidewalk surfaces were replaced, but these changes had little impact on the overall comfort and safety of the street because it remained four lanes.
During the pandemic with its needs for physical distancing, the constrained sidewalks of Bank Street became particularly apparent. Snowfalls, parked bikes, ancient hydro poles, natural gas service pipes, the occasional stone step and parking ticket machines all add to the congestion. As for cycling along Bank, it remains generally survivable but is definitely not recommended for cautious cyclists. And with the implementation of the new “Bank Street in the Glebe Secondary Plan,” there will be a lot more people walking and cycling along the street.
The Glebe’s business community remains vibrant, despite the narrow sidewalks and lack of cycling lanes. With improvements to the active transportation infrastructure, even more people would want to shop in the Glebe. Living on the other side of the Canal, I wouldn’t dream of driving over to the Glebe for shopping. Why? Because it’s slower and much less pleasant than walking or cycling over the Flora Footbridge.
Similarly, the addition of separated cycling lanes on the Bank Street Canal Bridge – made possible by the removal of a vehicle lane – makes it easier and more pleasant to access the Glebe from Old Ottawa South and Heron Park. This sets an excellent example of what could be done on Bank Street in the heart of the Glebe. The proposed addition of protected cycling lanes on Bank from Riverside Drive to Ledbury Avenue will allow many more cyclists to readily and safely get to Old Ottawa South and the Glebe.
The rebuilding of Elgin Street is a further example of how a busy four-lane route can become a pedestrian-friendly, two-lane route. And even though there are no separated cycling tracks on Elgin, it is still better for cyclists than the “old” Elgin. Notably, the hydro lines were buried which also freed up more space.
While business owners may be concerned about the loss of street parking on Main and Elgin, a large number of parking spaces were created adjacent to the two travel lanes. Also, the Glebe has the 146-space public parking garage between Second and Third avenues. Another key feature in reconfiguring Elgin and Main was the provision of turning lanes at key intersections. City engineers worked hard to redesign these streets: the same could be done for Bank Street in the Glebe.
Any discussion of removing a lane on Bank Street in the Glebe is bound to raise the question of whether this would negatively affect access to Lansdowne Park. As Mayor Mark Sutcliffe commented at the Glebe mayoral debate in October, Lansdowne “needs a north-south transit solution.” It is not a question of catering to drivers but rather of improving overall transit.
The only ways to access Lansdowne by car are by an NCC parkway that was never meant to be an arterial and by congested Bank Street. Just as commuters were not allowed to determine the number of lanes on Main Street, drivers headed for Lansdowne Park should not be determining the number of lanes on Bank.
The reconstruction of Bank Street was advanced so it would not interfere with the Lansdowne’s transformation and targeted opening. Let’s make sure Bank Street is improved for pedestrians and cyclists. And let’s ensure that consideration of these improvements is not dismissed because Lansdowne 2.0 proponents argue they would be detrimental to proposed massive investments of taxpayers’ money in a new entertainment centre and northside stands.
Some residents might argue that there is no funding available to make Bank Street more friendly and safe, but surely such an investment is much more affordable and valuable than the $330 million sought for the proposed Lansdowne 2.0.
John Dance was president of Old Ottawa East Community Association during the planning of Main Street’s rebuild and is a frequent visitor to the Glebe’s Home Hardware, Metro and other Bank Street businesses.